Rhivera

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~Chapter Thirty Three- The Rios Family~

~Chapter Thirty-Three~

~Raul~

~February~

It’s unnatural, going before your children. Impossibly difficult when you’re responsible for their death.

I remember... Juaquin and I sat there in silence with Melissa’s body on the floor. She was Miro all along. With her dead, my forces outside were able to turn the tide of the battle and send Miro’s Army running. My soldiers were celebrating our victory as I continued to mourn.

No one could know it was her. I wouldn’t allow it. At the first opportunity, Juaquin and I left the base with Melissa’s body and headed for the jungle. We dug up the hole for her, it was something to keep us occupied. Juaquin took her radio and kept it on his person. I didn’t have the strength to ask for it from him. His cold sorrowful expression made me doubt he’d hand it over.

When it came time for us to bury her, we froze. That moment I saw her lying in the grave we had dug for her was when it truly sunk in that my daughter was dead.

I sobbed. It was no use trying to fight it. It was Juaquin that fought through the sorrow and started to bury her. I suppose he’s stronger than me.

It’s an unspoken thing that people shouldn’t let their thoughts linger on those they’ve lost. Most in Rhivera aren’t given graves when they pass, only those that were renown in the country. Even Eugenio didn’t get a burial when he died, he was cremated just like anyone else. I took some solace that I could at least give my little girl a grave, as modest as it was.

“I could’ve stopped this.” I muttered. “If I kept a closer eye on her. I could’ve her from getting involved with that revolution.”

Juaquin clutched her helmet in his hands. Miro’s helmet. Blood had dried around the crack in its visor. “Raul, I think she was the revolution. She started it.”

“No... Not my Melissa.” I insisted. That couldn’t be true.

We stood over her grave for a while. Wordlessly, Juaquin stepped away and leaves. He didn’t return to the base. He didn’t go back to the Neruda household. I don’t know where he left to.

I returned to the base alone, in the daylight I saw the field of bodies surrounding the base, mostly of the soldiers from Miro’s army. Many had the unenviable task of burning the dead. Our casualties weren’t terrible, all things considered.

The Colonel of Sotra directed the base to pursue Miro’s fleeing forces. I dissuaded him from doing so, “By now they’ve returned to Joldair. Their defenses there will be strong. Now is the not the time to counterattack.”

I spend some days in Sotra, working with them to help recover from the attack, while Miro’s southern forces regroup in Joldair after the fall of their leader. Once things stabilize in Sotra, I return home for brief respite from the war.

When I’m nearly home, I stop myself and look at the Rios and Neruda households side by side.

“I’m sorry.” I mutter under my breath, looking at the Neruda household. The home Eugenio worked for. I told myself I’d protect his family when he was gone. But Maria and Junior are gone, and I have no idea where Juaquin is. It’s an empty home.

My own home had only Yolanda. I thought of Melissa and lurched over again. How could I tell her what happened? How could I say our daughter was dead? How could I tell her I was responsible?

I enter the house and Yolanda embraced me, grateful that I was alive. “What’s wrong?” She asks when she looked at my pitiable expression.

Words failed me. The only thing I can utter is, “Melissa.”

The terrified look on her face showed she understood. She knows she’s dead. She wept terribly, collapsing to the floor, unable to pick herself up. There’s nothing I could say to console her. Yolanda can’t even bring herself to ask me how.

After her tears were spent, she stood and walk mutely to our bathroom. I check on her, but the door was locked. I lean against the door. I was too afraid to say a word or even knock. When I finally gather the courage to turn the knob a few times and hear no noise from Yolanda I grow worried.

“Yolanda. I’m sorry. I couldn’t... I couldn’t protect her.” I begin to cry again.

Yolanda says nothing.

After an hour of her sitting in there, I need to make sure she’s okay. I knock and bang on the door, wrestle with the knob, and ask for reassurance that she was okay. All throughout she is silent. Finally, I kicked at the hinges of the door until they fall away and enter the bathroom.

I find Yolanda dead with her wrists cut open with a razor.

Population Control Officers come to the house to take Yolanda’s body, offering their condolences before taking her away.

There’s a picture of Melissa, Yolanda and I a few years ago. Melissa was 14 then. I had my arm wrapped around Yolanda to my right, and Melissa leaned her head against me on my left. I spend that sleepless night clutching the photo, praying I can return to those days.

I return to Uneva’s base. I don’t know what else to do but to return to the war. Maybe that’s indicative of what I really am. Just a murderer. I sit in my office staring at the map of the country, failing to come up with a plan. My eyes linger on Sotra and its jungle on the map. The place where I laid my daughter’s body to rest.

The soldiers around the base heard of my wife’s suicide and politely gave me space. The Colonels under my command have been handling things in my stead. They see me as a hero who defended us from Miro. But I’m a failure. A man who couldn’t protect his own daughter and wife, nor his best friend’s family.

I place my pistol on the desk before me. I spin it on the table.

Eugenio. Lena. Melissa. Yolanda. All of them joined the dead. I stared at the gun and thought how good it would be join them. It’s what I deserve. I stopped the gun in its spin, and take it in hand.

Just then someone knocks at my door, and the gun falls out of my hand onto the ground, and I scramble to pick it up, “General. It’s me. Ilyana.” Ilyana says softly from outside. The Lieutenant begins to open my door.

“I’m sure you’ve been hearing this, but I’m sorry about-” She sees me kneeling with the gun in hand, “General? What’re you doing?”

I freeze and say nothing. She realizes what I was contemplating. She kneels to the floor next to me and places her hand over the gun I held, slowing taking it from my grip.

“I’m sorry about what happened to your wife. But you’re better than that.” She says softly. “We still need you.”

I feel such terrible shame in that moment. She stood, but I remain kneeling on the floor. She takes my hand and pulled me up, and I throw myself into my desk. “You don’t need me. Everyone is better off without me.” I remark, knowing how pitiful I must sound.

“Don’t say that.”

“Maybe we’re all better off if we lose. If the PCC is destroyed.”

“If Miro and his revolution wins, this country will fall to ruin. You can’t really think that.” Ilyana chides me, sounding angry.

I pause before speaking again, “I killed Miro back in Sotra. It was my own daughter. She’s been telling me the PCC was wrong for years. Maybe she’s right.”

Ilyana is dumbstruck. I’m sure she had many questions, but words failed her. When she finally spoke, she said a single word.

“No.”

“No?”

Ilyana continues, “I’m sorry, but your daughter isn’t right. Again and again I’ve seen why we need the PCC. There are so many lazy, terrible people that we’re better off without. My own parents were awful people, and they’d still be causing trouble if they were alive.” Ilyana continues, “We can’t let their revolution win. Which means you can’t be so selfish to kill yourself. We still need you. We need to stop them whatever it takes. You need to understand that.”

She leaves my office for me to ponder what she said. I let my thoughts stew. Maybe Ilyana is right. I’ve always known the PCC is for the best. Finding out Melissa was Miro shook my belief in the system. I’ve failed as a father; I didn’t instill those same beliefs into my daughter. If I had, maybe this war wouldn’t be happening at all. Killing myself won’t solve anything. What a cowardly way to go. Eugenio never would’ve done something like that. No. I have to finish this war in whatever way possible. That’s the only way I can make up for what I’ve done.

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