One Saturday morning, while six year-old Jeremy Ledbetter washed the minivan with his dad, a police car pulled into their driveway. Jeremy wanted to see inside, but his dad yelled at him to get his mother who was napping with his younger brother, Jared. It took a long time to wake her, just as it usually did, and when Jeremy came back outside, the police car was driving away. He ran down the road, waving at his dad slouched in the back seat.
On Jeremy Ledbetter’s eleventh birthday, his mother brought him and Jared to the Chuck E. Cheese in Tacoma. She watched them play a few games and paid for a large pepperoni pizza. Kissing them each on the cheek, she told them she had to get something out of the car they called home for the last year or so. Jeremy was confused when the reverse lights came on and, frowning, he waved when she drove past the window.
After Jeremy Ledbetter was busted stealing a guitar from the local pawn shop, his caseworker picked him up at the police station. She yelled at him while weaving through rush hour on the way back to his foster home. He tried to interrupt, tried to explain the guitar was for his brother and that he never gave him anything for his birthday, but she wouldn’t listen and dropped him off at the curb. Standing empty-handed on the front walk, he waved at Jared who was staring out the bay window.
The bouncerat the Off Ramp Café told Jeremy Ledbetter he’d better make sure he and his brother didn’t try and sneak in again with their fake ID’s. Said he’d let themfend for themselves next time, which Jeremy thought was hilarious.Jared flipped off the band members who’d jumped them in the alley, pissed that they’d lost the Battle of the Bands competition, and Jeremy waved to try and keep the peace so he didn’t get punched again.
When Jeremy Ledbetter graduated high school, his shoulder-length hair had been trimmed within a quarter inch of his scalp, and his eyes were set on the future. Underneath his extra-large gown he wore a perfectly-pressed military uniform—his last name velcroed with pride to his chest. As he walked across the stage in polished combat boots, he waved to his brother who sat stoned and befuddled in the front row.
The night before Jeremy Ledbetter left for Fort Benning, he took his girlfriend and their six-month-old daughter to the beach and asked her to marry him. He wanted to know they’d be there for him when he returned home from boot camp. To his relief, she said yes. The next morning, he stared at his daughter as he boarded the bus, in an effort not to miss anything more than he had to. He called her name as she gurgled happily in her mother’s arms, and waved to her out the window.
After eight months away, Jeremy Ledbetter returned home on leave to his wife and their one year-old daughter. He watched videos of her first steps, her first swim at the beach, the first time she sang along with Uncle Jared. He attended barbecues on the base, funerals of soldiers and a concert downtown in the park. Most mornings he and his wife lay side by side, not speaking, just listening to each other breathe, until the morning came for Jeremy to head overseas to fight in the war he’d been training for. Tears pooled in his eyes as he waved goodbye to his wife, who clutched their daughter and sobbed.
One night, while patrolling the roads just outside Kuwait City, Jeremy Ledbetter’s platoon drove past a group of young children standing on the side of the road. Their dark eyes followed the tank as it rumbled along, the soldier manning the turret-mounted machine gun pivoting from side to side. Jeremy stood through the back hatch, and waved to the youngsters below.
Two soldiers, in Class A uniform, walked up the steps toward Jeremy Ledbetter’s front door, carrying a yellow envelope. The little girl standing in the window smiled because they looked like her daddy’s friends and she missed her daddy terribly. It had been a long time since she’d seen him, the longest time ever, and she couldn’t remember exactly what he looked like anymore. She called to her mother who was folding laundry upstairs, and waved to the soldiers.
They didn’t wave back.
Jennifer Todhunter is a number nerd by day, word fiddler at night. She enjoys dark, salty chocolate and running top speed in the other direction.