Liam was looking out the window at Autumn. She was preparing to pick the tomatoes she had planted earlier this year. She had a basket to her left, filled with the tools he had bought her years ago when he was deployed. The garden itself was an ever expanding project, the simple tomato plants grew to cumbers and peppers, then to squash and zucchinis, by the end of her quest she had an almost 400-square-foot garden. The space that Liam had once set aside for a patio and built in grill was now her escape from the hectic world he so desperately wanted to kept her separated from.
She planted from the seeds of last year’s crop. It was her favorite activity that she performed year after year; it reminded her of the cycle of life, that all things have a beginning and an end. That the seed of one becomes the life of another. That all, if cultivated and cared for, on God’s earth could flourish under nurturing hands and delicate care. She knew her garden would never sustain her family, but it connected her to the ground. It kept her hands dirty in the earth’s soil, it kept her mind occupied on something bigger, and most importantly, in the summer it gave her a place to pray, a place to feel God’s Earth in her hands and His words in her heart.
This was an analogy that she used several times in her prayer groups that she led. It was mostly to new mothers and local women who had just moved into the area. She joined these groups at a much younger age, when she was just a young mother at age twenty-seven, trying to figure out how to raise her daughter in a town she was not familiar with and a state she had never lived in before. She never would have imagined that someday she would be leading these classes, that the young baby girl that she carried in the door of the First Baptist Church would someday be a distinguished biomedical research scientist with children of her own.
Who she had become was always a mystery to her, she never expected to be what she had become. She never realized she would change so much. In her youth she imaged traveling the world, seeing new places, trying new things. All those things that she had to put aside once she had children. Her approach to life however remained the same. She viewed life as a process of growth. That the life she lived all had a purpose and that all events that happened where part of a larger plan, to lead her, to guide her, to help he find herself and her purpose; though secretly she wished it didn’t entail growing old and frail.
In Liam’s eyes, however, she was the same woman, her eyes still a beautiful blue in the sunlight, but when the sun begins to set or the lights are dimmed in the bedroom, the blue takes on a greenish tint. Her body was still slender and her frame still athletic; her smile was still the brightest of whites and warming to anyone who was lucky enough to gaze upon it. Liam wasn’t naive to the fact that she had aged. She was sixty-two now, here hair had grey flecked throughout, her skin had wrinkled and her once-toned abdomen was replaced with a softer, but still flat, mid-section.
To Liam however, she was still as beautiful as the day they’d eloped during his leave from the war. He didn’t care about the fact that her body had changed over the years, in fact he found her more beautiful as time went on. He always attributed this to his understanding of the “sublime”, that he beauty was boundless as described by the philosopher Kant; one of the first things he learned in his philosophy of art class that he took while completing his PhD in Philosophy; a degree that he never would have expected to actually obtain and later become the source of his primary income. That only though knowledge of her could someone appreciate her aging beauty, understand that every flaw was a just another revealing of who she was to him, who she was to his world. A beauty that was not of image, but of knowledge of the world, knowledge of life.
To Liam, Autumn’s beauty was exponential. Once he knew she was the one that he would marry, every action that took place, every event that occurred, and every moment that they created together made her even more beautiful. He accredited this to what he called “the perpetual knowledge.” That is, knowledge that compounds upon itself; true beauty was either revealed or repulsed. That real beauty was not what was observed, but what was absorbed. That true beauty became part of you, changed you, became so ingrained in your mind that it was burned into your soul for eternity. In the case of Autumn, his view of her beauty grew to the point of infatuation, let alone the sublime.
When they met, Autumn was just finishing up college and Liam was a young First Lieutenant, returning home from his first tour of the war. She was slender at the time, not the fittest she had ever been, but was stunning nonetheless. Her hair was blonde and on their first date he remembered watching the sunlight change the color of her eyes as the sun was setting behind him. Her hair was pulled back behind her ears, allowing for a full view of her cheek bones; giving him a full appreciation of the warmth of her smile and the gentleness of her face.
This moment, for Liam, was the point of origin for his view of her beauty. It was day one of the next thirty-eight years of being in her presence. It was from that point forward that he started calculating time. For all he believed and knew was started anew on this day—today was the day he was born, born out of his love to serve her. She gave him three children—Daisy, Connor, and Fynn—during this time. She gave up her career as a nurse to raise their children and support his career goals and ambitions. She moved 1,500 miles away from her family only to watch from a distance as each of them slowly succumbed to old age, disease, and misfortune. He, on the other hand, was privileged enough to watch her grow as a person and gain a level of confidence that she had never had before.
With all his traveling, Autumn was forced to become more independent and powerful as a person. She grew stronger in convictions and more diversified in her abilities. She went from being dependent upon him for so much to an independent woman who led their family though adversity and turmoil; through faith and unwavering love for him and her family that he could not understand. She sacrificed everything for them. Her only escape was found in her repetitive praying. Prayers she posted on the walls of her room, the bathroom, and her sitting room. Prayers that gave her focus in the morning and reminded her of her purpose at night.
This was not the totality of Liam’s sublime understanding of his wife, with Autumn the sublime came from her touch. There was a part of Autumn that Liam could not explain, nor cared to for that matter. The mere touch of her fingertips on his back, her hand in his, her palm touching his cheek as she looked into his eyes would bring his mind back to reality. The suicidal thoughts and anger that that so easily overtook him would just fade away at the anticipation of her physical touch and disappear as if her skin had healing qualities that purified his soul and cast the horrific thoughts from his head.
He never explained it to her, but it was she who drove him to work so hard. He didn’t do it because she asked him for more than they needed, he did it because he wanted her world to be perfect. He did it because he wanted her to be happy. When she would return from a retreat to a clean house, a freshly painted room, or raked leaves without her having asked for it to be done, he knew he would get that momentary smile, the loving look, that moment of bliss that eased his thoughts, that reminded him why he lived and why tomorrow would be a better day.
The downside of this was that when she failed to come to his aid, the fallout was spectacular. His anger would grow stronger and the thoughts of self-harm would become more enticing. His anger would become so severe that he would bite his finger till it almost bled, head-butt a wall, or shake an unanimated object. At the very least his voice would raise and words would come out that he would immediately regret. When she was disappointed in the outcome of his efforts, his depression would get unnerving, his distance from humanity would become obvious, his ability to concentrate would fail him, and his ability to work would be destroyed. She never knew this because he never wanted her to know. He feared that she would have never continued to love him if she knew the responsibility and burden she would have to carry. She would have to live with the responsibility of knowing that his need for her love rested on her every mood, every touch, her every endorsement of his character. A responsibility she would carry for the rest of his existence. He wanted to tell her so many times in the past, but couldn’t. He knew that added stress would crush her, an outcome that he could not bear to see.
Strangely, her absence from any situation that would normally enrage him, for the most part, was muted when she wasn’t available. Liam never understood this and, from his observations, neither did Autumn. His inability to control his emotions around her was a point of contention in the earlier part of their marriage. She would express to him her frustration with this time and time again. She felt that his anger was because of her and her actions, that she was the cause of his pain. She would distance herself from him in these times, thinking it would help the situation. She wanted nothing more than a peaceful home, a home that was absent in her own childhood.
Liam’s suicidal thoughts never would turn into a plan, but the note he would leave behind would become more extravagant or poetic the longer she refrained from speaking to him or maintained her distance. His quest for death was never at the end of a rope or within a medicine cabinet, but in the hopes that a heart attack would take him suddenly or that cancer would give him the out he so desperately wanted. Something that would give his family time to appreciate the hard work he did for them and make them learn to live without him. In his mind this was a just ending for him. His life insurance was worth millions and his pension would give them a comfort of living that others would commend him for.
Liam, unlike Autumn, had an intimate view of what was going on in his spouse’s life: he knew her goals, her fears, her struggles. Autumn’s thoughts and feelings could be seen by Liam on the prayers she posted on the walls or the prayers that she recited before bed. Liam was Catholic, Autumn Baptist. She prayed out loud so her words would gain greater power. Liam did not pray out loud because it made him self-conscious. Autumn’s prayers had a purpose for Liam, they were a method to read into her soul. In the inverse, Liam’s internal prayers were nonexistent to her. He would never let her pray with him, so she often questioned if he actually did them at all. The fact was, however, Liam prayed every day; he had one prayer for his children, one for her, and one for himself to guide his actions. To Liam, his words with God were his and his alone. He knew her hearing these prayers would have been the greatest gift he could have given her, one that would have put her mind at ease, one that would have secured her belief that his soul was safe, and that he was a firm believer in Christ.
Through divine intervention—or pattern analysis—Autumn grew to understand how to control Liam’s anger. He noticed this as well; as his temper began to flare or the children began to frustrate him, she would cut him off with a gentle touch or delicate kiss. When she noticed the look of frustration in his eyes or the blankness in his stare, she would move to him ever so quickly, usually holding him gently while singing “Crazy Love” by Van Morrison softly in his ear. During bad times it seemed like she did this daily, if not two to three times a day. There would be good streaks however, sometimes up to a week at a time. But good or bad she knew to always end the night holding his hand or touching his leg, knowing it would slow his mind and allow him to sleep.
Liam was not always this way; in his youth he was known for his hot temper, but it was nothing that he couldn’t control. As a young man he had his share of shouting matches with competitors, arguments with siblings, and the occasional fistfight at school or the town park. Nothing that would have been out of the ordinary for someone his age or born in his time.
The temper and suicidal thoughts came mostly after his return from his second tour of the war. He never understood why they started or from where they came. He was an infantry officer and assigned as a platoon leader for much of the war. He was by no means a war hero; never took part in any major battles, never killed a man with his bare hands, and for the most part his contact with the enemy was short and sporadic. Over the course of two years, in his own calculation, he probably only spent one month of it in actual combat. The rest of the time he was on patrol, in an observation post, or waiting in an ambush position of an enemy that would never come.
He thought that the anger and suicidal thoughts might have come from the numerous head traumas he received over the years. In his youth he was knocked out several times, mainly due to his aggressiveness on the playing field, whether it was being checked into the boards during a hockey game, or one of the many improvised explosives that would hit his vehicle while on patrol in Iraq. Either way, he was hesitant to find out. As a young military officer he knew that these feelings of suicide would destroy his career. That while the army offered numerous avenues to get help, he knew the real outcome of reporting his thoughts. His commander would tell him how brave he was, the chaplain would let him know he was stronger for facing his issues, and his men would say they understood. The reality was, however, that he would be removed from command and his promotion timeline would be slowed for the rest of his career—something that he knew his young family could not afford.
But this all didn’t matter. His physical injuries got the most of him and he ended up retiring at twenty years of service as a Lieutenant Colonel. He made it to Battalion command, which was something he was proud of, but it was a far cry from the rank of General, which he had always dreamed of achieving. It was for the better, he guessed, leaving the army allowed him to enter the world of academia, it allowed him to start writing and researching, it allowed him to obtain wealth, and more importantly it allowed him to grow closer to Autumn.
After his retirement from the army, it seemed that the suicidal thoughts and the rage subsided a little. They were still present every day, but the increased presence of Autumn seemed to have quieted them. He figured it was because the children were now older, and there were less food throwing and diaper issues. The fact that each of his children could now use the bathroom without the help of an adult, shower independently, and for the most part listened when told what to do, relieved the stress of day-in and day-out living. Now instead of playing airplane with food, he could sit across from Autumn and eat his meal. There was no rush at the table and no need to clean up the floor after every meal. This didn’t mean that there were not points of frustration, like when his daughter emotionally broke down or his sons decided to test the waters of manhood, but there was a difference. He could now concentrate on Autumn when these issues were raised and more importantly she could concentrate on him. When a tense moment happened she would immediately make eye contact with Liam, her eyes would disarm his emotions within seconds, even when she closed them momentarily to gain her thoughts. Liam himself would feel anxiety in those moments that they were closed, the mere anticipation of them returning to him was enough to make him concerned that she would return his gaze, but she always did; and when she did his anger would disappear, his prior thoughts would become ridiculous to him, and only hope and happiness would remain.
She was getting up from the garden now and her gaze returned to him; he was not angry, he was not suicidal, he was at peace. He remembered the day they met, how nervous he was to meet her, how his stomach turned with anticipation, how she looked on that first date, how easy the conversation was at dinner, the way his body felt a burst of warmth the first time he kissed her. He knew that they had the kind of love that poets write of, that playwrights could only imagine, and that almost no one on Earth had ever had the privilege to feel. Liam knew that Autumn was put on this earth to complete him and that no other person could have in the way she did. He always felt that people used the term soul mate too loosely. That they didn’t understand what it was like to know what that meant, to have another person reach into your soul with one touch or the simplest gaze. Today is the day, he told himself, the day that I tell her about my thoughts, my anger, and how I never would be here today without her. That those emotions and those thoughts would have destroyed me without her love, that he was sorry that he kept this from her. That from this day forward he would be a better man and become the husband he always wanted to be.
He walked out the door and onto the porch. She was walking toward him holding the fresh cherry tomatoes she just had picked. They were red for the most part, some still slightly green. She had a look of pride on her face that this year’s crop was far exceeding the last. Deep down Liam knew that this meant he would again be expanding the garden, taking away from a task he most likely wanted to complete. A bit of anger started to fill his midsection, the anger that he dreaded so much. His hand started to twitch and pain ran up his arm.
“Goddamnit,” he said in a whisper, “not now.” Liam’s twitching had always been problem for him, a problem he hid as best he could. The nerve pain, however, was new. Something that only came about in his later years, most likely a side effect of his most recent outbreak of shingles. Autumn, unlike anyone else in his life, was the only one who knew the extent of it, and only she got to see his vulnerabilities.
Liam attempted to smile at her but the pain began to spread to his chest, a pain that he had not felt before, one that ran up his arm and into his brain. He collapsed, he fought with his eyes to try to open them, but he couldn’t. He fought to see her eyes, her face, her anything. He knew if he could he would be okay. His mind raced and his life began to flash though his brain. He saw Autumn on their first date, then her holding each of his children after their births, her at graduations and celebrations, her sitting next to him at funerals, on walks, in restaurants, on beaches, her everywhere they had ever been. The pain disappeared and sounds of nature were replaced with sounds of horror, Autumn was screaming and he couldn’t move to help her. He tried to open his eyes to see what was happening and he couldn’t, the world seemed to fade to black around him.