On the USS Halsey, sailing though the Pacific to the Indian Ocean, I lay in my tiny rack, a bed that’s only big enough for one person, and I write a letter to her back home. I write at night when the lights are off throughout the ship and everyone is resting for the following day. The red light hovering over my head is on. It’s the only thing that lets me see the words I set down on my paper. The dark and silent space allows my mind to slow down and put my thoughts in order. The constant buzz of the light puts me at ease. With the buzzing of the light and the red that surrounds me, I see her before me, as if she were standing on a stage. The letters I set down on my blank page feel like words flowing straight to her ears. I picture her, with her blushing smile, responding to my words. I think to myself, my game is strong. I chuckle aloud at the thought of flirting with this girl, who is thousands of miles away, and a neighbor sailor shushes me. She’s home, and, just as in any sailor’s story, she is awaiting the sight of my ship’s sails on the horizon, signifying my return.
I write to her often, after port visits, and long hard days consisting of a full schedule of watch, an eight-hour work day, flight quarters, and watch again; and on long slow days, when watch and work overlap, and the freedom of Sunday’s routine drags out the hours. It doesn’t matter, I write. I share with her my impressions of the beautiful culture of the East, the Junks floating through Hong Kong harbor, the right-handed drive vehicles, the bargaining and the customs that are so different from ours at home. The words I send her allow me to revisit my experiences. My hope is to give her a glimpse of the difficulties and wonders of the life of a sailor.
On the ship it is almost impossible to get time on the computer. We lower enlisted are the first to be cut from using it. And even if we do get time, the internet doesn’t work smoothly onboard. As for the phone on the ship, it’s there, but only as a monument, observable, yet useless.
Her letters are all unique. They each have their own character. Some are filled with doodles, others with stickers of hearts, stars, and funny cartoons. They all carry the smell of her perfume and, accompanying her signature, a lipstick imprint of her beautiful lips. On the face of the envelope, her name is tagged artistically, “Ella.”
Writing to each other has allowed us to stay connected in an intimate way. She allows me to see deeply into her personality. Each letter fills my heart with joy and love. All of them motivate me to push forward, assuring me that in the distance, someone is waiting for me.
Adrian Mejia is a recent graduate of UC Santa Barbara as a sociology major. He transferred to UCSB from a two-year community college in San Diego and was honorably discharged from the Navy four years ago as a quartermaster third class.