By Travis M. Andrews
I’m coming home.
It’s been a while since I last wrote, but the efforts of Operation [redacted] have proven successful. I return triumphant, if anyone can truly describe this as victory. I return, at least, with proof that I indeed exist.
We lost a lot of good people under those fluorescent lights. I didn’t even know the names of half those poor bastards. Now, no one will. They aren’t allowed names. They don’t exist.
I won’t pretend I’m itching to talk about what I’ve seen. I’ve done things I’m not proud of. But when it’s you or them, a man finds out who he truly is.
To borrow a phrase, some love the smell of egg salad sandwiches in the morning. I discovered that I ain’t one of them.
Things got hairy in that bureaucratic jungle. There were times I thought I’d never see you or the kids again. They had us in Rm. 101 C for hours. Told us we were on leave, but we knew we were just waiting ’til our time came.
Things sure didn’t improve when it arrived.
The Battle of the Laminated Social Security Card, Operation [redacted] left me wounded and gasping. The thought of recovery was a joke. The enemy looked me in the eyes, and I swear his mouth curled in some sick bastard pleasure as he slowly pointed at the words on top of the card.
“Do not laminate.”
My life flashed before my eyes. You flashed before my eyes. But he placed it down, toying with me like a cat with his prey. I was at his mercy, but it turns out he was a turncoat, one of Us that had infiltrated the enemy. He leaned in close and whispered, “Next time, this won’t work.”
Then he moved me along, my heart thumping in my chest while everything around me seemed so silent, serene, peaceful.
I don’t want anything between us, so I think it’s prudent to discuss what happened in Rm. 114 A-B. You might hear rumors. Maybe you already have.
I won’t lie. It gets lonely as hell down there. A man has certain needs. A man needs to feel warmth when he’s surrounded by the long, slow death of the paper-shuffle. There was a pretty young thing in Rm. 114 A-B, but my thoughts never strayed from you or the kids, even for a minute.
It was innocent. I just needed a photocopy of my Drivers License Conversation Release form with the Addendum: Expiration Exception Form 802 B 2b attachment. Without it, I very well may not be writing this letter. There are no rules in there, a place run by nothing but.
I know you’ve been writing. All those text messages. I apologize for not answering them, but we weren’t allowed communication from the outside. It’s not like any signals come through the cardboard walls and fiberglass ceilings. I received all of them the second I stepped out. You never stopped writing, not for the entire 2 hours and 43 minutes I was in the Shit.
I love you.
Tell Joshua and Susan I love them, too. I managed to snatch a few souvenirs from the Front, so they’ll always remember what their Pops went through. For Joshua, our little writer, I’ve got a Bic ballpoint pen with a half-chewed end and no cap. It doesn’t write too well, but it’s true to our struggles. Since Susan is so fond of hard wooden surfaces with weak metal bars, I managed to smuggle out a clipboard complete with a half-filled out change-of-address form. It was my war buddy Michael [redacted]’s. He kept me warm in there.
May God rest his soul.
At the moment, I’m on leave in Washington. This time, it’s really “leave.” A sabbatical. I know I’ll be called in again, but I’ve got it on good intel that it won’t be until August 30, 2020. Until then, all we can do is remember and pray for the men and women still struggling to get a number and become human.
You think you’re a human when you walk in, but itisn’t until you leave that you realize you were an animal all along, that you didn’t exist until you marched out on your own accord, your two feet carrying you into the brilliant sun. You’re not human until you can hold up a small plastic card and tell someone, “I do exist. And yes, you can see my license.”
I hope I’ve made you proud. You can tell the world your husband had completed his duty, for now.
Travis M. Andrews
Travis M. Andrews is a co-founder of Or Something, an editor for Southern Living and a pop culture contributor for Mashable. Follow him on Twitter @travismandrews.