Thursday, September 4, 2014

Letter Game: Eric

Dear Mom,

War was declared recently. I found out last night. I decided to join the army because we’re poor and the job pays well. Dad joined as well, leaving you with my six younger brothers and sisters, and no relief parent. Poor mama, how she suffers. I’ll send you my pay. I hope you stay sane.



Richard, you sneaking scoundrel! Do you have any idea what you’ve done? Your father has always been a ne’er do well – you know I don’t try to hide that, because I believe in being brutally honest  -- but I had hoped for better things from you.

I haven’t scrimped and saved all these years to keep you in school so that you could throw it all away in a stupid civil war! And you didn’t even tell me which side you’ve joined! And if you HAD to encourage your father to run away from home, couldn’t you and he have joined OPPOSITE sides? That way the family would hedge our bets. If our village changed hands several times, we could tell the occupying forces “Oh, I have a husband in your army” or “I have a son in your army”. And, that way, we’d be guaranteed that at least one currency would be worth something when the dust settles.

“You’ll send your pay.” Oh, joy. Do you have ANY IDEA what confederate greenbacks were worth at the end of the American Civil War? Of course you don’t, because you never paid any attention to your teacher, no matter how many times I screamed at you to do better, and yelled at him to be more interesting. I despair, I really do.

You’ve joined the communist rebellion, haven’t you? Aaargh! Did it occur to you to think about this at all, first? They’re communists. They don’t like money. They don’t have a stable government, they don’t print their own currency, they can’t pay their fighters. They’re probably getting funding from Ruskya for supplies, so hopefully you’ll get free food (some of the time) and a working gun, but how that will help me and your siblings? And even if you got paid in rublern, it’s not like I can use it locally!

Also, I’m worried you’ll get yourself killed. And if that happened, it would encourage Mitchell to follow suit.

I will keep the farm and family going as long as I can, but if things get bad, I will take them and flee to Shock Rock.

Also, remember to change your underwear frequently. And make sure the latrines are always placed far away from the water supply! More soldiers die from disease than from combat. That’s another you thing you’d know if you’d ever paid attention in history class. Or science. You’re hopeless at science!

I hope you know I love you. Even though you drive me crazy and I yell at you a lot. It’s only because I’m worried about you. And – oh, just  quit the army RIGHT NOW and come home and be a doctor!

Your furious mother

Dear Mother,

I would like to clear up a few misunderstandings.

First, I paid more attention in school than you realize. Sure, I got bored and distracted at times, but I still learned a lot. You act like I learned nothing, which is totally incorrect.

Second, I didn’t join the communists. I joined the loyalist forces, under King Fredrick of Chrenyin. I’m not entirely sure which side Dad joined, or why you want me to come home and be a doctor, sorry.

Also, the army is somewhat boring, and to entertain, I told my tentmates stories about your childhood, which I heard from my grandmother. I realized later that those stories were very embarrassing, and I regretted telling them. How can I ever make up for what I’ve done?



Cpt. Chen
32nd Company, 2nd division, Loyalist Forces

Dear Sir:

I hope my boy isn’t causing you too much trouble. I know he’s lazy and immature, but I’m sure you’ll beat that obnoxious streak right out of him. It seems impossible that anyone could make a real man out of him, but maybe the army can do it. Remember not to coddle him! If he complains about blisters or heat exhaustion or dehydration or a stomach ache or a broken wrist or any other minor ailment, just ignore him. He whines a lot.

But can you please check and make sure he eats his vegetables? I’m afraid he’ll be so homesick he’ll lose his appetite. You might need to get his messmates together and have them force food down his throat. Remember the stewed turnips! He claims to hate them, but I know they’re secretly his favorite food.

Now, for the reason I’m writing: I’m concerned about his embarrassing habit.  I so hate to embarrass my son, but I feel that national security is more important. I don’t want the deaths of his comrades upon my conscience, and he’s so sensitive, he might neglect to mention it.

He’s always been a sleepwalker. Once, on a camping trip, he started trying to climb a mountain in the dark in only his underwear. When his buddies tried to wake him up, he freaked out and started fighting them. They were lucky to restrain him before anyone suffered a serious fall. That was frightening, of course, but it was really weird how he yodeled the entire time.

What if he did something similar near enemy lines?

Probably the best thing you could do with him would be to re-assign him to a support position deep behind the lines. Maybe if he were put in on latrine duty? That would be a good job for someone of his limited intellectual abilities. If you must keep in with the forward infantry, may I respectfully suggest you put a leash on him and gag him at night?

I hope I can count on your discretion about all this. Whatever you do, please don’t show this letter to his buddies. I would hate for him to get teased about all this.

Thanks for your time and attention.


Mei Ling Chiang

Dear Mother,
That letter was extremely embarrasing. [sic]

And Captain Chen took it seriously! I was lucky to convince him not to transfer me to the 17th company. Also, the captian’s [sic] second-in-command/assistant saw your letter and decided to tell his freidns [sic] that embarrasing [sic] story about me climbing a mountain in my underwear. His freinds [sic] told their freinds [sic], and soon the entire COMPANY knew a garbled and far more embarrasing [sic] version of the story.

A few days later, the second-in-command resigned. He said he couldn’t bear the guilt of having told such an embarrassing story. I might have been promoted to replace him, but the captain didn’t want a complainer as his second-in-command. And that’s what he thougt [sic] I was, having read your letter. So instead of me, some guy named Ming got the position.
You’ve ruined my career. I might recover, but not while you send embarrassing letters. So try to be more tactful next time. And please, THINK IT THROUGH before you send another letter!

Your humiliated son
P.S. You never said how to make up. Also your letter was wrong about a few things. I’ll explain later.

Dear son,

Welcome to the army. I KNEW it would involve hazing and humiliation. I was just trying to teach you that lesson earlier rather than later. (Well, I HOPED I would succeed in getting you away from the front lines, but I knew that was a long shot. Public disgrace was plan B.)

You’re far better off abandoning your delusions now. It’s much better to be a clear-eyed realist when facing short rations, awful sanitation (and smells), mayhem, gore, and death. I have done you a favor, in the long run. You’ll thank me some day.

There’s an old saying: “Eat a raw toad first thing in the morning, and nothing worse will happen to you the rest of the day.” Of course, your current embarrassment is nothing compared to siege and starvation, capture and torture, but I can’t help that. I’ve learned that I’m better off not obsessing about things I can’t control.

By the way, remember to brush your teeth every day! I don’t want my boy coming home—assuming you DO come home—with missing teeth. It would make it even harder for you to find a nice wife, which would make it harder for me to acquire grandbabies to spoil rotten. I’m trying to be positive, though. Since you’ll probably come home—assuming you DO come home, alive—missing some other body parts. A few fingers, a nose, maybe even a leg or two. Compared to that, a few missing teeth will be nothing.

Still, ANY missing body parts would make it harder for you to find a wife. And I doubt you’ll meet any nice girls in the army. That’s why I’ve taken the liberty of beginning negotiations on your behalf now. If we can get some kind of contract signed, it will be harder for Jun Kwong to wiggle out of the engagement after you return maimed. You remember Jun Kwong, right? Such a nice girl. A few years older than you, of course, but still well within child bearing years! I’m surprised nobody else has expressed an interest in marrying her; she’s so strong and truthful! She’d be a real worker, someone who could deliver a baby at noon and be back to helping you with the hay harvest three hours later. She reminds me a lot of me. SUCH a nice girl.

As to ruining your career, I don’t believe it. You might be promoted to sergeant without an education, but then you’d hit a dead end. If you wanted to be an officer, you’d need to finish school.

Now, as to how you can make it up to me that you told embarrassing stories about me to your tentmates? Are you really that dense? That letter to Captain Chen was my revenge! How do you expect to get promoted when you have no sense of strategy or tactics? Oh, right. You expect to get promoted precisely because you have NO understanding of strategy, or tactics, or realism, or how the world works. I despair, I really do.

All that effort, and I’m afraid you haven’t even learned your lesson. No wonder you did so horribly in school, you dolt! Now come home right now and study to be a doctor!

Your loving mother.

P.S. WHAT DO YOU MEAN YOU LOST YOUR FATHER???? He may be a ne’er do well drunken spendthrift who never supported his family or listened to me, but I am rather attached to him. But I just remembered what my herbalist said about staying positive and not obsessing about things I can’t control. Deep breaths.  I’m sure it will be fine.

But have you tried looking in all the local bars? Oh, speaking of bars, remember to practice your ukulele every day. That is, until you lose your first few fingers.


Dear mother,

You have a good point, but it will take a bit more than that to get me to quit the army.

Also, about Jun Kwong, why on Earth would I want to marry her? She gave me cooties when I was 7 and again when I was 9. And my best friend refused to invite me to his birthday party because I had cooties. And also, when I was 15, my buddies and I pulled a prank on our teacher and Jun Kwong told on us even after we swore her to secrecy. No way will I marry her.

Another thing. Why do you want grandbabies? You still have 5 kids at home. Besides, I’m a little young to be getting married.

Dear Son,

Well, your father finally dragged himself home. He was in a state: bedraggled and filthy, with lice swarming through his matted hair. His arm was in a sling, which helps to explain why he had abandoned all attempts at personal grooming, but still, I found it very unattractive. He tried to claim the broken arm was a heroic war wound, but I suspect he was injured in an inglorious bar brawl. He’s probably AWOL from the army, too, which means soon enough we’ll have constables here harassing us.

Speaking of unattractive people, I’m so happy to hear that your objections to Jun Kwong have nothing to do with her appearance. It’s so shallow to judge people because of things they can’t control, like huge feet and disfiguring smallpox scars. Sadly, most of the other boys in the village think she’s ugly, which I find sad. She’s a beautiful person inside, and I’m glad you recognize that. This is your chance to capitalize on an under-valued asset. (I’ve been reading up on financial investments. Since your father will never support his family, it falls to me to provide the cash necessary to get your siblings an education.)

Now, as to your other objections, I am rolling my eyes. You know I try not to interfere with your life, but really! If you think you’re old enough to run away from home, join the army, and –ha!—become an officer, you ought to be old enough to give up ridiculous notions of cooties. And even if she did have cooties, you should be man enough to handle it! Your father has HEAD LICE, but you don’t hear me complaining! I suffer in silence!!!

As to Jun Kwong being a tattletale, I assure you she’s outgrown that. Be charitable of the mistakes she made in her youth. After all, do I still hold grudges about all the idiotic things you did when you were that age? Do I sit at the ladies sewing circle and whine about how, when you were fourteen, you told your best friend our strategy for the village “capture the scarf” game, and he betrayed you to his team, and we lost horribly for the first time in THIRTY YEARS? Do I continue to blame the entire thing on you, five years later? Of COURSE not. I forgive you for being young and stupid, because that’s what mature adults do. Besides, Jun Kwong was acting out of conscience, trying to respect the teacher.

Also, you’re never too young to get married. Just look at me! I married your father when I was sixteen, and we’re still going strong.

Since you don’t have any substantive objections to Jun Kwong, I’ve gone ahead with the marriage negotiations. If you came home right now, you could get married promptly. I could be a gram within a year! In fact, your child could grow up with his or her aunt or uncle. Because, just between you and me, I think I will be delivering another sibling for you, in about eight or nine months. Hopefully THIS time your father will stick around and deal with his responsibilities.



P.S. I hear there was an outbreak of dysentery or cholera or typhoid or whatever they call it. Something awful involving diarrhea, anyway. Please be careful in camp and wash your hands scrupulously, especially before you eat. Of course, if you’d ever paid attention in science class and studied medicine like I wanted, you’d already know that.

Dear Mother,

I don’t care what you say, but I stubbornly refuse to marry Jun Kwong.

But anyway, you said you were pregnant. How miserable you must be. When you were pregnant with my baby sister Rowen, you were vomiting all over, and it was brutal. That might have been a one-time thing, but I don’t think so, given what happened with my little brother John. I know you think it impolite to complain about those things, but it’s fine. Really.



P.S. The outbreak was of typhoid. You couldn’t identify it, but I could, so I’m better than you at medicine. Ha.

Dearest darlingest Richard,

I can see that I pushed too hard about Jun Kwong. I’m sorry that you felt threatened and emasculated by my harmless suggestion. (But really, if you weren’t interested, whyever didn’t you just SAY SO in the first place? You men are so passive aggressive, I despair, I really do.) You know I’m not the kind to flail the undead horse with nagging. That just causes maggots to feed on an unhealthy relationship. So we’ll just forget the whole thing.

Also, don’t worry about hurting Jun Kwong’s feelings. I’ve talked to her – SUCH a nice girl – and she said she understands. She said she’s “probably happier being alone than married to an immature guy who wastes my considerable dowry on gambling.” So mature. She would have been delighted to use her dowry to assist us in our penury (SUCH a nice girl, and so non-judgmental about your father running off AGAIN), but she appreciated your honesty and has moved on, so you don’t need to feel guilty about breaking her heart or abandoning us to abject poverty again. Though, really, it’s actually easier when your father isn’t around, because then at least he doesn’t waste the meagre funds I earn from taking in washing.

Now, about typhoid, of COURSE you could identify it better than I could since you’re on the scene. You probably overheard some of the field nurses discussing it. Not to say that you couldn’t be a great doctor if you tried. I’ve been telling you that for years.

Though if you really wanted to be a doctor, you could come home and take care of your ailing mama. You’re right about this pregnancy being miserable. I vomit several times a day, and it’s so frustrating. If I’m not going to keep anything down, I shouldn’t waste it. I should instead parcel out the nourishment among your younger siblings. But then, I think of the baby, and I think I should try to eat for its sake. I want it to grow up healthy and strong like its oldest brother.

Speaking of which, when you put your foot down about Jun Kwong, I realized that you really are all grown up, mostly. I guess it’s time to let go and admit you’re an adult and back off. If you MUST be a soldier, just make sure you’re a really good one. Except don’t go on any insane berserker charges to the front because you could get killed that way.

Actually, your example of decisiveness has inspired me to divorce your father. I’m better off without him. It’s not pretty, but it is a resolution. I’m sorry if this news distracts you from your mission of patriotism or whatever it is you’re fighting for.



P.S. Please forgive any bloodstains on this letter. I’m afraid my knuckles are raw from all the laundry I’ve been doing. I guess we’ll all just need to get used to that. You just focus on being the best soldier you can and don’t worry about us.

P.P.S. I just heard a rumor that you’ve won a major victory and the war will soon be over.

P.P.P.S. It's true! I'm so relieved! Oh, now you can come home and help out with all the young'uns. Unless you'd rather go to college, of course. I expect there will be a program to help soldiers get through school. There's a very promising medical tech program at the local university...

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