Speaking of Pen Pals

It was all over the news.

Iraq had invaded Kuwait in the summer of 1990, and ever since the U.S. had been not so quietly establishing a military presence in the middle east, for an inevitable invasion of Kuwait.  This was the early days of CNN and cable news, but I found myself addicted to the coverage and wondering what would happen in this world of ours.  It was the first “war” I could remember.  Of course Vietnam, as my history teacher would say, happened while I was in the play pen, but I couldn’t remember it.  There was the Falkland Islands conflict, when Britain flew halfway across the world to retain its colonial rights.  And there was Grenada in the 80s, but honestly, none of them felt at all what I knew Vietnam must have felt like to my parents and those a little younger than them.  None of them felt scary.  None of them affected anyone I knew.

But as the bombs started dropping all over Iraq in January, 1991, I couldn’t stop thinking of someone I knew who might be affected by this conflict.


After I split with Ray, he had enlisted in the Army.  I had last seen him in May of my senior year, and hadn’t spoken or written to him since.  His parents and I had kept in touch for a while, but eventually when I was serious about Joe, it seemed awkward and strange to continue a relationship with them.  I honestly hadn’t thought about him in ages, having been so busy with Zachary and my schoolwork and teaching, but knowing he was in the Army made me wonder if he was safe.

In the hallway of State Hall while I waited for my Geography class to start, I wrote his parents a quick note to ask about Ray and whether or not he was part of the military assigned to the Middle East.  I had a feeling he might have, since it seemed like so many were going, but I didn’t know for sure until their response came one cold day in late January:

“Yes, Ray is part of the military assigned to that area.  We know he was in Saudi Arabia for a while, but we really have no idea where he might be now.  We are sure he would like to hear from you and as many others as you know of who would like to send him letters; they really help.  No, he doesn’t need anything as far as we know.  Thank you for thinking of him.”

The world stopped spinning for a minute.  As much as I should not feel anything for him, I couldn’t imagine any harm coming to him either.  It was one thing to think of him running across fields doing military exercises; the quiet ignorance of knowing someone was still out there in the world, even if they weren’t part of your life.  To know that he was in harm’s way was awful, and terrible.

I spent my next break writing a letter to him, and made an appointment to donate blood.  In those helpless days when the world felt very large, and I felt very small, it felt important to do something.


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