I stare at a blank piece of lined stationery, waiting for the right words to find their way into my brain and magically appear on the page.
Here I am again, weeks before deployment number four, handwriting a set of letters to my husband so he has something tangible from me while he’s away. I’m sitting at my desk with a cold glass of water nearby, willing it to morph into a margarita with salt on the rim, but it’s only 10 a.m. My day planner is open in front of me so I can count how many sheets of paper and envelopes I’ll need. I plan each letter with a calendar in hand so he has something to open every few weeks. I’d be devastated to think a holiday went by without him being able to retrieve my love in an envelope from his worn-out green duffel bag.
This was originally a fun idea that stemmed from a late-night Pinterest search back when he was my cute Marine boyfriend. Now it is now a four-year-long tradition that signifies it’s almost time to dust off my deployment armor. It’s time for me to dig deep and find the strength to face another deployment and the next few months without my best friend and partner nearby, whether I want to or not. Duty is calling, even though I’d prefer to not answer the phone.
So here we are again, this fancy paper and me.
I try my best to approach each letter with a game plan. I can’t just write, “I miss you. I love you and Merry Christmas!” These have to mean something and can’t be repetitive or boring – all rules I’ve set for myself over the years. The paragraphs tell him I’m thinking about him, that I’m here waiting for him, and that watching The Office is simply not the same without him next to me on the couch. I try to crack a few jokes, saying how I really miss his over-cooked scrambled eggs on Saturdays and his undercooked pasta on Sundays. Oh, and does he remember when he tried to serve me the frozen garlic bread? I could have cracked a tooth! I assure him that all Valentine’s Day really means is that Reese’s hearts will (finally) be 50 percent off at CVS the next day so missing another holiday together isn’t a big deal. The pages recount past trips we took, and memories we made when the biggest decision of the day was what time to leave the beach so we could get ready for dinner.
The letters tell him that I can hold down the fort until he’s back like I have so many times before and will inevitably do for many years to come. The sweet memories make the adhesive on the envelopes all the more bitter.
As much as I pour into every curated sentence, I can’t help but wonder, what do the folded pages tuck away in the dated envelopes not tell him? Do they hide the fact that I banish them to the back of my closet, completely out of sight until I’m forced to dig them out once he walks in the door and says, “I found out when I’m leaving,”? Do the letters mention to him I have to take a break sometimes because my hands get clammy as I do the math and start thinking of all the things I’ll have to take care of while he’s gone? I hope not. I hope they keep those secrets between the two of us.
While he’s away, focused on his mission and the career he loves, I do my best to keep life moving forward and feeling as normal as possible. Meals are prepared, emails are answered, and bills are paid. Friends are visited, brunch is enjoyed, and movies are watched. The more difficult days are the ones I choose to be overly positive about in my letters to him, the times when I miss him the most. Those days when the Christmas tree is decorated, birthdays are celebrated, and a wedding anniversary is toasted with a glass of champagne. On the days that I miss him so much that I simply tell myself to push through it, stay positive for him, and be thankful for the people and beautiful life around me.
My tools are all here: a day planner and black ballpoint pen, a stack of envelopes, and the stationery. Finishing the last few letters, I think of the journey they’re about to take, the roads they will travel. My husband will open these over the next several months, a million miles away in a place I probably can’t find on a map. I use these tools to try to fill the gap between us.
The day arrives; it’s time for him to go. The sun isn’t up yet, though we’ve both been awake for hours. I’m in the kitchen nursing a cup of lukewarm coffee that tastes like I’m swallowing metal. I try to take deep breaths and will myself to stay out of his way as he brings his things down the stairs when all I want to do is ask him to stay. I do a quick recount, make sure the letters are in order and slide the stack of envelopes into a Ziploc bag so they don’t end up scattered and lost, much like I’m feeling at the moment. With tears in my eyes, I hand the sealed letters full of my love and emotions over to him.
He tells me he reads my letters at the end of his day, right before going to sleep. I hope upon tearing them open he finds happiness, comfort, strength, and a piece of me inside each one. I hope they tell him I’m so proud to be his wife and no matter how far away he may be, I’m right there with him.
About the Author
Ashley Phillips is a writer, marketing consultant, and military spouse. She lives in North Carolina with her husband. In her spare time, she loves to read, listen to podcasts while walking the dog, and watch too many true-crime documentaries. She also considers herself a wine and cheese connoisseur, though only because they are her favorite food groups.
Connect with Ashley on Facebook: Ashley Phillips Buhler & on Instagram @ashbuhler
This piece was originally crafted in The Work of Words writing workshop. Within the course, you'll discover how to string words together with creativity and discernment in a creative non-fiction framework.
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