Intense Emotions

“What do you think?”

Dawn and Todd were home for Easter that year.  They’d brought their sweet baby girl home with them.  A had been born last October, just eleven months after I gave birth to Zach.  The differences in their experience were stark; I had been there for Dawn as a support person but the father of her child was there too.  They had been married now for just over a year, and seemed very happy with the way everything was working out.  We were on the floor in my mother’s living room, surrounded by baby toys.  Zach and A played happily in the center of the room while we sat on the periphery of it all, guarding the exits.

Dawn was looking down at the letter in her hands.  It was from Ray, written to me.  It arrived the day before, but he’d written it a week ago.  This was the third one I’d received from him.  I was kind of stunned to hear back from him.  I’d been writing him generic, newsy, upbeat letters to keep his spirits up during the outbreak of hostilities overseas in Iraq.  I was surprised when the first one came back just two weeks after I’d sent mine over.  He didn’t speak much about what was going on; I understood that he really couldn’t.  By the second letter, he was telling me that he wasn’t avoiding the specifics only because he was supposed to, but because they were so distasteful that he couldn’t really put them into words.

This third letter was written after the hard stuff was done.  They were working their way back towards the border of Kuwait, and he knew that he would be going back to Germany soon.

“I think he’s taking your support during a very scary time for him and projecting it as feelings of more emotion than he really is capable of feeling,” Dawn answered.

“Wow, don’t hold back or anything,” Todd chided her.

“No, she’s right,” I sighed.  “I don’t really think it’s possible for him to still be in love with me, when he really didn’t really love me the first time around.  Still, it’s kind of amazing to read all of that written down on paper, written by him, isn’t it?”

I was trying to be detached.  I’d written Ray more out of fear for his life and emotion surrounding the first real war I’d experienced as an adult.  I was shocked that someone I had cared so deeply for once was in harm’s way.  That being said, I had a difficult time after breaking it off with Ray, and my feelings for him had healed over long ago.  I wasn’t interested in caring for him in a romantic way anymore.  I had enough baggage going on with my situation as a single parent; I didn’t need him back in my life making me feel badly about myself.

“It is.  This part where he says he wishes Zach were his?  That would just be heartbreaking if I didn’t know him and what he is like.”

Todd was intent on sticking up for the male.  “You know, we’ve all grown up since three years ago.  Don’t you think it might be at all possible that going through what he’s been through in the last few months might have given him just a teeny bit of perspective on what is really important?”

I looked over at Zach as he handed A his old rattle.  She took it gingerly and discovered the pebbles inside that sounded like sandpaper.  She shook it up and down gleefully and giggled.

“Maybe.”  I felt prickly hot at the thought of Ray being interested in me again.  “I just don’t know if I can allow myself to go down that road after everything that has happened.  I mean, why would I open myself up again like that?”

Dawn looked at me.  “I don’t know.  I mean, I suppose there’s nothing wrong with continuing the correspondence, anyway.  He’s half a world away anyway, so it’s not like anything really is going to come of it.  How much longer does he have in the Army?”

I calculated for a minute.  It had to be a four year enlistment.  “It has to be at least a year, maybe more.”

“Well then, it couldn’t hurt to write him,” Todd offered.   “I mean, you are helping him out by writing him, and maybe it is good for you too, to give you some sort of way to wrap up those loose ends, say all of those things that never did the last time.”

Dawn laughed, rolling her eyes at Todd’s opinion, not having ever met Ray and having no real knowledge of what he was like as a person.  “And with it all being on paper, you might actually have the nerve to do it and not chicken out,” she laughed.

I looked at Todd, wistfully.  If Joe were here, this would be an entirely different discussion.  Joe hated Ray.  He hated the fear and sadness I’d experienced after I’d broken up with him, and Joe had helped me through it.  If Joe were here, he wouldn’t be defending Ray on principle as a male of the species.  He would be telling me that Ray was getting what he deserved, an ambivalent ex who was wringing her hands at offering even basic kindness to a solider in need.

But Joe wasn’t here.   I had no idea where he was.

“So I’ll keep him at arm’s length, knowing the emotion is probably coming out of the intense experiences and not anything he actually feels for me,” I said quietly.  ” But I’ll keep writing.  I just can’t help wanting to know where it will go.”

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