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The Endless Wait

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It’s been two long years, no, long can’t even begin to describe the agony; perhaps no word can truly explain the constant panic, the ceaseless heartache of this tragic bloodshed. All around me I watch mothers lose their sons, sisters torn from their brothers, children left without fathers, and I wonder when my day will come. I pace, every sundown, as the sun ignites the sky with glorious rays of rust, crimson, and gold in a breathtaking crescendo of color. Layers of ice and frost which once enveloped the earth are fading away, no match for the warmth and the coming of spring. Tiny sprouts of green have begun to surface, courageously pioneering out into the open once more after months of solemn retreat. The planet, for months, it seemed had given up, leaves abandoned their trees, flowers shriveled and disappeared, and the earth was a barren wasteland of misery and despair. Even now, however, as the clouds continue to loom ominously overhead and the wind bites ferociously at my skin, it seems the world may be trying to start fresh, and I am unprepared for the coming of a new day.
I feel so out of place here, as the world celebrates birth and new life, for the space within my soul is desolate and spiteful. My heart is void of all hope, of all joy, and I move through each day without thought, not truly living, simply existing in a world that has abandoned me, and thrown me mockingly into a pit of despair. It’s dusk now, and as I sit upon the window sill, curled with a cup of tea in one hand and a pen in the other, I can only gaze in despondency out toward the empty street, praying for some news; even the confirmation of my deepest fears might come with relief. It’s been four months since I last heard from him.
Though it seems like an eternity, it was five years ago yesterday that I first glimpsed him perusing the aisles of our town library, an institution with lofty aspirations, but little to show for them. If I force myself to admit it, I wasn’t star struck, or even impressed for that matter. He was handsome in a classic way, tall with dark chocolate toned hair, but I wasn’t looking for another factor to complicate my life in that moment, despite the common belief of my overbearing siblings that I should be married by 27 and that I really ought to be “husband-hunting” by now. As he appeared both comfortable and content in his search, I didn’t disturb him and instead attended to my weekly duties. I continued to organize the card-catalogue, a project I never seemed to finish, though I worked every day in the library from ten a.m. to four p.m., another aspect of my life that seemed to dismay my relatives. I had never felt the need to be dependent upon a man, and found myself happier paving my own path, relying on my own skills and intelligence to lead me to success.
“Excuse Me Miss? I’m looking for the mystery section, and for the life of me, I can’t seem to find it.” I turned and there he was, and upon closer inspection, my initial impressions of him as unremarkable vanished. He had a thoughtful face - eyebrows arched in a look of constant inquiry that highlighted deceivingly tranquil eyes that, I would soon come to realize, sparkled with a glimmer of mischief. He radiated a genuine sense of contentment, a willingness to accept life’s challenges and make the most of them, never losing his good humor or love for life.
“Miss?” he inquired patiently, startling me from my thoughts. Blushing deeply, wondering just how long I had foolishly stood gazing upon him, I began to stutter an answer, though I realized I hadn’t even heard the question.
“I’m sorry, I don’t know where my mind is today. How can I help you?”
“The mystery section?”
I snickered bitterly and replied, “We don’t have one. We have a general fiction section, a non-fiction section, and a reference section. Our funding is…well…limited.”
He laughed fully, the kind of laugh that comes from somewhere in your feet and, by the time it emerges from your mouth, has such a power and energy that it startles anyone within a two-mile radius.
I bit my lip, refusing to smile, but desperately wanting to. I gathered my dignity and replied gravely, “It’s really not funny sir. The state of this library is simply shameful, but no one seems to care.” He surveyed my expression carefully, and determined that my serious remark did not truly indicate my mood, and retorted mockingly,
“Oh, you’re right Miss. It’s a positively dire state of affairs.” I simply couldn’t help myself, and so I permitted a grin to light up my face, the first true happiness I had felt all day. Though the library was dingy and dusty, sunshine barely shining through to brighten the room, I felt bathed in sunlight and joy.
Who is he, and why have I never seen him before? I racked my brains in the attempt to recall if I might have passed him before on the street; the town was the type in which everyone knew who you were, who your parents were, what you did for a living, and exactly how many times you’d had to stay in at recess in the fourth grade. Most of the time I loved the comfort and familiarity of small town life, but, on occasion, I had a general sense of feeling trapped and confined.
“So do you even have any mystery books?”
“None worth reading,” I sighed. “The books here are really intended for the children, you’ll have to head downtown for a better variety.”
“Well, if none of the books here can suffice for entertainment, I’m perfectly charmed by the librarian. Would you have lunch with me?”
“How perfectly forward! I can’t believe he just asked me out without even knowing anything about me. My family would be aghast…so how could I possibly pass up the offer?”
“I’d be delighted. I get off at one?”
“You don’t seem too terribly busy, mind if I hang around? Looks like you could use some help with the catalogue.”
“Of course, I’m always looking for an extra set of hands.”
And so passed the day. We spent not a moment with trivial pleasantries, and by the end of lunch, I hadn’t the slightest knowledge of his job, family, or taste in movies, but rather I knew how he felt about people and his outlook on the world around him, and I felt that in a single day, I was more at ease with him than anyone I’d ever known.
We were married three weeks later.
Our nuptials were a scandal never seen before in Rocky Mount, Virginia, and gossip surrounding our whirlwind romance didn’t settle for months. I was informed, in tones mixed with horror and indignation, that finding a husband soon didn’t mean a marriage after three weeks. The pernicious comments, however, fell upon delightfully deaf ears, as we were both blissfully consumed with our own lives, and cared not for the accusing glances we ignored as we walked hand in hand down the street. Our lives were impossibly perfect, and I, an expert in literature, should have seen the blaring signs that I was living a fantasy, one that would begin to dissolve before my eyes barely a year into our marriage.
It was the most beautiful day of the year, a sunny, cloudless marvel that simply commands all who can to spend their every waking moment outside, basking in the beauty of being alive. After a day spent hiking together and rowing on the lake, we came home to our cozy cottage to find the mail sitting on our doorstep. Rarely did we receive anything save for bills and advertisements; our relatives had essentially disowned us for our improper marriage, and we were satisfied to hear little from the outside world. Yet today, amidst the junk mail, hiding in supposed innocence amongst the fluff, was the letter. We had hoped and prayed, since he’d so long avoided it, that such a notice would never enter the threshold of our haven, yet it slipped in through the cracks, and once there, could never be sent back. The draft notice explained that he needed to report the following week for training, and would be shipped overseas the following month. For the first time since our marriage, the light within me, the flame that had so long fueled my enthusiasm and passion, was dead. We spent our last week in near silence, each making half-hearted attempts to console the other, but we were both so consumed by our own misery we barely spoke. How I wish I hadn’t wasted those moments.
Army life was demanding, and he barely had time to write home. I lived for the monthly letters I received, counting down the days on my calendar until I could hear from him once more. I had once been strong willed, independent, and more than capable of fending for myself, but I had become accustomed to being cared for, and life without him was simply unbearable. I had alienated everyone close to me, and for the first time, I was truly alone.
“My darling,” he’d write. “I miss you so in this awful place. All I see is death; I watch my friends fall down, their bodies torn apart by exhaustion, disease, and most brutally, by bullets. I don’t know how much longer I can stand this.”
Though these snippets were heart wrenching, any news was preferable to the depths of my vivid imagination; I could conjure the most horrid of images, and often did in the long periods of silence. It’s been three months, three months and two days, since the last letter came. I never realized it might be the last. The army takes forever to send the news of a fallen soldier, but I’ve nearly lost all hope of avoiding such a letter. I’ve resigned myself to widowed life, alone and empty, and I’ve lost all will to go on. Eating and drinking have become routines I remember only occasionally, and I’ve grown to be withered and emaciated from loneliness. I hear nothing of the news any longer, I’ve quit reading the papers, for all they write is of death and destruction, and I rarely leave the cottage. I cling, once a day, to hope, to an impossible dream of hearing his words once more, and the blow is crushing when every sundown the mail arrives with no news from him. Today marks his second year of war, and I no longer know if he’s alive or dead.
My once steaming cup of tea has grown cold from lack of attention or care, but my focus remains on the street outside, for, it might be my imagination, but I think I hear the squeaky wheels of our dented, nearly ancient mail truck grinding to a halt. The familiar shriek of exhausted tires and well-worn brakes has become music to my ears, for this is the only moment in which I am alive. The chance, no matter how improbable, of seeing his carefully formed letters flowing across the stationery I sent him is the only motivation for my heart to keep beating, to persevere in a life I no longer value. Ted, our mailman, is jogging to the door despite his age and poor health, for he knows I wait daily for the letters he brings, and as I open the door, he hands the letters to me wordlessly, turns, and walks away.
Typically so friendly and cordial, I wonder what might have caused Ted’s brusque departure, and I can’t bear to examine the letters he’s brought. As I force myself to sift through the pile, I finally set eyes upon the small cream envelope in official military print. Such a letter can mean only one thing, and fingers trembling, I wonder why I’m even bothering to open the cursed message. I struggle to even tear open the seal, as my brain tells my fingers to stop, instincts of self-preservation finally beginning to surface. As I slip my hand in, I pull out not a neatly typed card, but the front of a magazine cover. The cover bears some patriotic slogan with a captain saluting; I suppose it was intended as propaganda to encourage our finest young men to donate their lives for the cause. I can’t possibly communicate the depth of my loathing for such advertisements.
Why would anyone send me such a thing? Is it supposed to be some cruel joke?
I turn over the ripped cover, and finally see its purpose. Rather than the white space that normally resides there, I see, quite possibly, the messiest handwriting imaginable scribbled at the very top of the page. My eyes glassy, I can barely make out the print, and I don’t recognize its form. Obviously written in a hurry, the letter shows no recognizable form of penmanship, and as I reach for my glasses, I’m entirely befuddled as to the sender or his intentions. As I gaze upon it once more, this time with fresh eyes, unhindered by despair and instead infused with hope, I can finally make out the words.
“My Darling Lizzie,

I’m so sorry, I had nothing else to write on, nor anything else to send this in. Hopefully you didn’t panic when you saw the envelope. I had no time to write this, but I think you’ll forgive the handwriting. My love, the war is over. I’m coming home.”





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