Chapter 16: A Letter of a Lifetime
I went out for breakfast. The diner was crowded. I sat at the counter at the only remaining seat. A woman and two children were to the left of me. The kids were having a big adventure sitting at the counter. Fueled by restless energy, swinging legs kept up with non-stop commentaries on everything the kids saw.
“Hey, Mama, I want hair on my face.”
“It’s called a beard. You are a girl. Probably won’t have one of those.”
“But I want one, Mama.”
“Then let’s hope you get one, sweetie.”
“Yay. I’m going to have a beard and you can’t have one.”
“Mama! Why does she get to have a beard? I want a beard, too!”
“You can have a beard if you want one, Son.”
“Yay. I get to have a beard, too. Ha. Ha. Ha.”
“Oh, look, Kids. Here come our waffles.”
Beard forgotten. I smiled and enjoyed their innocent chatter; chatter untarnished by knowledge of The Dance Floor Wars soon to be theirs.
To my right a man read a long letter. Handwritten, too. It took him thirty minutes. Every now and then, he laughed out loud. Every now and then, he sighed. I had nowhere to go and all day to get there, so I lingered over eggs, ham, and biscuits, and nursed one slow cup of coffee after another, hoping to find out about it.
The last time I saw such a letter I was ten. My mother wrote it to her sister who lived across country. I asked Mama what was in the letter. She told me it was full of important news; did I want to write to Aunt Mary? I did, and added my — prophetically — five-page report to the letter with what important information in my ten-year-old world might be found interesting by her. Barely getting the flap shut and sealed, Mama commented maybe I should have shortened my letter. I was being edited even way back then, too; but she didn’t have time for my offer of a rewrite and let it go as it stood.
Yet here I sat, next to another such letter. Was it full of important news, too? I’m good at starting conversations, and being a curious enough fellow, I wanted to know what was in it.
“Letter from home?” I asked in a friendly non-committal manner.
The man turned his head to me and said simply, “No.”
Of course that could only leave a woman or an old army buddy, but his answer was so short I thought I’d get nothing more from him. He surprised me, though.
“It’s from a woman,” he said as he held the letter in front of him.
“Aahh,” I nodded encouragingly.
“No. It’s not like that. I don’t know her.”
“No.” Abruptly he turned to me. “I’ve got to tell somebody this story. Can I tell you?”
“Sure.” I set my cup down, put my elbows on the counter, and proceeded to settle in for a good long listen.
“I was in a diner on the East Coast a couple of weeks ago. Minding my own business. Getting ready to hit the road for home. A woman walked in and sat in a booth. I thought she might be waiting on someone, but nobody ever came. She ate her breakfast and then she pulled out paper and pencil and she started writing.”
The man smiled at the memory. “It was such fun watching her write. The emotions she went through…well, it was quite interesting. I wondered what she was writing. I had to know. But, what am I gonna do? Go up and ask: Hey, whatcha writing?”
That’s exactly what he did, and in the asking surprised himself by doing it. On his way out the door, he casually moseyed by her table and acted like he was seeing her for the first time. No, she explained, she was not writing a novel, she was writing a letter to a man. Tired of email and texting, she wanted to feel a pencil in her hand and write a real letter that could be put in a drawer somewhere, taken out and held, kept as a memento. A letter that would be found after death.
A letter that would make his adult children gasp and say, “Dad? No! Really? Oh, my God.”
The man continued. “I fell in love with her right there. I said: Would you write me a letter? She said she would. Then she asked for my address. All of a sudden I got paranoid. I said Why do you need my address?”
I chuckled at that. He chuckled with me and said, “She gave me that look. You know the one I’m talking about, right?”
“Then she said: Well, sir, it will be awfully hard for the post office to deliver the letter if they don’t know where to take it. Then she sat back in her seat and she said: Oh, my goodness. You’re scared to give me your address. I denied it. Then these people sitting at another table, I didn’t know they were listening in. These people said: He’s punkin’ out on ya.”
Having his bluff called by getting the civilized version of I double-dog dare ya, the man gave up his address. She promised not to stalk him or steal his identity or send him any business offers based on a pyramid scheme. At first he thought she was serious, then he saw the twinkle in her eye that said she was messing with him. Everybody laughed and had a good time.
“I said I had to go, but I asked her if she promised to write me a letter. She held up her hand, solemn like, and she said: I swear to write you a letter, and it will be a good one.”
He held it up. “Here it is. I got it yesterday. You want to read it?”
Though I was dying to, I pulled a sadly reluctant face. “Oh, I can’t read your personal correspondence.”
He held it out to me. “Sure you can. She ain’t never gonna write another to me and I won’t write her back, that’s for sure. But, damn…what a letter.”
I took it. Twenty minutes later I gave it back. He wasn’t lying. It was a letter full of honesty and truth and conclusions about life and relationships and the human condition. One section I remember is this:
I can be this honest with you because I’ll never see you again. We have nothing invested in my honesty. Nothing can be lost from my openness. I haven’t had to worry about pulling my punches in order to salvage an ego of someone who wants to be in my life or my bed. I know nothing about you, so you can’t take anything I say personally. Well…you could, but I won’t see it and it wouldn’t matter. I don’t play games. I never have and I never will. To many, that is a game in itself. I feel sorry for them.
Thank you for asking me to write you a letter. I had a lot of fun doing it.
Carefully refolding the letter, he said, “Well?”
“A letter of a lifetime.”
“Yes. I’ll keep this. And I’ll keep it in a place I can get to easily and reread it.”
He nodded his head with one hard dip, as if sealing a deal with himself and making a promise to her. More than likely, though, he’d read it one more time, put it up, and forget where he put it. The next time he thought about reading it, he wouldn’t be able to find it.
I, on the other hand, with an almost photographic memory, remembered the letter just about word for word, and as soon as I got to the car jotted a few notes. Upon arrival at home, I went to my computer and slammed it out. Skipping her all-too-common and not worth mentioning marital history, here is the core of the letter he received, as close as I can remember:
….So now it is a little after 2 AM, thus an early Wednesday morning for me. My bed is uncomfortable — for various reasons. With me removed from it, it is empty and it is that emptiness which makes it crowded and I can’t relax.
As I toss, flip, turn, curl, and stretch, the emptiness mocks me; there is no one for me to touch nor anyone to touch me. I hate waking in the night. I know it is the craving of my subconscious shaking awake my body’s needs so abruptly and strong, yet can one control the subconscious? I don’t think so.
How can I sleep with such strong forces running through me? Pleasing myself does not work because it lacks one very crucial element that cannot be duplicated by artificial means:
The force of his strength, his skin against mine, his muscles under my fingers, his possession of my body. It is not the pleasure of self I need, but the pleasure of another enjoying my mind and body as I enjoy his.
A mind that can and will match my intensity of thoughts and can engage me and feed my soul as I feed his. Giving. Taking. Receiving. Sharing. A body against which I can throw the force of my desires and have the impact absorbed and fed back to me as passion meets passion.
It is a hunger, as the song says, an endless, aching need. Nothing new I am telling you, for sure. Others before me and after, have and will experience the same. But so what? I still feel the ache and the pain and the need and not less so because others experience the same.
I want to make love.
I need to make love.
But not just with anybody anywhere anytime. It is not sense pleasure for sense pleasure’s sake I seek, need, or want. I want…
Oh, what’s the use of saying? It doesn’t change a thing. My bed calls. I ignore it. I think of happy times and smiles from not so long ago and I think of opportunities never to come again and I am sad.
I want to be adored. I want someone I can adore. I want male attention, positive. I want to give attention, positive. I want it more than once. Maybe, and this is a gruesome thought to me, maybe my hunger will never be sated because it is too great. Maybe there is no man who wants me because he thinks I want too much and that’s more than he can handle.
If these things are true, I am to be pitied.
I don’t want to be shared by many. I want to be treasured by one.
I don’t want to please many. I want to please one.
Why do I tell you these things, Frank? You are far away and can do nothing to abate my hunger. One can write a letter extolling the virtues of a meal, but the scent and taste cannot be carried in an envelope, can it?
Maybe one day I’ll meet a man who does not view me as a project, something to be fixed, or a drain on his time. Maybe one day I’ll meet a man who can argue with me and still love me; who can accept those rough parts of me and still see the value of what I bring to his life; who cannot wait to get home to me because I refresh his soul even though I know he isn’t perfect.
She wrote a letter of a lifetime with a truth and honesty that can only be shared by those who will never see each other again. And that is simply sad.
Chapter 17: Speed Racer, Oxymoron, Ricky Bobby, and More Characters
Lucinda was MIA. I texted several times and didn’t get a reply. I thought, possibly, she was out of range and wasn’t receiving them. Three weeks passed with no word or phone call. While missing her witty comments and voice, and sharing coffee time, in truth I was happy to get a break from Lucinda. It allowed some time to get her out of my system.
I felt as if I was seeing the war through a filter. A filter of Lucinda’s viewpoint. I now needed to take that information and see for myself.
I spent the time writing stories, rebuilding bridges by making nice with my editor, and generally spending high-quality time at the front. One of my goals was to get to know some of the men and tell their stories. To that end I was successful and shall now relate these.
Speed Racer is what anyone anywhere would call a good ol’ boy. Country gentleman to the core, with a little bit of wild side thrown in. In other words, a heartbreaker. He enjoyed a good cigar — with a brandy when his redneck friends weren’t looking. (I have this good friend, see…he gets me primo Havanas. Don’t ask.) He didn’t chew or dip, but if it was advantageous to the business at hand, he could and would and wouldn’t turn green at the gills.
Speed Racer is so named for two reasons. One: He loves his motorcycle and, as he said, Harley likes to go fast. Tricked out with the best, of course. Very comfortable bitch seat. Of course. Never wears his leathers. (Hell, what’s a little road rash, right?)
Two: Do a little bit of dirt track racing, he said, an understatement seeing as how he’s tops on the circuit and moving fast into NASCAR. Not as young as he wants to be, but not so old he can’t attract sponsors. He’s tearing up the track and winning. He flies into town every now and then in his Moonie to see Grandma.
Speed Racer loves to play pool with women and often invites them out for a game or two. He likes to stand behind them and watch that ass line up the shot, his words. His big insight into women consists of this line: Hey, every woman has a Bob as a boyfriend.
I vaguely remembered something about “Bob” and, not letting my ego intrude, asked him to tell me who “Bob” was. He laughed good-naturedly, slapped me on the shoulder, and said, “Hell, son, b, o, b? Battery-operated boyfriend? BOB! Get it? A good old vibrator.”
He continued, seriously, too. “That’s why when I offer to make love to a woman, I do so very respectfully. Hell, if they got BOB, who will do everything they want, exactly like they want, why do they need me?”
It was obvious a letter of a lifetime would have been over his head, so I agreed that was a consideration I had not thought of. He further informed me he had a BOB built into his bitch seat. “Anything to attract the ladies, right, buddy?”
Yes. Of course. Anything.
Surprise. I’m Divorced. (Sid)
Sid slid into a seat next to me at the bar with the biggest hang-dog expression I think I’d ever seen. He ordered a beer and two fingers of Jack, which he slugged in one gulp and, as he slammed the shot glass on the bar, he said, “Hell.”
Sid turned to me and said it again. “Hell.”
… “She’s divorcing me. Why?”
… “I was a good husband…wasn’t I?”
… “I was a good provider…didn’t I make a pile of money and bring it home?”
… “Didn’t I pay for the kids’ college?”
… “Didn’t I bang her good and plenty?”
I shrugged and said nothing as he made this series of statements in this question form in between gulping his beer and ordering more shots of Jack.
I think I’d have felt sorry for him except that every time a woman walked by he made crude comments about her anatomy in a voice loud enough that she heard, as did everybody else at the bar. His favorite comment was I’m gonna tap summa dat.
He asked a woman to dance. It was not pretty. He planted his feet about two feet apart. He bent his knees. He alternated his stare between her crotch and her breasts. He held his hands low, fingers making grasping motions, and his hips thrusting in time to the music. Every now and then he’d step forward and thrust his crotch on hers and grab her ass. I use the crude term ass because the way he grabbed it showed his opinion of her: A piece of ass, nothing more.
She lasted to the end of the song, but she had to work hard to keep him at arm’s distance and was mostly unsuccessful. When he returned to the bar, you know what he said. That’s right. I’m gonna tap summa dat.
I wasn’t surprised Sid was divorced; I was surprised the marriage lasted at all. I wondered if it was his ex who wrote the letter of a lifetime I had so recently read.
Oxymoron had been a highly placed military official. His name would be known to many, though his true role would not. Using the worn out line, he said if he was to tell me what he did, he’d have to kill me. Suffice it to say, he was in Intelligence.
One thing I have noticed about a lot of men when they dance is they pretty much have their set moves. This is the way they move their arms. This is the tempo they keep. And so forth. Oxymoron took that to a new level of standardization. Not surprising, given his military background. Nevertheless, after watching him dance with seven different women, one right after the other, I realized he never wavered from his routine no matter the tempo or style of the music. Sometimes his dance and tempo matched closely enough he looked like he knew what he was doing and the woman could easily follow. Other times the poor woman had to refuse her body’s urge to follow the music so she could be where he was on the floor. His facial expressions were, in turns, sexy, flirty, playful, and sad.
What drove a man to repeat a dance — move for move — so exactingly? Determined to find out, I complimented him on his style and asked where he learned to dance so well. I’ll let you hear it in his own words, drunk and weepy though he was.
I give all the credit to my wife. She’s dead. We were married thirty-one beautiful years and she died. Unexpected, you know. Today would have been our thirty-fifth anniversary. Yeah. She was something. So tonight I dance every dance as if she was here with me. Our last dance was to Lady in Red. She even wore red that evening. I had never been as in love with her as I was that night.
She danced with me as if I was still the young man she had met all those years ago at the party. I was inspired that night and my dance, my lead, our turns, our touch, were beautiful. We went home and made love as if it would be the last time.
Of course, I say as if it were the last time like we somehow knew it would be, but we didn’t, not really. That’s just me trying to make sense of the beauty of that time. She was dead two days later. Heart just stopped. No pain. No torment for my precious sweetie, thank God. The celestial plug was pulled and she was no longer animated.
But none of these women — none! — can compare. They don’t know the dance of my wife. They are not inspired as she was. They cannot inspire me! Oh, God.
Oxymoron said no more. He stared at his drink between sips. When it emptied, he pointed to it, and it was freshened. Three drinks later, more morose than I thought he could get, he stood, paid his bill, and announced: I’m leaving the country. Gonna live in South America. Won’t be back.
And that was the end of Oxymoron — on that battlefield, at least.
Laughing Creep (L.C.)
I had changed where I sat so I could get a different view of the action. A table by the rail at Lucinda’s favorite place afforded me opportunity of an up-close-and-personal look at the action I did not get from sitting at the bar. I could hear conversation mid-battle between the conscripts. This is verbatim the conversation L.C. had with one woman as they attempted to dance to an high-energy, club-length bootie shaker. Imagine them having to scream their conversation to be heard over the music.
L.C.: What are your five favorite bands? Hahahahaha.
Woman: I can’t name one.
L.C.: Oooookaaaay…five favorite artists? Hahahahahaa.
Woman: Barry Manilow, Harold Melvin and The Blue Notes, Paul Anka, Gotye, and Rage Against The Machine.
L.C.: Really? I’m surprised. Those are not my favorites. I don’t know how you could choose those five. Mine are Maroon Five, Michael Jackson, Elvis Presley, The Beatles, and Red Hot Chili Peppers. You see, to me these represent a blend of both the old and the new, with forward-looking aspirations by all. You have chosen stale artists. Those stuck in the ways of their dead forefathers. Hahahahahahaaa.
L.C.: I bet in high school you laughed a lot. Hahahahahahaaa.
L.C.: Oh. Your parents were strict. I understand. Hahahahahahaaa.
L.C.: But you said you didn’t laugh. You didn’t laugh because you’d get in trouble if you did something like cut loose in school. Hahahahahahaaa.
L.C.: Your parents weren’t strict, yet you didn’t laugh.
At this, L.C. got aggravated, even mad.
L.C.: Well, that’s contradictory.
Woman: Not if you know the whole story.
L.C.: Tell me the whole story.
L.C.: I want to know the whole story.
Woman: I just want to dance, so shut up.
He stomped off; left the woman high and dry. She shrugged and kept dancing alone. Happier about her changed circumstance, too, I might add.
Vertically Challenged (V. C.)
V.C. walked up to a woman standing at the rail, watching the action of the floor. She bounced along in time to the music. She towered over V.C. Not that she was very tall; he was just very short. The top of his head barely reached her breasts.
V.C.: You are gorgeous.
Woman: Thank you.
V.C.: I love tall women. You are tall. I am not.
V.C.: I don’t know why I like tall women.
Woman: I can name two reasons.
He paused and thought about it for a few seconds, then laughed.
V.C.: You are very good. You must be a mind reader.
V.C.: Maybe not, seeing as how this isn’t exactly rocket science.
Woman: Not only is it not rocket science, but guys pretty much like boobs and you pretty much are staring them in the face all day long, right?
V.C.: Hahahaaaa, hahaha…you are so funny. Want to dance?
Ricky Bobby (R.B.)
Drunker than hell, R. B. walked by my table, stumbled, and fell into the wall. A nearby woman said, “Oh! Are you alright?” The man blinked at this sudden and beautiful apparition.
R. B., words slurred: Where did you come from?
Woman: My mother’s womb.
R. B.: Stare.
Woman: Stare back.
R. B.: How long you been in here?
Woman: All evening.
R. B.: Why didn’t you come dance with me?
Woman: I never saw you.
R. B., angrily: You shoulda come got me.
He begins to cry and whine.
Woman, to his friend: You should take him home.
R. B.: Can I take you home?
R. B.: Hey, save one for me next time.
R. B.: Yeah. Okay. And you better watch out for me, too, because, oh, yeah, baby, I will pour it on and you will be helpless against me. Help. Less. No matter whatever I say you will do you will love what I do to you.
Woman, to his friend: It’s time to get him out of here.
R. B.: Hey, (as his friend leads him out the door) have you heard the one about…
But they were out of earshot by then and I didn’t hear the rest.