Permit yourself only a tinge of sadness that the writer of this letter is no longer with us. His occupation--flying helicopters--was a dangerous one. He was killed in Vietnam on June 27, 1966. Yet none of us are guaranteed our time here. This letter is a celebration of life, of love, and of valuing all we have shared with the one to whom we have given our heart.
Monday, August 28, 1961
My Darling Wife,
This will be my anniversary letter to you. I am unable to find a card of any sort to carry the message. And if there were such a card available to me over here, I doubt that the words printed on it, written by some other person, could convey all that I feel in my heart. Four years now, Alice. If my memory serves me, the fourth anniversary calls for fruit and flowers. But it seems that there is no possible way to send such a gift to you, now. And if memory still serves me, the first anniversary called for paper. Although four years have given us so much more than we could find or produce in one, thinking of you and these four years together--and the gifts of love and happiness that you have given me--I feel every bit as young and as happy as I did on our first. And so I wonder if you will accept this letter as my paper gift to you, on this day? I don't have much faith in the regularity of the U.S. mail of late, so I am writing this now, hoping that it will arrive there in time for you to read these words--on our date.
I suppose the easiest and most natural way to begin is to say very simply, "Happy anniversary." Just exactly why the word "happy" has evolved over the years, instead of some other well-suited word, I don't know. It could, just as easily have been "blessed," or "loving," or "wonderful" or any number of words. I suppose it is because happiness is such an elusive thing, we spend our entire lives in pursuit of it. Marriage seems to promise it, and in loving and needing, we wish to give that which we desire most for ourselves.
There are so many things I wish to say to you. Things I wish to mention in way of remembering, so you will know that I haven't forgotten. Things I wish to share with you, because we have shared them before. Things I wish to thank you for, because I owe so much to you--and things I wish to promise you, because promise means tomorrow.
With all of these tumbling around within me, wanting to be blurted out all at once, I'm afraid that my hand won't be able to catalogue them on paper in the manner that I desire.
I find that being in love with you--in my fashion, words of love become stumbling things--and I feel very much like a halting, nervous schoolboy. So eager to pronounce my heart, and yet afraid that I won't be able to--that I will not make the right choice of words, that I will be misunderstood, and that I will lose this chance, it's either hurry, or hesitate.
Being away from you and living from day to day upon my memories--as I must--causes certain things to come into sharp focus, and others to fade. The very nature of loneliness magnifies all of the highlights of my life with you, but not, I suspect, out of proportion, as is often the case in other matters. Dim in my memory are those small and unimportant misgivings and misunderstandings that are so common and inherent to two people living and working together toward a life of unity and happiness.
It occurs to me, that in the master scheme of life, we exist solely to love and be loved. That these are the demands and rewards of life, and that sadly, so many are caught up in the race against life, not for it, that identities and simple truths fall by the wayside. It's such a shame that this happens, as it does, all too often. If people could only remember why, and for what, they exist in the world.
Love is so often misunderstood, or never really recognized, that it is seldom thanked for what it has to give. After the first passions fade, if there is tempered a steady flame, it is the brightness of that flame that is true love. How steady it burns and how much warmth it gives and how much we are willing to give to keep it burning--these are the true measures of success of a life together.
What do I have to measure the success and happiness of my life with you in these four short years? For the present, all I have here with me are my memories, Alice. They are mine, yet I hope that some of them are yours, too. For you are responsible for all of them, my darling.
I go back to the days of our courtship, not so very long ago. I remember--as if it were yesterday--the dates we had, the telephone calls, the clothes you wore, the blue of your eyes and the realization that, while I was pursuing, I was being trapped. While I was gaining ground, I was giving ground--and what a sweet, easy surrender it seemed to be, because of you.
I remember our modest beginning. How much I wanted everything to be perfect for you, in every way. How much I owed to so many people for making it so. I remember our wedding, and its impact upon me, far beyond what I had expected. How I became suddenly aware that a life--other than my own--was now in my hands. I remember, I will never forget, how radiant you looked as you came down the aisle. How breathtaking you were on our wedding night. Our first night--and how, in the middle of that night, I awoke and leaning upon my elbow, watched you sleep and asked myself if this had really happened? And our first trip across the U.S. to a place neither of us knew anything of--not certain of our chances--but together, starting out fresh with happiness. A couple kids, remember?
I remember our first home. The first time I came home to a dinner and how you were there at the top of the stairs. How you watched every morsel of food I took that evening. And how, so many evenings, the food grew cold in the kitchen while we were busy discovering each other. How people looked at us and could tell. I remember your laughter in the dark. And those whispered words.
I remember San Francisco. Still not certain of the events to come. The apartment there, the park across the way. The way you looked as you walked down the street with the wind in your hair. My heart jumps now, Alice, remembering how my chest seemed to burst with pride at the sight of you--all woman. And I remember seeing you in maternity clothes for the first time.
I remember leaving you there in Nampa, and how the swell of your stomach seemed to tell me, "I must not fail," and how your voice over the telephone, miles away, gave me strength for another day.
And I remember that warm little home at Christmas and the night after. How I burned my tongue on coffee across the street from the hospital and how, standing there in the hall, I heard you cry out in labor and how hard I prayed. Our first child, a boy with his mother's eyes. How useless and unimportant I felt as I watched you nurse him and the serene secret that seemed to pass between the two of you.
I remember our second time in Alabama and how I drew strength from the presence of the both of you being with me.
And Salinas and Fort Ord. All of those warm, happy days watching a baby grow and finding laughter in most everything. And another child on the way.
I remember our last Christmas--how perfect it was, just as we planned it. And on a schedule that only God could plan, another boy on the next day--with his mother's eyes. I remember 30 wonderful days with Doug seeming to take over for me already, with words like, "Don't cry, Mark," and, "Dougy help," as three of us waxed the car that cold day. Remember?
And I remember standing alone over a baby crib and at the gate of the airport--saying goodbye.
Yes, Alice, I remember these and so many more things. All of this in just four short years. Memories enough to last me a lifetime. Yet I have just begun to store away these treasures, for we still have our whole lives before us. I wonder if my heart has room for any more, being so full of them now. Some of these treasures that you have given me are of everyday occurrences. Things that happen to most people, but because they have happened in my life with you, because of you, they are priceless to me, and I hold them dear in the album of my heart. I wonder what memories I have given you in return? I hope that you have as many, and that they are as wonderful as mine are to me. I have mentioned them because I can never forget. Because I wish to share them with you, and wish to thank you for them. I want to thank you, Alice, for the warmth that glows within me now--for the way you have fed this steady flame that burns and gives all of this warmth that I feel. For all of the sacrifices you have made, large and small. Dearest, I have watched you grow from girl to woman--a transition caused by the role of a wife, then mother. And yet you are still so much a girl, my girl.
I wonder if I have grown along with you, darling. Like a small boy, I have hurt you at times, if only to stir some emotion in you, to gain your attention and draw you back to me when, at times, I felt as though I was not getting my full share--needing you so--regardless of how busy or tired you may have been. Forgive me, darling.
I am afraid that I am so very basically a selfish person. So very much a small man. Yet, looking around me, I wonder if I am exclusive in this. We men are such a thin-skinned lot it seems. Always inflating ourselves with fancied and noble causes. Yet when the thin veneer of our maleness--our manhood--is stripped away, we are such little boys. And the state of the world today is because we are such children, playing in mud too deep for us. We go out and battle the odds, real and manufactured, and win against them more often than not. But we reach out for more than we can grasp, and prick ourselves on the thorns of greed and "ambition." And the bubble bursts. When this ego is deflated and we look around at our vacuum, what makes us pick ourselves up and go back for more? It is you women, I suspect. We often curse you for the complicated mechanisms that we fancy you to be, for the quiet power you wield over our lives. But without you, we would still be savages. Have we men come so very far, though? I sometimes wonder. If we could take example from women and be more genuinely concerned about our immediate responsibilities--our families instead of our ambition to outdo one another in the game we call progress--how much better off the world would be for all of us.
I look at my own person and face the truth that I see there. I don't know what or where I would be without you adding your ingredient to my life. I would still exist in this world, I imagine. But I doubt that I would be living this adventure to the full measure. Yes, I am aware of my kind of person. My flaws, my imperfections. I know that I am, like so many men, complicated and confused, self-centered and demanding, bullish and afraid. I know also what you have done to me--for me--out of a very simple and trusting love. For all of my sophisticated reasons that I conjure to exist as the person I am, you--in your clean and wholesome love--continue to clear the air in my life and provide the compass and rudder for me to set my course by.
I look at this love of ours and find that it can endure the jetsam that this world, in distress, throws up against it. It is a good love, Alice, a working marriage. It has acquired substance through the everyday practice of faith and courage, trust and sacrifice--all of that which is needed to give tone to the fiber and muscle of the strength that is required to give, and to take in this rewarding existence. Love, being the marrow of life, reaches so deep into those that are not afraid to feel it, that it can hurt, even while it ministers. Such is the case with me, being away from you now. I once read that without love, "You will laugh, but not all of your laughter, and cry, but not all of your tears." So again, I give thanks to you, Alice. Yes, for all of this loneliness and longing that I feel for you and our boys.
And in looking at our marriage, I think of our children. I realize how much they have cemented this adventure of ours. How wonderful it is--this manner in which our lives have been enriched by their presence--and the new and ever-changing formulas they offer to the chemistry of our love. How can I tell you how much they mean to me? They mean so very much, Alice. Far more than innocent objects of love, they are the third dimension--the flesh, to all my hopes and prayers for a better world.
I look at these four years with you and wonder what I can promise you in return for all of this? Would the vows that I took in marriage, four short years ago, be enough? If so, I promise now, all that those vows--both silent and spoken--promised you then. I promise you--everything. Yet I know that I shall fail from time to time. So I promise that I shall keep on trying, a little harder each time, to measure up to all of the faith that you have in me. Until I can return and show you with actions, all this that I promise you, these written words will have to suffice. Please accept them then, my darling, for they are all I have to offer you now, so very far away.
I will return to my family and resume living there--in that other world, with a renewed dedication--out of a thankfulness for all that I have been given. But for now, in these alien surroundings, so void of the familiar sights and sounds that represent the life that we have made together. I am sustained by such gentle, quiet visions. They speak out to me now, across the miles that separate us.
A bed, with two pillows side-by-side; a tired, bedraggled, stuffed toy duck; the clutter of toys on the floor and the scent of baby talcum in the air.
So for all of the happiness that you have given me, for everything that has been, is now, and will be, I say that "I love you."
And thank you, Princess.
From your husband,