Two: "What Are You Talking About?"
Returning back to the base at the end of the day was without a doubt one of the best feelings any soldier could ever experience. It was always a good feeling to make it back to camp and just bask in the fact that I had survived yet another day and that every single member of my team... my fellow soldiers... had all made it back safe without any problems. I had been in the air all day transporting supplies to soldiers on the ground in various other camps outside of the base camp we were situated in. These guys were constantly on the move, so it was always hard for them to receive the correct supplies whilst also trying not to get targeted by rival troops.
Today, the atmosphere had been hot as hell and the heat was ten times worse in the cockpit of my chopper; it was almost too hard to breathe in the humidity that was around me. I much preferred the times when I was stationed down on base. It made a difference from being up in the air, that’s for sure. When stationed on a base, you were usually always on the move and always on the lookout for any new and existing threats. Don’t get me wrong, it’s not all bad, in fact every few weeks the teams get rotated to ensure that everyone got a decent amount of rest before having to move again.
“Barakat,” one of the guys on my team called out once I had stepped out of the mess hall where half a dozen of my fellow soldiers and friends were digging into their daily meal. “You’ve got some mail through; I didn't know where you wanted them so I just left them on your bunk.” I nod a quick thanks to him and watch as he casually retreats from the door that leads to the bunk area and down towards the mess hall.
Like any soldier will tell you; getting mail through is always something special that we look forward to receiving after getting back from a long and difficult day. Receiving mail from our loved ones back home gives us the perfect opportunity to just take a step back and relax from what is going on all around us and concentrate on the words of those that we miss dearly which often includes finding out information on various pieces of news, that we would have known if we could have been at home, even if it is a few weeks old. You see, before we actually get to receive it, it has to go through various different security checks and because we are almost always on the move, our mail gets sent to our barracks at home first before being sent out to us personally.
My Mom, bless her heart, always does her best to write a lengthy letter to me every few weeks or so, each one of the numbered in the order in which she sent them so I wouldn't lose track. When the mail gets dropped off to us, I usually have a whole bunch of letters from her telling me all about what was currently going on with the family at home. My friends were also good at writing at times, they usually just kept me up to date on all the fun that I was missing out on whilst also providing me with some rather amusing drunken tales.
Although they all try their best to write whenever they can, it just wasn’t the same as getting letters from that special someone in your life, whether it be a girlfriend, wife, boyfriend or even husband. In all honesty, they were the best kind of letters and I seriously missed receiving them more than anyone would think. Just receiving them made you feel so warm and loved, just knowing that someone is missing you just as much as you are missing them; it’s something that we all cherish in our hearts… except for me... I didn’t have that anymore.
As I take a step into the bunk area, I carefully navigate my way around various backpacks that had somehow been pulled out from underneath the neighbouring beds and over to the far left hand corner where my own bunk stood; sure enough, there on top of the pillow, is a neat little stack of letters just waiting for me to read.
Without even taking the time to fully acknowledge the handwriting, I can tell that there is a letter from my Mom, one from my friend Danny and one from someone new… It takes me a little while to think of who the last one is from but like always, it finally came to me as I sat down on the edge of my bunk; this must be from the student at Towson University who I had so reluctantly agreed to write to as a part of a ‘Pen Pal’ assignment which they have to work on for the duration of the semester.
When my Commanding Officer first came to me with the idea about taking part, I was a little hesitant about agreeing but he told me that the lecturer who has set the assignment is his younger brother and he was in desperate need to find one final ‘guinea pig’ before they could actually start writing letters. Seeing as the assignment is just about the students learning something about their assignment soldier, I thought that it wouldn’t be too strenuous a task and so, I said yes and besides, I owed my C.O. a favour anyway for him letting me use his office to Skype my family; seeing as though all of the computers in the common room were booked up and even if they weren’t, the internet connection over here is kind of average at the best of times.
Shuffling back onto the bunk so that my back was leaning against the wall, I make myself comfortable before picking up the first letter that was on top of the pile; the one from my Mom. As usual my Mom filled me in on all of the things that has happened since the last time she wrote to me; things such as my brother Joe getting promoted and being sent to New York in a week’s time to work in a much bigger department of the company whereas my sister May quit her boring office job in order to start up her own company which thanks to a generous investor, has already managed to turn her business idea from just a bunch of doodles and notes on a piece of paper into reality. I probably don’t say it a lot, but I really am so proud of both my brother and sister for following their dreams and not taking crap from anyone who says that they can’t do it because they’re wrong; they can do anything if they just believe in themselves.
I let a small ghost of a smile flash across my lips as I place my Mom’s letter down beside me before turning my attention to the next letter in the pile; which came from Danny who is quick to fill me in on what he has been up to. It surprises me to know that even though he has a Master’s Degree in Business and Management, which he obtained at the University in LA, he is taking what he likes to call a ‘career break’ and is spending most of his time off, working as a guitar tech. I’m not going to lie; I’m rather jealous of Danny as he has gotten to be extremely lucky in life and according to his letter, he is currently teching for one of my favourite bands, Fall Out Boy, on their current U.S. and European tour. It goes without saying that there are many stories told within the letter that has made me chuckle under my breath.
After spending another few seconds scanning through Danny’s letter, I set it on top of the letter from my Mom and focus my thoughts and attention to the last letter in the pile; the one which I have received from the new Towson University student. Unlike the letters from my Mom and Danny, I take my time opening this one. In my grasp is a single piece of crisp, white paper that will give me the first taste and insight into the person to whom I shall be writing to, not only that but this letter will give me a much more generalised idea about what kind of questions I will need to answer and quite frankly, I’m not really sure what to expect. All I was told about the person was that he’s a student currently studying at Towson University and that his name is Alex but apart from that, I know nothing else about him. Although, as I let my eyes scan across his neat scrawl, I can’t help but notice certain similarities between him and myself when I was his age; which causes me to reach under my bunk for a fresh pad of paper and a biro, my mind ready and willing to reply to him right away.
First of all, I would just like to start off this letter by saying ‘thank you’; even though this is for an assignment, I really do appreciate you taking the time to write to me. Being out here, thousands of miles away from home - from all of my family and friends - it’s hard but having some form of contact with someone who doesn’t have any connection to what is going on over here, well… it’s rather nice. It’s always hard to be so far away from the ones that you love but it’s receiving letters from them that makes us feel somewhat connected to them still; it’s hard to describe just how good it feels to know that someone back home is thinking about you but I have often wondered what it would feel like to have a complete stranger just randomly write a letter… which I suppose is the real reason why I agreed to take part in this letter exchange with you.
Seeing as though you have introduced yourself to me - it's nice to meet you - it is only fair that I do the same for you so… my name is Jack Bassam Barakat, but you can just call me Jack. I am twenty-one years of age and I am a soldier currently serving for the U.S. Army. At this current moment in time, I am one of the troops that is fighting in the Afghan War… Well, I wouldn’t necessarily say that I’m the one doing the fighting, I’m more or less a pilot that is responsible for getting supplies out to the troops in other base camps that need them, so even though I’m not doing any fighting, I guess you can say that my job is pretty important. Every couple of weeks, the teams get swapped around so it allows me to take part in other military duties, but no other job compares to flying the aircraft around, delivering supplies to your fellow troops… to me, it is probably the best part about the job; not just being able to fly an aircraft, but the feeling that it gives you, it’s so unbelievably satisfying to know that you alone are helping out other people who are there in the same situation as yourself and who are experiencing the exact same feelings.
Lecturers can be asses like that, reading out your work to everyone in the room. I can’t really say that I miss that about High School but if I was in your class, then I would have applauded your effort as it actually sounds like a poem that I would enjoy reading. You know, you should of made him make one up on the spot if he thought that it was such an easy task to do but then again being the lecturer, he could have picked one that he’s memorised off by heart so that would have completely backfired on you. Don’t worry, I don’t think that you’re weird at all. I actually agree with you; writing like this can be rather relaxing. Did you know that William Wordsworth once said that you should fill the paper with the beating of your heart? When I was in High School and studying English, we were told to write a paper about him, to really study his work; I didn’t really understand most of it, mainly due to not really paying that much attention but I do now. I can see the point that he was making and it has made me prefer writing a letter, or anything for that matter, by hand as it makes it just a touch more personal… Don’t you think?
In regards to your assignment, I suppose that it doesn’t sound too painful… although I’m not going to lie, my story probably isn’t all that interesting but I’ll let you be the judge of that. Anyway, to start with I am of Lebanese descent, mostly on my Father’s side, although I am American born and raised. I grew up in a town called Lutherville-Timonium, also in Baltimore. I attended Dulaney High School and graduated (much to the shock of every one of the teachers there, as well as a couple of the students) with a Music Degree. Much like yourself, I also play the guitar and it should probably go without saying that I’m a big music fan. Going by the two bands that you just listed, I can tell that we’ll get along just fine. I mainly listen to the pop-punk genre and Blink-182 are my idols, at least music wise; well, enough so that when I turned eighteen I went to a local tattoo studio and got the Blink bunny tattooed at the top of my left arm (do you reckon that would be classed as obsessed?)
Anyway, that’s probably enough about me for now… I wouldn’t want to overload you with information in the very first letter, otherwise we might run out of things to talk about, so I think that I’ll take a little bit of time to ask you a couple of questions. You said that you moved over to Baltimore when you were ten, what part of Baltimore are you currently residing within? (I’m going to guess Towson seeing as you attend the University there). What do you like about living there? Do you hang around with many people? Do you have a favourite holiday of all time? What’s your favourite film?
I apologize if this letter is a little too long, especially for it being an introductory letter, I’ll try to hold back on my ramblings in the future. I look forward to hearing back from you.
I set my pen down on the little table beside my bunk and let a small smile fall upon my lips. Sure, after reading it back to myself, I was aware that it isn’t exactly the best response to a letter in the world but it’ll do, at least for now; it covers all of the basic details about myself which is the main thing and it will give Alex an initial starting point for his presentation.
I glance quickly down at my wristwatch that is currently strapped around my left wrist before folding the letter neatly, placing it into an empty envelope that I had stacked under the bunk next to where my notepad lay, writing down the required information. If I was quick, then I could still make the last post out, which means that the letter will get sent off back home to Baltimore, tonight.
As I walk back down the hallway towards the mess hall and common area, I can’t help but wonder what kind of person Alex is, it is obvious that he has a great taste in music but what sort of student is he really? Is he one of these students that likes to work hard for his Degree, or is he the kind of student that gets into trouble often due to not putting in the effort? Hell, for all I know he could be a little bit of both.
But what I do know for sure is that I’m going to enjoy writing to Alex; it could turn out to be a rather interesting distraction for me... from Military life. Receiving letters from Alex will give me something good to look forward to when I’m not shipping out supplies to other base camps and it will also help to keep my mind off of the fear and paranoia that comes with the life of being a dedicated American Soldier.
Second new update in the space of a few hours, aren't you guys lucky? ;D
How are you all liking 'Future Hearts'? Do you have a favourite song?
How many of you are seeing them on their US tour?