23 Oct

The crumpled letter arrived in the mail Aug. 15. I saw the scrawled handwriting, that it was postmarked in Vietnam. I knew who it was from: Pete. I’d already found out two weeks ago that he’d died there from malaria, or combat, or something. No one really knew, but everyone called him a hero. I opened it on the roof, the only place I’d ever opened any of his other letters, and I let the handwriting comfort me with its familiar, small loops close to the lines. I picture him hunkered down, exhausted and wet, in some far away jungle, writing the letter days before he would die. My Pete, the Pete that taught me to draw, to laugh again, to not take myself to seriously, and that I was beautiful and capable of great love.

I remember the first time he held my hand. He turned it over in his, examining it carefully, and said, looking into my eyes, very seriously, “You have beautiful hands.” He said in the letter that things weren’t so bad. It rained all the time, but there were tents at night. The food was terrible, but he wasn’t starving. He got shot at often, but he shot more guys; they couldn’t get him. He would be home soon, he said. “Only 60 more days, and I’m outta here.” And then he signed off like always: “I love you. Keep looking at the stars. They’re real bright here.”

The stars weren’t out tonight, just the moon. They hid behind the clouds. I kept waiting for Pete, kept thinking that maybe I would hear him rounding the corner like he always did, laughing at something (he was always laughing) before sitting down next to me. I wrapped my sweater around tighter. It was getting colder now, and I remembered when we’d first met…

Before he left that first night, he said to me, “Tomorrow, same time? I have something to show you.” Before I could answer, he’d turned the corner. Just as soon as he’d walked up to me on the roof, he was gone, and it left me wondering if he was real or just some part of my depressed, emotional self. But the next night, I snuck out the window, and the sweet, summer air wrapped around me. It was 10 p.m., and I wondered if he would come. Just then he rounded the corner, as before.

“So you decided to come back?” he asked, striding up to me again.

“Yeah. I uhhh, didn’t have anything better to do.”

“Right. You couldn’t stay away.”

“You know I come out here often, even when strangers aren’t here.”


“All I know is your name.”

I only knew that his name is Pete Stork and that he knew a lot about constellations, enough to point every one out to me for an hour before he had to leave the night before. He sat down right next to me, and there was enough moonlight to see his chestnut brown hair and shabby clothing. He then pulled out a notebook from underneath his arm, or a sketchbook, something.

“Now you know I like to draw.”

He flipped it open to the first page, and half an hour later, he’d shown me the entire sketchbook. I’m not sure why he did it, he just did.

“I thought you might appreciate these,” he said, closing it and setting it aside.

“I write poetry.”

“That doesn‘t surprise me,” he said. “Only weird artist types would hang out on a roof.”

I laughed and then asked, “Ever write?”

“Nope. I’ve never been able to write, don’t read much either. But I like drawing, always keep the notebook and a pencil with me.”

“Yeah, me to,” I said, “but for writing.”

And that was the beginning of our summer together. Night after night, we met, and I taught him how to put words together and he showed me how to put lines together. By the end, he could write a poem, and I could draw a picture.

But now he was teaching me something else, although I wasn’t yet sure what. I felt hot tears stream down my cheeks and knew that relief would be a long time coming. I saw lightening slit through the sky, and rain began pattering the roof, and me.



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