Life Experiences

Letters and Goodbyes

It was the fall of 2007 and I had just turned twenty. I came home from a long day of classes at the university and rushed to the mailbox. It was about 5pm. My mother always let me get the mail. It was a thick stack of while envelopes so I began to sort. Bill, advert, account statements, another bill, and then I saw it. It was a petite white envelope with a few brown smudges on the front. It wasn’t like the others which were crisp and clean in long legal length envelopes. I felt a smile on my face that hadn’t been there for weeks. There was an American flag stamp, covered by a strange postmark. The brown smudges were distinctively fingerprints. I ran my fingers over them to see if I could feel their texture. I couldn’t, but I was marveled that this envelope was held by by him wherever he was, some two weeks ago. I slowly read the address written in a seemingly rushed font and looked for some marker to show this letter’s origin. Nothing. 
I grabbed a cola, sat slowly in the reading nook while propping my feet and pulled a blanket over my feet. I didn’t want to be interrupted and my mother always left me alone to read the letters that came. I opened it carefully and slowly. I was surprised how small the paper was. Two half sheets of military issue parchment, written on both back and front in pencil. They were also smudged and dusty. Dust. Dust everywhere. Wherever he was, it was a dry desert. Deserts weren’t good places to be. My imagination wandered and quickly snapped back. This was not a place I wanted my mind to dwell.
I read, first quickly, then slowly, then again. Then, when I knew the words could tell me no more, I smelled the paper. It smelled like him. He hadn’t been on a ship for at least a month. No calls, no emails, no technology. I knew where he was, but he couldn’t tell me. I missed him horribly but every letter felt as though he was visiting me for just a few minutes. 
That was his first deployment. 
When he leaves for his six weeks of work we say goodbye in the mornings, knowing that we’ve slept with the intention of leaving before the day has begun. It is a firmer intention and we question it less. Otherwise, goodbyes may take 45 minutes, even after 12 years together. 
Our toddler, asleep in his crib, with the marks of linens across his cheeks and hair awry, feels no hurt, cries no tears, and knows no loss. When he wakes he will be happy to see his daddy on the FaceTime screen as usual. How lucky he is. 
I remember that first long deployment, waiting for the mail to come with the hopes that maybe it smelled like him. FaceTime, what a marvel. 


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