January 27, 2014
Bizarre as it may seem, I’m at a loss as to how to begin other than in the old learned way of an initial inquiry as to how you are combined with the hope these few lines find you well and able to take nourishment as Uncle Con* used to say.
I wonder what “well” means in the afterlife? Not that I believe in an “afterlife”—at least not beyond the level of “energy becomes energy”—yet, for the sake of this letter addressed to you, I must believe (or imagine I believe) in something beyond life as I know it. You, Uncle Con, Mama, Daddy, so many others I’ve loved and been loved by are another sort of energy now. Un-nameable and unknowable. Yet, I genuinely believe you are all part of this universe. Specks of ash and dust. You’re also in my head, as real as memory can make you. And you, Al, you’re in the letters, in the left-handed non-slant of the words you penned to me in the sixties.
In “the old learned way” of my letter writing, what followed an initial health inquiry was an apology—usually for such a late response—replete with excuses as to why I hadn’t answered sooner. Those old habits die hard.
Alsie, I’m sorry for this delayed response! You knew I loved you back then, how I worried and missed you and answered your letters from ‘Nam almost as often and as rapidly as they were received. It’s a bigger, different love now. You’d think I would’ve gotten right on it, but on the day I came across the box, I’d already handled three bankers boxes and culled manuscripts—drafts of short stories, novel starts, memoir snippets, poetry, term papers, screenplays, fairytales, you-name-it—to fit into one box rather than three. Always prone to use ten words to say what could be said in three, it was mind-numbing—to say the least. By the time I pulled the fourth box from the closet (expecting more folders full of stuff written by me), I was pretty much a zombie.
Then I removed the lid.
Then I slipped the lid right back on.
Your left-slanted handwriting was just underneath. You’d long-handed Mrs., printed Lynn Doiron, and long-handed Free where an unneeded postage stamp was intended. The blue ink and the red-white-blue dash work edging the airmail envelopes pulsed an image while I stared down and thought about what to do next.
I could tuck all your words back into the dark recesses of the closet. I could haul the box over to the log house and store your letters there. I could find the duct tape and wrap it in dull silver until all the faux-woodgrain cardboard was covered completely and the whole of it took on the appearance of the Ark of the Covenant containing the powers of a god in whom I didn’t believe. I could do a Scarlett O’Hara and turn away, think about it, you, that war, those days—tomorrow.
Alsie, it seems I won’t make it much further today than my lame opening inquiry as to your well-being and partial excuses for the delay in responding. Reading this, the you I once knew would offer a simple shrug about now, expecting nothing more for the moment and, more than likely, seriously doubting I’ll finish what I’ve begun. I owe you more than that. I know it and you, my dear heart, my tiny re-purposed energy blink of universe–know it, too–at least in these imagined moments of shared space and time.
*P.S. I dreamed about Uncle Con and you the other night. He was berating me or possibly just giving me a hard time in his meant-to-be-funny-but-not-always-the-case manner about what a spoiled child I had been and what a spoiled woman I was and why on earth didn’t I give you the respect a man such as yourself deserved and how on earth could I date other men after your death and after the sorry (meaning low-down) way I ignored your iced tea glass when empty and why I hadn’t kept our car washed and waxed and spit-shine clean when you had so much to do to provide for me and our babies. In the dream I kept turning away, covering my ears and humming to blot out what Uncle had to say—but it was no use. Then Mama walked into the dream, joining her brother, agreeing with him. I slept badly (the fault of that damned dream) and woke around midnight. The stars were bright; the moon a sliver. Unfortunately, it wasn’t a shakable kind of dream and Uncle was still with me when dawn broke. Mama had departed the dream (just as she had departed from life in 1993). For several seconds after waking, I believed Uncle still lived in Colfax; if he called or vice versa I knew I’d be short-tempered; he’d caused me such a bad night.
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