My friend had this lovely red flower she used to clip into her hair. I told her it looked beautiful, and she let me borrow it to attend a dance.
When I moved away a few months later, I opened one of my boxes of clothes and saw her flower clip wedged among my blue jeans. It had clipped itself to something and gotten swept up into the box. I remember I called to tell her, and she laughed — said, “Keep it safe until you see me again.”
Months later, she called to tell me she was being deployed; I drove out to see her off. Eighteen months, she said, it wouldn’t be too bad. It wasn’t one of the more dangerous stations, she’d be fine.
That’s the line they tell family and friends so we can feel better about putting them on a plane and watching their personality get strapped into a uniform. They want us to be able to pretend they’re safe.
I brought her flower clip with me, to lighten the mood. “Finally giving it back,” I said. She looked at it a moment, laughed, and handed it back – said, “Keep it safe until you see me again.”
For almost twenty months she was gone. I wrote her letters, one every two weeks. Some of them got to her; a lot didn’t. We video chatted when we could. I pretended I was calm, and she pretended things were normal.
Finally, she called to tell me she was stateside, but I was genuinely surprised when she showed up one day while I was at work. She had driven several hours just to surprise me in person. In front of all my coworkers, I hugged her so hard it probably hurt and cried like a baby. I remember through the tears, I said simply, “You came home.”
And she answered, calm as anything, “I had to – you had my flower.”
It’s now two years later, and I haven’t seen her in months. But I have that flower clip.
I’m keeping it safe until I see her again.