Scars of Our Civil Wars

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Guilt, if that’s what it is, has to have consequences. I bear them all as scars beneath the sleeves of my blouse. 

I used to have another life. In that one, I left college after my best friend killed herself. There just didn’t seem to be a point anymore. And so I drifted for years, often in dubious company. 

The most recent place I ended up was this boarding home outside San Francisco, run by a guy who collected military paraphernalia – Civil War stuff. He was a nice guy. Like badgers can be nice if they are well-fed and the temperature is right, I reckon.

Anyway, I got a job – my first – helping him transcribe old letters for a book he had been working on like forever. Stories from the war. Ordinary soldiers’ stories. 

History never really was my thing, but it helped pay the rent. And his wife baked me pie and got me a glass of orange juice every Sunday, when I was sitting in their attic listening to the heartbeat of the Pacific, straining to decipher curls and loops that made out 140-year-old memories.

Yeah, I can do shit like that when I want to. I always crushed languages in all my schools (and got crushed by math in return).  But the badger was smiling for the first time in weeks when he found out. Not in the least because he could save a lot of money. 

I didn’t care. I also loved strutting my stuff, for a change. Oh, and I can draw, too.

I am someone. Not no one.

Not the one who always catches up with me. Not my ghost half. 

Less than a year before moving into the boarding home, I had ditched my last boyfriend (the guy was into bruising). I had gone cold turkey right after that and I had kept ‘clean’ by drinking whiskey instead. 

Now, Tom Conway – that’s our Civil War author’s name – he didn’t take kindly to drinking. In fact, everyone who stayed at his “Home”, as he called it – we had no choice but to keep clean. No smoking. No drinking. No nothing.

But of course I did just that. And with some new guy, I picked up at a bus stop in Oakland no less.

And yes, you guessed it. No men allowed in the women’s rooms either.

The breakup wasn’t good. They never are. 

But his wife wasn’t angry. She gave me a farewell present. 

I got a copy of all the letters I had translated; she said. Just those.

But I was grateful since it made me feel worth something, even if it had been an obscure gig. 

And I would have more than enough time to read it all on the bus to L.A. with less than 100 dollars in my pocket and the knowledge that I had to beg my mother for cash again and try to pretend I was finally coming back to life when I’m anything but.

I couldn’t do it. We hadn’t seen each other for years and only talked on the phone and whenever I passed an Internet café.

What could I tell her? I was a prize student. I knew I had my future in my hand. I threw it all away because of one terrible thing that I should have gotten over. I made a ghost of my life and now I have become a ghost.

Dad also tried to call. I told him less. 

It’s always the same.

And I couldn’t even open the damn envelope because I was busy staring out the window and feeling sorry for myself.

Except when I was bored out of my mind at the transit station. Then I finally looked in that mother of an envelope, and my jaw dropped.

There was nothing in it.

I mean, there weren’t any of the printouts I had expected – of the letters I had transcribed. 

Only old letters. Letters I had never seen before.

Mrs. Conway must’ve gotten it wrong in all the hurry, and I’m sure she didn’t have the badger’s blessing to give me originals!

Yes, she gave me a bunch of genuine letters from the 19th century. 

On second thought, maybe that wasn’t a mistake. Maybe that was her rebellion. I mean, they were talking about divorce all the time, and didn’t care if anyone heard.

For a moment, I considered calling and delivering it all back to Mr. Conway. Then I started reading because I couldn’t figure out why the hell Mrs. Conway wanted me to have more letters 

That’s when I discovered that the papers weren’t letters at all.

They were a diary.


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