A Soldier’s Lover

I PULLED OPEN my bureau drawer and took out his letters, stacked in a pile where I’d saved them. The envelopes were of various sizes and colors, but all were worn, softened, and wrinkled. I carried them with me downstairs, laid them on my kitchen table.

He had just called and stirred up all sorts of emotion. He was hungover, driving back to Savannah from a weekend visiting his brother in Atlanta. And he was calling me, what, to kill time on his drive? I had sent him an email a few days earlier, asking how his last days of training for the competition were going, odds and ends, just loose chatter. And so he told me he’d gotten my email and was sorry that he hadn’t gotten a chance to write back, that he’d been really busy. But that he’d been thinking about me.

He could always do that so well. Turn a hapless conversation into unveiled flirtation.

We never really had what might be considered a normal conversation. In the twelve months that Hayes and I were “together” he was deployed in Iraq for six of them, in two three-month tours; the other six months we lived in different states. We saw each other twelve times, including the day we met. We spoke and emailed often, nearly every day when he was stateside, and with surprising frequency, too, when he was deployed, via the army’s satellite phones and computers.

So, have you gotten your life together yet, or are you still trying this writing thing?

Oh, you know, I’m just waiting for a man to marry me. . . .

What a guy that’s gonna be!

And we laughed. It was an old joke. I could hear his wry smile over the phone. His voice was strong. He put me at ease. But realizing my comfort with him made me nervous, too, to be like this again with him, after so much time and yet feeling like it had been no time at all. I stumbled over my words. My voice oscillated, quickened. We laughed again. I recovered, and my voice steadied.

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