My Dearest Elana:
I’m sitting outside away from the others listening to Chopin. They target phones but I quit caring around ten this morning and need to calm myself from the countless tragedies I don’t understand and certainly can’t convey. It’s dark, ferociously windy, and snow that’s been falling all day pushes into drifts along the ruinous remains of bombed-out buildings in a way that magically transforms them to their untouched charm. How wonderful it would be if I could so easily be restored. Remember how Dimitry, and I would climb onto my grandfather’s roof to foolishly jump into freshly drifted snow? You called us crazy, said we’re teasing fate in ways fate won’t forget. Fate didn’t Elana, Dimitry’s dead; killed by a drone like he was nothing more than an avatar in a violent video game. He was five meters away and went quick, so thanks God for that. We didn’t get to say goodbye though and that really hurts.
We had a ritual of saying goodbye every morning as we started our patrol, but today we didn’t; I don’t know if we forgot or simultaneously thought that by not uttering those words, the words would wait until we did. I’m away from the others because if fate’s not finished with me, at least there won’t be collateral damage. So many months I’ve waited for this nonsense to end, Elana, and I understand less now than I did when we said goodbye. I can no longer promise I’ll return to the comfort of your arms; can no longer convince myself you’d want me as I am. This war between brothers has taken a toll and I’m no longer that playful child jumping into snowdrifts.
So much of life’s been lived this past year and yet, so much remains the same; I was forced to leave our love that was destined to last forever, then forced to believe my enemy is less than human. Like a tragically told Tolstoy-Tolken tale, bitter battle lines divide us; on one side are the Nazis and opposing them the Orcs. One side comprised of the most vial sub-humans to ever live, and the other, the most wicked sub-humans ever imagined. If this were a novel, Elana, I’d beg you not to read it for all the ways you’d have to believe its untrue; the ways it would forever change how you see me. I should say more about Dimitry, but the tragic reality is that this was all so unnecessary and nothing more can be said beyond that, other than he died a meaningless death to appease the deranged desires of the madmen of Moscow.
They gave us cigars and vodka, some bizarre reward for declaring a victory we didn’t achieve. Perhaps the victory lies in not dying. I don’t know; what I do know is that the burnt-out buildings stare at me in angry judgment while bitterly echoing my remorse in whispers of all that’s been lost. I should return to the barracks, but Chopin has yet to accomplish what I brought him here to do so I cannot be absolved of my isolation. What does it mean to be me, Elana, and in what ways do I matter anymore? I find myself in this eerily ironic world where succeeding in my duty means I fail every conviction I once held dear, but failing in my duty makes me a former person of conviction that no one cares about; either way, conviction is the tragic casualty of this conflict. No one’s going to attend Dimitri’s funeral, at least not here; we don’t have time for such things. They’ll put pieces of him in a box and send that home, at least that’s what they tell us. It makes me wonder if anyone will attend my funeral. Lives here are traded like commodities and that causes me to question if anyone would miss me if I didn’t return to the barracks. What if I just disappeared, walked into the woods and never walked out. I could live alone in the woods like all the other animals, in fact, how’s that any different than how I live right now? I’m not in crisis, Elana, just mourning Dimitry and missing you.
It’s the anniversary of our separation; a year I can’t explain any better than I can justify; and that scares the hell out of me. I know a reckoning awaits, either in this life or the next someone’s going to interrogate me over what I’ve done, who I’ve become, and I don’t have an answer, let alone an excuse. I’ll be the only witness at my trial, compelled to speak the truth; in so much as anyone can recognize truth in such a poorly planned shitstorm. Before my departure I couldn’t imagine ever leaving your side; twelve months in I can’t imagine ever again feeling the tenderness of your touch or the warmth of your precious breath.
A year ago we were naive newlyweds at the train station saying our first goodbye. What if that’s it, the start and end of the life we were meant to live? It scares me thinking about how tenuous we are and yet, its only thing keeping me sane; giving me the strength to survive. So much of life’s been lived since our platform departure and yet, in so many ways nothing has changed. I carry you deep inside; beyond my heart and past my head you’re locked inside my soul so you can accompany me when I eventually transition out. In all I’ve seen, all I’ve done, I still believe love is possible, that’s the power of you inside me; the only path out of this darkness, a sacred sympatico I suspect I share with my enemy. Every time I look across the line, I see me in a different uniform, bound to the immoral reality that I’ll kill me as quickly as I’ll kill me and the only unknown is who suffers more, the me on this or that side of the line?
I’m so utterly alone, Elana, unrecognizable to myself anymore; I need you more than the breath I breathe but know I’m not worthy to stand in your presence, not after what the world has made me. Tonight, I am the person you remember, but tomorrow I’ll once more be the monster I’ve become.
I’m looking at country houses like we once did for our future family. With Dimitry dead there’s no one left to talk to and imagining a calm countryside provides a necessary sense of comfort. Finding a house has become like breathing; I need somewhere to escape this world where my mind’s free from harsh realities. I apologize for all the pictures I keep sending of places we’ll never see, but for me, each one provides a sense of sanctuary; a hopefulness I so desperately desire. The last one I sent is outside our budget, but I so loved that it has a quiet river running through it. The house is way too big, but I just started fantasizing about the whole river sanctuary thing and suddenly money didn’t matter. What does matter Elana? Dimitry and I used to talk about that; we both agree the perverse ambitions of those in power must be ignored, forgotten so much as that’s even possible. Where is it written people can’t live in peace in houses along a quietly moving river?
Dimetry let me wear the boots his parents sent so my feet could be warm for at least one day. His last gracious act is how he’ll be remembered. Please comfort his parents with stories of their son’s generosity and how much I still cherish their gift. Sometimes you think you know all there is about friendship then life teaches you a lesson to end all lessons. I must find a way to do something for him in return, that’s how friendship works Elana; if not, what the hell is the point to any of this?
It’s suddenly colder, intensely quiet, and dauntingly dark; my fingers are numb and the steam from my breath blocks my view, but the cigar and vodka are only half gone so I keep writing. I’m thinking about the last time we made love and the honeymoon we never got; of all the wonderful things we planned, all the romantic moments I wanted to provide. I hope you think fondly of our time together even though something was off during our departure; did you notice it too, or was it just the wild imagination of a frightened boy being forced to become a man? I left the train station unsettled, a little sad and a lot scared. Is it just me or was something not on track between us? I know you were nervous about where I was being sent, especially given we might never see each other again; but why did things seem forced? Of course, there’s a weirdness in such moments, but this just seemed different than I imagine it should be and each time I replay how it was, I wind up worried. On our one-year anniversary I want you to know two things, first, I feel the same right now about you as I did when we made or vows; in fact, my feelings grow more profound with each passing moment. Second, I understand you’re lonely and filled with worry. My only hope, a hope that exceeds my very will to survive, is that you’ll wait for me; that you’ll find space in your heart to remember the boy you married, and the compassion to fall in love with the man he’s become.
I probably won’t send this; by not sending it, Dimitry lives one more day in the hearts of you and his parents. Of course, I’ll send it, but if fate prevents me, please never waver in knowing how much I love you and how dearly I cherish both the life we shared before, and the life we were supposed to live in the aftermath; the life we may yet realize if God’s in the mood to grant miracles; and if something can be done about the madmen of Moscow.
Forever Yours in Love and Hope;