I don’t remember much of my grandpa. By the end, I associated visits to his room in that big old retirement home with a kind of trepidation. The conflicting smells of hospital-grade disinfectant and mould. The people who shuffled around or just didn’t move at all.
For a child, it was an afternoon of boredom.
I wish I had taken the time to listen harder though. To pay a bit more attention, learn what this man who could barely put a cigarette to his lips (“cancer be damned, what else can it do to me now?”) had accomplished in his life. Maybe he could see the future, or maybe he’d just done the same to his own grandfather.
Later. After. Life had a way of kicking you. He died but the stories began. At his funeral, a small affair with just my parents and myself, we had a line of people queuing to pay their respects. His coffin was draped, consumed and buried beneath wreaths. Men standing on wooden legs thanked me. Widows cried forgiveness for bringing their husbands home.
I didn’t know what it meant.
When I turned 18 my father gave me a letter. It was browning, the handwriting ornate but with a shake to it that only old age can bring. My father said nothing; he’d explained that his father had done things during the Great War. He’d saved men by killing others. We didn’t speak of it after that, something he wouldn’t break until his own death.
“To my grandson,” the letter began. “You will not read this until you are a man, of that I have made your father promise. Your innocence was the most precious gift you had as a child and I could never bear to take it away.
“You will have learnt since of what I did that day. Some people think heroism is always rising above others to do the right thing. What they don’t know is that it’s really being able to live with yourself after sinking lower than you can possibly fathom.
“The stories will change. I have written this letter because, 50 years after my deeds were done, the truth will out. It will be you who bears the brunt. You who will be tarred because of my actions.
“I ask only one thing, my innocent grandson, that you do not think less of me for what I had to do.”
Prompt originally posted by Gravitiaxis on reddit and received 2 upvotes.