"Letters to an Unborn Son (1 and 2)"
1515 Cannon Parkway
Roanoke TX, 76262
Eli N. Rowe
281 Washington Road
Stephenville TX, 76401
I think about you often.
Here in my study, as I recline in my office chair, I’m reminded of how frail life can be. My hands look old to me as I type, and I’m not sure when the veins and knuckles began to protrude like dunes under this yellow lamplight. My twenty-three year old body feels weary, and my tired spirit aches inside its infant shell. A red-gold urn sleeps next to my clock with your mother’s remains inside; a reminder of my journey closer to your face.
A reminder of my journey further from you.
Every day is a new day where I confront the reality of never having met you. You were born in my mind’s eye where you grew strong and capable. Conversations birthed you. Your mother and I had dreams that sustained you. You’ve lived within my thoughts for moments at a time, each one wheeling overhead and lasting as long as a life-age.
I watched you become the man I always knew you could be. I saw you as a baby, red-faced and squalling, where I swaddled you at the hospital. I helped your mother feed you from a lukewarm bottle and listened to you babble in your highchair. I saw you grow into a young boy with dimples, full of youth and a zest for life, where I chased you around the coffee table and carried you on my shoulders through the kitchen. I saw you as a young man with thick, brown hair—you always had your mother’s hair—and two deep-set, brooding eyes courtesy of me. I’ll never forget your features. How you moved with a straight back when you got older. The broadness of your shoulders. The way you scowled at me when I teased you about your first mustache. When I lost to you in an arm-wrestling match for the first time and you smiled your winning smile; that full-faced, broad smile that stretched from ear to ear. You used it on such occasions as calling me “old man” or throwing me the perfect spiral.
Elijah, you’ve made your father very proud.
I watched you die on Washington Road near Stephenville alongside your mother-to-be. Her dreams gave you life as much as my own. When she stopped dreaming after the car accident, you died like a stillborn child in the womb of our souls and minds.
My letters can’t save what’s been lost, and my best hope is to rock you to sleep inside the make-believe emergency room next to your mother. The imaginary tubes that run through your little body and hers make me tremble. One machine stops beeping. Two candles snuff out. I can feel the heat retreat from the bedside and all that remains is cold beneath my fingers.
The red-gold urn is awake and staring.
I look at my typing hands.
I’m sorry for everything,
1515 Cannon Parkway
Roanoke TX, 76262
A Lonely December Day
Eli N. Rowe
281 Washington Road
Stephenville TX, 76401
You deserve to know about your mother.
We met during our early years in ninth grade. She played the bass clarinet for our school’s band where we crossed paths during my four-year stint with the drumline. It began as a dare in the battery’s practice room. Nick Jackson and Adam Bryan promised to ask Madison Davis and Stephanie Lainesse to homecoming, under the condition that I asked Kimberly Peacock first. I had precisely the mind to do so. You see, I’d heard rumors of an underground plan referred to by the brass section as “operation sophomore.” Three slightly older girls wanted to date the lucky freshmen who’d auditioned and qualified for drumline. The game was rigged from the start, and I knew each of us would succeed if we simply had the courage to ask. Nick and Adam hadn’t the slightest clue, and I felt fearless that day when I approached your mother. I’ve never seen someone’s face light up like hers in all my days since.
She smiled a very shy smile, put her hands together, and leaned in to say “yes.”
We were attached at the hip, your mother and me. Or at least that’s what our parents would say. We did everything together from sunrise to sunset. We practiced for shows together under the sweltering Texas sun for hours on end, becoming bronze sweat-soaked. We travelled to competitions on busses where she slept on my lap and I listened to podcasts. We rode our bikes across town and lost ourselves in pillow forts, old movies, and monopoly. We drove to Big Spring and Granbury and Odessa just to have road trips. We talked for hours on end. All day. Every day. When we weren’t talking, we were texting. When we weren’t texting, we were asleep on the couch or asleep in our beds or asleep in the classes where we made things for each other. We graduated high school and left for different colleges, but something strange happened. We grew closer despite the distance. Francois de La Rochefoucauld once said this:
“Absence diminishes mediocre passions and increases great ones, as the wind extinguishes candles and fans fires.”
We believed him.
We would wait for hours on end in traffic one way and back just to spend a weekend or an evening together. In Stephenville, we each ate the entire Taco Twelve Pack from Taco Bell. In Fort Worth, we watched horror movies until 2am and saw The Nutcracker at Bass Hall. We got sloppy drunk together and ran around in the grass behind her house. We went to Six Flags and taught each other to be brave on Mr. Freeze, The Texas Giant, and The Superman. We went to church for the first time together and learned how to pray. We became vulnerable with our words and learned that it was okay to be afraid. We learned what it meant to be in love. We learned what it meant to fall out of love. We redefined love and crafted new love. We learned what it meant to be free.
April 28th, 2013. You know this day as well as I do.
She died on a Sunday in the passenger seat of her best friend’s pink Volkswagen Beetle. Courtney Smalley, her driver, veered into oncoming traffic and collided with a red Mercedes moving southbound down Highway 281. Both vehicles were travelling at 70mph. The Mercedes was blasted and sent careening off-road where it became the metal casket for Matthew Lee Keith and his wife, Tsanti Keith. The Beetle sustained enough impact to become airborne for a time, where it promptly took a nosedive and planted itself upright in a show of tragic wonder. Your mother might’ve lived after the wreck, or so I was told. Her unconscious body fought, with shallow breaths, long enough for a care-flight to the nearest hospital.
She died under intensive care.
I was called to her father’s house that evening where he hugged me, retelling the news in front of countless concerned visitors. We stood together—two bereaved men in a world with substantially less meaning. The only words I could coax from my throat were these:
“I’m sorry. I’m so, so sorry.”
I went to his backyard shortly after and surrendered my composure. Several people came to sit beside me, none of whom I remember. Someone hugged me for a time, and I told the stranger I’d proposed to Kimberly; that I’d saved enough money for the ring.
She had smiled her shy smile, put her hands together, and said “yes!”
I told the stranger I was supposed to be in that car with her, but chose to pick up an extra shift at work instead. I didn’t tell the stranger how I’d never be able to ask her father for his daughter’s hand. I didn’t tell the stranger how—to this day—I feel the need to ask. To finish what was left undone.
I told God that he failed me.
I begged the same God to take me with her.
There’s something miraculous that you need to know; a silver lining, as it were. Your mother and I had a conversation several days before she left this world. We talked about the last thing we would want to say to each other if anything happened to us. No matter how good or how bad the conversation might be, we’d end with these words:
“I love you.”
Because of this, the last thing I said to your mom was that I loved her more than anything. She said the same to me. This undeniable truth has kept me going for four years now. Strangely, one of the last videos she ever recorded of herself was a cup-stacking routine she’d been practicing to the tune of Anna Kendrick’s “When I’m Gone.”
“I got my ticket for the long way ‘round Two bottle ‘a whiskey for the way And I sure would like some sweet company And I’m leaving tomorrow, wha-do-ya say?
When I’m gone When I’m gone You’re gonna miss me when I’m gone You’re gonna miss me by my hair You’re gonna miss me everywhere, oh You’re gonna miss me when I’m gone
I’ve got my ticket for the long way ‘round The one with the prettiest of views It’s got mountains, it’s got rivers, it’s got sights to give you shivers But it sure would be prettier with you
When I’m gone When I’m gone You’re gonna miss me when I’m gone You’re gonna miss me by my walk You’re gonna miss me by my talk, oh You’re gonna miss me when I’m gone.”
She had to have known something was about to happen. It all made too much sense, and I stopped believing in coincidence a long time ago. Maybe the universe orchestrated these events for me to follow like a trail of breadcrumbs. Though sometimes I wonder why she ever had to leave in the first place, when the last thing I said to her, before all of this, was that I loved her.
I still love her.
I Still love you,
Non-fiction piece by Matthew Rowe