The Girl Who Cried War
Author: coritherien

Chapter 1
And Off You Skipped To War

August 8th, 2007

Dear Erin,

            You remember me speaking of the nobility of war, I’m sure.  I bored you with the subject for the entire two weeks prior to my departure.  I’ve always been fascinated by the process of it, the sternness—it’s as if I was drawn to it.  And of course, with my father, refusal isn’t an option.

It was that same sternness, that same process that came back to bite me.  Don’t get me wrong, it’s mostly like I pictured; the cold floors, the chilly atmosphere.  Even the demeanors of the others are unabashedly icy.  But all that, I expected.  All of that is what I looked forward to because, you see, that’s the service.  And all I ever wanted was to be apart of something as important.  What I didn’t expect was the subtle, yet steady, gnawing in my heart. 

            I knew leaving you was going to be hard; personally the most difficult thing about war, perhaps.  And I did my best to prepare for it.  But I don’t think anything short of complete isolation from you could’ve prepared me for this torture.  It’s harder than I ever thought possible.  The littlest things cause a whirlwind in my memory.  The other day, for instance, a fellow trainee was tying his shoes and when his pant leg slipped up a bit, I caught a glimpse of a red sock.  Instantly, my head was filled with the memory of a wondrous summer night—you in your knee-high red socks in your own back yard, all of us gathered around that fire pit.  Oh, how your sister mocked you for those socks.  I didn’t speak up then, but I loved them.  And I also loved the fact that you’ve wore them during every bon fire since, to spite her more than anything.  Some may say spite isn’t the daintiest of characteristics, but it’s something I always admired about you.

            But, I digress.  Good luck this school year, love.  I can’t wait to hear from you. Only the promise of your letter will keep a smile on my face amidst the frosty bearings of my bunkmates.  I’ll take my leave as soon as the opportunity arises.  Say hi to Aimee for me, though I’m sure she’ll be reading this over your shoulder. 

 

                                                                                                I love you darling,

                                                                                                                 

    Nate

            I can’t say how long I sat there, just staring, afterwards.  I truly have no idea.  My only clue is that the tears that had welled up whilst devouring the letter had begun to stream down my cheeks lightly.  It was only after the penned “I love you” had begun to blur that I finally looked up. 

            He was right, of course, when he predicted that Aimee would be reading right along with me.  I had them mailed directly to her house, for goodness sake—my parents are completely in the dark about our relationship and I intended for it to stay that way.  They’ve never been the most open-minded folk.  Even the slight two year age difference between Nate and I would send them to hunt for his blood. 

Aimee Belmont sat beside me, cross-legged on her cream feather comforter.  She spoke not a word, and for that I am grateful.  Words, for me, would’ve been impossible.  My best friend since the first grade, it was safe to say that she knew everything about me.  She was one of the few people in the world I could actually talk to—perhaps because we were so alike in many ways.  Neither of us were particularly emotional; we both suffered any burdens we faced in silence, save for the rare occasions whence we shared them with one another, and one another only.  We’re both more guarded with our emotions than the majority of teenage girls.  Neither of us cry often, and never in public.  That’s probably why she was silent for the duration of my break down.  She knew it was what she’d want if our roles were reversed. 

We even looked alike, which was determinedly uncanny to even our closest friends and family.  We both had long dark hair, big eyes and black lashes.  Our heights and weights were neck and neck, especially as we got older.  We could’ve been twins, slight differences exempted.  She had brown eyes while mine edged towards green.  Her hair was rampant with curls; I kept mine straight.  Her skin had an olive tone, whereas my Irish blood gave mine a porcelain effect, doted with freckles for good measure. 

Still, despite our likeness, we weren’t the same person.  There were things she simply couldn’t understand, for she’d never been blessed—or cursed—with true love. 

And that’s how I would describe what Nate and I share: true love.  It affected me so to hear of his sufferings.  On the one hand, I loved the fact that he thought of me; that it was thoughts of me that got him through each day.  On the other hand, though, I knew how it felt to survive on solely the thought of a loved one and I wouldn’t have wished such a torture on a sworn enemy.  Each time I even glanced at my beloved guitar, I thought back to our private “lessons”.  He would hold that guitar for hours, determined to learn every chord I put in front of him, brow furrowed in concentration.  He was better than the average Joe but he was no Clapton. 

I hadn’t been able to pick up that guitar since he left. 

I knew exactly what he meant when he wrote about my socks.  I’ve felt that pain—I knew that heartache. 

Erin…” Aimee finally ventured.

I shook my head.  Clutching the letter to my thumping heart, I said, “See you tomorrow,” as I scurried from the room.

Her house wasn’t exactly close to mine, but I journeyed on foot nonetheless.  When it began to rain lightly, I tucked the sacrosanct epistle into my tee-shirt and braved my face to the sky.  Though I knew it was rubbish, I imagined the rain wiping away my troubles.  I imagined it was his lips kissing my forehead, rather than that of the rain.  I imagined him wrapping his coat around me, telling me I’ll catch my death in weather like this as he’d so often done in the past. 

In my mind’s eye, I saw my troubles washing down my body, rain drop by rain drop.  In my mind’s eye, he wasn’t in Iraq, risking his life to better ours.  He was here, with me, holding me like he used to.

My mind’s eye is a wonderful place.

I concentrated on my heavy footfalls, not allowing myself to think.  I couldn’t do it there, not in public.  He’d been gone not two weeks; if I lost it now, what hope did I have?

By the time I rounded the curve on my driveway, the summer shower had given way to a spectacular rainbow.  It stretched seemingly just above the crusted shingles on my roof, falling to either side of the house in a brilliant embrace.  With the torment raging just beneath my flesh, I could’ve almost laughed at the maddening irony of it. 

Swinging the door open, I was met by a number of welcomed distractions.  My old beagle, Abbey, yelped from the living room.  She didn’t bother to get up, like she used to as a puppy.  No, she merely sat there yapping. 

The second distraction was an intoxicatingly sweet aroma wafting from the kitchen.  Venturing towards it, I found my mother hovering over the stove, looking entirely out of place with an apron straight out of the ‘50’s. 

Though she went a bit overboard at times, Mom really was an excellent cook…when she set her mind to it.  Trust me, I’ve spent many a lonely night forcing down a cardboard-esque concoction from the gourmet “Freezer Burn” aisle, in which the majority of the food was never fresh and even less natural.  It made me appreciate a home-cooked meal all the more. 

Upon the cast-iron stove sat a steaming pot, which held a sautéed chicken Alfredo, God willing.  Beneath it, the oven light shone dimly, almost tiredly, over a succulently bronzing apple pie. 

I’m feeling generous—I’ll let you in on a little secret.  You know how they say that the way to man’s heart is through his stomach?  Well, the same rules apply to a woman if ever you desire to perfect the art of distraction.  Make a note; it’s sure to come in handy. 

I knew I was saved from having to make conversation when I rounded the corner and saw Sarah, my older sister, already setting up camp at the dining table.  On break from the University of New England, she undoubtedly had a solid few hours worth of mindless dramatic dribble to spill.  And considering the fact that nothing exciting ever happens in our very own Ocean State, my parents would only be too happy to listen.

Let it be known that I couldn’t, for the life of me, stand living in a small suburban area.   Rhode Island—or, Cumberland, really—was this tight-knit, safe and secure delusion that seemed isolated from the rest of the world.  I had nothing against Rhode Island itself.  It was a nice place, nice folk.  It was the aspect of a small town that frayed my nerves.  For someone like me who loved the hustle and bustle of city life, being suppressed by the blanket of small town underhandedness made me want to rip my hair out.  Everybody knew everything about everyone else.  You couldn’t buy milk without the ordeal headlining the morning paper.  In the city, it was different.  In the city, you could walk about raving like a lunatic and no one would grant you a second glance.  Mostpeople, they hate that.  But me?  I would kill for it.   

Dinner dragged.  The enticing entrée sat before me, untouched.  Even the scrumptious, all-American dessert had lost its appeal when the yellowed edges of Nate’s note peeked out of my jacket pocket, begging me to scour its contents yet again. 

I’m almost certain my family could tell that I wasn’t to be bothered.  Perhaps they were too heartily allured by Sarah’s current spiel—an unfortunate zit had tragically emerged on the evening of an important date—to notice my guarded outlook.  I cared not for the reason.  I was simply grateful for the peace. 

When I was finally excused, I trudged up the stairs quickly, craving solitude.  The sea-green walls of my room always calmed me.  It was the color for the offices of many shrinks, for it was proven to induce serenity.  I knew its tricks, but let it calm me nonetheless. 

My bed was set up high like a bunk bed, with the lower bunk missing.  In its place sat my prized Fender and my sweet, soothing acoustic beside a small, one-person couch.  Normally, I play for an hour or two—I learn a new song or perfect old favorites.  Not since Nate left, though.  I haven’t even tried.

I climbed the ladder to my bed, yearning for the solace of my silky purple comforter.  I let the satin immerse my skin for a moment, consoling my emotionally raw body before I once again slipped the missive from my pocket, ever so gently, as if I were handling Mayan gold. 

Much as I had my comforter, I let the splendor of his words wrap around me—a cocoon to heal my broken heart.  I laid there for hours, going through it again and again, never once tiring of the magic in his words.  It read like a tragic poem, too beautiful for just anyone—I know that, in truth, its beauty would be lost on any other soul.  This letter held every essence of Nate. 

I let my mind drift off to welcomed oblivion, still dressed in my jeans and not caring, with his handwriting clutched to my chest.  But, before I go, I must introduce myself.  It must’ve slipped my mind amidst the surge of excitement today.  Silly me.

My name is Erin O’Malley, and Nathaniel Richardson, the man I love, signed away his soul when he registered with the army.  My soul tagged along for the ride. 

 

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