Elisabeth R. Finch
Sgt. Joseph Callahan -- I don't know you, you don't know me. But,
man, everyone knows Bob Dylan. Here are a couple photos of him.
Get home safe.
Sgt. Callahan. I really don't know what a 16-year-old teenager could
say that would interest a soldier fighting for our country...
Joe - Rumor has it you look like my husband Steve, so I know you
must be a hunkasaurus. Here's a Minnesota moose to make you smile.
I don't know you. But come home
sitting in Film Analysis at USC, watching Bridge on the River
Kwaii for the second time in a row, when I missed Joe's phone
call. During a class break, the flat screen TV in the lobby blared
CNN images of fatigue-clad troops marching in one direction. Off
to Kuwait tomorrow, Joe said into my voice mail, and Iraq
a few days after that. Goodbye, Elisabeth. Everything went silent.
first words Joe had ever said to me were in a dimly lit hole-in-the-wall
bar in Wichita, Kansas, after he had starred in the first play I
ever wrote: "So, Elisabeth, what did you think?" I answered
as all Jews from the East Coast do -- even when they're stuck in
Kansas -- with another question. "What did you think?"
Joe laughed. We ordered another drink. From that moment on, it was
as if we'd lived next door to each other our whole lives -- one
steady stream of questions hanging between us for too many hours,
over too many pitchers of Hefeweizen.
of us knew if we'd see each other again. But that first conversation
wasn't the beginning of a romance. There is nothing romantic about
getting to know someone over five years through time zones and weekly
instant messages. No romance in that day he told me he craved structure,
purpose. And the Army was going to help him find it in Ft. Campbell,
KY, where he trained in 100-degree heat and talked about grenades
and the Mucus Chamber. And there was certainly nothing romantic
about the day before he left for Iraq.
then, writing letters wasn't new to us. Yet the moment the voice
mail went dead, I went blank. I ran to the computer lab and printed
a dozen stories from the Internet -- excerpts from The Onion,
gossip blogs, Entertainment Weekly movie reviews, and TV
Guide listings of shows he wouldn't be watching anytime soon.
I threw them in an envelope with just my signature. I overnighted
them to Callahan, Joe D., 101st Airborne Division. I was left to
imagine they arrived before he left.
went by. For the first time in five years, there was a lull in the
every time I sat down to write, I panicked. Everything I said sounded
insipid and small. I flashed back to Mail Day at camp, and that
pathetic loneliness when they called everyone else's name but mine,
and I had stared at my plaid Chuck Taylors, kicking dirt, pretending
I'd rather be doing just that than open a stupid letter from someone
-- anyone. And, hell, if that stunk, imagine being in the Iraqi
desert. I became consumed, obsessed with Joe getting something every
single Mail Day.
idea came to me. There were an infinite number of people my age
just like me, working assistant jobs in Los Angeles, feeling utterly
and completely ineffectual. And I knew a helluva lot of 'em. Joe
was as lowly a grunt as we were. But in his world, that meant on
any given day he was halfway around the world, armed with a fighting
knife, throwing knife, bayonet, three hand grenades, a 17-pound
anti-tank rocket launcher, and a rifle with 300 rounds of ammunition.
Surely, if I could dream up a project that my friends could master
while answering phones for malcontent industry moguls, they'd be
Turkey Day is over. ChristmaHanuKwanzaa is around the corner. And
one of my closest friends, Joe, got on a plane last month to Iraq.
This isn't a chain letter hoax. Write him. Tell him you know me,
or pretend you know him. Get as creative as you want. All politics
aside, it's a small thing that would make a BIG difference to a
22-year-old soldier as he spends the next year in a lonely/scary
place. Here's his address. One stamp will do the trick
my fingers that some friends would write or pass it on. I just hoped
something would come of it for him.
then the replies started flooding in.
Will do! And I'm sending it off to everyone I know!
students need practice for Monday's vocab quiz, so I'll have them
write, using their words. It'll be a great warm-up for today --
absolutely, but can I flirt with him?
months went by: one phone call from his mother relaying he was still
alive, a pencil-scrawled letter from a far corner in Tikrit, but
mostly, still, silence for me. Joe's world, on the other hand, was
getting pretty damn noisy.
Joe, You don't know me at all, but I think that's what makes this
letter extremely special...
aside, I decided to write you. I'm 16, from Colorado
Sometimes I feel I can relate to a person based on their favorite
part in Monty
Python and the Holy Grail.
I always wanted to just write to a soldier saying thank you, but
I never knew how or where to send my letters to...
four months into Joe's tour in Iraq, an email finally arrived:
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