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A HERO’S LEGACY • by Samantha Memi

Dear Daddy,

You knew I didn’t want you to go, but you left anyway. In my head I said, Please don’t go, but all that came out of my mouth was ‘bye. You sailed away on the wide blue sea, leaving me and Mom alone to care for each other and wonder where you were and what you were doing.

Roosevelt said it was important to save democracy, but I wanted someone to save me.

Your first letter said you were training to invade Europe. Why? What’s Europe got to do with us? Their stupid wars aren’t our business. Why were you there, and not with me?

Your second letter arrived late. You were already in France when your letter said you were leaving. We knew you were already there because it was in the newspapers. How were you going to rescue Europe? Didn’t you care I was dying without you?

The day the telegram arrived I was playing in the backyard. I heard Momma scream and I ran into the house to save her. An eight-year-old running in to save her momma. That should have been your job. She trembled. She held on to me for dear life.

I said, Momma, what’s wrong? But she just burbled and didn’t make sense. It was all your fault.

Then Grandma came and Momma stayed in bed. Sometimes I went to see her but I wasn’t allowed to talk about you. Grandma said you were a hero. Why? Because your friends were more important than me? You could have saved me from a minefield. You wouldn’t have got shot. You could have lifted me out of of my fears and carried me to bed and read to me about Rumpelstiltskin. And you didn’t. I never saw you again. You destroyed Momma. You didn’t care about either of us.

Now my son wants to join the army. You never met my son. He looks like you in the photo I have where you’re standing next to your truck with a look-at-the-big-truck-I-drive smile on your face. It’s the only photo I have of you. You were so handsome.

You never met my husband either. You never came to Momma’s funeral. You were a hero, but you were never much good as a father.

Tell Jack not to join the army, please. He can’t leave me. My husband says it will be good for him. It’s his duty. We have to protect democracy. That’s what you protected, isn’t it. Do you know what democracy did for Momma? It put her in a hospital and fed her on Thorazine. That was worth protecting, wasn’t it?

When Momma was lying in bed upstairs, Grandma used to sit by the fire and tears would slide down her cheek and she would try to stifle a sob. I felt so guilty. Did you think about us when you rescued your friend and got yourself shot? Maybe if I’d stopped you leaving. Maybe if I’d thrown my arms around your neck and clung onto you and cried, Daddy, please don’t go, please don’t go. Maybe you’d have stayed and protected us, and Momma wouldn’t have gone mad, and Grandma wouldn’t have had to look after me when she was too old to manage by herself, and I wouldn’t be terrified of losing my son. But I didn’t. I held Momma’s hand and you kissed my cheek and said, Bye precious, and I said, Bye Daddy.

So it’s all my fault. I should have stopped you and I didn’t. I didn’t even try.

No one wanted the medal, we all wanted you. I don’t want my son to be as stupid as you. I want him to be a husband and a father. I don’t want him to be a dead hero. Please do one thing for me. Stop my son from joining the army.

The daughter you forgot,

Samantha


Samantha Memi lives in London. Her chapbook, Kate Moss and Other Heroines, includes the story “Bouffant” which was first published by Every Day Fiction.


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A HERO'S LEGACY • by Samantha Memi, 3.1 out of 5 based on 44 ratings
Posted on February 24, 2013 in Literary, Stories
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  • Sarah Crysl Akhtar

    Almost unbearably painful, and truthful. Like everything you write, gets to the heart of things. Five stars.

  • http://users.beagle.com.au/peterl P.M.Lawrence

    I have often come across similar sentiments, though rarely in as concentrated a form as this. For instance, some years ago there was a women’s movement in some British northern fishing ports that aimed to stop the men going out fishing because it was so dangerous and risked the women losing them. It began to strike me then, as it does now, that the holders and advocates of these sentiments rarely realise just how selfish they are being, themselves.

    Selfishness, thoughtlessness and lack of consideration can take many forms, even disguising themselves behind caring motives. Just this morning someone afflicted me with it at church in a small way, by placing a fan so as to cool me from the summer heat – without troubling to discover that I prefer the heat to a distracting draught down the back of my neck. This essay, precisely by means of its sincerity, is pushing just that same sort of lack of consideration for what others value – in this case, something along the lines of “I could not love thee half so much / loved I not honour more”. A father who would not do his duty as he saw it according to his own lights would prove to be a bad father anyway, as his defective character worked itself out. The only practical happy ending, short of coming home safe from the wars, would have involved his being unfit, being a conscientious objector, or something else that would have headed off his leaving without violating conscience.

  • Jaz Silas Snow

    What a strong message. So often the feelings of the children left behind aren’t considered. I love the importance given to the little girl’s feelings in this story and how it illustrates that many people’s lives are touched by war.

  • http://www.chaucers-uncle.weebly.com Paul A. Freeman

    I can understand the child being angry, but as PML points out, as an adult the MC came across as merely selfish.

  • Eva

    I don’t think she was selfish. She remembers her father. Do the men who gave him a medal ever think of him. Is it selfish of a daughter to want her father’s love?

  • http://www.ajcapper.com Amanda

    Always enjoy your writing, Ms. Memi. And a good story inevitably evokes strong comments. Congratulations on a story well-done.

    When we hurt, we’re not always sensible.

  • Jo Owen

    Loved the story as always, Samantha. I don’t see the narrator as selfish, rather than this is a true and pure emotional reaction of a mother whose son is about to lose her protection. Frightening for any parent.

  • http://www.rustlingreed.com/blog Jeff Smith

    The sentiment expressed here is one probably felt by a lot of children whose fathers or mothers go off to war. I appreciate the fact that this is not a point of view often expressed. There’s nothing selfish about self-expression. This piece compelled me for that.

    That being said, as a story it felt hollow as the narrator/letter writer doesn’t change her feelings from the beginning to the end of the letter. There is no character arc, no development, and no understanding on her part of any perspective other than her own. As a story I would have liked to see at least an inkling of understanding other part–though that may have not been the point at all.

    In any case, any piece that garners so much discussion and personal reflection has been successful. Thanks for sharing it.

  • Elle

    The reason this story works for me: it’s a perspective we don’t read about often.

    I liked Eva’s comment. Especially this part: “Do the men who gave him a medal ever think of him.”

    That just broke my heart.

  • http://samanthamemi.weebly.com/ Samantha Memi

    Thanks everyone for your comments. And a special thanks to the EDF staff for correcting my errors.

  • JenM

    That was beautiful, Samantha. Five stars.

  • Simone

    I don’t think the father didn’t love his family. I think he saw the bigger picture and, in his way, thought he was protecting his loved ones. But tell that to a little girl or a mother whose son will be in harm’s way.

    I was misty-eyed during most of the read, but the signature brought the waterfall. It made the ‘story’ seem personal to the author, and it broke my heart even more.

  • Elle

    “I was misty-eyed during most of the read, but the signature brought the waterfall. It made the ‘story’ seem personal to the author, and it broke my heart even more.”

    This is the best compliment the author could receive. The ‘story’ is a story (IMO), not rooted in her truth, but the truth of the character she developed. The author’s empathy spills onto the page and readers drink it in.

  • Peter Jump

    What I found most interesting was the idea of a childhood guilt which, though largely irrational, can stay with a person well into adulthood. I’m sure that’s something a lot of people can relate to. For me, the fact that he was going off to fight in the ‘good’ war was secondary.

  • Sarah Crysl Akhtar

    PML & PAF: there’s neither honor nor necessity in war. There’s only greed and cowardice. Even for those wars we are taught have been the noble and just fight. Hitler could have easily been stopped if Switzerland had ceased facilitating the financial survival of Germany.

    War is a very profitable exercise, and those who most promote it usually never find themselves, or their own children, in the heart of the physical and mental devastation it brings.

    Today, any conflict anywhere could be stopped in a moment through economic sanctions. But no government wants to enforce them; their domestic corporations profit too much.

    Anyone notice that “Saving Private Ryan” came out when the West was going to war against Iraq? Why was Spielberg making another WWII drama? We didn’t have enough films in the archive of WWII heroism? But eh couldn’t have made a Vietnam-era movie–that war is too tainted in popular memory. So–another movie about the heroism and nobiity in war.

    The real courage and heroism in life is to say something is wrong when everyone around you is pretending that it’s right.

  • dekhelia

    Well said, SCA.

  • http://www.paulfreeman.weebly.com Paul A. Freeman

    SCA #15 – I appreciate the anti-war sentiment. However, inferring that I am a cowardly warmonger because I thought a story lacked character development (or because you didn’t like ‘Saving Private Ryan’) is going a bit too far. I mentioned nothing about war being honourable or necessary and am rather surprised that you could presume to pigeonhole me as such. In fact, having lived as a civilian through an insurgency in the Middle East and more than one bout of ethnic cleansing in Africa, I can say I am actually very offended.

  • Sarah Crysl Akhtar

    PAF: I didn’t infer or impute anything to you, personally, as a rereading of my comments should make clear. We are all discussing the story, its context, and the justification–or not–for the MC’s feelings.

    PML explained why he saw the MC as selfish, and you concurred with his description of her as selfish.

    My commentary was a refutation of the idea that war is ever necessary, or honorable, and that to desire to prevent someone from being killed in war (or living with the consequences of killing others in war) can be seen as selfish. The concept of “loved I not honour more” is what I personally regard as wretched propaganda to shame people out of what I personally regard as justifiable moral qualms.

    But you are most welcome to judge anything I write in any way you feel appropriate.

  • Tina Wayland

    I’m not sure just what to take from this story. On one hand, the daughter’s pain is understandable. As she grew into an adult and understood that, as an adult, her father could have chosen differently, she may have felt justified in her anger. On the other hand, though, she is bitter–all through the story and her life. Instead of finding peace, she finds more hatred and anger. Which means she can’t be the protagonist of her own story. As readers, it’s hard to see her as anything other than the creator of her own fate, doomed to repeat her mistakes. And that’s precisely why her son is also going to war.

    And it truly doesn’t matter whether we see war as honourable, necessary or cowardly. This is fiction and such judgements are worthless. Personally, I abhor the very idea of war and of hurting one another. Yet I just finished a small story about my grandfather in WWII, and how his footsteps from 60 years ago still guide me today. I don’t see him as a hero, but rather as a human with good intentions who sacrificed a lot for what he felt was right. We are humans. We can write about our thoughts without compromising our beliefs. Or our love.

  • http://www.idreamagain.wordpress.com Alexis A. Hunter

    Powerful and moving story, Samantha. Absolutely beautiful and definitely portrays a side that most stories don’t. The whole debate about whether she was selfish or not seems a bit silly to me. Not only is this fiction, but even then, her pain and her anger are understandable. It began when she was a child and it haunted her throughout her life. It’s hard to think of the greater good when all you can see are the devastating consequences.

    As always, another wonderful read.

  • http://www.dirkknight.com Dirk Knight

    What a whiny brat.

    And anyone who thinks war is unneccesary is a fool.

  • andy hamilton

    A poignant, moving and beautifully-written piece of writing, giving an unusual view of the effects of war on people who can be just as damaged as those killed,injured or traumatised by being directly involved.
    Even if this was not written from personal experience, it convinced me.

  • http://michelle-ann-king.blogspot.co.uk/ Michelle Ann King

    Wonderfully raw. Regardless of the ‘rightness’ or otherwise of the narrator’s position, the emotions are beautifully captured.

  • Joseph Kaufman

    @21:

    Dirk, while I assume both of your statements are referring to the letter-writer in this story, the context of the subsequent reader discussion makes the “fool” comment come off as somewhat pointed.

    Everyone is entitled to their opinion and shouldn’t have to worry about being called foolish (or even alluded to as such for holding one or the other subjective view) while discussing a piece of daily Flash fiction. On the contrary, these comment threads are meant to be a guaranteed safe haven for opinions as related to the story of the day.

    Just a friendly editorial reminder.

    Personally, I think “necessary” and “unnecessary” are in the eyes of the neglected (another word impossible to discuss empirically). If this woman feels wronged, then of course she is (at least) leaning toward thinking her father’s actions as incorrect and unnecessary. We all tend to perceive things we side with as necessary and correct. It’s a basic aspect of “us vs. them”, even in the case here where the “us” is one woman. This is the very core of Essentialism.

  • Rob

    Sorry– just came across to me as a sniveler playing the blame game. I can understand a child doing that, but most people grow up after having children of their own and assuming a protective parenting role.

  • Katherine Lopez

    I think if we take a step back and re-read this story again, we will see it for what it is, a genius piece of writing. The story is, or appears to be, an antiwar screed disguised as a story. One can very roughly compare the technique and purposes to George Orwell’s essay, “Such, Such Were The Joys,” which seems to be a memoir about his days at boarding school, but which is really a manifesto against the absurd cruelty of the class system and why it must be destroyed. The genius of this story is that it isn’t trying to be subtle or persuasive by the power of moral truth, it is merely intentionally clever and barely so. The writer inartfully and manipulatively unfolds a story through the child/adult narrator which hits every note designed to pull, yank, and twist, the reader’s heartstrings. The child clutching the mother’s hand while the handsome father goes off to war and dies saving a comrade’s life, the mother driven insane, the grandmother stepping in to carry on raising the child. All that’s missing is the little dog, but after all there was a limit of 1K words. In that limited space, the writer invites us to laugh at the broad absurdity of the story and thus at the absurdity of war, ultimately, of life.

    Well done. Congratulations, Samantha.

  • http://sites.google.com/site/meerabjhala Meera Jhala

    Wow, Samantha–this story generated more discussion than I’ve ever seen on a flash piece. I am a great admirer of your creative range, and how you go from dark humor in some stories to the purely poignant in others without missing a beat. I think you are one of the most stimulating and thought-provoking contributors to EDF and always enjoy reading your work.

  • Katherine

    @Meera Jhala, there used to be very long and lively story threads a few years ago, average probably thirty comments and many got more than that. But apparently there were complaints about the tone of the discussions and the publishers insisted on decorum. It is much more peaceful and nice now.

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