Guilt

Guilt

I knelt silently before the grave, the small white card a temporary gravestone.

Adriana Martinez
1974-2012
Loving Wife and Mother

My eyes couldn’t leave her name. As much as I wanted them to, I couldn’t help it. Couldn’t help but let the torrent of memories rush upon me. I remembered the first day we had met, how I had spilled her coffee accidentally, walking without paying attention to where I was going.

“Oh my gosh, I’m so sorry,” I said quickly, taking out a napkin and handing it to her, picking up the fallen cup. “Here, let me buy you a new one.” 

I would’ve thought she would have been furious at me, but instead she simply smiled and accepted my offer. I smiled back, and together we walked back to the coffee shop.

It seemed so long ago now. A lifetime ago. Yet at the same time, it seemed like just yesterday. We shared a coffee together afterwards, and somehow I had had the courage to ask for her number, and even more of a miracle was that she had given me her real one. That was one of the greatest days of my life. I remembered our first real date…how nervous I had been, how much I had prepared for it.

“Dude, chill, it’s going to be okay,” my best friend Aaron said to me. 

But I couldn’t help it. I fidgeted nervously, wringing my hands together and pacing the backyard. I had set up a table accompanied by candles and a waiter in a tux: Aaron. Every she didn’t show seemed like an hour. 

“Are you sure everything’s okay?”

“Yes, it’s fine! Just look at it, it’s perfect,” he replied. I had to agree, it did look pretty nice. But that didn’t stop me from worrying. I had never felt this way about a woman before. I remembered just two days ago when I had only met her because of my clumsiness. I remembered the lovely conversation we had, where we discovered so many similarities. I remem—

The doorbell rang. The intense desire burned in my heart all the greater and I rushed toward the door. 

A tear fell from my eye. She had loved that date so much, the perfect smile of hers always present on her face. Yet I couldn’t see it. The memories were all a fog, and no matter how hard I tried, I could not see her face. Why? I asked myself, but could think of no answer. I shook my head quickly, trying to forget, focusing again on the happy memories. Yet that only made it worse as after every smile from every memory I realized that that was what I lost. Her. Gone forever.

I buried my head in my hands as I remembered the day I proposed. A beautiful dinner at a fancy restaurant, with a garden and balcony overlooking the ocean. I remembered how happy she had been when I got on one knee, but I couldn’t see it. Couldn’t see her smile, her face.

It was the guilt. I had done this. It was because of me that she was dead. I should’ve listened to her when she begged me to leave my job – an undercover cop infiltrating gangs. It was dangerous. I knew that the moment I slipped up, the moment they found out, my family was dead. But I thought I was good enough. Good enough to evade their discovery forever.

I was wrong.

More tears fell. ”I’m sorry,” I whispered to the stone. Hoping I could say it to her, but knowing that I never could. I only wished she knew…knew how sorry I was. But it was too late now. She was gone.

I tried to think of other happy memories – almost every moment we had spent together; our wedding, the happiest day of my life; the birth of our child, the second happiest day of my life. But I couldn’t. Now all I saw was her body with a hole in her head, a pool of blood under it. The duct-tape on her mouth, hands, and feet. The look of fear in her still-open, dead eyes. This picture of her face, her half blown-off face, would be the only one I could ever see again.

The guilt consumed me.

Aaron approached from behind, probably wondering why I was still here, hours later after the funeral.

“C’mon, man,” he said, “it’s not your fault.”

“But it is.” The guilt wouldn’t let me think any differently.

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