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Evans’ Rag

Vol 1 Issue 26


Elena’s Letters

Drugs won’t cure what ails you, though they can mask a lot. For some it makes things truly worse. I witnessed a number of good people get tripped up that way. I was too chickenshit to go the whole way down that road.

Bryon was the Adonis of we three high school buds. The three amigos. He was way quicker to the draw; Mack and I liked to think about things a little longer. Both he and Mack came from a military families.

Bryon’s dad raised pigeons in backyard cages. Mack’s father taught English in Japan after an officer’s career in the Army, and had a wooden sailboat built, then shipped back to the States. I never met Mack’s father.

Bryon’s dad was also retired military; he worked at the local house trailer company as a carpenter. Their house was a project.

Mack was probably the most cautious of us, Bryon being the most rebellious, though he was careful not to piss off his volcanic-tempered old man. Bryon introduced me to the Doors and Jefferson Airplane; we both listened to Cream and Hendrix in his room not too much larger than a cell. First time I saw fish tanks with live ones still swimming was in his room.

We lived a block apart, and Mack lived across town in an older, nicer neighborhood. Mack was living with his grandmother while his father was overseas. Invited over, he showed we two wildlings his house, a 1900s victorian. (Can we agree it’s no longer necessary to capitalize the ‘V’? She’s been in her crypt for a hundred years.)

This was Mack’s family house. He was proud of his father. I don’t remember his mother; I believe she’d passed on. I do remember listening to Rubber Soul and Revolver at Mack’s–would have been a year or two after those albums’ releases. It was clear the Beatles were growing up. Not so clear if we were.

A poem, Gould’s Proof describes time spent at a yellow water lake northwest of Camden - Wateree Lake. The gist of the poem is how improbable a life I’ve lived. He’s not mentioned by name, but Bryon took me there, he and his girlfriend–we’ll call her Gabriela.

Gabriela was an Air Force brat. A bright, petite girl who somehow had fallen for the blonde boy. It was her parents’ weekend place, the Colonel and his family.

Though this is only tangentially about them. Who this is really about is Elana.

I have a collection of Elana’s letters from that time. I rediscovered them sorting boxes brought down from the attic last year, along with a pile of Gabriela’s and a handful from Byron and Mack. Gabriela was the oldest of four. She’d started dating Bryan at sweet fifteen.

Seemed for a while she and Bryon would get married–they were that tight. So when she called it off–on account of what I’m not sure except that Byron was too mercurial for her.

Then her father, the Colonel was transferred to Maxwell AFB in Montgomery, and that was the end of that.

Except Gabriela and I began a letter writing project. I though Gabriela was a cool girl, and a whole lot more together than Bryon. She took me on as her project; one time she even said she’d date me, but I think that was at a weak point in her life.

I know I was whining about being lonely, and Gabriela said she had become friends with another Air Force girl in Alabama who I began to correspond with. (with whom I began to correspond?)

Elana seemed like a well-mannered girl, and I knew well-mannered girls from being around my sisters. At some point Gabriela said that Elana was cute, or pretty, or something equivalent, though I never go a picture.

I had to send her one of mine which broke any spell Elana might have been under. But we kept up the writing campaign.

We started writing when I was sixteen; Elana was fifteen. We continued for four-five years into most of my years at Clemson.

We never met face to face, and now reading her letters, I can see why.

Gradually, Elana’s letters began to change from bright and cheerful to less so and I took it she was growing into a more serious person. We were all changing, so I was impressed she was doing the same.

She was listening to the same music. Cool as ice, she said she smoked weed and hung out with those who did. And the Vietnam War was getting to her.

My impression was that she’d become a pacifist–the daughter of an AF officer. Which must have been a tension in her military family. I got the impression they were conservative: the kind, Christian kind.

I was something of a letter writer back then. I’ve got the replies to prove it.

Gabriela eventually married a local Fairfax boy near where I live. Sometime after I’d moved the hell from Florida, Byron called out of the blue to say Gabriela was living in Fairfax! So C and I and our three year old son went for dinner one night.

Turned out Gabriela’s oldest was a girl named Elana, only a month apart from our son. And her husband was a long distance runner who introduced me to the Northern Virginian Running Club.

I’ll get around sometime to returning Gabriela’s letters to her. Mine to her are long gone, I’m sure.

Personal history gets cloudy over too much time, but I still wonder what happened to Elena. She was too good a person not to have survived.