Shall I begin with words of love or warnings you’re not to worry?
Love first: Why? Because without the lessons I learned from you I wouldn’t be who I am and I rather like who I am, who I turned out to be. Not every minute of every day. I’m sometimes too cynical, brisk, brusque, rash, brash, plus other descriptors of a not-always-kind woman. Not-always-unkind either. Maybe somewhere in the middle? I’ll give myself that. At least for today.
I send you a big I LOVE YOU and THANKS for the way you met life and faced it head-on, shook hands with whatever days offered, made a friend of the moment or hours—often when circumstances sucked. Maybe not so much while you were in-country, but who’d expect you to quietly hum through that?
Worry warnings next: Don’t. A car window was broken, some things stolen. I wasn’t hurt. The window and some of the “things” have already been replaced. I could let the incident eat at me, make me dismal and meaner than I like to be for a few days or months, become suspicious and wary and paranoid, wonder who’s going to have a piece of me next—but that’s not how you handled life. Thankfully, you didn’t look back so much as you looked forward. What happened—happened. The important part was moving forward, moving into a good day, a well-spent life.
Ok. As to your letters and how to answer one among them today, I’ve decided to go with these notebook pages, boot camp vintage, 1966:
The first two pages sounds like war games at Camp Pendleton and a Happy Anniversary wish for me—one month as of the day before you penned this. No date on the letter and no postmarked envelope yet I know the date you took the time to sit under a tree and send love and wishes my way: June 8, 1966.
A helicopter ride and apologies are found on pages three and four. Believe it or not, Alsie, I’m pretty sure I recall the argument you apologize for in the above letter. One night our apartment on Orange Grove Avenue was crowded with friends—yours from Ramona HS, class of ’63, and mine from Rubidoux HS, class of ’65—none of them sober, including us.
A patio chair was thrown into the pool—your friend or mine, I couldn’t say. Then another pool-side chair made a splash and sank, followed by another—thrown by you. Music and laughter spilled from everywhere, not just from our place and our friends. The light went on in the manager’s poolside apartment.
Afraid we’d be evicted, I asked you to retrieve the chairs from the pool. You may not have heard or maybe you did; either way, the chairs remained underwater. I took off my suede flats (they were loden green and matched my skirt) and waded in, panty-hosed toes soaking up water, skirt going from medium-pale to cooked-spinach dark as I moved toward the deep end. Then my belt was underwater (the skirt was a hip-hugger A-line) and the yellow voile blouse became as transparent as thin gauze; vertical ruffles down the blouse front collapsed like boiled lettuce and I dove for the bottom, grabbed a chair by the leg or an arm and began dragging it back toward the pool steps.
Our friends took sides—some cheering me on as I made my way up the steps with that chair. Others booed.
Then, fully dressed, you dove into the deep end and began rescuing the remaining chairs as I crawled out. My coiffure of ratted hair tediously smoothed into the shape of a helmet matted my scalp like pond moss. Worst of all, anyone who looked could see every stitch in my bra through that damned transparent yellow blouse. I was mortified.
The party broke up.
The apartment manager turned off his interior lights without ever stepping foot outside the door.
You and I found our bedroom and lay down side by side on our backs in our wet party clothes.
One of us said, “I think we should get a divorce.”
One of us answered, “You may be right.”
You left for the base the next morning before I opened my eyes.
Confession, dear heart: Sometimes when I write of events in my life I “imagine” the details like clothing and conversation. I do this “reinvention” of a time and place with the hope a reader—friend or stranger, daughter or son—will follow me into that time, that place, and witness it with me. The details above are not reinvented, not imagined. This is not one of those “times”. Your letter brought it all back. (You’ve no idea the smiles I’ve offered this page as I type, remembering my self-righteous anger, your reluctant dive in the deep end, our less-than-sweet-nothings Goodnights.
Not to worry, Love, I haven’t been angry with you for a very long time. Will try to write more tomorrow.
Kisses from your Sweetpea XXXXXXX