In the last several weeks, David slept less and drank more. Ate less and cried more. Spoke less, if that was possible, and died a little more every day. These things were obvious in the visible graying strands sprouting up in his lengthening bushel of brown hair; the darkening circles encasing his glassy eyes; and the shoulders that were once proud and strong, now wilting. I barely remembered what he looked like before our worlds were blown apart; before I went to away to a summer haven and he was sentenced to a war zone. My agony suddenly paled in comparison of how he must feel. I constantly reminded myself that I wasn’t there to witness the things that David had. And now, I knew one more person who had been there with him, and wondered how much he had suffered as a result.

I reached under the pillow on the other side of the bed were I kept my tattered scrapbook, and then turned on the bedside lamp. The binding was falling apart at the seams and the plastic sheets that held my pictures in place were tearing in the corners. It was the only one I had, so it overflowed with trinkets to memorialize my once beautiful life. It bulged and bowed under the strain of the 550 parachute cord I wrapped around it to keep it closed.

The book sprung open when I released the cord, falling to the page with a photo of all three of us. We were at King’s Beach on the California side of Lake Tahoe last summer. My dad asked a passer-by on the shore to take a picture of all of us standing on our paddleboards. It took the poor woman four tries because I kept falling over.
King’s Beach was my favorite. The water under the surface after the sand had been disturbed, shimmered like the swirling insides of a snow globe. My dad was planning on taking us back to Tahoe this Christmas. I was excited to see snow for the first time, in real life.

Though it was only a year ago, David looked so much younger–the difference when I looked at him now was staggering. Circumstances rather than time deepened the etched lines around his eyes. But in this photo of us, he and my dad were young and healthy and vibrant. They took such good care of themselves, always at the height of their physical fitness, so it was disturbing to watch David waste way.

My dad was a couple of inches taller than David, broader in the shoulders and had a little more muscle mass than David too. Intimidating in uniform. I snickered at the memory of how angry David would get after spending months trying to bulk up with protein shakes and extra trips to the gym. He would get stronger, just not any bigger. My dad always told him it was all about genetics, and that David’s were more like our mom’s than his. That only made David try harder.

There we all stood, on top of our boards, holding our paddles, smiling, happy and completely unaware of how that would all soon end.

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