combat writing badge C O M B A T
the Literary Expression of Battlefield Touchstones
ISSN 1542-1546 Volume 06 Number 01 Winter ©Jan 2008

Holiday Letter

          Studying the blank sheet of holiday paper and the pre-labeled envelope addressed to Lance Corporal Matthew L. Jopey, Celondra tried to picture the addressee. She closed her eyes and envisioned that fine broad-shouldered brother featured on all the Marines posters. Or maybe he looked like Tom Cruise in A Few Good Men. Nah, not likely. Everyone knows that mostly poor people of color get sent to foreign countries to kill other poor people of color. Although he could be some naïve reservist from the suburbs who thought it might be fun to play soldier on the weekends. There were a lot of those in Iraq right now, fighting alongside the optimistic short-term soldiers who needed money for college and never in their wildest dreams believed we'd be fighting another war in this day and age. Back when they must have signed up, there were no obvious signs that President Bush would turn out to be quite the raging warmonger he is, even though his daddy left some unfinished business back in the Gulf. Going back there just didn't make sense. If you ask me, it still doesn't, but that's a whole other Oprah.

          Celondra decided to think of Lance Corporal Jopey as African-American, with warm honey-brown eyes and soft cherry-wood skin, solid boulder shoulders and a flat, wide waist. His legs would be solid like tree trunks, only slightly sculpted. Would he be bald, with a smooth delicious scalp? Maybe he'd have short curls that frame his strong cheekbones ... Celondra, what are you thinking?! This is a holiday letter to soldiers laying their lives on the line in Iraq, for godsakes! It's for charity, not some sort of twisted dating service! Now get your mind out of your panties and think of something encouraging to write.

Dear Lance Corporal Jopey,

          Well, maybe I should write Dear Matthew. This is a Christmas letter after all, not a business letter. Wait, what if he doesn't even celebrate Christmas? What if he's Jewish or Muslim or Buddhist or something? Oh heck.

Dear Matthew,
          Happy Holidays!

          Okay, good start ....

Dear Matthew,
          Happy Holidays! I'm really sorry you have to spend your holidays in that godforsaken desert of death because the people back home were stupid enough to elect – and then re-elect! – such a war-loving idiot.

          Hold up! That is not what this man wants to hear! He wants to feel like his sacrifice is for some purpose. Who wants to believe that they might die tomorrow, and that they killed 10 people yesterday, for no good reason? Now, come on, Celondra, get your head together!

Dear Matthew,
          Happy Holidays! I'm really sorry you have to spend your holidays in that godforsaken desert of death because the people back home were stupid enough to elect – and then re-elect! – such a war-loving idiot. Thank you for putting your life on the line for freedom, even if it is all based on lies.

          Now Celondra, behave. But how am I supposed to write this damn letter? I didn't know what to say back in '92 and I still can't summon up the right words. Celondra clicked her tongue and refilled her wine glass. She noticed a chip in her burgundy nail polish and shook her head. Chip-resistant. It didn't resist very long, did it? Well, at least now she had an excuse to get a mani/pedi. She called Tracy.

          "Hey girl. It's me. Yeah, I'm fine, I'm fine. Damn charity letter's wiggin' me a little, but it's cool. Listen, I just noticed a chip on my nail. Yeah, yeah, that new chip-resistant polish we picked up at the beauty supply. Yeah, I know. But I've got better things to do with my life than write complaint letters. Listen, whatchou up to tonight? What time you gotta be there? Got time for a mani/pedi at Karen's? Cool. I'll let her know we'll be there in 10. Oh, okay, 20. See ya then."

          Celondra wrapped her long sculpted arms around Karen, who immediately began reciting the latest list of her nephews who might turn out to be Celondra's soulmate if she'd just give 'em half the chance.

          "Been there, done that, girl." Celondra smiled wryly.

          "Nah. They was just a warm-up. You have got to meet my sister Jill's third boy Eugene. Mmm, mmm, he's a sweet one. If he weren't my nephew, I'd take a lick myself."

          Celondra smirked. "You ain't never gonna give up on matchmaking me, are you?"

          Karen's smile stretched into a wide white canoe. "No, ma'am, I ain't. Listen, girl, you have got to move on from Jonah. And there ain't nothin' like a juicy new man to do just that."

          "Has Jonah asked about me?" Celondra asked hopefully.

          Karen just shook her head, arms crossed, tsking. "For such a smart girl ...."

          "Hi, girls!" Tracy burst into the shop, arms open for hugs.

          "Hey, girl. Have you lost weight? You're lookin' good!" Celondra eyed her best friend.

          "Nah, I put on ten pounds. But I think everything's blending together a little better now. Anyway, I ain't gettin' no complaints from the boys, so why starve myself?"

          Karen shook her head. "You just take care you don't catch yourself none of that Diabetes, girl."

          Tracy rolled her eyes.

          Celondra and Tracy selected their colors and settled into the pedicure chairs.

          "So what's this business about a charity letter?" Tracy asked, flipping through a month-old copy of a gossip mag.

          "Oh, the whole Accounting Department volunteered to write a bunch of letters to the soldiers in Iraq – you know, so they won't be so lonely during Christmastime."

          "That's cool," Tracy commented absently.

          "Yeah, but it's bringin' back some bad memories. Ouch! Karen, watch it with those cuticle trimmers, will ya?"

          "Sorry baby. Must've gotten distracted for a moment there." Karen shook her head and tsked.

          "Bad memories? Nah, you can't be talkin' 'bout Jonah now. That was years ago! Girl, you gotta get over him! Come on out to the club with me tonight. We'll get you somebody who will wash those memories away with some sweet brown lovin'."

          "That's what I'm sayin'!" Karen chimed in.

          "You two. Are you sharin' a brain or somethin'? I do not need a man bringin' me down right now. I just got my career on track."

          "Who says the man's gonna bring you down?" Tracy wanted to know.

          "Experience." Celondra crossed her arms and accidentally smudged her fingernail polish.

          "Be careful, girl!" Karen chided, dropping Celondra's foot to redo the polish on her hand.


          "Experience? Hmph! Your experience consists of exactly one man, and that relationship was over a decade ago. Move on!" Tracy shook her head impatiently.

          "I've dated since then," Celondra insisted.

          "Yeah, you've gone through the motions anyway." Tracy sniffed.

          "Alright, fine. You girls are obviously sick of hearing about my problems, so I'll just go home." Celondra pulled her feet out of the water and unzipped her purse, messing up her nailpolish again as she looked for her wallet.

          "Celondra, don't be like that. You know I'm always gonna be here for you – even if you are obsessed."

          Angry, Celondra turned to face her best friend since the third Grade. Tracy's smile was so bright and sincere that Celondra couldn't resist softening her heart just a little. Anyway, she needed her guidance right now. "I'm sorry." She cried into her hands, ruining her mascara and getting wet nail polish in the hair above her forehead.

          Soon, she was surrounded by big caring bosoms, eased into a chair and given some hot tea. Tracy dabbed her eyes as Karen murmured some inaudible comforting noises and removed the mangled nail polish with a soft cotton ball. Celondra felt better but didn't feel like talking anymore. After her girls fixed her up, she said, "Tracy, did you mean it about me going to club with you tonight?"

          "Damn straight, girlfriend, and I've got the perfect dress for you, too. Bought it last weekend. It's a little too small for me, so it should fit you perfect."

          Several hours later, Tracy and Celondra made their entrance. Tracy looked sexy in a low-cut green body-hugging dress. Celondra's simple short-sleeved hot pink dress with a cinched waist and flared skirt was a little conservative but still appropriate for a club. Men approached them right away. Celondra danced a little but then nestled into an intimate red leather booth in the corner with their purses. The music was good and the men treated her respectfully enough, but she hadn't been to a club in years and needed to catch her breath.

          Celondra sipped a refreshing pia colada and grinned at the sight of Tracy jiggling her stuff between two hunks of handsome. She watched them and tapped her pointer finger to the beat for a bit until she realized they weren't even glancing in her direction and felt suddenly, conspicuously alone. To stave off idle self-consciousness, Celondra dug around inside her purse for a pocket mirror. She checked her smudge-free eyes and fresh-looking lips with a tinge of disappointment and snapped the mirror shut to find a slightly unfamiliar face standing directly above her.

          "J-J-Jonah?" That dripping honey smile. Those hard apple cheeks. That wide muscular chest. Although, he was a little heavier than she remembered, and she spotted a quarter-size shiny spot behind his hairline, which she tried not to greet with a bald-faced stare.

          "I thought that was you," Jonah commented and slid in right next to her at the booth without asking for permission. He patted her soft, somewhat jiggly thigh. "You look good." He fiddled with a red cocktail straw that'd been left on the table by whoever sat there before her.

          "Uh ... thanks, Jonah." She pressed her thighs together to accentuate the muscles and sucked in her paunch. "You look good, too." She cleared her throat. She could not believe she was actually gazing into those generous brown eyes again, that this wasn't just another one of her wild reminiscing dreams. Demurely pouting her lips, Celondra sipped her pia colada and nervously dribbled some down the front of Tracy's pretty loaner dress. She blushed.

          "Still the same old Celondra, I see." Without thinking, Jonah dabbed at the dress, and a drop on her cleavage, with a cocktail napkin. He glanced at his former lover's astonished face. "Oh geez! I'm sorry." He dropped the napkin like a hot potato.

          "What in the world are you doin', Jonah?" Frowning, she adjusted the front of the now-smudged dress to conceal her cleavage.

          "I don't know what got into me. We were just sitting here, and it was feelin' like old times, and I guess I just sort of ... flashed back or something. But I had no right. I'm sorry." He shook his head, mystified. "I really am."

          Celondra frowned and crossed her arms, glancing toward Tracy on the dance floor. Tracy was slow-dancing with a dark-skinned bald guy who was built like a boulder and completely obstructed Tracy's face. Then her eyes returned to Jonah. Jonah ... sigh. "You can't just be touching me like that. We're not together anymore," she reminded him, but her tone was soft.

          "I know. You're absolutely right. I don't know what to say. Like I said, I don't know what got into me." He stared at the table. "If you ask me to leave, I'll understand."

          "Nah, it's alright." She smirked quietly and stared at the sheen on her nails.

          "Wanna get out of here? It's too noisy to catch up on old times."

          She gazed at his earnest face for a long moment, considering. Right when the corners of his lips dropped slightly, she said, "Uh, yeah. Su- sure. Let me just say goodbye to Tracy." Unable to take her eyes off of him, she tapped around near the chair leg for her purse.

          "Tracy's here, too?" He glanced toward the dance floor. "Blast from the past." He shook his head in disbelief.

          Tracy happened to look over right then and stormed over to Celondra. "Can I have a word with you for a minute?" she said through gritted teeth. She yanked Celondra away by the arm.

          "Ow!" Celondra wriggled out of the vice grip and rubbed her arm. "I think you bruised me."

          "What the hell is he doing here? Did you arrange to meet him here?" Tracy crossed her arms.

          "No! Of course not! Think about it, Trace. I didn't even know I was coming here tonight until you dragged me here."

          Hand on hip, Tracy thought for a moment. "Well, that's true ... but what the hell's he doing here?"

          "I don't know, but it looks like I'm about to find out." Celondra grinned, a glint in her eyes.

          "Oh, no." Tracy shook her head. "No, no, no, Celondra. You are not leaving with him. We came here to help you get over him, not to hook you back up! What are you, some kinda crazy masochist? You know he's just gonna hurt you all over again."

          "I'm the one who hurt him, if you remember. And now's my chance to make it right."

          "Come on. Don't do this," Tracy pleaded with her eyes.

          Celondra touched her arm gently. "I'll get a ride home with Jonah. I'll call you tomorrow."

          At first, they drove aimlessly.

          "We could go to the park. Empire Park looks out over the lake."

          "Nah, it's too cold to sit in the car, let alone sit on a bench out there," Celondra shivered. "Plus, too many teenagers makin' out. How about Lucy's Diner?"

          "Too bright," he squinted. "How about Drake's Lounge?"

          "Too crowded and loud. May as well have stayed where we were." She stared out the window for a long while. She took a deep breath. "We can go to my place, if you promise to keep your distance."

          "I'll promise you this. I won't do anything you don't absolutely want me to do."

          She checked him. His innocent eyes focused on the road.

          She smirked. "Yeah, alright. Remember how to get there?"

          He rolled his eyes.

          "It's a mess."

          In front of a crackling fire – which she over-assured him was just to ward off the chill of the night – they sat on opposite sides of her couch, wineglasses in hand.

          "Remember the last time we saw each other?" he smirked fondly.

          "How could I forget?" she grinned. "Your mom..." She shook her head, recalling how his mom showed up announced right when they were about to share their last love session before he shipped off for Basic Training. "How's she doin', anyway?"

          "Good, good. Seems a lot older all the sudden, but she's fine. A few aches and pains, but no major complaints. And your parents?"

          "Fine, fine." Celondra wrapped herself in an afghan. "You know my parents. They never change. Still bickering with love in their eyes."

          "Yeah," he recalled fondly. "I really hoped we'd end up like them in the end – well, maybe with less bickering!"

          They shared a chuckle.

          "Geez, what happened to us?" he asked rhetorically. "We seemed so perfect then, so much in common, same goals and hopes and dreams."

          "Yeah, and then Bush Senior sent you into that hellhole of a desert." The words tasted bitter.

          "But that didn't have to mean the end of us. Lots of other guys in the Gulf got closer to their gals during the mission. Not us, though. Umm, umm, umm. Certainly not us. How is Cesar, anyway?" Jonah asked with a sudden edge.

          "I don't know, and I don't care." She crossed her arms and turned away.

          "Oh, so that's how it is? That how you've been thinking about me all these years, too? Woo, I knew you were a tough one. But, man, that's cold!"

          She stared at him, horrified. "I really hope you're joking, Jonah."

          "Why would I be?" He looked perplexed.

          "You mean, you don't know?"

          "Know what?" The fire popped and sparked. "I know you dumped me for Cesar when I was out there alone in the desert, with nothing but my rifle and sand dust to console me."

          She blinked; tears splashed her cheeks. "You really don't know," she commented, dazed, unconsciously rising from the couch to pace.

          "What, Celondra? What don't I know?" he asked angrily. "Why don't you enlighten me? You think I don't know that a boyfriend in hand is better than a boyfriend in the Gulf? You think I don't know how it is hard to wait, with so many temptations around, when you're young and beautiful? You think these are revelations for me? Guess again. I read it all in your Dear John letter, and in the Dear John letters some of my buddies got when we were out there in the godforsaken desert. These are not news flashes."

          Celondra stopped directly in front of Jonah and gazed down into his anguished face. She gripped her hips and said, "No, Jonah, this is what you don't know: You don't know how much I regret everything I did back then. You don't know how much I wish I could have been who you needed me to be. How now I realize that I was nothing but a stupid, selfish overgrown girl who had no idea what war was, and what it must have been like to be a soldier over there. How for years now I've known that I was nothing but a college-educated idiot who couldn't even separate the man I loved from the war I hated. What you don't know is how many nights I prayed that I could have taken it all back and started over again. And how I still love you, and how I've spent the last few years of my life doing little more than pining for you, drinking too much wine, waiting by the phone, praying, and hoping for another chance." She gasped and gripped her mouth.

          He rose slowly and enveloped her in his arms, stroking her hair. "Alright, baby, alright. Now you've told me. Now I know," he soothed. He held her for a long while and kissed her forehead. Then, eventually, when new tears stopped spouting, he released her and quietly removed his keys from his pocket.

          "Where are you going?" she asked, wet and vulnerable.

          "Oh, I'm just gonna head on home and let it all settle in. To be honest, I half-expected us to fall into bed for old times' sake, but I never expected this. It's ... it's just a lot to absorb." He took a deep breath and rubbed his forehead.

          "Well ... well, uh, do you know how to reach me?" she stuttered, trying to quell her dizzying panic.

          He recited her unchanged phone number from memory.

          They shared a quiet smile, and then he was gone.

          Two days went by, and then two weeks, and then two months. Jonah never called.

Dear Lance Corporal Jopey,
          Happy Holidays. I hope you aren't feeling too lonely out there in the desert. Even if you are, I hope you know that at least one person back here is thinking about you and sending good thoughts your way. I'm sorry you have to spend the holiday season out there in the desert, and I hope you know that there are people back home who really appreciate the sacrifices you are making for our country.
          Celondra Simms

by Melissa Z. Savlov
... who is a freelance writer, lecturer, and painter, who has traveled extensively. She has written three novels (The Piper, Unbecoming Justine, and Foreign Exchange) and two novellas (Boardwalk Blues and Transcontinental). Her compositions have been published in Foliate Oak, FACCCTS Journal, Happy, The Wall, Gotta Write Magazine, Cafe 80's, Mind in Motion, Chinquapin Journal of Literature and Arts, and Eidos. Sensual Strivings, a Winter 2006 chapbook featuring her poetry and cover art, is available at open bookstores in the Long Beach area. At Saddleback College's Annual Writing Contest, her 2001 story, "Mint Julep Craving", won Second Place; and her 2000 poem, "American Woman", received Honorable Mention.

Table of

C O M B A T, the Literary Expression of Battlefield Touchstones