Wanting the letter on its way on this night, even though he knew that it would not go anyplace until the next day, as it was just a half-hour to lights out, he ran to the base post office, was about to drop the letter into the slot when, remembering the prayer he had said on the day he’d met Susan, and it had worked then, to a point, so, “Oh, God,” he prayed, his words just above a whisper, “please let me hear from Susan! Please let her tell me that she still loves me! Please!” Kissing the envelope, he dropped it into the slot.
Wednesday he knew that it was too soon, But it did go airmail, and if she got it on Tuesday and wrote to me right away and sent hers back airmail, too… There was a letter, but it was from his mother.
Thursday: Yeah, it’ll be here today! But no mail on Thursday, or Friday.
On Saturday there was a letter… from his father.
All of us at home hope that everything is going well with you and the Coast Guard.
We are all fine here.
Yesterday I received a very embarrassing phone call from Mr. Friedman. He told me that Susan had repeatedly told you that she did not want to hear from you and that you sent her a letter anyway, and that in the letter you threatened to beat her up for breaking up with you.
He also told me that if you ever write to her, call her, or try to see her again, they will contact the police and the commander at Cape May, or wherever you are stationed.
Mitchell, your mother and I are well aware of how you feel about Susan, and we know you better than to believe that you would ever threaten to beat her up, but it is well about time you realized that it is over between you two, and the sooner you forget her, the better off you will be.
Don’t take this too hard, everything works out in the end.
All our love
Never! He reread the letter. I threatened to beat her up? To beat up Susan? Never! My, God, I’d never hurt Susan! He further thought, How could she show my letter to her father? How could she!?
Because one’s private letter and the U.S. mail are, after all, sacrosanct, and being naïve and basically honest, the thought that his letter did not reach Susan, that his letter might have been intercepted, never entered Mitchell’s mind, nor that, possibly, Susan never saw the letter… Possibly…
Taking his wallet from his pocket he opened it, removed the blue envelope flap and looked at it: Susan Friedman, Sh. 3-5758, along with her address in his handwriting.
Going outside without his coat, the cold wind pressing his shirt and jeans to his chest and legs, Mitchell walked beyond the comparative shelter of barracks 7 to where the Atlantic wind blew the fieriest.
Looking at the bleak, winter sky, carefully tearing the triangle of blue paper into pieces…
“Goodbye, Susan.” He opened his hand.
“Goodbye, Susan.” The wind taking the bits of paper, Goodbye.
“…Hi, Mrs. Fox, it’s Mitch Lipensky.”
“Mitchell, hello. How are you?”
“Fine, Mrs. Fox, but I’m sorry, I won’t be able to make it for Thanksgiving.”
“Oh, what a shame. Susan will be brokenhearted. You do know she’s got a crush on you, don’t you?”
“Uh, I’ve got a crush on Susan, too.” Biting his lip, “Please tell her I’m sorry and that I’ll call her next week… Bye, Mrs. Fox.” But he didn’t.
She liked him. She knew it didn’t pay to like any of these boys because they’re so young and so… transient. But he’d been to the U.S.O three times, that she knew of, and each time he’d had a glass of punch, one or two doughnuts, and had danced with her, once, and then only after she’d prompted him, and then only to the slowest of dances, and he had held her closely, but not, she was sure—a girl starts to get a feel for these things—for the touch of her body, but more so for the warmth of human contact.
She’s kind’a cute, he’d thought the first time she had asked him to dance, but, really, he hadn’t wanted to and besides, “I’m really not very good at dancing.” he had told her.
On his third visit to the U.S.O., when the record player began a slow one, without asking, she had taken him by the hand, pulled him to his feet and onto the floor and… What could he do—be rude?
Other than his mother, this was the first time he had touched a female hand in nearly six months, and he wondered at the softness, and seconds later, the warm, human touch of her body pressing next to his almost brought tears to his eyes.
Dancing to two more slow ones, Mitchell and Connie had spent the balance of the evening talking, and minutes before he had to leave, “Mitchie, come on! Come with me!”
“Connie, I’m a Jew. Jews don’t go to Christmas Eve mass!”
“You said you didn’t have to be back till eight the next morning, so come on, Mitch! The midnight mass is so beautiful, and even if you are Jewish”—knowing there was a sadness within him that this might help dispel—“I’m sure you’ll like it. Please come with me!”
“…What do I do? Should I wear my cap inside?”
“No.” Taking his hand, she led him through the arched doorway and into the crowded church, where it took a few minutes until they found a pew with two vacant seats.
Apart from the Ark holding the Torah, the interiors of whatever synagogues and temples he had ever seen had all been free of ornamentation, and he was all but overwhelmed by the trappings of the Catholic church.
As the mass began, even though Mitchell knew nothing of the Latin verse, closing his eyes, he allowed his mind to become surrounded and overcome by the beauty of the mass… And he came away from the mass somehow feeling more at peace with himself then he had felt in months… In six months, to be exact.
A light snow falling, “Mitchie,” the streets deserted, they walked with their collars turned up and their hands held deeply in their coat pockets—their own pockets. “Here’s where I live,” Connie said. Then, surprising herself, “Would you like to kiss me?”
Surprised, too, thinking, Oh, God, it’s been so long since I’ve kissed anyone. “Yes, Connie, I would like to kiss you.”
Taking his hand, opening the outer door, she led him into the dark hallway.
Their lips meeting, his hand, finding the opening to Connie’s coat, went about her waist.
He felt her lips on his. He tasted the kiss.
He smelled the floral scent of her perfume.
He felt the curve of her hips.
The kiss didn’t taste right.
Her perfume didn’t smell right.
The curve of her waist didn’t feel right.
Mitchell didn’t want to hurt her feelings, but breaking the kiss…
Orphaned, raised in a Catholic orphanage, having given up a few of her virtues already, willing… wanting to give up “that” virtue again, “You said you didn’t have to be back till morning, Mitchie, and I don’t feel like being alone on Christmas Eve, so if you want… If you’d like to, you can stay with me tonight.”
She wants me to spend the night! She wants me to sleep with her! But… “I can’t, Connie!” She’s not Susan, and, I can’t! I just can’t! “I forgot, but I do have to be back tonight…” Glancing at his watch, “Now!”
“Now, Mitchie? Now?”
“Sorry.” Backing out of the hallway, “I’ll see you at the center.” But, never going back, he didn’t.