The War

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Summer {Two Years Ago}

A warm breeze rusted the leaves of the oak tree I was reading under. I was writing another letter to Bash, though he hadn’t replied to them for a year now.

Bash,

I wrote his name and tried to figure out what to tell him.

I’ve been told the revolution is nearly over, which is a cause for celebration. Mateo also told me that you’ve been rising through the ranks and that he sees you often. If he can write to me, so can you.

I crumpled up the paper in my hand and tossed it aside. The summer breeze rustled the tree leaves again as I tore another sheet of paper from my notebook and started a new letter.

Camila Riviera

19 June 1948

Bash,

Summer here hasn’t been the same without you. Instead of hiking and riding, I spend most of my days taking classes in Madrid. It’s difficult, and there aren’t that many women in the class, but I love it. The philosophy and literature classes are my favorites, but Mamá insisted I take art and science too. Like I said, not a lot of women attend the classes but those who do are so intelligent and witty. Delilah, whose focus is on art and philosophy, has become one of my closest friends, and she’s even moving in at the end of the summer.

Mateo tells me the revolution is nearly over, and he’s bought a home just outside of Barcelona. If this is the case, then you’ll be coming home soon, right?

I decided to end the letter there and tuck it back into my notebook without signing it. Leaning back against the tree, I watched the fluffy clouds move across the bright blue sky.

“Camila.”

I heard my mother’s voice behind me, barely a whisper. When I didn’t move, she came and sat next to me.

“Mija,” she said gently and took my hands in hers.

I watched tears fall down her face as she smiled ruefully.

“Bastien’s dead,” she whispered and reached a hand out to touch my cheek.

“No.”

“He is, mija,” she said and cupped my chin in her hand.

“How do you know?” I questioned her, praying for it to be a lie.

“His mother just came to tell me,” she whispered gently, “I’m so sorry, mija.”

Sadness gripped my heart like a vise, but for some reason, I didn’t cry.

___________________________________

I didn’t know how long I’d been sitting in silence for, but the sun had set and cast my room in an orange glow.

I felt empty - there was nothing left in me. I had no tears, no words, and no emotions - just emptiness.

Spread out on the floor around me were memories of Bash. Pictures, letters, dried flowers, and little notes covered the floor around me. I studied each one and tucked it into the crawlspace under the floorboards.

All around me, there were still memories of Bash - the dent in the wall from when he taught me how to wrestle, the guitar in the corner he played, even the scuffed up wooden floors held memories of him.

Before I knew it, I found myself packing a suitcase, desperate to escape all the reminders of my dead best friend. I folded and tucked and folded and tucked until it was full.

“Camila?” My mother stood watching me in the doorway. “Where are you going?”

“I have to get out of here,” I explained to her, “everything reminds me of him.”

“It’s ok to feel, mija,” she said as she sat on my bed. “Abrazar todo lo que sientes es la única manera de sanar.” |Embracing everything you’re feeling is the only way to heal|.

I placed my favorite books in my suitcase and tossed in some stationary for writing.

“Correr de esto no te ayudará,” |Running from this won’t help you| she reminded me as I closed up my suitcase.

She gave up on reciting proverbs and rearranged her skirt, “There is a place in London you can stay, mija. I’ll make sure it’s ready for you.”

“Gracias, Mamá,” I thanked her and hugged her tight.

“There is one condition, though,” she added and pulled away. “You leave after the funeral.”

___________________________________

The morbidities were held a week after we heard he died, and for that entire week, I prayed that it wouldn’t be true, that he wouldn’t be dead.

I guess my prayers weren’t heard.

People wearing black gathered around his gravestone, weeping and laying flowers and muttering prayers.

“He wouldn’t have wanted to see you cry,” Bash’s mom said to me while we watched people lay flowers on his grave.

Little did she know, I hadn’t cried since I found out. We sat in silence as people congregated around the grave.

“I’m sorry,” I said to her softly, never taking my eyes off his grave.

“There was nothing any of us could have done,” she waved me off, “war does this - leaves mothers and fathers without sons, girls without their best friends...”

We sat for a while, rocking silently on the porch swing.

“He loved you,” she said with a rueful smile.

“I know.”

“I don’t think you do, Camila,” she countered and turned towards me. “He was always going on about you - about your humor and intelligence.”

“I was lucky to have him,” I admitted with a rueful smile.

“He always talked about the trouble you’d get into together, and how you beat him in wrestling a few times,” she laughed, “he’d always say there was no man on earth better than you.”

___________________________________

Once the garden was empty, and it was just me and his grave, I walked over.

“You broke your promise,” I said to the engraved concrete block. “You said you wouldn’t die, yet here we are.”

“I never thought I’d be here,” I gestured to his grave, “I never thought I’d have to read your obituary and watch them lower your body into the ground.”

The sun began to set, but even the cicadas silenced their song out of mourning.

“I wrote you a letter,” I mentioned while pulling the unsigned letter from my dress. I placed it gently on his grave and stepped back.

“I thought I knew what heartbreak was when you left, but now that you’re -” my voice cracked as I choked on the word, “now that you’re dead I feel like my heart’s been ripped out.”

Tears streamed silently down my face as I stared at his epitaph.

Aqui descansa, Bastien Antonio Madera hijo amoroso y soldado leal. |Here rests Bastien Antonia Madera, a loving son and loyal soldier|

It hurt my heart to see Bash’s life reduced to twelve words. He was so much more than a son and a soldier. Bash was a good person with the most vibrant soul the world had ever seen. He was strong and brave, a little arrogant but always there - no matter what.

“Those twelve words don’t do you justice. You were more than a soldier, at least to me you were.”

The gravestone stared back at me silently, a painful reminder that he was really gone.

“Please Bash,” I cried, “don’t actually be dead. Make good on your promise and be alive.”

I waited, half expecting him to come out of the shadows.

“I can’t stay here,” I sniffled and wiped my nose, “everything reminds me of you and -”

“It just hurts too much,” I admitted as tears fell freely onto my dress.

I placed my hand on the cement block and whispered a prayer for his soul.

“Goodbye, Bash.”

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