Calvin opened the dusty cardboard box marked "pictures" and sighed to himself. He wiped away beads of sweat as he sat down on the dirty attic floor. For a second, he envisioned his daughter cleaning the jumble of boxes and old clothes after he was gone and wondered if she would understand why he had kept all this stuff. He didn't know why he was doing this to himself. Looking at the old photographs was like opening a box of painful memories. It took great effort to get his old body up the rickety ladder and into the attic. He endured the various pains and climbed anyway. He knew his daughter would be mad at him for taking a chance of falling and was glad she had not dropped by during the 20-minute ordeal. He had not looked through the box in years, too many years to remember. Now as he grew older and weaker he thought perhaps it was time to look one last time.

Calvin reflected on his 85th birthday party from the night before. His daughter, Susan, had planned it and it had turned out wonderfully. Calvin thought of his grandson running around the house playing just like any other 6-year-old would do and smiled to himself. When they brought the cake out he was shocked by just how many candles were on top of it. "That's not really mine?" he said and everyone laughed. He heard them all whispering about his health and how good he looked for 85, but he pretended not to hear. He didn't mind too much that the way they talked to his grandson and the way they talked to him were so similar, but it made him a little sad. "That means I'm old, I guess,” he thought. He knew they were also saying that he shouldn't be living alone, but they were very careful not to let him hear that.

The whole night nobody had mentioned Dorothy, his beloved wife of 55 years, not a word. He thought back to the funeral and how people had whispered that it was probably for the best and how glad that her suffering was over. Didn't they know that his suffering had just begun? The cancer that had taken his loving wife had also taken his soul. The last year had been the worst of his life. The beautiful Sunday morning sunrises they used to watch together now looked bleak and hollow and he slept through them more and more often now. He remembered back to the restaurant that was her favorite and the smile that was always on her face when the waiter recognized them. He wondered what they saw when the two of them came in. Did they see an old man with his old wife? Or was it possible that they saw the beautiful angel that he did? They would never know how strong she was and how she had nursed his tortured mind when he returned home from the war. How could they ever know that this feeble little lady worked 60 hours a week in a factory to support the men who went off to fight? 

He thought about his return home and how she was there waving a flag, tears in her eyes and that smile he had been longing to see. In the years after he never smiled. “How strong she had to be," he thought to himself, “to have to love the shell of the man I was for all those years and to never just pack up and leave. If not for her, I'd have shriveled up and died long ago." A tear rolled down his weather-beaten face and suddenly he couldn't find the strength to wipe it away.  

His chance to return her selfless sacrifice did not come for many years after. When they learned of the cancer eating away at her it was too late to do anything except ease the pain of her death. He stayed up for hours after she fell asleep and just looked at her peaceful face and hoped that he could be as strong now as she was way back then. He did his best. When the end came, she smiled at him and told him how much she loved him and to be strong. When she passed on, so did a large piece of him. He felt it torn from his body as her life drifted away. 

Calvin reached down into the box and pulled out a picture of her from 1943. A photograph she placed in his hand as she kissed him goodbye when he left for the war. The photograph was yellowed and old and even a little faded at the edges. He flipped it over and read the writing on the back:

 Dear Calvin, 
This picture is for those moments when all seems lost,
 don't give up, I'm waiting here for you and I love you. 
 Love Dorothy

The tears rolled uncontrollably now. He looked at the picture again and clutched it to his chest as he lay down on the dusty attic floor. Years worth of held back tears poured down his face. His blurred vision began to blacken as peacefulness washed over his body. "I love you so much,” he choked out as he clutched the picture tighter to his chest. He could hear his daughter's voice downstairs, but it seemed so far away as the darkness crept closer. As the final seconds ticked by, he smiled and just faded away.