I remember the day when they told us we were conscripted. He clasped my hand tightly and told me to write to him, murmuring his address as we left. I spent the next couple of hours on the military vehicle committing the address to memory, refusing to let go of the final strand that connected me with civilian humanity.
At first, we wrote to each other eagerly. Through the military and civilian post systems, we’d get a daily letter from each other. I would sit anxiously on my own civilian-issue bed, reading and rereading every single bit of paper, and treasuring the handwritten ink that scribed the words I so loved. Some of the older letters got torn and worn at the edges, but I kept a special box underneath my bed, each time waiting anxiously for a new envelope that would tell me he was okay.
As time passed, the letters slowed. I started to concentrate on my work, and then the letters slowed, so it was no more than once every two days, then three, then a week, then a fortnight. I knew this was a bad sign – for I would not notice for a month if he had left me forever – but he sounded so exhausted in his letters, I dared not press him to write more.
Finally, half a year passed, and it was a full month between one letter and the last. It was short, the handwriting stretched, with patches of ink, as if he had scribbled it in a hurry. I read the words slowly and carefully, afraid that I would misunderstand his urgent meaning. He did not say much about it, but only wrote that he was sent on an emergency military dispatch and that it was unlikely he could write in a while. I wrote back quickly, hoping I might catch him before he departed, but there was no reply.
Time went on. When a month passed and it became clear that his letter was not arriving, if it had even been written, I lapsed into a period of depression. My work, my experiments, all of it, I just stopped. I couldn’t bring myself to read my own notes. It was all too far, too foreign, too meaningless. I simply couldn’t see the point anymore.
I was pressured to continue, but soon it became clear to the military authorities that I was not going to work. Unable to force me without risking permanent mental damage, I believe the superiors did the one thing they were so good at: they lied.
They told me he was coming home, and the falsified news gave me hope. I renewed my energy in my experiments in anticipation for his return, believing that we should have good news for each other in the first time we’ve seen each other’s faces for over a year. All was going well, and I waited for his letter.
It didn’t come. I waited, and waited, and eventually finished my experiments and was rewarded with the rank of commander, something I didn’t even expect or want. I shredded off the responsibilities and simply waited for his correspondence. When it didn’t come, I was teetering on the verge of depression again.
I kept most of the innovation going to take my mind of him, but it didn’t work. So I left. One night, I simply packed my belongings, took careful care of the box of his letters, and departed.
I had barely made it through the corridor when I heard voices. Slinking into the shadows, I stood still, blending perfectly into the darkness. The voices were indistinct, but the tones clear enough; one was easily recognisable as my fellow commander that I had heard many times in the mess hall, but the other was faintly familiar, almost as if I heard it before, but not quite.
When I ran over to him, he smiled at me and passed me one final envelope. It had my old address on it, but no stamp, no military approval. He never managed to mail it, and held onto the letter in the belief he would see me again.
I ripped open the package and read the first few words.
I love you.
He bent down and placed a soft kiss on my cheek.