The Exchange

May 8, 2007

Dear Michael,

This won’t be a long letter. I’m writing during my lunch hour. It’s something I’ve wanted to write for a few weeks now. Today, I finally got the nerve to do so. I wonder if I’ll actually be able to mail it.

What I want to say is this, Michael: you’re a million miles away in that damned sandbox called Iraq and I’m here in Philadelphia. The separation has been such a struggle for me! We’ve been apart now for almost six months. Maybe it’s longer; I’ve lost count of the days actually. I had no idea how difficult this was going to be.

I see news stories about what’s going on over there. The pictures are all so grim. To be honest, I don’t even understand why you’re there. We were only together for a few months before you deployed.. I didn’t want to let you know how much I didn’t want you to go. And something has happened that I feared would happen. I don’t think I can be the girlfriend of a soldier. It’s too much to deal with.

I wasn’t prepared for how I’d feel. I certainly wasn’t ready to deal with the fear I face everyday with you being in Iraq. And I’m so lonely, too. I have no one to go out with.

Yesterday, I was driving home from work and I saw couples walking hand-in-hand in the park. I started to cry. I realized I hadn’t touched you or seen your face in nine months. I can barely remember what you look like. And everytime the phone rings, I’m scared to death that it’s your mom or dad calling with news that you’ve been shot. Or worse.

My fear is overwhelming and it’s paralyzing me. I can’t get any work done, I have no appetite and forget about sleeping. I’m miserable.

I hate the military and I hate Iraq. You actually wanted to go. You volunteered. Your leaving jeopardized everything. I thought we had a chance. Well, that doesn’t matter anyway because I can no longer do this.

I’m sorry, Michael, but the truth is, I’m not in love with you. Not anymore. This situation isn’t fair. I can’t love a man who actually chooses to be in a war zone as opposed to wanting to be with me. How am I supposed to live with that? I’m way too stressed over this and frankly, all the other negatives at play here have lead me to the conclusion that it’s impossible for me to be in love with you, especially under these conditions.

I’m sorry, Shelley



Dear Shelley,

It’s just before noon here and I wanted to let you know how much you’ve been on my mind lately. Everyone else is at Mess, but I wasn’t hungry. The only thing I wanted to do was be alone with my thoughts and this letter.

Want to know what’s odd about being here in Iraq? I feel incredibly close to you. I know that physically, we’re about as far apart as two people can be, but I feel that you’re so close. Like I could reach out and touch you.

I can close my eyes and see you. And trust me, after looking at nothing but sand and soldiers all day long, I welcome the vision. I know, it’s probably just a mirage mixed in with my memory. The sand playing tricks on me. But I can see you just as plain as day and you’re wearing that blue dress; the one you wore on our first date. I remember that day like it was yesterday. I remember your perfume. How the breeze felt that day. How I felt when I kissed you. Man, the prospect of having other days just like it keeps me waking up in the morning. And waking up is no easy task because trying to get to sleep over here is next to impossible. I don’t sleep much but that’s OK. It gives me the chance to think about things. About you mostly. As bad as it is here, thinking of you makes it tolerable.

If we were together right now, I’d look into your eyes. God, they’re so pretty. I think I can see our future in those baby blues of yours. That you’re in this soldier’s life makes all the difference. At the end of each day, I take a minute and say thanks to the Big Guy upstairs that he’s allowed me to see the moon one more time. When you get this letter, Shell, look up at the moon. Do it, OK? Let’s use that as the link that connects us. We’ll always have that. The moon ain’t going nowhere. Would you believe that it shines just as pretty over this hell hole as it does over Philadelphia?

I go out on patrol later tonight. Damn, I hate going on patrol! Death lies around every corner here. Sometimes It seems as though the Grim Reaper himself is a sniper. But that’s just me putting a face on who’s out there. Brass tells us we shouldn’t humanize the enemy, even though we know someone is obviously pulling the trigger.

But I can’t help but wonder if the guy I’m shooting at, has a special girl somewhere or if he has a family he cares about. Even so , that doesn’t keep me from trying to kill whoever is trying to kill me. I hate that it’s all become so mechanical. But here, it’s kill or be kill. It’s like a “to do” list that you check off.

Mow the lawn….check.

Take clothes to cleaners…check.

Kill Iraqis…check, check.

Every time we leave the base to go on patrol, we never know if we’re going to comeback. I don’t mean to scare you, Baby, but that’s how it is. I constantly wonder if there’s a bullet out there with my name on it I always wonder if today is my day to die.

In spite of everything, they guys shooting back at me are just people too. They’re human. Here like we are, fighting for the same kinds of things, I guess. Its just that it’s hard to remember the exact reason why we’re here. You tend to forget a lot of things when you’re in the middle of a gun battle.

Wanna know something else? We’re fighting more than one enemy. It’s not just the insurgents–it’s the heat. It’s the horrible food. It’s the isolation and the fear. It’s knowing some people back home don’t care if we’re here or not. It’s the lack of sleep, the horrible conditions, the lousy food and the stress from the constant state of vigilance. We never relax. It’s losing friends you thought you’d made for life. It’s being away from everyone and everything you know and love.

Sometimes, you don’t try to live here; you just try to keep from dying here.

Iraq is such a strange, ugly, complicated place. I’m an Anderson and every generation of Anderson’s–as far back as I can remember, has been in the armed forces. I’m here because it’s my duty, but I’ll admit that I’m scared. I know in my gut that this is a much different war than the ones my father, uncles and grandfathers fought. We’re all scared, but it’s the connection we have to everyone back in the states that keeps us going. You’re what keeps me going. Knowing you’re back home waiting for me makes this crazy damn war almost worth fighting. I couldn’t do this if I knew you didn’t support me.

As long as you love me, I’ll make it out of here on my own two feet and not in a body bag. Your love gives me strength. Like I’m a superhero. As though I could shoo away bullets like flies. No roadside bomb can touch me and mortars will always miss me. Always.

We just need to hang on for a few more months. Until then, you’re here, with me in spirit. When I go on patrol tonight, I’ll take you with me. When we get back to base, you’ll be there, too. I’ll lie in my cot and think of you and maybe I’ll fall asleep and even stay asleep because I’ll know you love me.

I’ll be home soon, Shelley. I promise. And always know I love you. I’ll love you for the rest of my life.



May 9, 2007

Mortar Fire Barrages Green Zone


BAGHDAD-(AP) For the second consecutive day, mortar fire has claimed the life of another U.S Serviceman. Sgt. Michael R. Anderson of Philadelphia was killed last night, when the jeep he was riding in was attacked while on patrol near downtown Baghdad……….


  1. Holy crap…talk about a tear jerker…i’m gonna start moving that box of tissues closer to me when reading your blog from now on!

  2. How very sad that was, Laurie…not your usual wry insight. I cried real tears for a worthy reason this time and it made me appreciate my little relatively safe corner of the world. Thanks for posting that.


  3. Man, Shelly should thank God for a Man like him, that loves her, soooooooooo MUCH and is willing to die for our country and her!!! War is HELL on earth!!!! Thank God for our soldiers!!!!!!!!!!! May God rest his soul… What a total tear jerker. Great story …..

  4. I just love this writing LK. It’s almost as if you’ve lived it.

    Not only are there US soldiers dying, many returning home are forever fractured or dead inside.
    In my youthful ignorance, I once asked my Vietnam Vet father “have you ever killed anyone Dad… like in these pictures in your library of books that are so bloody and gross”.
    Saying nothing, he wept openly for hours. He held me so tightly all the while, I thought he’d snap my spine. He held me tighter than I’ve ever been held since. His experience of war – even to date, has left him wondering where the remains of his still shattered heart might lie.

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