They wrote each other letters
breathless and palpitant, befitting young lovers
which she carefully wrapped in ribbon
placing them in his duffel bag
sitting silently in the garage.
Reaching in, a random note from ‘65 he chose
visible still her lipstick on the seal;
reading it over and over
recalling nights they gave themselves
touching lips to body
the excitment bestowed on one another
in a bed of dark pecan;
visions of hips and fingertips
limbs perfect and trembling.
It was a good life together
abruptly ended by the Fates;
in his hand their passion’s echo
recording the fires once shared
the light now fading in the heavens and in his body.
Returning the missive to it’s place, now sad
he went into the night to change his thoughts
listening to frogs and crickets,
moonlit dragon flies
clacking palms and jacaranda.
Most of you who read me know that I served four years in the Army, from November 18,1963 to November 17, 1967. On December 28, 1963, just five weeks after entering the service, she and I were married. You can read all about our fabulous Christmas wedding in the archives of this blog.
We never had a honeymoon; I had to return to Fort Dix, New Jersey on January 2nd.
We were two kids of the fifties; I was barely 21 (equivalent to a 14 year old today!) and she had just graduated high school six months earlier.
I was in the Army Security Agency; we were snoops for the NSA which had overall command of the Agency. In February I reported to Fort Devens, Massachusetts for further training at the Agency signal intelligence school. She joined me there and we had six idyllic months together in a small off base apartment.
Then I got my next assignment. I was hoping for stateside or Europe.
I got Eritrea. Eritrea which probably meant separation from September ’64 to January ’66.
When you were sent overseas in 1964 you left your family and your wife or girlfriend. There was no internet; no iphone, no camcorders. There was no talking regularly from Africa to the folks back home. You were on your own.
A telephone call had to be “booked” 24 hours in advance and cost a month’s pay for a few minutes. And you could not reverse the charges. It was by radio to London and then a phone line to the states. You couldn’t hear them very well anyway. I never called.
In the sixties you wrote letters.
My wife and I kept them all. Hundreds of them. They are stored in my old duffel bag in the garage. I read some of them recently.
They reflect two young, insecure kids being stressed by separation and loneliness. Love letters. Passionate, horny letters. I hate you for leaving me letters followed by I’m sorry I said that letters. I laughed at some of the writings because it is so hard to fight with each other when the mail takes two weeks. By the time you got a nasty reply you forgot what you were originally angry about.
We wanted me out of Africa; I couldn’t get out. I wanted her to come to Africa (some of her friends from Devens did come over); she would not. She thought it wiser that she wait at home and save our money. After all, I was not going to be a “lifer” soldier and we needed to think ahead.
She loved me. She was hot for me. She felt nothing for me today. My letters were all lies; I was glad she wasn’t coming to Africa. I said similar nasty things. Reading the letters today it’s obvious we wrote what we were feeling the day we wrote it but there were more love than hate letters.
I went home in July 1965 for thirty days – it did not go well. We had to stay with either her parents or mine and had little privacy. I was a soldier stranger and she was an insecure 19 year old still living in her father’s house.
The tone of my letters change – I was committed to our marriage and I was going to make it work. The tone of her letters changes as well as we approach the day I am coming home. My family was all anxious to meet me at the airport until I wrote my dad explaining that she and I needed some time alone. I cut the momma’s boy string for good. She was happy.
She met me at JFK airport on a snowy January day with a new top coat and motel reservations. I had no winter clothes.
She, it turns out was right. We saved enough to buy our first house before I left the Army. And we built a marriage that survived the death of two sons and 40 years together.
I had often wondered what to do with the love letters fearing some of them would be embarrassing to us if our daughters read them. Did they belong to her and I alone?
So I decided long ago that no one would read them until I am gone.
Our daughters probably would have found them more shocking when they were much younger and before their own marriages. They are however well on their way to the big 4-0 and all grown up.
So I’ve decided to leave this treasure trove for them to read and discover the truth about their mom and dad with all our foibles, chips, scratches and passions. We too were very young once upon a time.
Besides, my eldest already told me – “Don’t you dare do anything with those letters!!!”