Title: Keep Forever by Alexa Kingaard
Publisher: Acorn Publishing
Genre: Historical, Women’s Fiction
Length: 283 pages
“Unlike some war stories that focus on intense, harsh and graphic depictions of post-combat trauma, this tale unfolds gently, like an Edna Ferber novel, spread across many decades, detailing the impact this soldier’s illness has on an entire family, including children and grandchildren. KEEP FOREVER is a wonderful, emotionally satisfying read that I highly recommend. ”
GARY SEIGEL, author of “Haskell Himself”
Paul O’Brien’s idyllic childhood in Southern California comes to a halt when his mother dies in the summer before his senior year of high school and a very different persona of his father emerges – isolating himself inside the house, turning to alcohol for comfort, and barely noticing his only child. Simultaneously, the war in Vietnam is sending shock waves around the world and young men from one coast to the other are being called upon to serve. Paul enlists in the Marines before receiving his draft notice.
Elizabeth Sutton is eager to gain some independence from her father’s old fashioned notions and looking forward to her first year in high school. At fifteen years old, tragedy strikes with the loss of both parents in an auto accident, turning her childhood into one of responsibility and worry overnight. The four siblings are scattered when her nine-year-old twin sisters are sent to live with their Aunt and Uncle on Nantucket Island, and Elizabeth is left behind in Boston with their grandmother. Her older brother, Sam, enlists in the Marines, eager to join the conflict a world away as opposed to dealing with the one unfolding at home.
A bond develops between Paul and Sam in Vietnam, and both are injured in a bloody battle that costs Sam his right hand and sets the stage for a lifetime of nightmares and sleepless nights for Paul. Matched by similar tragedies at a young age, Elizabeth and Paul’s first introduction by Sam upon their return from Vietnam is the beginning of friendship and love that survives five decades.
After marrying, welcoming their first child, and inheriting a small beach house, the couple adapts to their new surroundings, but distant memories of Vietnam continue to haunt Paul. In an era when veterans refuse to speak of their pain and the government denies that thousands of soldiers are coming home irreparably damaged, he is left to deal with the challenge of caring for his loved ones amidst his his erratic flashback episodes and moods. As their lives unravel from the lingering effects of PTSD, Elizabeth learns to accept the burden that Paul brought home, and together they make their own memories to keep forever.
A True Story
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“Mama, we’re going to be late. What’s taking Dad so long to get ready? I’m gonna miss the plane.”
“You’re not going to miss the plane, Lily.”
“At this rate, I will. It leaves at eleven, and it’s already nine thirty. On a good day, it’s a thirty-minute drive, and I still have to check my bags and get my boarding pass at the counter. You know how long the lines can be.”
Elizabeth could see her daughter getting more and more restless. Her bags were already in the trunk, and Elizabeth sensed Lily was about to cry. “You’re not going to miss your flight. I told your dad it leaves at eleven. It actually leaves at noon.” She gave Lily a hug and hoped it would make her feel better, less nervous. Instead, Lily glared at her mother.
“I wish you would have told me instead of making me sweat it out.”
“I thought it best to keep it to myself so your dad would hurry up. Why don’t you go see how close he is to being ready? We should get out of here soon in case there is a lot of traffic.”
Lily knocked on her parents’ bedroom door, somewhat annoyed. “Dad, we’re ready to leave. I don’t want to miss my flight. Are you almost ready?”
Paul opened the door enough to poke his head out, careful not to let Lily peer inside. He couldn’t recall the exact day it happened, but at some point, he told the children they were not to go into the bedroom. Elizabeth was allowed, simply because there was no place else for her to sleep. She found it hard to enter, even though it was the bedroom she and Paul had shared for so many years. Stacks of papers along with full and empty boxes concealing every wall, and mounds of clothes in every corner made it uncomfortable for her to spend any time in there. The bed was the only spot left uncluttered, and all she could do was hope sleep would come quickly every night so she wouldn’t have to think about the debris that surrounded her. Paul hardly ever came to bed anymore, choosing instead to catch whatever sleep he could in his lounge chair, preferring the company of late-night TV to hers.
“Here I come, Lily. Tell your mother to get in the car. I’ll be there in one more minute.”
“Okay, Dad, but please hurry.”
The door opened, and Paul emerged with his duffle bag and cane in one hand, tennis shoes in the other. Lily wondered if they would ever leave the house.
“I’ll put my shoes on in the car. Let’s go.”
“I’ll help you, Dad,” she said, taking his hand in hers, careful not to tug too hard as they rushed out the door.
She was much less patient once they hit Interstate 5 heading south. “I told you there would be traffic.”
“Lily, calm down. The traffic’s going in the opposite direction and we’re almost there. Maybe there was an accident or something.”
“What time does her plane leave?” Paul asked, looking at his watch. A tennis shoe on one foot, and struggling with the other, he worked to maneuver himself between the seat and the dashboard, while still keeping his seat belt buckled. There was little room for him to manage and it was hard to watch. Lily and Elizabeth observed in silence as Paul planted his feet on the floor, shoes on each foot, just as they approached the airport parking lot.
“Noon.” Checking her rear-view mirror, she could see Lily’s relief and caught the slightest of smiles emerge on her daughter’s beautiful face.
The airport was bustling with summer travelers, as many leaving as arriving, and the parking lot appeared almost full. Elizabeth let Paul and Lily out at the curb. It seemed much easier to find a parking space on her own and run if she had to, knowing a long walk to the terminal would tire Paul before they made it to the ticket counter. Keeping everyone moving and calm was the best she could do. When she found an empty space at the farthest corner of the lot, she grabbed her keys and purse and sprinted to meet them inside the terminal.
“I can do the rest of this myself, you know. You guys didn’t have to come to the gate. You could’ve left me at the curb. It would’ve been all right.” Lily muttered under her breath, “It would’ve been so much easier.”
“Now we’ll have a few minutes left to talk. I want to be there when you take off,” said Paul. Lily didn’t respond, but leaned over and gave her father a big hug. Elizabeth was wistful, watching the scene between father and daughter, and wished she and Lily had the same loving relationship. Her thoughts were interrupted when Lily blew her a kiss, and Elizabeth returned the gesture with a slight smile, glowing from the inside, happy to be recognized with a sign of affection from her daughter. The trio worked their way to the ticket counter, up the escalator, and to the gate. From the loudspeaker, they heard, “Attention, passengers. Flight three-twenty-one, leaving from gate fifty-four, with service from San Diego to Boston has been delayed. Your new departure time is twelve forty-five p.m. We are sorry for any inconvenience.”
Paul looked at his watch. It was eleven-thirty. “I’m so glad we stayed, Lily.”
“Me too. I’m glad you’re both here.”
ALEXA KINGAARD was born in San Diego, CA and has lived most of her life in the area. She currently resides in Carlsbad and is the mother of a son and daughter who continue to be her biggest fans and cheerleaders.
Her debut novel, KEEP FOREVER, was inspired by her late ex-husband who batted the residual effects of the Vietnam War for decades after his return. The burden he brought home is shared by combat veterans of all conflicts, and her fictional account highlights the collateral damage encountered by family members and loved ones living with PTSD in their midst.
Her second novel, MY NAME IS ROSE, departs from her personal experiences and focuses on the collective memories of her generation. She loves writing about nostalgia and the human condition, the common denominator of our lives.
Author Links: Website * Facebook * Twitter * Goodreads * Instagram
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