The Support of Friends

Love in a mug. My friend’s coffee shop is launching the Letters to Loretta roast which can be purchased here.

It hits different when your friends’ support matches your dedication to your own story and journey.

Traveling Man

April 30, 1943
Army Air Base

Wendover Field, Utah

My Darling Loretta,

Your letter today truly was swell and was enjoyed a lot. You know honey I love you too, only I love you more. I love you all I possibly can.

Today was payday, and I got my regular pay but not my flying pay. I’ll get that some time next month (I hope). I intend to send $50 to my mother so I’ll have some dough for my furlough. Honey when I get home we’ll do the town. Maybe you think I’m silly, but every day and every night I dream of going home. I’m still wondering what I’m going to say when I first see you. Even if I say nothing, I know what I’m going to do. Loretta, you are going to be kissed; and I do mean kissed with a capital (hug too). Gee I love you. I’m still hoping for that happy day in June. I love you more honey.

Your brother Joe is a good man and he’ll make a darn good sailor. An indication is how well he took it when he left. He is a man, for I could see that when I was home a year ago. I hope he manages to get home when I do. I love to see him in his uniform.

Honey, it’s nice of you to go and see Ed. If you bring him just 1% of the happiness you brought me, he’s very happy. You’re just swell (my swell girl). I love you sweet heart, I love you lots. 

I’m glad you liked the box of candy. I hope to fatten you up so I can have more to hug when I see you. Loretta, you are going to be hugged. I love you. 

Honey, when you go over to my house again and they have some good cake, ask mom for my piece. Say, “Mrs. Schwerdt, I want Ha’s piece.”

I know how much much Abie wanted to get in the service. I feel sorry for him, please give him my regards. My regards to everybody, OK? Mom, Pop, the family, Johnna, Bena, the girls.

Honey, remember the pictures I said I had taken? Well, I’m sending them home. I only have one set, so I wish you would show them to my mother. I hope to get some more, but that’s going to take a couple more weeks. 

I think the pictures are pretty good, I hope you like them. The one picture that is faded is Jack in a summer flying suit, and me in a winter flying jacket and helmet and goggles. I’ve mentioned the name of “Ned” in my previous letters; he’s Jack’s radio man. He’s in one of these pictures, and you can recognize him cause he’s wearing a summer flying suit. The guy on the other side of me, is the 1st sergeant and a very nice guy. He’s a dummer, and really can beat it out. Yes sir, a nice guy. The close up picture of me was taken by Jack. He had the camera so I went up to him and said heil Hitler; he took the picture too. I think it came out well, don’t you?

In one of the pictures I look like a tough guy; I had that taken specifically for you. Are you afraid of me? Better do like I say or else I’ll get tough with you (I may even lop you!).

Honey, I wish you could feel my eyes on you and hear me  saying, Sweetheart. I love you, more love to you, sweets. I was supposed to leave Wendover Field Sunday May 2, but orders have been changed, so I’m good here for at least another week. Darn it. 

So my doll, your letter made me very happy. I hope these pictures make you happy. 

Bye my sweets, all my love, your honey.

Love,

Ha

I love you darling. I love you.

Budding Love

The tall, narrow homes and straight brick buildings of Jamaica, Queens stood in neatened order like soldiers at attention. Each structure was uniform on the outside, save for little window boxes, a chain link fence, or the occasional vegetable garden. Inside the homes of Jamaica were varied with families bustling about, doing what daily tasks could be done in the Depression. Children ran barefoot, played hide and seek, or searched for an open space to play stickball. The Reilly family was one brood with five children – there were six, but the youngest passed away when he was very small. The Reilly children were known for having a mother on the police force – something not common. They were also known for swiping potatoes from the kitchen when their mother was at work and roasting them in back alleys and eating them plain. 

Only a few houses down from the Reilly’s, in an identical structure, was the Schwerdt family. The mother and father, both German immigrants who left before the first World War, raised a family of ten children, the youngest two being identical twins. The twin boys had bright red hair and bright blue eyes and their own mother was unable to tell them apart. Their father, John, was a brewer – and at one point a milkman – but in the economic downturn of the United States, his skills as a brewer were in great demand from the general working class. His wife, a homemaker, spent her days making and repairing clothes and raising ten children. 

This tangle of youths, generally unsupervised – especially in the summer months – made the most of their time by adventuring outside and exploring what there was to do for free in the Great Depression. They ran around in dirtied clothes, equal parts oblivious and affected by the poverty that haunted most families in the 1930s, not just the children of immigrants. 

One of the German twins, Harold, made his way to the playground at the end of the block. Oftentimes it was crowded with other children, but on this particular evening there seemed to be only a smattering of playmates. The sun sank behind the brick horizon that New York made as he reached a swing set occupied by one other.

“Hello,” the young girl said as he sat down on a swing, leaving one between them. “I like your hair.”

Harold felt himself blush. She was very pretty, maybe fourteen years old to his sixteen. 

“Thank you. I’m Harold. What’s your name?”

“Loretta,” she replied. The children sat in a comfortable silence, peppered by the squeak of swing chains, the scuff of dust below their feet, and the occasional honk of traffic. They learned their homes were very close, and Loretta believed she saw Harold a week earlier, down by an ice cream shop.

“Oh, that was probably Arthur, my identical twin. Y’know our own mother can’t tell us apart?” 

Loretta laughed. “Wow, identical twins. You must do everything together.” 

“Well, most things. He’s more of a prankster. My mother says I’m too serious for my age.” 

In the distance, towards the low glow of the setting sun, “Dinner!” was called. Loretta stirred a moment before hopping off her swing. 

“That’s my mother. It was nice meeting you.” 

“Maybe you can find me by the ice cream shop one day, and I’ll buy you a cone,” Harold said. He stood to tip his head to Loretta, and from the opposite direction of the block he heard, “Abendessen!” 

Loretta wrinkled her eyebrows. Harold shrugged a little and chuckled, a little embarrassed.  

“German. It means dinner.

“Oh,you speak German?”

“No, not really,” he admitted. “Our parents prefer us to speak English. But when my siblings and I are out and we hear someone hollering German, we know it’s our mother.”

“That is very clever,” Loretta laughed, “and ice cream sounds lovely.”

The two agreed to meet again at the playground towards the end of that week and before he left Harold took Loretta’s hand in his to shake.

“It was a pleasure meeting you, Loretta Reilly.”

“Likewise, Harold Schwerdt.” She pronounced his name Schwartz but he didn’t dare correct her. Harold believed, at sixteen, that he found love at first sight.

July 13, 1938

Dearest Harold,

I received your letter and was glad to hear from you. I was surprised you wrote so soon. Well, since your first topic was about the weather, I’ll be a copycat. At eight o’clock, Monday morning I was awakened by a large crash of thunder. What a storm it sent everyone out of their beds. It rained off and on all day, so I stayed in. Tuesday, I got up at ten thirty and it was so warm, I sat around and listened to the radio all day. Tuesday night Evelyn, Lil, and I went to see Albie. He has a heavy cold. Today, I got up at ten thirty and helped around the house, then to the playground. I stayed there about an hour then came home. Tonight, I went to a meeting, then to Nachlin’s. Later, Harry took several of us including Lil, Betty, Gert, Ed W., Eppie, and myself to the night baseball game on Hillside Ave. I go in at 11:30 and boy! Did I get a balling-out.

Now, I must ask you how is everyone, if they look as well as they did Sunday. They are swell. Oh! Pardon me. How are you? As far as missing you, I do (not). Hoping to see you soon I’ll close. 

Affectionately yours,

Your Honey (I hope)

Loretta (chubby in your eyes)

P.S. “The Old Gag.” Excuse pencil and paper writing –

Also, give regards to the family. 

(the perfume is my sister’s) xxx

Love on a Leash

The thing I liked most about Small Craft Brewing Company is that when I told friends I was drinking at the Small Craft Brewing Company they’d say, “Oh yeah? What’s it called?” Brian and I waited for his husband to show up. I had a flight in front of me that I drank down in order of color – light to dark – and he had a lager. A young boy walked through the brewery with a tub of candy bars and said he was raising money for his after school programs. 

“How much is it?”

“Six dollars.”

I handed him a ten, told him to keep the change, and split a candy bar with Brian who proceeded to drag me for giving a kid ten dollars for chocolate. “Whatever,” I said, “it’s for his school program. It isn’t a big deal.”

“I don’t know who let kids peddle candy in a bar anyway,” he replied.

The truth of my generosity was that I wanted to do nicer things – let go of control, man. Two months out of my break-up and I just looked for a sense of normalcy. I was so madly in love with my ex when we were together that every red flag looked like a regular flag until I took off the rose-colored glasses and saw a damn minefield of warning signs. I recounted the time I had to remind him to brush his teeth before bed, his unkempt car – the day he gave me back a week-old tupperware container, lined with the chili I hand delivered to his job. I should have broken up with him then; He couldn’t respect my kitchen wares, he couldn’t respect me. Bastard.

It was nice to be with Brian and his husband. I drifted into a nice buzz with only one beer in my flight left, pet a couple of the brewery dogs that hovered around for open hands and fallen snacks, and settled a little further into my single-ness. I was truly alone for the first time in years. My dog died seven months earlier at almost 15 years old and I had him since he was just a puppy. My grandfather died in January and it absolutely ripped my heart out. And then, I guess, my relationship died in February when the man I loved turned out to be a large, red-headed pile of crap. 

“I don’t want you to leave my life,” he said as he recounted the relationship he had on the side for months. I got my house key from him and didn’t look back. There were no second chances. Instead, I started therapy, didn’t eat for a week, ate too much for a week, went to Maine by myself, and sold the concert tickets I bought him and booked a trip to Georgia alone to research my grandfather’s war history at a museum in Savannah. When I wasn’t working or in a brewery I was in bed or wrote from the couch. I wanted to be alone. I wanted isolation. I didn’t want new people in my life.

“I can’t believe no one can take him home,” Brian said as he looked down at his phone.

“Who?”

“This puppy. He was surrendered to my friend in the fire department who works for the Brooklyn police department. His name’s Major. The person who gave him up said he was too nice to put in a shelter. No one can take him though. I accidentally sprayed him with a hose during drill last night and he wasn’t even mad about it.”  

Brian went on to tell me about how this puppy was passed around three or four places, but no one wanted him – or could accommodate him – and he didn’t know where he’d end up. He was a friendly dog, but still very much a puppy. He was a pitbull mix, probably. He was big

“Show me a picture,” I said. 

He took his phone out and showed me a single, head-on, blurry photo of what looked like a baby cow. I saw the eyes, though. He had very sweet-looking eyes. 

Damn.

“I’ll take him home.”

“You don’t know anything about him, though.”
“I don’t care. Where is he?”

“One of the girls has him at her apartment right now but she isn’t allowed to have dogs.”

“Can she bring him to the firehouse?”

“Kate, are you sure?”

“No. Yeah. I’m sure.” 

Maybe it was the flight of beer, or that I unconsciously crossed hairs with alone and lonely – or maybe I couldn’t stand to hear about a life that had no control over who wanted him – but I knew I needed to take the dog home. First, though, I knew he needed a name change. I Googled generic names and settled on Randall. 

“His name is now Randall.”

I slammed the rest of my beer and we piled into our respective vehicles and drove two minutes up the road to the firehouse where Randall would soon meet us. I was terrified, but I’m notorious for commitment so I sucked it up and waited to meet my new puppy. When he arrived he was exactly as I expected – sweet, clumsy, a little stupid, a couple of scars, and incredibly trusting. Honestly, he reminded me a little of myself.

“Hi, Randall.” 

I played with him, fed him treats, and let him drag me around the parking lot for a couple of hours before I loaded him into my car in the rain to drive a half hour back home. My last dog at his heaviest, was 20 pounds – lazy for his entire life; he was more like a house cat. Randall, was already at least 55 pounds and crazy. I truly had no idea what I was in for. He whined for the majority of the ride home so I rolled the window down in the back to give him some fresh air only to watch him squeeze his entire body out of the space and face plant onto the street.

Oh my god I already killed him, I thought. 

I pulled over and he was on the sidewalk, sitting, dazed, and bleeding from his chin.

“What the hell were you thinking?” I stared down at this terrified thing and he just looked up at me, motionless. I opened the car door and he jumped in again and we went home.

Aside from a gigantic dump that he took on the top of my staircase, Randall adjusted quickly to my condo. I muscled through two or three anxiety attacks at the commitment I blindly volunteered for and reassured myself I made the right decision. At the very least I can foster him, I told myself. Part of me was afraid of the life-long committal. I lost so much in such a short period of time that I couldn’t look at him without the fear of what I’d feel to lose him. I knew I already adored Randall, dysfunction and all. Maybe I was a glutton for punishment. Maybe I wanted to sleep next to something again.

 He needed leash training, vaccinations, antibiotics for the skin infection he had; He needed to be neutered; he needed command training (he was actually house trained already and the welcome home present he left me was more nervousness than anything), and I agreed to this – actually 64-pound – project. I knew he deserved love, and ultimately I knew I deserved love. My last dog wasn’t very friendly at all, and Randall was noticeably social. I nervously took him to my local coffee shop to adjust him to the public. 

Suddenly everyone was stopping me to say hi to my dog.

“Oh my god! He’s so cute! Is he friendly? He’s beautiful! Can I say ‘hi?’”

“Oh, uh, yeah, sure.” I was shocked at first but it was always the same. Perfect strangers approached me to greet Randall – who revelled in the attention – I socialized for the first time in months, and we’d be on our way. It was impossible for me to remain in isolation with him on the end of the leash. Sometimes we left the coffee shop and would get caught up in a group of passing people. Slowly but surely, he improved on the leash; he stopped trying to hug everyone he saw. I found myself making excuses to take him out and actively searched for dog-friendly establishments. Suddenly I wanted to meet people again.

Now, six months after he leaped from my vehicle in terror, Randall and I frequent shops and travel around. Together we met at least a hundred new people. He’s become a trail-hiking people greeter who rolls over for Donna the treat lady in Petco. I have to drag him out of the vet’s office because he wants to stay and hang out with all the vet techs. I, the lover of solitude, the hermit, the writer, leave my house with Randall at least twice a day to make sure he at least fills his social quota. I’ve never been so happy to see such happy innocence. He starts his therapy dog classes soon, and once he gets his Canine Good Citizen certification we can volunteer in libraries and hospitals together. He was the best buzzed decision I ever made.     

Up and Over

I never got the urge

to cry

when looking at someone

I loved unless

they were moments

from death.

I never felt such overwhelming

joy

until that September afternoon –

Your eyes.

Those eyes like mine

made me feel

such joy

I almost wept.

I could not contain

just how much

I loved you.

French press mornings

that gifted us our futures in the bottom

of our cups –

I cannot read our future.

Why did you fall in love with me?

You smiled and said nothing.

I asked again –

I took your hand –

You’re easy to love, I said.

You smiled and said,

because you’re kind.

Kind to heart and kind in patience

rose-colored and divine –

Too rosy to see your eyes that hid

what you couldn’t tell me until

many months past.

To leave me devoured and spit out

spit up resentments where love once was

our cups empty

my –

My cup empty.

You touched her –

and her –

and probably her as well.

Black coffee grind hand on my heart

too divine to stay elevated

fell again

at your feet.

And I wept and wept

to look at your face

to see the death of us –

dead to me.

Atom Bomb

You shot me point blank

with your smoking gun

semi-automatic

heart.

Charming spectacle

convincing sparkle

in your eyes –

An addicting, blinding,

white hot

like the sun in the summer

but carrying the effect

of an atomic blast.

I soaked it in

and was dust before

the boom.

The Wrong Questions

If I hadn’t met

you,

I wouldn’t have fallen

in love

(although you weren’t

in love with me – incapable,

you said)

for the first time.

Said it out loud to those

eyes

beautiful eyes, like

mine

(but mirrored to mine

because you are

the opposite of me).

Am I Narcissus,

then? Am I

self-indulgent

or do I love

the darkness more than I like

to admit?

(to admit to you I loved your shadows,

fiery red)

“Meanwhile, things go on.”

Charles Bukowski – poet, novelist, alcoholic, lover of all things women and sex – lived his life how he wanted, how he thought he deserved to live, and died in 1994 of Leukemia at age 73. Could he have quit smoking? Sure. Could he have quit booze? Of course. But he didn’t, because that wasn’t Bukowski. He lived his truth, however sad it may have seemed to his readers, critics, and lovers alike. Bukowski – to me at least – is someone who lived until he died, and died many times while still living.

To die over and over (and over) again is something that many of us experience but not many of us recognize. Most recently, for me, my relationship of over a year with a man I was very much in love with ended in a fireball of lies, manipulation, and the discovery (and introduction) of a woman who he had kept a secret relationship with for three months while I was walking through burning hot coals with the death of my dog, and the hospice care and death of my grandfather. Throughout all of this I maintained my life with him – made sure he was alright, listened, and still kept myself afloat the best I could under the circumstances. Unfortunately – and to my utter surprise – he took my independence (and lack of codependency) and ran away with that (and fell into other women).

When he revealed to me that he had constructed a secret relationship including but not limited to very strict date schedules and days of the week, two separate Instagram accounts, different names saved into phones, etc, I knew I would never take him back. I felt a crushing pain within me that was different from any death I ever felt – not my dog, my grandpa, or even when my mom died in 2011. It was a feeling of ultimate betrayal nestled into sheer confusion and embarrassment to know he was playing me like a faithful fiddle while his roommates (and his mother) knew what he was doing; he later tried to defend his roommates to me, saying they “encouraged” him to come clean, but honestly obligation towards one another as people comes from moral standings in my book, not longevity or proximity. AKA if you’re acting like a piece of shit I will not hesitate to call you out on it; no one deserves to live their life thinking they have nothing to worry about when the same hands that hold them at night held someone else just as passionately only hours before.

What’s crazy about all this is I did forgive him. I didn’t forgive him in the sense that, “It’s okay, we’ll work through this together.” Oh no. It was a more, “I never needed you. I cannot help you. This is unhealthy. You betrayed me beyond any repair. I can’t hate you because, honestly, no one hates you more than you probably hate yourself. Best of luck, mate.” He sobbed (I sobbed much, much later once I got over the shock and nausea that the man I saw as a potential soul mate was lying to my face).

It hasn’t been very long at all since I last saw him – since we lay together on my couch crying, watching the clock until he had to leave for work on the morning he brought me back my house key. It hasn’t been long at all since our last kiss, since he rested his head on my chest and his tears burned straight through to my fucking soul. “I love you,” he said as he turned around and grabbed me to hug and kiss me one last time in the doorway. I wanted to tell him he didn’t love me, that he didn’t know love, but I know better than to assume that someone doesn’t know what love is just because they aren’t capable of loving with the same capacity as I am. He loved me (maybe still does love me) with his perception of what it is to love another. The fatal flaw is he doesn’t love himself – that he may be a little bit of a sociopath – that he compartmentalizes things to such an extreme extent that when he walked out of my house I probably no longer existed, but when he looked at me after telling me he had been cheating he burst into tears.

I will never know if the sobs and wailing were from genuine guilt or genuine displeasure at being caught. I’ll never know how deep his love really ran (although I don’t think it was too deep regardless of his claims). I won’t be able to see inside of him to believe the things he told me in earnest. But what I do know, is that things go on. I died that day, but I died a lot of other days too. I died when my mom died in front of me. And I am grieving now, like I did with my mom, but the waves are different. There is no linear movement to grief, that I know. I just know it’s happening. And even with the sadness, I tell myself, “I survived worse.” I still wake up everyday in my own two-bedroom house. I have eight, very happy houseplants. I have a book collection that only continues to grow. I have groceries, a job, and I don’t stop writing. And again, after all this, I am living how I think I deserve and I am dying and will die again and again until I die and don’t wake up. Until then, though, I will reinvent myself, I will live, and things will go on.

Valentine’s Day

It is interesting to sleep

as peacefully as I have

even though the space between my sheets

has grown.

I wrap myself up in green and drift off

not wondering who you are holding,

knowing whoever you hold

will not be embraced by any truth.

It is curious to sleep so comfortably

knowing how many lies crossed your lips,

like my body and soul knew before brain

that this wasn’t true  –

As if finally I have been released from a love

that was love to me

and none to you.

Mementos

I never knew my capacity

for love until it overflowed

onto your feet and drowned you long after you hurt me.

Nothing is black and white

nothing –

nothing.

I underestimated my capacity for understanding

when you looked into my eyes and I saw beyond

the pain you made me feel

because you hurt yourself more.

Beyond my comprehension of why or how –

And then I knew for you unconditional love.