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Sunday Journal: Writings from the past not always what they seem

Dear loved one, it begins, in black ink on a lone piece of notebook paper that I've found inside a blue folder, the kind with pockets on the inside covers. The front of the folder has the word "science" scrawled across it. Hand-drawn stars and quarter moons surround the large, black capital letters. A few comets decorate the frayed edges, thin marker lines trailing from small irregular circles. The pockets are stuffed with old tests, and scribbled notes about osmosis and carbon molecules. The words "dear loved one" are an anomaly in this world of eighth-grade science.

The folder has come from an unmarked cardboard box, one of several boxes precariously balanced on the top shelf of my bedroom closet. I've been cleaning, sorting, purging. Reminiscing.

I think it may be a love note. My daughter had a few boyfriends in eighth grade, short-term adolescent infatuations. I wasn't privy to the details, didn't need or want to know about middle school lunchroom antics and giggling whispered bus stop conversations.

Dear loved one, it begins.

I'm in the middle of a dry peach colored desert.

It reminds me of the days on the beach just listening to the salty waves roll by.

I imagine I'm with you on a wonderful summer day and everything will be ok and everyone is happy that after the beach we'll come home and enjoy a delicious barbeque dinner.

There is more, but I pause.

Nice, I think. I was hesitant to read this missive, yet it seems innocent. Maybe it was an English assignment, misfiled and forgotten. I sit on the edge of my bed and continue reading. The words fill one page, ambling along the soft blue lines, obedient to the stern left-hand red margin.

Probably an English assignment. Maybe an English assignment. I don't know. And I don't know that I can ever ask her about this letter to a loved one. I'm crying now, wiping away tears with the soft corner of a cotton pillowcase.

It has been a week. I've reread it over and over, tucking it back into the bottom drawer of my wooden jewelry box after each reading. I think I've figured it out. I haven't mentioned the first sentence. Or rather, the original first sentence. Black slashes obscure but don't totally conceal the five inked words:

There are shots being fired.

I think back to that year. Late 2006, early 2007. Bombing in Iraq. Skirmishes in the Middle East and Afghanistan. I imagine my daughter's teacher telling the class to write a first-person story about a soldier. A military man in a battle zone. A timely essay. About war. Current events. The description of a peach-colored desert, memories of a happy day on the beach and the anticipation of a barbecue dinner are all things a soldier would write about while stationed halfway across the world.

But my memory of world events in 2007 is somewhat jumbled. That was the year that my husband, her father, was dying of cancer. He was diagnosed in January. She and I were at his side when he died seven agonizing months later.

Was this piece of paper the first draft of an eighth-grade school assignment?

Did it begin with the story of a soldier and then flow into something else? Or am I reading too much into a simple forgotten essay?

Dear loved one, it begins.

I'm in the middle of a dry peach colored desert.

It reminds me of the days on the beach just listening to the salty waves roll by.

I imagine I'm with you on a wonderful summer day and everything will be ok and everyone is happy that after the beach we'll come home and enjoy a delicious barbeque dinner. But I'm only imagining. No matter what I dream I'm stuck here. Alone, without you. However you shouldn't morn after my death. I'm just trapped in life and when I pass away I will be free. And then I can be with you forever. I wish for one last goodbye. Just to look in your eyes and hear your soft angelic voice. I only wish. Don't forget, the day you die I will be waiting. And I will be there. And instead of goodbye it will be Hello. Forever.'

If there's a heaven, my husband is there. And if angels exist, I'm grateful to the ones who conspired to bring me his message. I keep it in the bottom drawer of my wooden jewelry box.

Gail Pleasants writes short stories and poetry and is a member of two bay area writers groups.

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How to submit your story to Sunday Journal

We welcome freelance submissions for Sunday Journal, a forum for narrative storytelling. A lot happens in a Sunday Journal piece; someone might describe a driving tour of colleges with her reluctant 18-year-old daughter, or an encounter on a scary street at night. We want stories that take us someplace and make us laugh cry or just raise our eyebrows. The stories must be true, not previously published and 700 to 900 words. Send submissions to Sunday Journal editor Mimi Andelman, mimi@sptimes.com. Please put "Sunday Journal" in the subject line. Please include a daytime phone number.

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Sunday Journal: Writings from the past not always what they seem 03/13/10 [Last modified: Friday, March 12, 2010 5:52pm]
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