I haven’t heard back from you yet, and I’m starting to worry. I HATE worrying! And there’s a lot of stuff going on around here right now, so I’d prefer to focus all my worrying energies on that.
Here are the scenarios I’m worried about with you:
1. You have thrown me aside in favor of another pen pal who sends better care packages and spicier snacks than I do;
2. The jalapeño beef jerky caused your head to explode and you are therefore unable to find a pen and write me back;
3. You are wounded.
I’m really hoping it’s #1.
Even if I’ve somehow gotten on your nerves, please, PLEASE write back so I can find something more appropriate to worry about. And then I’ll stop bugging you, okay? I’ll even make it really easy for you. Just check a box:
___ Yes, I am alive
P.S. You asked for a picture last time, and here it is: me in my studio, painting and happy.
I’m sorry for worrying you.
You are not the only one who likes to pretend the war isn’t happening. There have been many nights when I lie in bed and pretend I’m just a guy with a dog and a beautiful painting of the sun to soothe away his troubles.
But the war always comes back.
Things are bad here, Talia. And getting worse daily. I look around for signs of hope, but I can’t find any. Sometimes I stare at my service revolver and wonder if it wouldn’t be easier to just—
Remember Chesley, our unit’s bomb-sniffing K-9? She was killed when she stepped on a mine, and we all saw it happen. But I am trying to focus on this: she died on her feet, a hero, and I can only hope that when my time comes, I will do the same.
P.S. Thank you for the picture. Your smile is more beautiful than I remembered, and so are your gray eyes.
I have picked up my pen a thousand times, hoping each time that something profoundly comforting would flow from my heart and brain and onto the paper. So far, it hasn’t. All I know is this: Chesley is in a better place, and now when she runs across a field, it’s only a field. Not a death trap.
As for you—don’t you ever let me hear you talk that way again! EVER! You are not going to die in Afghanistan. I don’t care how bad things look sometimes and, trust me, I know a little about bad. Dying in the war is not your destiny. I can feel it.
Did I mention that I like quotes? I can whip out a quote for every occasion. So here is a Lord Byron quote to get you through the dark hours between now and when you can come home for good:
“’Tis very certain the desire of life prolongs it.”
Your job, Tony, is to stay safe and desire life. Always.
War can’t be wished away. Death can’t be ignored. He stalks me everywhere I go, and is waiting around every corner for me. I’m in his shadow, and I can’t get out. I escaped him today, yeah, but what about tomorrow? Is this meal my last one? This sunset? This letter? How many more of anything do I have coming to me?
This is no time for me to take anything for granted.
It’s not that I regret being a soldier. Don’t think that. I’m proud of my service. I’d do it again in a heartbeat. It’s just that lately I feel like I have more to lose than I’ve ever had before, and it has everything to do with you.
So I have a quote for you, from poet William Ross Wallace:
“Every man dies—not every man really lives.”
If I could die soon—and who are we kidding; I probably WILL die soon—I don’t want it to be before I really live and tell you some things you should know. With apologies to Paul, because I’m not normally a guy who tries to take something that belongs to someone else.
I think about you.
I carry you with me. Your smile is in my heart. Your name is in my head. Your face is in my dreams. It doesn’t matter that we’ve only met face-to-face one time, or that I was engaged to someone else. I’m overflowing with you. Only you.
There. I said it. I don’t expect you to say or do anything back. I just had to say it. I couldn’t breathe without saying it.