Several days later, I found a brown envelope resting on top of the mailbox. It was from Leon and inside was an 8×10 picture of him in his Air Force uniform. The brim of his hat covered his eyes. He looked handsome just as I remembered him, but without his rose-tinted sunglasses that camouflaged his blue eyes. Boy, talk about a big smile on my face you would’ve thought I received a million dollars in that envelope. I forgot all about what he wanted to ask me and put the picture on my dresser, which I gazed at often.
The following week I got another letter from him asking if I would marry him when he got out of the Air Force in 18 months. I didn’t have to think about it. I was elated! The thought of me and Leon being together for the rest of our lives was like sunshine and gorgeous blue skies year round. “So that was what he wanted to ask me!” I went running into the living room to tell Mama.
“Mama, Leon wants to marry me when he gets out of the Air Force.” I blurted enthusiastically. I felt like an eagle soaring high above the clouds. “Can we get married? Will you sign for us?” Mama just sat there in her chair looking at me; her pretty brown eyes were wide as an owl’s. I didn’t give her a chance to respond. As I thought about it, I realized that in eighteen months I’d be eighteen years old, and I wouldn’t need her permission. I wanted Leon to know my answer right away; I ran up stairs as fast as I could and began writing the letter.
When this letter reaches you I hope it finds you in the best of health. I received your letter today. Yes! I’ll marry you! I can’t wait for you to get out so we can be married. I love you and miss you so much. Thanks for the picture. You look so handsome. I asked Mama if I could marry you, but then I realized that I’ll be eighteen years old by then. We won’t need her permission. Plus I’ll be out of school too. Everything is going fine in school. The principal came looking for me. He scared me. I wondered what in the world he wanted with me. Did someone tell him I was smoking in the bathroom? Finally, I gathered up enough nerve to go to his office to see what he wanted.
He said: “Congratulations, Heddy! You made the honor roll this mark period.” All that time I thought he had found out about me smoking in the bathroom. Whew! That was a close call!
Everyone here is fine. Write soon!
I put the letter on top of the mailbox where the mailman would always pick up our mail and send it off right away. The mailman was a friend of Mama’s. Some days he would stop at lunchtime and have a cold beer and something to eat.
I told everyone I saw that I was engaged, but no one was as excited as I was. One day, when I came home from school, there was an Air Force Officer standing on our porch talking to Mama. She introduced him to me. I told him about my fiancé being in the Air Force and that we were planning to get married. The officer smiled, congratulated me, and walked off the porch.
Mama told me that the officer came about Daddy. I thought it a bit strange that he wanted to talk about Daddy, when he had been dead almost five years.
I kept looking for a letter from Leon every day; three weeks had passed since I mailed my acceptance letter. This was the longest time I ever went without hearing from him. Janet and the kids came home from Akron to visit. They had been living next door with Janet’s father since the break up, but by then had returned to Akron and was home for a visit.
I remember Mama was standing at the kitchen sink taking her usual shot of Seagram’s Seven Crown chased with a small glass of water. I was standing in the dining room when Janet came in and walked straight back to the kitchen. She and Mama talked for a while, and then Janet came back into the dining room where I was. I don’t remember what I was doing, but I was on my knees looking up at her from the floor, still excited about the marriage proposal.
“Janet, Leon asked me to marry him!” I said grinning from cheek to cheek. “We’re going to get married when he gets out of the Air Force.” I could not have imagined her response, not even if I had a hundred years to think about it.
“Heddy, forget about Leon.”
“What? Forget about Leon? Why should I forget about Leon? I thought you liked him! You know he is a nice boy.” Janet threw her hands up in the air.
“Aunt Pauline, I can’t do this!” She covered her mouth and ran out the door. I walked into the kitchen where Mama was still standing at the sink.
“Mama what’s wrong with Janet? Should I go talk to her?”
“No, leave her alone. She’ll be all right,” she said as she poured a double shot of Seven Crown from the fifth she held securely in her hand.
Janet and the kids returned to Akron. I never got a chance to ask her why she said I should forget about Leon. It didn’t make any sense. He was a great catch for any girl— a handsome, intelligent young man with a bright future ahead of him. I was happy and proud that he chose me to be his wife. I didn’t understand why Janet wasn’t happy for me? Mama was silent, which was unusual she always had something to say.
The weeks flew by like a run-away roller coaster, but for me they dragged by slowly. Weeks passed with no letter from Leon. I kept reading his old letters as I tried to wait patiently for his next letter, though patience was not one of my virtues. Leon suggested that I keep his letters in an old shoe box. I did and I filled to the brim. He always opened with ‘Dear Heddy’ and closed with ‘Love, Leon.’ He used the envelopes that had the red, white, and blue airmail pattern all around the edges. I could always tell when there was a letter from him because that pattern stood out from the plain white envelopes. I got so excited when I saw that pattern in the stack of letters. I shuffled through the rest to get to his quickly. Weeks passed without a single letter.
All communication stopped without warning. I was worried and lonely for him. Each day left me sadder than the day before. He was gone. I had no idea who, what, where, or when—Unknown forces ripped him out of my life. I cried for hours and hours. The weeks turned into months. I wrote dozens of letters. I wrote and I waited, I wrote and I waited, I wrote and I waited. I pleaded and even begged him to write and tell me what happened, but I never heard another word.