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Why do I love you, again?
Happy holidays! How are you? Things are fine here, but it is lonely without you. Wish I had more to write.
I crumpled the letter up and threw it in the trash can. Ben had no idea what the war was like. It was bigger than I’d imagined when I had signed up. Ben had opted to continue his work at the hospital instead of joining the military. But I had decided to join. It was more than work. It was my life.
I grabbed my gun before I stepped outside, before waving to the patrol captain to say that I was ready for the next duty shift. The other soldiers nodded to me. I nodded back, feeling the heat of the sun beating down on me though it was in the middle of December. My hair, cut very short, still felt heavy on my head, but I wasn’t ready to commit to shaving it all yet.
“Armistead! Over here!” ordered the captain. I instinctively responded to my last name and snapped to attention before the captain.
“Armistead, you’ve been on duty three times every day for six weeks. What’s up with you? You received your daily letter from home and you haven’t asked to write a response,” questioned the captain.
“Nothing is wrong here, sir! I was just planning on writing my response during lunch, sir!” I answered. I was composed and proper on the outside. But inside, I was a mess.
My problems with Ben began shortly after I’d arrived at base. I hadn’t expected anything to change between us, and yet everything had changed.
I had missed Benjamin for about three months, and then one day, I no longer felt anything. I wasn’t missing Ben. It wasn’t supposed to work that way. Two people are supposed to stay in love, no matter what obstacles separate them. This made me question myself. Ben and I had been perfectly in love when I’d left. Now I wasn’t feeling anything toward him. What was wrong with me?
So I’d given myself the solution. I would make a list of why I loved Ben.
The list was blank.
I hated everything about Ben.
What was wrong with me? I couldn’t bring myself to write that letter to him, to say I didn’t love him anymore.
Hundreds of letters, half written, littered my desk. I hadn’t asked for a war to separate us, make me feel this way.
I had been in a lot of battles before, terrible battles where we’d lost so many people. But I had always held on, for Ben. But in the last battle, I hadn’t found a reason. No reason to go on, to keep it together. Nothing.
But I couldn’t tell the captain that. I just saluted and walked off. In my mind, I wrote that letter. I hated Benjamin, even it was only in my mind.
I’m fine here at Camp Bradford. I hope you’re all right and that work at the hospital isn’t too grueling. I can’t wait to come home! I’ll be home for required leave in one more month, and I’ll get a whole week to spend back home.
I tossed Charlotte’s letter in the trash can. The patient in the room stared curiously at me, wondering why I had thrown a letter from a soldier away. The envelope with its bright red, white, and blue striped border clearly marked it as a soldier’s letter from the battlegrounds. The patient was still staring at me in mute horror that I could so easily discard word from a soldier.
“Dr. Chase, why did you throw that letter away? It was from a soldier!” exclaimed the patient.
“It was only a letter from my fiancée. She’s a soldier, yes,” I answered automatically. Charlotte would have teased me for saying something so monotonous if she’d have heard it.
I began examining the patient.
“So what’s your fiancée like? Do you miss her a lot?” inquired the patient. I listened to her heart, carefully measuring the beats and the sounds of her breathing.
“Charlotte is very nice,” I replied. I wrote down my observations on the patient’s chart.
How could I tell this woman the truth about my feelings toward Charlotte?
How could I tell her that I’d waited more than seven months for me to miss Charlotte and I’d felt nothing?
How could I tell her that I still was waiting for the feelings to come?
How could I tell her that I had tried to think of the reasons I loved Charlotte and I had come up with nothing?
How could I tell her that I’d come to realize that I didn’t like anything about Charlotte?
I couldn’t. I couldn’t tell this woman nor could I tell anyone, least of all Charlotte. She might still love me, and I couldn’t do that to her. I couldn’t be responsible if anything happened to her.
I might have hated Charlotte, but I wasn’t heartless. I was trying to wait until she came home on her leave to tell her. That’s how I rationalized it. I had written that letter a million times, yet it never made it into the mailbox.
How are you? I’m okay, and my sister says hi. She wants to know if you shaved off your hair the way some of the other soldiers had on television. There’s only a short week left until you are home for almost a week on your leave, if this letter even reaches you before you go!
I nervously wadded up Ben’s letter and quickly threw it away. I felt guilty as I did it. Ben wouldn’t have done that, I thought to myself. I looked around my small bunk of the barracks nervously. My bag held my only civilian clothes that I’d brought, a pair of shoes, my comb, a small care package that some scout troop had mailed me, and my military-issue stationary.
I felt jumpy, on edge. I glanced at my ring finger, bare without my engagement ring. At least I could tell Ben in person what I was feeling.
I boarded the bus slowly, unwilling to leave my safe haven of work. The ride to the airport seemed to last an eternity, and the flight on the plane took forever. The final bus ride to the drop-off point was simply a time without end.
When I had gathered my bags and faced the rush of people greeting their soldiers. Ben was there, smiling, still dressed in his lab coat. He’d probably just gotten off of his shift. I stood at attention instinctively, knowing full well that now was my chance to tell Ben everything.
“Ben!” I answered, struggling to sound eager. Ben took my hands in his and looked me in the eyes.
“Charlotte, we have to talk,” said Ben. He was serious and as grim as I felt.
“Yes, we do,” I agreed. We walked to the nearest bench and took a seat.
“Look, Charlotte, I’ve been thinking…” started Ben.
“Ben, I know my time away has been hard on you. It’s been hard on me, being away from a real city, too. But as much as I loved you and would like to have that relationship again, I think too much has changed. I… Just… Well, what I’m trying to say is that I can’t find any reason we should be together. I put a lot of thought behind this, and I just think that this isn’t going to work. Us, I mean. I can’t come back here and remain the same as I was. I’ve changed a lot and… And I can’t find a reason to commit to being your wife. I like you, but I don’t want to try to be something I’m not. I can’t find a reason that… that I love you. I don’t really hate you, but I don’t feel the same about you anymore,” I confessed.
“Charlotte, I was trying to think of a way to tell you this, but I’ve been feeling the same way lately. I don’t hate you, it’s just that this isn’t the same as it used to be between us. Let’s try keeping our distances for a while, and maybe once we’re sure, we could try again,” suggested Benjamin tentatively. I nodded.
“Yes. Well, I’m going to get my stuff and take a break. See my parents. Think about everything. It’s a mess over there, Ben. I can hardly make it through a day without seeing someone get killed. Whatever happens, I just want you to know that you’re a good guy. It just didn’t work. Maybe one day it will, but not now. Good-bye, Benjamin,” I concluded. I put my engagement ring in his hand.
“Good-bye, Charlotte,” whispered Ben. I set off for my apartment to gather my stuff.
Dr. Benjamin Chase,
We regret to inform you that your fiancée, Charlotte Marie Armistead, has been killed.
Respectfully, Commander James Pierson
That was all that was in the letter. A simple little sentence. I hadn’t ever forgotten her, but she remained a friend and no more. Ever since that day she’d come back on her leave, she had never been the same. Charlotte had returned to Camp Bradford after a week back here. A year had passed since then. Now I clutch the envelope too tightly as a knot forms in my throat. I place the letter on the dining room table and find in the mail another letter addressed from the war zone but not in a military envelope.
I know you will never forgive me for this. You can’t, and I can tolerate that. I can’t go on. It’s just too much to try to think of facing another day. I know you would think it is horrible to take your own life. I’m not that much of a coward. I want to die knowing that at least I died saving someone. I don’t hate you. I just want you to know that I wish I could have had another minute with you, to say that you were truly a good man and I just couldn’t love you for whatever reason. Good-bye, Ben.
I carefully take Charlotte’s final letter and put it in the fireplace. I take what might have been her wedding band and her engagement ring and toss them in there, too. I put in my pictures of her, the bottle of perfume she’d left in my house, her hospital ID card, her lab coat, and my key to her apartment. I pour the gasoline over all of it and strike the match.
“Good-bye, Charlotte,” I murmur. I fling the match into the fireplace. A blaze soon roars. I stir the fire of Charlotte and take a seat next to it.
“Well, Charlotte, I can say this now. I hate everything about you. Good-bye, Charlotte.”