Under a clear blue sky distracted with white clouds, the young man heard his boots crushing the snow underfoot.
She was only sixteen.
He remembered their times together every waking moment, from the giggles on the grey, rusted swings as children, to braving the emotionally taxing dramas that sometimes come with middle school. Her tears she would bring him, and in turn, he brought her the comfort of laughter and reassurance. His frayed relationship with his parents often caused him to leave home, and he inevitably turned up on her doorstep. And she let him in.
I wish she was here.
He saw a man ahead of him, already kneeling at the place he himself had kneeled at every year. Confused, his pace quickened until he drew near the man, slightly out of breath and flustered – though not from the increased cadence of his steps. The man looked to be about fifty years old, with dark brown hair entangled with streaks of grey. He wore a weathered workman’s jacket, blue jeans, and tired working boots. Upon closer inspection, the boy saw that his face was lined with canals formed by years of stress, anxiety, and loss.
The man looked up at him without shading his eyes from the shining sun, nodded, and rose to walk away.
Who are you?
The man sighed and said in a low voice, I’m her father.
So why haven’t I ever seen you here?
The man’s eyes darted away, a flash of vicious indignation further scarring his face. But, he relaxed, and a weary sigh overcame him.
How many years have you been coming to visit her, young man?
Every single one of the eight years since she passed, sir.
I see. Were you two friends at school?
We basically grew up together, sir.
The man murmured, rubbing his chin thoughtfully.
I suppose you deserve an answer then. Each year since she passed, I came to visit her at sunrise. When she was still mine, she loved going to see sunrises because that was one of the only times she could see me leave the house for work. Then, she got that disease, and I spent longer hours at work to earn more money and try to pay for her treatment. But because of that, I saw her less and less. I – I wasn’t even there when she passed.
I know. I was. What kind of father are you, leaving behind your daughter when she needed you by her side the most?
Did you love her?
I said, did you love her? Because if you were just friends with her, you wouldn’t have been there in her last moments.
Yes, I loved her.
At this, the man’s face broke into a smile, throwing the young man off guard.
What’s love to you, kid?
The young man hesitated, unsure of what to say to someone who was possibly the girl’s father. His mouth was left half-open before he closed it and swallowed, preparing himself to answer.
Love is when you care about someone so much that they’re all you can think about every moment of the day. For me, it was spending time watching sunsets with her. I asked her why she stayed out to see the sun go down, and she would only ever say that it was because there was nothing for her to do at home. Love is when you devote yourself to learning all about the person you love, when you are willing to suffer what they suffer so that they’re not alone. It’s considering that at the end of the day, the life you live has been affected so deeply by that person that to lose that person would be to lose a part of yourself. The Good Book says that love is patient, and that love is kind, sir. I cared about your daughter more than you could understand. She knew the parts of me that I wouldn’t dare to tell anyone else, and she shared the deepest parts of her life with me, until her life experiences were almost mine. I think that’s what love is, sir.
The man looked hard into the young man’s watery eyes, holding him there in his gaze for a while. Then, he spoke.
You’re right about love being all of that, for a young man. That’s how I remembered it too, when I was chasing after her mother. But there’s a part of love that you haven’t quite experienced, and I don’t blame you. Love never ends. That’s in the Good Book too. When you were describing all of that, yes, it’s true that love is devoting yourself to learning all about that person; yes, it’s being willing to suffer what they suffer; yes, it’s about having them become a part of yourself. But that’s not all. When her mother died, there was never a day that would go by when I would tell people that I cared about her, because that care never ended. So when you say that you cared about her, that she knew you and that she shared with you, you really do put her in this dirt we’re standing over; don’t you talk about all those things as if they were in the past, but speak of them as the truths that they are, in the present. Every day after her mother passed, I would come visit her and talk to her as well. When you love someone, she doesn’t need to be there for you to experience things about her. When you love someone, the world is constantly reminding you of her and how she is. I still love my daughter, kid. She’s not gone because so many things remind me of her. I’ve just retired, which is why you found me here so late, but I still woke up for the sunrise to spend it with her. Call me crazy, but I saw her smile as that sun peeked over the mountains there. But, that’s enough of that. Point is, if you love someone, even the separation of death won’t stop you from loving that person. Keep loving her, kid; she’s never been gone anyway.
With that, the man turned to walk away. The young man watched him go, tears falling from his eyes like rain.
Oh, wait. She left you something, underneath the pillow she slept on at the hospital; the nurse gave it to me when I visited the hospital late at night after she passed. I never thought that I would meet the young man she wrote it for, but you’ve got to be the one.
The young man trembled as he opened the letter, and the man, with his hands in his blue jeans walked off, whistling.
I love you.
I know you normally don’t start a letter off like that, but I just wanted you to know that that’s the first thing I thought when writing this letter. I think that, as much as it hurts me, I don’t have much time left here. The doctors and nurses have been wonderful to me, so pay them a visit and thank them for me after I’m gone.
By now, I hope that I haven’t been wrong in thinking that both of us love each other. It’s funny, I kind of knew that you always liked me by the way that you would always watch sunsets with me, no matter what. I guess it was my way of testing how loyal you were. But, you never missed a sunset with me, and I’m assuming you won’t even miss my own personal sunset. I was never really interested in the romantic parts of life; I just watched sunsets because I thought they looked pretty. But eventually, it was more than the sun setting that I looked forward to. I loved the way that you would walk me home slowly after it got dark, the way that we could talk about anything at all that was on our minds, the way that you looked into my eyes and made me feel like I alone captured your attention. The other girls at school always really liked you because you were so nice to everyone, so respectful…and so handsome. It’s weird, but I feel like growing up together never created an obstacle between us. It sounds so silly, but it’s like we were just made to love each other. I wish I didn’t have this disease; I can only imagine how hard Daddy’s been working to pay for all of this. But, I know that you and I will be with each other forever. Daddy used to always say something like “Love never ends,” ever since Mommy passed away, and I believe him. I know that eventually you’ll go off and marry a beautiful girl who adores you and would treat you as you deserve to be treated, that you’ll have a loving home and a wonderful future; I hope that you won’t forget me in the process. I know it’s unfair of me to do this, to ask that you let me occupy your heart when I’m about to leave this place, but I hope that in that big heart of yours, you can make space. Anyways, thank you for visiting after school every single day and bringing me wildflowers that you pick up along the road. They always make my day, even when I’m feeling horrible. I hope that this letter gets into your hands; I’ve told the nurse to tell Daddy who to give this to, but he might not know it’s you because he’s never met you before, and I’ve never talked about you with him. I started this letter with my love, and I’ll end it with my love, so that you know that my love continues on from beginning until whatever end may come. Take care of yourself, and keep on loving the people around you with as much love as you poured into me.
I love you.