It is now four days, two hours and fifty-eight minutes since my life ended.
Well, okay, I'm being dramatic; my life didn't exactly end, if you want to be technical about it-just the stuff that mattered. That all ended when Adam died. The rest are just days-four of them, and three hours now, and about one minute.
"Daddy," Alma Jean-she's my oldest girl-said, "do you want me to fix you some pancakes? You must be hungry."
"No," I told her, "I'm not hungry."
"You haven't eaten anything all day," her sister Elizabeth said. She always backs Alma Jean up in any discussion involving other people, though the two of them fight with one another like cats and dogs otherwise.
"Daddy's not hungry. Let him alone." That was James, Adam's oldest boy-his oldest surviving boy of the three he had. Lester didn't come back from Afghanistan. That is to say, he did, but not upright. Oh, I remember how broken up Adam was over that; I thought he would plain jump in that hole with his son.
My son, also, of course, just not in the same way. His boys always called me Daddy too, same as my girls called Adam-or Daddy Adam and Daddy Mike, to avoid confusion. We used to joke in the beginning about maybe his and mine would end up hitched, and we laughed because there were only two of my girls and he had three sons then, so someone was going to get the short stick. That was before Afghanistan. After that, the numbers matched, even if the kids didn't. Course, they were just little ones when we got married. By the time they were old enough to think about things like that, they had gotten used to brothers and sisters, and it wouldn't have seemed right.
When I say married, I don't mean in the way they mean it today, the way they write about in the papers and talk about on the news. It was a long time ago. Things were different. There was no preacher waving his hands over us and no wine glass smashed underfoot. Those are the externals. We were married just the same, in our hearts. Internal, I liked to say. And eternal.
Lord, I hope I was right about that eternal part. How I would love to think that one day Adam and I will meet up again. "In a land that knows no parting," as Willie puts it. I hope Willie is right too. I think my heart could stand all the excitement of getting back together, but I don't think it could take another parting. I'm not sure yet that it will take this one. God Almighty, how you can miss a man. If that's all just a bunch of fairy tales, Lord, don't let me find out, please. I'll settle for the blackness of eternal night, anything but not seeing him again. You want to know what Heaven means to me? That's it, right there-the rest of eternity with Adam's arm about my shoulder, the way he used to do, standing by me. If I can't have that, you can keep the wings and harps and the rest of the stuff; that's fine by me. Got no use for them without him. Got no use for any of it, to tell the truth. There or here.
Alma Jean is on me again about the pancakes. "Alma Jean, honey, a mess of pancakes would taste awful good about now," I tell her. I know she's hurting too, and cooking is how she handles the hurt. I can always feed them to the dog, after she's gone home.
I went out to the porch after they were gone. Adam and me had loved to sit out here, about this time of day, when the sun was dying, slipping down into the gray of dusk. I sat in the usual rocker, the smaller of the two because Adam, that giant of a man, had required the big one, and the smaller one fit me just fine. The way our bodies had fitted together all those years, his big, powerful one and my little reedy one, that seemed as if they had been designed to suit one another.
I closed my eyes, but the image of Adam pasted itself on my closed eyelids, and I could not bear the pain that stabbed through me at the sight. My eyes flicked open, and I saw the hawk.
My first thought was the chickens, but the chickens had already found their way into the coop, instinctively taking themselves out of the night, content to wait for me to come and close the door on any errant foxes-or hawks, though a hawk wasn't likely to come into the coop. They were more likely to swoop down on you unexpectedly and carry you off you knew not where. In my experience, love was like that too, though I'd never heard love compared to a hawk.
Anyway, the hawk didn't seem to have any interest in the coop or the chicken run. He was just up there, soaring. The way we had used to cruise the drive-in when I was a kid, Diggy Holman and me, back and forth, back and forth, endlessly, trying to get ourselves noticed. The hawk banked and swooped and came lower than a hawk should with a person sitting there in a rocker, not knowing how friendly that person might feel toward a hawk. Especially a person who kept chickens. Chicken people weren't as a rule hospitable to visiting hawks.
Then, as if he knew he'd finally been noticed, his presence accounted for, he winged his way upward, flew over the house, and was gone. I waited, watching the sky, scanning back and forth, until the sky had grown dark and the stars were blinking back at me.