He sat down to write the letter. This was not his first letter, but each time he hoped it would be his last. Words never came easily to him. The blank page lay on the desk, innocent of the words he was about to assault it with. And still, words remained chambered in his mind, waiting for pen to touch paper.
He dropped his forehead into the palm of his hand. He tapped his pen against the paper in agitation. He glanced around for inspiration – a green cot, a desk and chair, a refrigerator and a grey locker – nothing to write home about. He finished off the warm water left in a crackling plastic bottle and began staring blankly at the wall.
His mind wandered to the recipients of the letter. Dad would probably be catching a train to Boston. He would be sitting down in a worn seat on the isle, offering the conductor his ticket, and then taking out his tablet to catch up on the news before a long day in the financial district.
Mom would be eating breakfast before heading to the community college. Maybe she was finishing up a few last minute grades while trying not to burn herself on a second cup of coffee. Looking out the window she would sigh as the loosening blossoms from a nearby cherry tree floated by on the breeze. This letter wouldn’t be the first they had heard of their son. But it would be the most personal.
He set the pen down, ripped the U.S. flag from the right sleeve of his ACUs and turned it over in his hands thoughtfully. He’d been here eight months and had dreamed about home so often he wondered if he had made it up in his head. Maybe home was like heaven. You hope and pray its there. You work your ass off to get there. But you actually live – and die – in hell.
Enough philosophizing. He slapped the flag back onto his shoulder and forced himself to write the first lines:
Dear Mr. and Mrs. Smith,
I am deeply saddened by your loss. Please accept my earnest and personal condolences for the loss of your son…