It’s been weird being back at North Prep. I feel like I don’t even know anyone here anymore—that I’m disconnected with it all. If it weren’t for Nick, I think I would ask my parents if I could go somewhere else. You may have heard that Greta transferred before the fall semester started. She originally enrolled at St. James Academy but I guess word had gotten out about what happened with you and she had to drop out. The last I knew she was going to public school. No one here talks about it anymore. There’s new scandals, like the substitute chemistry teacher who got caught having sex with Alison Morrisey. Do you remember her? Really quiet girl? Long, curly auburn hair. Her hair was gorgeous and apparently the chem teacher couldn’t keep his hands off her.
He’s getting prosecuted. Poor Allison claims she loves him. It’s a pretty big mess. Speaking of messes, everyone is upset with Nick and I because we ruined prom. Some girl—I don’t know who as she hasn’t fessed up to it—nominated Nick for prom king. He threatened to quit the team if anyone voted for him. There were several write ins but his threat was effective enough to see that he came in a distant third. He wanted me to go with him but I didn’t feel up to it so he decided to stay home. Word got around that he wasn’t going and half the team ended up at your place which made all the folks at the dance furious.
Somehow this is my fault, of course, rather than Nick’s. He tries to solve this problem by glaring at everyone which only makes matters worse. I seriously cannot wait for school to be done. This probably sounds stupid and dumb to you as your traipsing across the jungle or whoever you are currently but that’s the boring stuff that’s going on at home.
Love and miss you,
Is paper in such scare supply that you had to rip off the bottom of my letter to write your little message? I don’t even know if it even counts as a letter. “Fuck em, keep writing” barely exceeds the length of your greeting. I think in the days of the telegraph people exchanged longer dispatches. I’m sending you this book of letters between John Quincy Adams and his wife Abigail so that you have a better idea of what a real letter looks like. You could send me a message over the web, you know. Even a picture. We couldSkype even. I know. I know. That’s an irrational suggestion because in this day and age of technology where there’s virtual reality eyewear on every street corner, why would we ever try something like that out.
Your mom told me that when she and your dad wrote to each other they pledged only to write letters rather than send electronic messages. At the last Sunday dinner, I asked her what they wrote about and she said the weather and that your dad complained about how hot it was. Your dad smirked and said that it was always very hot around your mom. Nick gagged and your dad playfully cuffed him. It’s adorable that your parents are still so in love with each other. I want that, though. I want what your parents have and what my parents have, don’t you?
Nick and I got in a huge fight the other day. He got a full ride scholarship to Notre Dame for football, which I’m sure you already know. When I told him I hadn’t even applied, he totally lost it. He’d said that I ruined it. It being all of his plans. I’ve decided not to go to college. It’s just not for me. I’m barely eking by right now and it’s taking everything I’ve got. I don’t even want to think about how horrible college would be where I’d have to read a thousand pages a night and then be able to spit it out the next day in some coherent fashion. And then there’d be the students who read Tolstoy and Dostoevsky for fun! I had to look up how to spell those names by the way.
I’m going to stick close to home. I tried to explain to Nick that even if I had applied, I wouldn’t have gotten in. And did he think we would just room together? He’d have to live with the football players and I’d live in my tiny apartment surrounded by people smarter than me. I’m tired of being around people who are all smarter than me.
He came around. Did he tell you we’ve been playing video games together. It’s good therapy for my hand/eye coordination according to the docs. One of these days I’m going to beat his ass. If you were here, you would be impressed. I miss you. I wish you were here. Write me longer letters next time.
I’m sorry I asked for longer letters. I didn’t realize it was going to make you stop writing at all. I’ve enclosed a full sheet of paper for you in case you don’t have any of your own. Now that Nick is gone, it’s so quiet around here. Your mom and dad drive over for every home game. I’ve taken to going with them because it’s like a tomb at home. I think we should get a dog or something.
I got a job. Dad said that I could work for him so I started as as an assistant to his assistant. He’s really disorganized. Mom says that my scatterbrained behavior comes less from the radiation and mostly from genetics. My day consists of getting up, going to his office trailer and filing. I had no idea there was so much paperwork when it came to building things. I can safely say that I’ll be looking for another job soon. I’ve never been so bored. Ever.
Nick is loving college but we are both worried about you. He said he hadn’t heard from you in months. And while that is disturbing, it also made me feel good because at least I know that you weren’t just ignoring me. I’m still waiting for you, just like I promised.
Miss you a thousand times more than the last letter,
I’ve come to the conclusion that letter writing is cathartic. It’s the only rational reason I keep writing despite the fact that you never respond. Did the paper I sent you get destroyed? You better not be writing anyone else on my paper. Ha ha ha! Just kidding. Actually I’m not kidding. What are you doing with my paper? You certainly aren’t sending it to me.
I don’t mean to be nagging or negative, but what is going on? I feel like I’m writing into the void.
Speaking of void, I’ve been filling my time with community college. Mom said if I was bored doing filing that I should learn a trade. I’m enrolled in City College downtown and I confess that I kind of love it. I’m not sure what I want to do so I’m taking a bunch of weird courses, trying a little of everything. I took a welding course which was pretty neat. This one guy, Paul, like an artist. His welds are so perfect and hardly need any grinding which is like sanding with the metal disc. He helped me with my own poor technique.
We got to go to a job site and Paul stuck with me the entire time, making sure no one tried anything funny and helping me perfect my welds. I told him that I wasn’t interested in welding as a career, but it fit him perfectly. I introduced him to Dad to see if there were any jobs for Paul after he was done with his apprenticeship and classes.
I think you’d like Paul. He’s a straight up, no bullshit kind of guy. I asked him what it meant when a guy told you he loved you, promised to love you forever, and then took off without ever saying goodbye. Paul said that the guy wasn’t interested any longer and didn’t know how to tell me. Or was a coward. But I know you aren’t a coward. You’re fearless. He doesn’t know you like I do.
More likely you are busy, doing something dangerous and you just can’t write back. Right? I can’t even begin to tell you how much I miss you.
Write back. Please.
Love your loneliest girl,
OMG really? You can’t write me one letter in return but you sic poor Nick on me? He came driving down from Notre Dame in one day because he had to check out some asshole named Paul. I cannot believe you. Seriously. Paul is married with two kids and a gorgeous wife. He’s also like ten years older than me.
I’m not even in welding anymore. I told you that I was trying out a bunch of different classes. Just FYI, I’m taking floral design and my instructor Neil is fucking amazing.
PS Don’t you dare send Nick again. He’s not your errand boy.
“I’m sorry?” That’s all you’re going to write? I don’t even know what you are sorry about. Sorry that you don’t write to me? Sorry that you can’t bring yourself to break it off? Sorry that I’m too dumb and too stubborn to give up on us?
I was out with my co workers from the vet shop and my supervisor, Emma, kept asking me why I never dated anyone. I guess I had too many beers because I spilled the whole story about us. About how we grew up together and that after I was diagnosed with the tumor, you told me that you loved me. You made me promise that it would always be “only you.”
Emma said that I was a fool and I was wasting the best years of my life. You will be happy to know the other girls at the table said if a Navy SEAL really could hold his breath for like ten minutes straight, I should at least give you one chance to make me see heaven before I got shot of you for good. There are so many people that keep telling me that I’m too dumb for words to be spending my evenings writing letters to you when I get nothing in return.
I’d like to say that they don’t know you like I know you but honestly? I don’t know if I do know you anymore. It’s been years, Nate, and in all that time, I’ve received a handful of responses from you. I still love you but I need you. I need you to tell me you love me too.
I’m sorry I was so pissy in my last few letters. I don’t know what came over me. Please forgive me. I just miss you so so much.
I think this is going to be my last letter to you. I can’t take it any more. The years of your absence is literally killing my heart. I feel myself being diminished every day. I kept hoping, thinking that if I just gave you time, you’d come back to me like you promised. “It will always be Nathan and Charlotte,” you told me once. I held on to that for years now but as each week, month, year has passed, I’ve come to the conclusion that I’m the only one that still believes in that concept anymore.
These things on my letter aren’t tears. They are splotches made by this soda can — oh what the hell. Of course they are my tears. I’ve shed what seems like a million of them. Seeing you at the rare holiday and never being able to touch you. Hardly ever getting a response from you despite the fact that I’ve written my damn hand off. All of those things eat away at me as if tiny insects are nibbling at my skin, sucking my blood until one day I wake up a hollow shell.
And I don’t get it. I see the longing in your eyes. I know that look because I see it every day in my mirror but you keep rejecting me, pushing me away. I can’t take it any longer. When I had to have my shunt replaced, I know that was you in the room. I felt you. You were gone when I woke up but I didn’t need to ask my parents or yours who it was that sat with me through the night. I SMELLED YOU even in my sleep. Yet why you left? Why you never even spoke to me once? Why I haven’t felt the touch of your hand or the press of your lips against me? I don’t have the answers to these questions and they haunt me. You, our love, our past, is haunting me.
My friends say that it’s completely unhealthy for me to be hung up on you. I think even Nick has given up hope that you’ll ever come around. He’s not even apologizing or explaining things away anymore. Like Nate’s on a mission or he talks about you all the time or just give him space.
I’ve waited so long for you. And for what? To be given what reward? To turn twenty two and not have you around? It’s been six years! Six. I’m so dried up I don’t even remember what it is to interact with other guys. I’ve turned away men in the prime of my dating life because I believed in your words “It will always be Nathan and Charlotte.”
I’m just done, Nate. Done.
I love you. I will always love you but for my sake and probably for yours too, I have got to move on.
She signed it “yours” not “love”. For the first time in six years, Charlotte had ended a letter to me without expressing her love. It’s been three years since I received this letter. The paper is crumpled from my reflexive anger when I first received it. It was anger directed at myself. But it’s also worn due to the many times I’ve read it and re-read it. I know it by heart. I know all her letters by heart. I’ve written her back a thousand times in my head but only a few words have ever made it to the page. I couldn’t describe to her what I felt like in those early days. How much I hated myself. Greta. Women. Everything.
I trace the splotches, her tears, like a morbid tic tac toe. I’ve started so many letters to her and wanted to kiss her so many times. It was torture to see her and not touch her. As she grew older and more beautiful, each visit home was more painful than the torture they did in Special Forces to prepare us for capture. So I went home less and less until I just stopped visiting altogether.
I stayed away telling myself it was better for her to find someone else. That she’d be happier. That the whole “Nathan and Charlotte” thing was a child’s dream. I thought that over time, she’d give up but she never did. She held on so long and the longer she held on, the more amazing she showed herself to be, the more I realized I didn’t deserve her no matter how much I wanted her.
It’s been almost two years since I last saw her in person. Mom and Dad and Nick have learned that if they want to see me, they come to me because I can’t go back to Chicago. By mutual agreement, no one brings up Charlotte anymore. It’s too painful for all of us.
I pull up her profile on my phone. It’s still the first entry. Every new phone I’ve ever gotten, I’ve punched in her number first and added her picture. I’ve got recent ones that Nick furtively sends me. They are still good friends, maybe even best friends, but Charlotte would be so angry if she knew that 99% of the pictures of Nick took of the two of them are for my eyes.
“Who’s the hottie, Sergeant?”
Some new lance corporal peers over my shoulder at Charlotte’s smiling face. I turn the phone screen face down and give him a glare that has new seamen crying in their boots.
“Don’t even look at her. He’ll kick your ass,” calls Howe. He’s a teammate of mine. I can’t wait until we get off this fucking ship. Most of the time we fly in and out of these carriers but right now we’re cooling our heels, waiting on orders to see whether we’ll be going in to rescue some rich guy and his wife who were kidnapped in the Mediterranean.
“She looks like she’s worth an ass kicking or five.”
“Move the fuck along,” I bark.
The lance corporal hesitates but when I start to rise from my seat, he scuttles off.
I shouldn’t call her but I can’t help it. Not after the last mission. Not after spending another evening reading through all of her letters. I have a lot of sorries to say, a lot of fences to mend. I have a lot to make up for but after spending nine years running, I’m ready finally ready to face her and tell her that I still believe in Nathan and Charlotte.
With a deep breath, I press send and the phone rings once, then twice.
“Hello?” A man’s voice, a sleepy man’s voice is answering Charlotte’s phone in the middle of the fucking day.
“Is Charlotte there?” I bite out.
There’s a rustling and then the sleepy voice says, “Charlie, someone’s on the phone for you.”
Charlie? This guy, who’s sleeping close to her phone has a fucking nickname for her? It takes superhuman effort not to crush the phone in my hand.
“Who’s it?” I’d recognize her voice in hell. I feel like I’m already headed there.
“Oh my god, is it two? I need to go. Where’s my shirt? Reese? Don’t go back to sleep. Help me find my shirt!”
The phone lay forgotten on the …bed? Bile rises in my throat.
“I can’t go without my shirt. Get out of bed, you bum, and help me find it.”
“Here it is. It was under the bed.”
“I must have tossed it there last night.”
“Can you do up my skirt in the back? I can never get that hook. I think my hands are broken from all the rubbing you made me do last night.”
I hang up before I can hear another word. Dropping the phone to the table, I take deep, gulping breaths to corral my burgeoning rage but concentrated breathing isn’t doing a thing for me. With a roar, I shoot to my feet and grab the side of my table and with one heave, flip it over. Plates go flying and the guys on the other side look at me shocked and pissed off, but I don’t give a goddamned. I start throwing around chairs, benches, anything I can get my hands on. People are shouting and running but I’m in full Hulk mode now. Destroy. Destroy. Destroy. Four hands grab at me, two at each arm and they drag me backward out of the room. It’s Howe and another teammate, Cabby.
“Whoever she is, she’s not worth it,” Howe says as we clear the door. They drag me all the way to head and shove me into the shower. I get in a punch on one of them before the cold water hits my head and the shock of it snaps me out of my rage fueled mania.
“Not worth it.” Howe repeats.
“No pussy ever is,” Cabby agrees.
As the water drips down my face into the tiny drain, I lean back against the hard metal wall. Regret swarms me like locust and I stare at the two of them who look back at me with concern and disbelief. Rubbing that left area of my chest where my heart once resided, I told them the shitty truth. “She was and I fucked it up.”