Fondly, Sarah Swaboda (PG-13)

Jim Murphy was in his fourth week of Navy boot camp when the first letter from Sarah Swaboda arrived. He was surprised to receive an unsolicited letter from his kid brother's friend and he was touched by the thought. Boot Camp was a lonely place so far from home and a nice smelling letter was certainly a great way to cheer up the day.

Sarah grew up in the same neighborhood, two years younger than Murphy. She and his brother Brandon were life long platonic friends and Jim occasionally let them tag along with him, even giving them rides to school and she was in the house on a regular basis. Murphy liked her smile and her friendly banter but she was just a kid and he never took her very seriously.

Murphy lay on his rack and stared at the unopened envelope for a moment before slowly tearing along the back flap and pulling out her neatly written pink shaded stationary written in purple ink.

July 29, 2008

Hi Jim!

Brandon gave me your address. I hope you don't mind my rude interruption to whatever you might be doing but I wanted to write and say hi. The neighborhood sure doesn't seem the same without you, that's for sure!

I'm up late, baking a cake although I'm not sure why. Everybody's asleep – it's after one in the morning and I'm sitting at my kitchen table writing you this letter while smelling the cake bake. Maybe I'm celebrating the summer or maybe I'm celebrating the fact that sophomore year is just a faded memory and now I get to look forward to being a junior. I bet all that sounds stupid to you now that you've graduated and are in the military and I suppose it is!

I should be sleepy but I'm not. It's a warm summer night – not hot enough for the air conditioner (which I loathe anyway). The windows are open and there is a breeze blowing the curtains. I still wear pajamas in the winter but in the summer gym shorts and tank tops are good enough to wear to bed.

You may recall that I like to write – poems and short stories mostly – so I thought I would extend the discipline by writing to you. I hope you don't mind.

My mother wants to know if I have any idea what I want to do as far as college goes. Mom, I'm not even a junior yet. Do I have to think about this stuff now? But I am thinking about becoming a teacher. I think it might be a satisfying way to spend my professional life. I've had plenty of great teachers and some not so great teachers and I think I could do a pretty good job. I'm not sure what level I'd like to teach yet though.

I think that we all learn together so I would also be learning from my students. I think that no matter what I do with my life, I will certainly continue to write. Gee, maybe I'll become an English teacher! Then my job would be to help my students write better, although sometimes when I look at some of the stuff I've written I see the embarrassing errors I made and how bad some my stuff really is. Gosh, maybe I shouldn't become a teacher after all!

Anyway, what am I doing at my kitchen table in the middle of the night baking a cake and writing you a letter? I have no idea what you think of me, your brother's slightly hyperactive and goofy friend from down the street but you were always nice to me and I appreciated all the support and kindness you offered over the years. I think that calls for a cake!

Well, I just took the cake out of the oven. It has too cool before I can frost it so I guess it can wait until the morning. It's late and I should probably go to bed.

I hope this letter finds you well and in good spirits. Brandon says boot camp sucks but I don't know if that's what you think.

Fondly,

Sarah Swaboda

Murphy smiled as he folded the letter and put it back in its envelope. How ironic it was that it was be perky and pudgy Sarah Swaboda who would write him a letter in boot camp. He leaned over and opened the drawer underneath the bunk, pulling out the boot camp Navy stationary issued at the beginning of boot camp.

Two weeks later, the company mail clerk was yelling out Murphy's name and there was another pink shaded envelope written with purple colored ink. He took the letter and went back to his rack to read it.

July 20, 2008

Hi Jim!

Wow, thanks for writing! I was surprised but pleased to hear from you!

Boot camp sounds weird! But you were a pretty good football player and a guy who could take just about anything so I don't suppose you're having any real problems adjusting to the demands, routines and physical challenges of what you have to go through.

It sounds like you're a little homesick although I know you'd never admit to it. I hope my letters can make home feel a little closer for you.

I'm sitting in my living room writing this. I'm supposed to be going out with the girls tonight but I really don't feel like it. Amanda Flag is having a big party but I know there's going to be drinking and that can only lead to big trouble in my book. Besides, it's supposed to storm later and who wants to get caught in that?

Do you remember my dog, Milson? I got him when I was eight and now he's eight and I'm sixteen! He's laying by my feet right now. He tends to shed a little bit in the summer even though he's a lab with a short coat. He's mostly black with a white chest and goofy ears. He used to chase you guys when you tried to play football in your yard!

There's a portrait of my grandmother hanging over the mantle right in front of me. Her dark protruding eyes watching me kind of gives me the creeps. She's been dead for about five years now and I miss her but I don't think I like this particular painting. This is the 'watchful' grandma and not the 'comforting' grandma I remember more fondly!

Do you remember that large pine in our side yard? It's swaying in the wind that has started to pick up since I began this letter. It's definitely going to storm. I remember climbing that thing, including that time you went all the way to the top when you were like fourteen and my father yelled at you for being so stupid. I thought you were brave!

Brandon's car (oops, I mean your car!) broke down today and he can't afford to get it fixed. I'm debating whether or not I should loan him the money. He works about 20 hours a week at Fontaine's but he's always broke.

I'm sitting on the porch now watching the dark storm clouds rolling across the sky. I'm looking at the trees and wondering when they ever became so big.

Linda just called on the cell. She won't let me crap out of the party so I guess I'd better finish this and get ready. Hope we don't get hit by lightning!

I hope boot camp is going well for you and that this letter finds you in good spirits.

Fondly,

Sarah Swaboda

Murphy smiled and folded the stationary, slipping it back into its envelope before retrieving his own stationary and beginning his next letter.

He was in his last week of boot camp when the company mail clerk was calling out his name again in the middle of the open bay style barracks as the recruits gathered round for the latest mail call.

Murphy gladly took the now familiar pink stationary envelope and returned to his bunk to read what Sarah Swaboda had to say this time.

August 3, 2008

Hi Jim!

Wow! Thanks for the great letter! It felt like I was almost there as I read all your stories about boot camp. Thank you for your service by the way!

Hey, do they call it Great Lakes because it's great!? (Ha Ha Ha).

I'm sorry your friend got kept back because of the blisters on his feet from all the marching. I agree with you, by the way - I think the traditional Navy blue dungarees is the best uniform - I don't like the camouflaged uniforms either - too Army!

I know it's hot there in July (Heat Condition Five huh?) but hey, you could be there in January when the wind is coming off the lake and it's like 50 below zero! By the way - what are Boondockers? Shirts? Shoes?

That was a neat story about the alleged tornado touching down near the base - I bet you slept with one eye open for those few stormy days! I'm glad you hair is starting to grow back some and you don't have to keep it as bald as it was that first week. I had Brandon get Full Metal Jacket - I know it's not like that for you is it? Brandon says it's probably more like Stripes - and you're Bill Murray!
It must be weird not to have cell phones or computers or IPODs or televisions or any of that and not knowing what's going on in the "real world". That was a mean trick for that guy to tell you guys that there was another 9/11 type attack and World War III had started - but how would you know different?

I do hope you guys get to be Color Company. Sounds like you're all pretty sharp. I'[m also glad you got cake duty for service week - escorting the new recruits sounds pretty easy - beats cleaning toilets! I must admit it took me a minute to figure out what you meant when you wrote "Nuts To Butts" in the endless formations! Sorry the food isn't always that great (I didn't know eggs could be served in liquid form either!) but I guess it's hard to cook for thousands of people at one time.

Your company commander sounds a little bit like Coach Ramrod (Ramirard) - a nice guy when he wants to be - but a psychopath when he has to be! Thanks for making me laugh - that was a great letter!

Thinking about you going through boot camp makes me wonder if I should be making changes in my life. After all, I'm a little older now and (hopefully) a bit more mature so maybe I should be looking at things a little differently. A lot happened during the past year and very little of it was anticipated. I didn't know I was going to run for student council or date Brad Williams. I guess some of my old image slipped away and a new identity kind of emerged. It was more exciting than I imagined but I still struggled to find my comfort zone and I'm not sure if I have yet.

The scary process of being accepted always weighs on my mind and I often wonder if I really ever will. Brandon seems to be moving on with new interests and carrying on the Murphy tradition around Hillsboro High School. I'm happy for him but I feel a little abandoned as he makes new paths and friends. I was happy that Sylvia Palmero finally agreed to go out with him. He had been pining after her since eighth grade! I don't think Brad and I are really going out anymore (he's barely called since the end of school) but that's okay.

Unlike Linda and my other girlfriends, I am not paranoid and obsessed about such things like relationships. I just want to do well in school, fit in, and be a good person. My goal junior year is to keep my eyes open and pay more attention to what is going on around me. I want to see the changes as they happen, good or bad. I want to give myself permission to savor the new because when high school is over I don't want to look back and say "what if' or 'if only'. I want the year to be a learning experience.

Wow, why am I telling you all this!? Sorry – I guess I got off on a tangent. I guess I'm in one of those reflecting pondering moods and it kind of feels safe to tell you some of this stuff – maybe because you're so far away. I hope you don't mind.

Hey, good luck with the graduation ceremonies and be sure to send me your new address when you get to your training site. I like writing to you!

Fondly,

Sarah Swaboda

Murphy sat back on his bunk and smiled. He was glad that Sarah felt comfortable enough to write him an honest letter and it felt good to be trusted.

### ###

Meridian Mississippi was hot even in August but it was nice to have more independence and freedom on the training base than Murphy had during the confines of boot camp where everything was regimented and restricted.

The education and training facility had more of a college campus feel to it with community dorm cubical apartments for living accommodations and the freedom to walk to "A" School instead of marching in groups like at boot camp.

Murphy's yeoman training was a self-paced course and he had little trouble adjusting to the requirements and curriculum of the training. There was no more company mail clerk to have to worry about either – Murphy's mail was delivered to a box in the lobby of the dorm-like barracks. He found himself looking forward to Sarah Swaboda's next letter but it was nearly a month before the next one arrived.

Murphy laughed to himself when he practically jumped up and down with joy when he opened the mailbox to find the pink stationary envelope waiting for him in the box. He jogged with excitement to his dorm room and collapsed onto one of the couches in the community room of his dorm suite to read Sarah's latest missive.

August 31, 2008

Hello Jim!

Thank you for the post card with your new address and for the previous letter you wrote on the plane leaving boot camp for Mississippi. I'm so happy that your company was named Color Company and that you had such a fun and successful graduation. I know you were very proud of your achievements and accomplishments and I know that you are glad to be 'free' finally!

Good luck to you in Mississippi – I know you will do well in your training.

Thank you so much for your inspiring and supportive words in response to my last letter. I really appreciate you being so sensitive to my thoughts and feelings. I know I'm just some geeky high school girl while you're now a man of the world!

Well, summer is just about over – school starts tomorrow! I can't believe I'm going to be a junior! Brandon and I went canoeing on the Blue River yesterday and we brought my dog Milson along. Luckily, he didn't flip us! He is a big dog and I worried that if he moved around to much we would surely tip! Everything was fine until we saw a deer! It was big and right at the water's edge and it wasn't the least bit concerned as we paddled by.

Brandon and I sat motionless watching the deer at the water's edge. At first, Milson was oblivious but then he finally figured out what was going on and he leapt up and started barking wildly. I flattened myself on the bottom of the canoe desperately trying to keep the canoe balanced while Brandon tried to calm the nutso dog but the canoe was rocking and I was afraid Milson was going to jump out. Brandon was swearing and the dog was barking and all of a sudden I started laughing because the whole thing struck me as funny and I knew it was only a matter of time before the canoe flipped over. Brandon got mad at me for being silly. Luckily, the deer ran off and Milson finally calmed down and it was all good. I still think it was funny and a part of me was hoping the canoe would flip because that would have been really funny too!

I think you probably would have laughed. Brandon seems much more serious than you. I remember you laughing at stuff he would never laugh at. I'd laugh too and he'd give me annoying looks. You'd always tell him 'lighten up'!

Well, wish me luck with junior year starting tomorrow. I just realized that this will be the first time in a long time I won't be seeing you around the school halls or driving to school or even giving me and Brandon a ride (he has his license now and he's driving your car so I guess I'll be going with him). It's going to feel strange not having you around. I always looked forward to seeing you.

Enjoy Mississippi and be sure to write back soon.

Fondly,

Sarah Swaboda

High school seemed so far away and long ago to Murphy. It had only been a few months since he received his high school diploma but it seemed like an eternity after all that had happened to him. But Sarah's letters made him feel like he was still back in Hillsboro and he was glad she was writing to him.

September 21, 2008

Hi Jim!

Wow, I can't believe you're done with training already. That was fast!

Congratulations on your orders to Mayport Florida! What exactly is a destroyer anyway? And what does a Yeoman do?

You made me laugh with your last letter – all that stuff about Brandon was pretty true. I know it's different from a brother/family member perspective than it is from a friend/girl's viewpoint but I have known Brandon since we were like eight so I guess I do have a different attitude about some stuff. I know that it's different now between Brandon and me because we don't hang out doing kids stuff like we used to and sometimes I kind of miss that but I'm glad we're still friends. Brandon is still dating Sylvia so that leaves even less time for us to hang out.

By the way, I did remind Brandon that your car is only on loan to him and that you'll be taking it back once you have the chance to come home. He said he's saving for a car of his own.

I guess Brad and me are over because we don't hang out anymore. I just think it's kind of strange that he never said anything to me. He just stopped calling or talking to me and he's avoiding me around school now. I guess he didn't have the guts to tell me it's over. Boys can be so inept and stupid sometimes.

I spent the weekend painting my bedroom. I got tired of the little girl flowery wallpaper and I wanted to do something different. My parents said it was okay so I painted it to look like an aquarium with this weird blue paint I found. I guess I like it but a part of me kind of misses my little girl world. Sometimes I don't like getting older!

Linda is dating John Ward now. I still don't understand why but I guess she's happy so who am I to say? I just think John is a bit of a fake sometimes and he's not the most honest guy I've ever known. Now they share the same jacket and are wearing the same sneaker brands and it's all kind of stupid if you ask me. Maybe I'm just jealous because I don't have a boyfriend right now.

Otherwise, school is fine. I'm running for class vice-president after being on the student council last year. Wish me luck with that! I'm not playing sports this fall. It didn't matter the first few years that I wasn't that good in soccer but now that I have to be on varsity I realize that I'm pretty sucky compared to most of the players and I don't want to play at that level of competition and hurt my team. I'll concentrate on Band instead and maybe do some theatre or something. It's okay – it's just part of the growing and learning and having to let go of stuff I thought was important or meaningful before.

Oh well – you'll be in Florida by the time this letter gets to you. I hope the address you gave me in your last letter is the right one – let me know if you don't get this (ha ha)!

Fondly,

Sarah Swaboda

### ###

Murphy was happy to finally be out "in the Fleet". After months of boot camp and A School Training, he finally felt like a real Sailor in the real Navy. He reported to the USS The Sullivans (DDG-68) in Mayport Florida outside of Jacksonville and was immediately assigned to the ship's office. He was the junior yeoman on the staff, a boot rookie who had to learn the basic policies, procedures and routine of the office and shipboard life in general. He was assigned a bunk in berthing that was his new living situation until he became senior enough to qualify for shore-based housing but that was a few years away.

He had no car and he was at the mercy of other shipmates or the base bus to get around. Although he enjoyed his job and was becoming accustomed to his new way of Navy life, he was still lonely and he looked forward to Sarah Swaboda's letters to cheer him up.

October 19, 2008

Hello Sailor!

Thank you for all that information on the Arleigh Burke class of guided missile destroyers (DDGs) with their Aegis Combat System and the SPY-1D multi-function phased array radar, although I'm still not sure what all that means!

I must confess that I never heard of AdmiralArleigh Burke before. I did not know that he was the most famous American destroyer officer in WWII but wow – with a length of 510 feet and weighing 9,200 tons with over 90 missiles, you sure are on an impressive ship!

I must also admit that I never heard of the Sullivan Brothers from WWII either but I'm glad the Navy named two different ships after them. What a thrill it must be for you to be on the second USS The Sullivans (DDG-68) named honoring the five Sullivan brothers (George, Francis, Joseph, Madison, and Albert who were from 20 to 27 and lost their lives when the USS Juneau was sunk by a Jap sub at the battle of Guadalcanal.

I didn't know this was the greatest military loss by any one American family. I remember seeing Saving Private Ryan and thinking how sad that had to be for any mother. I guess the only saving grace is that the five brothers died together on the Juneau. Now your ship is twenty years old and I like the motto the ship has thought to have been spoken by the brothers: "We Stick Together."

So, congratulations on being a real Sailor on a real Navy ship. It must be so exciting and adventurous!

I wanted to thank you for your kind words in your last letter. You make me feel so special when you say such nice things about me and that kind of inspires me to do the best I can and not worry about some of the stupid stuff. Sometimes after I send my letter to you I worry that maybe writing honestly on these pages isn't something I should be doing but I have noticed that when I freely write about things I've been thinking about I do feel better.

Maybe in revealing myself I'm becoming more aware of how I'm really feeling and by peeking inside my soul I become more in tuned to some of the stuff in there. I hope you don't mind if I rant a little bit and bare my soul some here.

By the way, I did win the Vice Presidency – class jock and ladies man Frank Ducharme is President but I think we'll get along okay.

I spent most of the weekend helping my father dig out old tree stumps in the back yard. You remember that line of pines that used to run along the Defreno's property that we cut down about five years ago? Well, there were several old stumps and we dug them out and chipped them up. Boy, that was hard work! But I don't spend all that much time with my parents anymore so it was kind of fun to be involved in a joint project even if I did get all dirty and sweaty!

Well, football season is in full bloom– I'm sure Brandon is keeping you updated on that – the Hurricanes are having a pretty good season. Too bad you can't come home for the Turkey Day game but it will be great that you'll be home for Christmas.

The weather is starting to turn a little – crisp mornings and cool nights but I bet you don't have that problem in Florida!

I'll get this in the mail and I hope you're doing well.

Fondly,

Sarah Swaboda

Some of his shipmates razzed Murphy for his perfume smelling pink stationary letters that came in the mail. One of his collateral duties was that of ship's mail orderly so he got the mail first and he was thrilled when he saw Sarah's pretty stationary in the mounds of incoming mail.

Murphy was careful about what he wrote in his letters to Sarah. He was aware of the two year age difference and the reality that no matter how mature, intelligent, interesting, or personably intimate Sarah sounded in her letters she was still just a high school junior so he found himself censoring and editing his thoughts and descriptions of some of his adventures and activities. He tried to play the role of big brother by giving sage advice and offering pleasant platitudes while responding to some of her doubts and insecurities.

No matter what he was doing, however, Murphy looked forward to hearing from Sarah because he truly enjoyed reading her letters and learning about what she was thinking and doing. His mother wrote regularly but her letters was full of boring family news and activities and gossip about stuff he could care less about. Brandon never wrote. It was Sarah's letters that were the most interesting and meaningful to him.

November 9, 2008

Hello Jim,

I've gone to all the football games this year because Brandon is on the team but it sure hasn't been the same this year without good ole #24 out there. Do you miss playing? The team is 5-3 right now with three games left.

It's been a busy year. As Class Vice President, I've felt obligated to involve myself in as many of the extra curricular activities as I can to show support for fellow classmates. So I went to the all the games in all the sports and to float making and to band practice and….well, I'm kind of exhausted!

Brandon doesn't like giving me rides to school because Sylvia is sort of the jealous type and she doesn't trust Brandon with me (I don't think that says a whole lot about the depth and trust in their relationship!). Linda gives me rides but I've been riding my bicycle a lot this year when the weather has been good.

In fact, I'm sitting along the banks of the Blue River (down by the park) as I write this letter. It's a glorious November afternoon and so I took a ride and here I am, writing to you among Mother Nature.

Here's an embarrassing story: Last week, I was riding along one of those trails along the river. There were piles of leaves that I had to plow through. It was unseasonably warn so I took off my sweatshirt and tied it around my waist but it fluttered behind me and underneath me and it got wedged between the back wheel and I actually wiped out. Don't worry, I wasn't hurt and luckily nobody witnessed my spaz-ness! I always wear my helmet too for good reason!

One time I rode my bike to school on a windy and cold morning and my feet went completely numb from the cold! By the time I got to school, my skirt was all frayed and my hair was poking out in every direction. Linda said I looked like a hobo!

But I like riding my bike all of a sudden. It had been sitting in my garage unused for a couple of years – I guess I thought it wasn't cool anymore – but now sometimes I just need to get on my bike and ride. Strangely, I haven't seemed to lose any weight yet. I've always been pudgy in places – my mother calls it baby fat but I don't think the baby part has much to do with it. I have grown a couple of inches in the last couple of years so I don't look so much like a fire hydrant anymore but I'm still thick in the thighs and butt and I don't have much of a waist line.

You were never one those guys who made fun of my weight or made comments about my appearance behind my back and I always appreciated that about you. I'm pretty convinced that one of the reasons why Brandon never pursued me in a romantic way was because he was never attracted to me physically. Sylvia is a toothpick so that probably says everything I need to know about what Brandon likes.

Anyway, I enjoy the smells and views as I peddle around Hillsboro and beyond. Last week I rode to Greenville to buy something at Donovan's and the week before I took a ride to South County just for the fun of it. I woke up a little sore the next day but that's a small price to pay for the pleasure.

We don't talk politics in our letters but how can I not mention the election? Our first black President! Who would have thought? Are you okay having him as your Commander in Chief?

Wow, a whole letter and all I've done is write about me! How are you? It sounds like you've adjusted pretty well to your command and shipboard life. I know the ship has only gone out a few times but that big cruise to the Med in January should be a real adventure. Be sure to send plenty of postcards. I've kept every postcard I've ever gotten and I have my grandmother's postcard collection too.

Oh, crud. I've filled the paper and I don't have anymore with me. Well, I'll end this and peddle my way to the post office to drop this in the mail. I hope this letter finds you in great spirits and that all is well. Be happy.

Fondly,

Sarah Swaboda

.

Murphy was surprised to read about how Sarah described herself physically. Sure, she was always pudgy but to read her saying it felt kind of sad. She was such a wonderful person writing him such appreciated letters. Only his mother wrote more and even thought he only had seven letters from Sarah in his collection so far, it felt like it was seventy.

November 30, 2008

Dear Jim,

You made me cry with your last letter. Thank you for saying such nice things about me and for being so gentle when it comes to my appearance (i.e. weight!).

I'm sure you know all about the Thanksgiving Day game – how Greenville scored on the opening play and never looked back in a 32-12 romp. Brandon was inconsolable after the terrible loss but at least he has one more try against them next year, our senior year. For now, on to basketball!

We had a nice Thanksgiving and I went over to your house for dessert later. I am enjoying the long weekend, not doing much except recharging my batteries for the Christmas rush. I hope I'll be able to see you once or twice when you are home. Brandon is getting your car greased and oiled and tuned up and checked up and all that prior to your return.

Do you remember Connie Clark? They lived in the Defreno's house before they moved in. I was very young but we rode our bikes and swam in her kiddie pool and played dolls together. I remember she had the reddish hair I've ever seen. My mother told me the other day that she died of a drug overdose a few weeks ago. They moved to Ohio and I never saw her or heard about her after they left but the news of her death hit me like a punch to the gut. How could such a dear sweet little girl die such a terrible death? It's scary to think about such things.

I was going through all my Barbies this morning. I still have them (all twenty-seven) and I'm not sure if I'll ever get rid of them. In some ways, those dolls were my best friends. I liked to play Barbies and I was always getting new inspirations when I was with them. I had a pink Corvette for Ken and Barbie but I always had to bend her crackly knees to get her in the driver's seat! (Why should Ken drive!?) I could play Barbies all day and often did.

Linda played with me a lot but when we started getting older she started getting stupid with them – letting Barbie and Ken get naked and putting them in compromising positions and all that which I found to be rude and crude. Couldn't we maintain our innocence when we played with Barbie? Linda stopped playing after we turned ten or so and Brandon refused to have anything to do with them after a certain age too but I would still pull them out and talk to them for years – probably until I was about fourteen or so. Even now, when I take them out, it's like visiting with old friends.

I liked how you wrote that being in the Navy builds character and has made you better at achieving goals and being disciplined. I'm starting to wonder if I have any discipline at all. I don't want to give up on my dreams for tomorrow but I'm not sure if I'm willing to really work toward them. I suppose they are called "dreams" for a reason: they are only possible based on my actions of today. I wonder what kind of dreams and hopes poor Connie had. Maybe I should ask one of my Barbies.

Oh wow, this is quickly becoming a depressing letter! Sorry about that! I'd better wrap this up before I really become morose.

I hope you had a good Thanksgiving even though you were so far from home. I'm not sure if I will write again before you leave to come here and I hope I'll get a chance to see you. It would feel kind of stupid to be writing to you all this time and not get to see you when you're here. Maybe we can go out with Brandon and Sylvia one night or something?

See you soon!?

Fondly,

Sarah Swaboda

### ###

It was 77 degrees in Jacksonville when Murphy flew out of the airport heading north on his Christmas leave. He had only been away from home for six months but it felt like six years in some ways! When he got back, the ship would be leaving on a six month Med Cruise so for now all he wanted to do was enjoy Christmas and see his family. The Navy would seem like another world once he was back in Hillsboro.

Murphy couldn't help but think about Sarah Swaboda as the airplane travelled north at 360 m.p.h. Eight letters in five months wasn't a life changing event but whatever relationship he had with Sarah Swaboda now was definitely different from what he had with her before he left Hillsboro back in June.

She was his kid brother's friend then but now she was some sort of confidant and soul mate through the mail and he wasn't sure what to expect when they saw each other again under this new set of circumstances.

He changed planes in Baltimore where it was a chilly 46 degrees and as the flight approached Bradley International Airport north of Hartford the pilot came over the intercom and announced that it was 32 degrees and lightly snowing! Welcome home to New England, Yeoman Seaman James Patrick Murphy!

The plane landed without incident and Murphy's parents were waiting for him outside the security gates. He was always amused that his mother was taller than his Dad, probably a good 5' 10" while the old man didn't break the 5' 8" mark. His mom still wore her brown hair long for her age while his Dad's hair was graying and thinning even though he was barely forty. It was good to see them and his mother was nearly in tears as she gave him a hug and he shook the old man's hand.

"Welcome home, Jim," his father said.

"Hi, Dad," Murphy grinned.

"Oh, Jimmy, look how thin you are!" His mother wailed. "And your beautiful hair!"

"All gone, Ma," Murphy smiled. "I'm in the Navy now!"

They chatted and conversed during the forty-five minute ride home. Murphy watched the snow drifts and bright Christmas lights and it felt good to be home for the holiday. He had missed Memorial Day (The opening of the Serguci League in Hillsboro), Fourth of July, Labor Day, Columbus Day, Veteran's Day and especially Thanksgiving and he was grateful to be home now.

Mr. Murphy pulled the car into the all familiar driveway of the house Murphy had grown up and called home for all these years but he wasn't sure if he could technically and legitimately call it home any longer. His home was on a destroyer ported a thousand miles away.

Murphy saw his car parked in the snowy grass by the side of the garage and smiled with relief. He had planned to take it back to Florida with him but now that the ship was going on a six month cruise there was no point of that but at least he'd be able to drive it for the next few days.

His father helped him with his sea bag and the trio walked to the front door of the house in the falling snow. Murphy saw the multi-colored Christmas tree in the front window and the inflatable Santa gracing the front yard.

Brandon and Sylvia were seated on the couch. Brandon still had long hair – almost to his shoulders, while black haired Sylvia wore hers surprisingly short. Murphy remembered Sylvia from around school. Brandon had whimpered and whined about her for years and it was amusing to finally see them together. Brandon stood and the two brothers did a fist mash and engaged in a quick bear hug.

Murphy did a double take when he saw Sarah Swaboda rising from the arm chair on the other side of the room.

"Sarah!" He said with surprise.

"Hi, Jim!" She said happily yet shyly. "Merry Christmas and Welcome Home!"

She looked the same but at the same time incredibly different. She was beaming with a warm smile and her 'pudgy' body was hidden by a long white turtle neck sweater and black leg warmers that looked like they were painted to her thighs. But man, that smile! Her curly yellow hair bounced off her shoulders and for a second Murphy thought he was looking at a Christmas Angel.

"I didn't realize you were going to be here!" Murphy exclaimed.

"I'm here," she said sheepishly.

Murphy stared at her wonderful smile. "It's kind of a surprise," he noted.

She wasn't about to tell him that she had begged Brandon to let her come over for the big entrance.

"Sure is cold compared to Florida, huh?" Brandon laughed.

"I don't mind," Murphy replied with a grin. "I kind of miss it!"

"I've got a casserole in the crock pot," Mrs. Murphy announced. "Plenty for everybody. I know Jimmy needs a home cooked meal for a change!"

"Navy Chow ain't so bad," he replied with a knowing grin.

"Not as good as mine!" Mrs. Murphy insisted as she exited into the kitchen.

"You look different," Sylvia observed as Murphy took a seat on one of the chairs and his father brought his sea bag upstairs for him.

"Is that good or bad?!" Murphy joked

"I think it's good," Sarah volunteered and Brandon laughed.

"You don't miss my hair?" Murphy teased and that caused Sarah to blush.

The Hillsboro group brought Murphy up to date on gossip and news around town while Murphy told various Navy stories, some of which he had already written Sarah about.

Mrs. Murphy called the group into the living room for the meal and the good natured, lively, and happy conversations continued around the dinner table. For Murphy, it felt good to be home again even if things felt different. Seeing his family again was meaningful and having Sarah present was extra special.

Murphy laughed along with the others when they told stories about high school but it was becoming increasingly more difficult to relate to their complaints and stories now that he was so far removed from the high school life. He tried to be patient and understanding but he wanted to say 'Who cares!?'

Sarah picked up on that reality and she felt kind of stupid telling Murphy stories about high school jealousies and small mindedness when he was stationed on a multi-million dollar ship designed for war. But all she cared about was seeing him again, especially after writing to him all this time.

The dinner concluded and Sarah said she should head home.

"I have homework to do," she said, slightly embarrassed.

"Really?" Murphy laughed.

"Yeah."

"I'll walk you home," Murphy volunteered.

"Thanks," Sarah said, glad for the offer.

They put on their winter clothes and Sarah said goodnight to the others before allowing Murphy to lead her out of the house. It was still snowing as they walked down the street to her house three doors down. All of the houses on the street were handsome ranches of varying sizes.

Sarah looked at him and smiled. "It's good to see you," she said.

He put his arm in hers to help her walk in the snow. "Thanks for writing to me," he said sincerely. "I can't tell you how much of a difference it made."

"It was good for me too," she replied. "I've enjoyed it."

"That's good," he said.

"So, what are your plans?" Sarah asked tentatively.

"Do a little shopping. Hang out, mostly," he said.

They had reached her house and they stopped walking. "We get out of classes the day after tomorrow," she said. "I'll be around."

"Okay," he said and there was an awkward pause between them.

"Well, good night," Sarah finally said as she started for the house.

He should have stopped her. He should have pulled her back by the arm and kissed her but she was just a kid chronologically so he let her go without protest.

"I'll see you!" He called after her.

Sarah looked over her shoulder and smiled at him. "Okay," she said before disappearing into the house.

### ###

Murphy enjoyed the down time away from the Navy. What he noticed almost right away was how calm and quiet it was being home. The ship was a noisy place no matter what time of day or night and to be in his quiet house was refreshing and relaxing. It was also nice to have some privacy. There was always somebody nearby on the ship – he shared his living quarters with twelve other Sailors and no matter where he went on the ship there was always somebody else around.

Sleeping in his own bed again after nearly six months was comforting and familiar. Waking up to the stillness of the morning with no reveille calls or whistles or 1MC announcements was peaceful and serine. With his parents at work and Brandon at school, Murphy had the house to himself during those first few days and that was probably the best Christmas gift he could hope for.

Murphy went through some of the family albums and he noticed how many shots Sarah Swaboda was in. He hadn't realized that she had been around so much over the years and the familiarity of her letters now matched well with the frequency of her appearance in the photos.

Brandon had been kind enough to leave his brother's car at home so Murphy fired it up and drove it to school to surprise Sarah by picking her up at the end of the day. She did a double take as she came out of the school and saw him resting against the car in the fire lane of the parking lot.

"What are you doing here?" She asked with surprise.

"Giving you a ride," he grinned.

She beamed with delight and happily climbed into the car, glancing around hoping that someone she knew would see the high school junior getting into a Navy man's car!

"Do you want to go to Johnny C's or something?" Murphy asked.

"Sure!" Sarah replied happily.

She felt like a princess as Murphy escorted her into the popular diner. A couple of kids she recognized were already there and they glanced up to see who the guy was. Some of the wait staff recognized Murphy and called out to him, welcoming him home and wishing him a merry Christmas. He and Sarah slid into a booth and a waitress was at the table in a jiffy.

"Burger and fries for me with a shake," Murphy ordered, longing for such an order for six months now.

"I'll have a piece of apple pie and a glass of milk," Sarah said.

"Really?" Murphy laughed.

Sarah shrugged and immediately felt foolish for placing such a geeky order as the waitress left the table.

"It's okay," Murphy assured her.

"I had a big lunch," she tried to explain but then she realized that made her sound like a pig. "Not that big," she mumbled.

"Sarah, just be you when you're with me," Murphy told her.

She sucked in a deep breath. "This is sort of nerve-wracking," she admitted.

"How so?" He asked innocently.

"Well, because before you were just Brandon's big brother," she said.

"How come you decided to write to me?" Murphy asked.

She shrugged again. "I dunno," she mumbled.

"I'm glad you did," he said cheerfully.

She glanced up at him and half-smiled. "You don't think I'm a geek?"

He shook his head no. "I'm still just Brandon's brother, you know," he said gently.

"I guess," she agreed.

"I mean I'm still the same guy," he explained.

"Yeah, but I feel like I know you in a different way now," she admitted.

"Because of the letters," he realized.

She nodded and then stared at him for a moment. "Do you see me differently now?" She asked cautiously.

"Yeah," he admitted. "Your letters say so much about you."

"Is that good or bad?" She deadpanned and he laughed.

"I wouldn't have invited you here if was bad," he grinned.

She smiled and then the waitress returned with the order.

"Do you have a girlfriend down there?" Sarah asked after the waitress was gone.

"No," he replied, not quite sure why she asked.

"Sometimes I get the feeling you don't tell me everything in your letters," she said.

"Do you tell me everything?" He challenged.

"I suppose not," she admitted.

"I don't tell you some of the guy stuff," he revealed.

"Oh." She sounded disappointed.

"It's not like I lie to you, Sarah," he said carefully.

"It's okay," she said, but her voice cracked and she felt betrayed by her emotions.

"I try to tell you the important things," he said.

"I know" she sighed.

Why were things suddenly becoming awkward between them? Did she expect more? Did he expect less? They ate their food and didn't talk for a few moments. Then Chuchie Rankin from Murphy's high school class stopped by the table to say hi. He was attending Green College and was thrilled to see his old pal again. Murphy gave him a quick rundown of his Navy experience. By now, Sarah had finished her apple pie and she patiently sat listening to the two friends chat.

"Well, see ya," Rankin said after a few minutes and Murphy returned his attention to Sarah who just wanted to go home.

"Sorry about that," he said.

"It's okay," she said forcefully. "You've been gone for a while. People are glad to see you."

He took the last few bites of his burger and finished the last of the fries. He left the money on the table and escorted Sarah from the diner, saying goodbye to a few faces as they went.

"Do you want to do anything else while we're out?" Murphy asked.

"No, I should go home," she replied. "I'm kind of tired."

"Okay," Murphy replied as they climbed into the car.

It was a quiet ride home and Sarah was jumping out of the vehicle before it came to a stop.

"See you!" She said, running toward the house.

"Goodbye, Sarah!" A perplexed Murphy called after her.

She ran up to her room, threw herself on the bed and burst into tears although she had no idea what she was crying about. Murphy drove home trying to figure out what just happened between them. It seemed to get tense when Sarah asked him if he had a girlfriend. He didn't (at least not yet although there were plenty of girls in Mayport) but what difference did that make? Did Sarah think maybe she would become his girlfriend? How could that possibly work out – she was a high school junior in Hillsboro and he was a Navy man a thousand miles away in Mayport Florida. Murphy felt bad about what happened but he hadn't done anything wrong.

### ###

Murphy was busy hanging out with some old high school pals home for Christmas break during the next few days and he didn't see Sarah Swaboda but when Brandon mentioned a possible mall trip for Christmas shopping, Murphy told him to ask Sarah to join them.

Murphy drove with Sarah in the passenger's seat and Brandon and Sylvia cozy in the back. If Sarah was still miffed over whatever it was that took place between them the other day, she didn't show it.

"I love the joy of Christmas," Sarah said during the ride. "My mother always made it feel so special when I was a little kid."

"I was ten when I stopped believing in Santa Claus," Brandon announced.

"That's because I'm the one who told you!" Murphy laughed.

"Oh, that's terrible!" Sarah protested.

"Just be glad you're an only child," Brandon muttered.

It was a half hour ride to the mall and the foursome chatted about nothing important but it felt good for Murphy to be with them and not concerned about his military responsibilities. The mall was crowded with last minute shoppers and while Brandon grumbled about the masses of people, Murphy and Sarah both commented that it was nice to see so many happy people out and about, especially the children.

They roamed through the mall, stopping at various stores of interest, splitting up a few times, getting unintentionally separated a few others. They had lunch at a steak house in the mall and continued shopping after eating.

"Having fun?" Murphy asked Sarah as they strolled around the mall after lunch.

"I am!" She said happily.

He took her hand in his to keep track of her among the crowds as they walked. They had already lost Brandon and Sylvia again.

"What are you so grinning about?" Sarah asked after they had walked for awhile.

"Nothing," Murphy said with a smirk. "It's just nice to be home, that's all."

"Especially at Christmas," Sarah noted.

"I'm glad you're happy," Murphy said with sincerity.

A weird look came over her face all of a sudden. "I have to go to the bathroom," she announced quickly, bolting for a nearby rest room.

Murphy sighed, wondering if things were going to get all tense between them again. He waited patiently for her while Sarah stood in front of the mirror in the women's room starting at herself trying not to cry. 'I'm glad you're happy' he said and that freaked her out because she wasn't sure if she really was happy – with the situation anyway.

But why was she getting all emotional all of a sudden? It happened at the diner and now it was happening again. She was just hanging out with the guy after writing him a couple of letters. Why was her stomach tossing and turning like this? Sarah splashed cold water on her face and left the rest room after a few long minutes.

"Everything okay?" Murphy asked when he saw her approach.

"Sure," she said with a forced smile but he could tell that she was bothered by something.

"Let's go do something to relax," Murphy suggested.

They ended up in the arcade where they played a variety of games, some of which Murphy won and some of which Sarah won.

"I hope you don't mind losing to a high school girl!" She harassed him after she won three in a row at one point.

"May the better person win!" He grinned and she laughed in good humor. She was having fun even with her moody emotions running amok.

Brandon and Sylvia finally caught up with them and the foursome played a few more games before finally heading out after a long day of shopping and hanging out. The ride home to Hillsboro was relatively quiet save for a few observations about the mall, the traffic, and Christmas presents found. They listened to music on the radio, fighting over rock and roll, rap, and Christmas music for most of the trip!

"You only get to hear Christmas music for a few days every year," Sarah remarked when Brandon bitched about the holiday music.

"I've been listening to it since Thanksgiving!" Brandon replied.

"I haven't," Murphy said. "Leave it on. It's my car!"

Sarah laughed and happily turned the music up while Brandon pouted in the back.

Murphy pulled the car to a stop in front of Sarah's house when the got back to Hillsboro, telling Brandon that he'd walk home from there as he climbed out of the car to help Sarah with her bags.

"Oh, thanks," Sarah said as she walked them to the door.

"Anything for you," he teased and once again he noticed that funny look on her face. "You blush easily," Murphy observed.

"I can't help it," she replied as she opened the door and let them in. "Mom, I'm home!" She announced. "Jimmy Murphy's here too!"

Milson the black lab came bouncing into the room barking.

"Milson! Quiet!" Sarah ordered. "It's just Jimmy Murphy – Brandon's brother."

The dog gave Murphy a whiff and then turned his attention to Sarah by burying his muzzle in her crotch but she quickly pushed the dog away. Mrs. Swaboda appeared from the kitchen, a woman who was not much taller than her daughter but not quite as pudgy either.

"Jimmy!" She said enthusiastically, taking his hand in hers. "Look what the Navy's done to you!"

He laughed and smiled warmly. "Merry Christmas, Mrs. Swaboda."

"Done some shopping, huh?" She asked, looking at the several bags.

"Better late than never," Murphy remarked.

"Sarah, why don't you take yours upstairs?" Mrs. Swaboda suggested.

"Okay, Mom," she said before fluttering up the stairwell.

"She seems very happy to see you," Mrs. Swaboda said. "She loved getting your letters."

"Well, I enjoyed getting hers too," Murphy remarked.

"Just remember, she's still pretty young, Jim," Mrs. Swaboda advised.

"I understand," he replied seriously.

"Good," she said with approval before Sarah returned from upstairs. "Well, I'll leave the two of you alone," Mrs. Swaboda said before disappearing into the kitchen.

Sarah looked away. "I wish she wouldn't treat me like a kid," She said quietly. "She's just being a mom," Murphy replied.

Sarah led him to the couch and they took seats next to each other. Murphy noticed the painting of Sarah's grandmother above the couch she mentioned in one of her letters and he agreed with the observation that her grandmother had creepy eyes in the portrait!

"All ready for Christmas?" Murphy asked.

"I think so."

"Me too," he smiled. "I'm really glad I'm here. I'm the junior guy so I was worried they wouldn't grant me leave even though we're on a holiday stand down."

"That would have been brutal," Sarah agreed.

The odors of Mrs. Swaboda's cooking dinner seeped into the room. "I should probably get going," Murphy said.

"Okay," Sarah replied, standing and leading him to the front door where he had left his bags. "Thank you for including me today."

"I'm glad you came," he replied. "Christmas only comes once a year!"

She smiled. "Good night, Jim."

"I'll see you, Sarah."

He picked up his shopping bags and she opened the door for him. He smiled at her before disappearing out the door. Sarah sighed as she closed the door. She had a great day with him so why was she feeling so sad?

### ###

Sarah and her parents were invited to the Murphy house for Christmas Eve. Sylvia came too and it was a pleasant celebratory evening for the gathered eight. During a break in the social festivities, Murphy showed Sarah his room. She had been by it several times on her way to Brandon's room over the years but she had never been inside it – it was always off limits when she was younger! She sat at his desk chair while he stretched out on his bed. The room was unchanged from his high school days – his various sports trophies on his bookcase, sports and music posters on the wall, a couple of Navy posters too.

"So, it's finally Christmas," Murphy remarked.

"All the presents are under the tree," Sarah agreed.

"Not all of them," Murphy noted with a grin, rolling over and taking a small wrapped package out of his bedside table drawer. "This is for you."

"For me!?" Sarah said with surprise. "Oh, Jim, you shouldn't have."

"I got it at the Navy Exchange," he said. "I hope you like it."

"Maybe I should wait for Christmas," she said as he handed her the gift.

"No, open it now," Murphy instructed.

She did as he asked and her eyes went wide when she pulled out a necklace with a Navy pennant on it.

"I thought you'd remember me when you wore this," he said, sounding slightly embarrassed all of a sudden.

Her eyes watered up just a little. "I will," she whispered.

"Promise?"

She looked at him and smiled. "Promise."

"I don't have a lot of friends now that I'm gone," Murphy told her. "But I'm really happy you decided to be my friend and write me letters."

Sarah blushed and glanced away. "Friend," she said quietly.

"We're really getting to know each other through our letters," Murphy said with enthusiasm. "I like finding out different things about you. What you're thinking. How you're feeling."

"So what do I know about you?" She asked.

"Keep writing and you'll know more," he said, trying to be both humorous and coy.

"What do you really think of me, Jim?" Sarah asked seriously as she played with the gift in her hand.

"You're cute and special," he answered.

"I'm tired of being cute," she sighed.

"I didn't mean it in a bad way," he let her know.

"I'm completely infatuated with you," she blurted out.

Murphy looked at her with surprise. "Oh?" He said nervously.

"But now I'm coming to realize that you don't feel the same way about me," Sarah sighed, her voice breaking. "Boy, do I feel stupid."

She stood quickly and started for the door.

"Sarah! Wait!" Murphy called, jumping from the bed and rushing to prevent her from leaving.

She looked away to hide her tears as he took her by the arm to stop her from leaving.

"Look, it's not that simple," he said quietly.

She wiped a tear away from her eye.

"You're still in high school and I'm in the Navy far far away," he sighed.

"You think I'm just silly kid," she complained with hurt in her voice. "Just some cute little girl."

"No, I don't," he said with sincerity.

"Well, what do you think then?" She demanded.

"Listen, why don't you wait and see how you feel about me when you graduate from high school," he suggested.

"I know how I'll feel," she said boldly.

"Okay," he said. "Then we'll take it from there."

She looked down at the floor, unable to look him in the eyes.

"It's Christmas, Sarah," Murphy sighed. "And I'm home. Let's just enjoy what we have right now."

"I don't know what we have right now," Sarah sobbed, her emotions getting the best of her.

"Whatever it is, it's something special," Murphy assured her. "And I don't want to lose that, okay?"

She sucked in her breath. "Our families are downstairs," she said coolly. "We should get back down there."

"Please don't be upset," Murphy requested.

"I'm not," Sarah lied. "I'm good," she said, putting on a fake smile. "Come let's go."

She started for the door and Murphy realized there was nothing he could say or do to fix the awkwardness between them so he let her go. He felt bad as he followed her down the stairs and he was confused too. Should he just ignore her age and the mileage between them and kiss her? Did he feel anything romantic toward her or did he just enjoy her letters? He had no idea.

The rest of the evening felt strained to Murphy but the others didn't pick up on any problems between him and Sarah who put on a good show of being in the cheerful Christmas mood but stayed away from Murphy. She was the first one out the door when her parents decided it was time to head home.

Murphy spent Christmas Day at home with his family knowing how important it was to spend quality time with them. There was a present under the tree for him from Sarah and he smiled when he opened it – it was a handsome watch and on the back there was an inscription – "To my favorite Sailor – Fondly, Sarah Swaboda."

Murphy felt slightly guilty when he put the watch on. Was he being an insensitive unfeeling bastard not to return her affections the way she wanted him to? Where would that leave them when he left for Florida in a few days? The one thing he had realized since coming home was that Sarah was definitely attractive (beyond cute). He wanted to hold her tight and give her a Christmas kiss under the mistletoe but he wasn't sure if that was a good idea. But calling her to thank her for the watch was perfectly reasonable.

Mrs. Swaboda answered the phone when he called on Christmas night and Sarah came to the phone a few minutes later.

"Hi Sarah, how was your Christmas?" Murphy asked cheerfully.

"Fine," she said with indifference in her voice.

"I just wanted to thank you for the lovely watch," he said. "It was the best present of the day."

"You're welcome," she said neutrally.

"Come on, Sarah," Murphy sighed. "Don't lose the magic of Christmas over me, okay?"

There was silence on the other end of the line.

"You did something really nice and meaningful to spread the joy and magic of Christmas," he said, glancing down at the watch on his wrist. "Don't you think the magic of Christmas is worth keeping?"

"Merry Christmas, Jimmy," Sarah finally said after a few moments of continued silence.

"You too, Sarah," Murphy said with relief. "I really do hope you had a nice Christmas."

"I did," she admitted. "I got some nice clothes, some new CDs, cash, a couple of books, and my cousins came over so it was a pretty full day with a good meal."

"Yeah, my mom cooked a great roast," Murphy said. "I can't imagine what the poor guys stuck on the ship had."

"I'm glad you came home," Sarah said but there was an edge in her voice

"I hope you're not still mad at me," Murphy sighed.

"I wasn't mad," Sarah said.

"Well, upset anyway," Murphy clarified. "Disappointed even."

"I'll be okay," she mumbled.

"Will we be okay?" He asked.

"I don't know," she admitted. "Good night, Jimmy."

The line went dead and Murphy sighed. Not the best way to end Christmas Day.

### ###

Murphy hung out for the next few days, seeing friends home from college and hanging out with Brandon. He got Brandon to call Sarah and invite her out for pizza and a movie with him, Sylvia and Murphy. She agreed but she kept her emotional distance from Murphy and it made him feel crummy that things were different between them. Another night, Sarah came over with her Dad and played cards with Murphy, Brandon and their dad. They had a good time but Sarah seemed to interact with the others more than with Murphy.

When it came time to leave on the even of New Year's Eve, Murphy invited Sarah to come to the airport with Brandon and Sylvia and, after hesitating for a moment, she finally agreed but the trip was strangely subdued.

The trio walked Murphy to the security gate where they said goodbye. Brandon gave his brother a bear hug and then he and Sylvia stepped aside to give Murphy a moment of privacy with Sarah.

"Maybe someday?" Murphy whispered to her.

She looked at him and shrugged indifferently. "Maybe someday," she said without conviction.

Murphy sighed. "Well, goodbye then Sarah," he said, knowing she was still ticked off at him.

He started to step away but then she jumped up and kissed him. Murphy put his arms around her as she he broke the kiss and she returned the hug.

"All I think about is you," she said as her eyes watered up.

"Have a Happy New Year, Sarah," he replied.

They kissed a farewell smooch before Murphy walked through the security gate, leaving Sarah behind in tears.

### ###

March 3, 2009

Oh Jim!

Will you ever forgive me for not writing until now? I've received three letters from you since you left after Christmas and I know you're somewhere in the middle of the Med on that lonely ship. I don't know why I was being so stubborn and selfish not to write to you or respond to your letters. I guess I really was hurt and upset about what didn't happen between us when you were home but now I realize how unfair I was to behave in such an immature and foolish way. I hope you will give me another chance to be your favorite letter writer.

I just wanted to say how wonderful it was to see you at Christmas even if I wrecked things between us by getting so emotional. I had fun being with you and you made my wish come true by spending time with me. Your present was very thoughtful and I wear it every day. Even to sleep. Even in the shower. I thought you might want to know that!

Anyway, I am back now – on pen and paper, committed to resume our letter writing and I hope you will welcome my letters. Thank you for writing to me. I know you could have just have easily written me off and found somebody else to write to so thanks for giving me the second chance. I enjoyed your past three letters and I feel like I'm on the cruise with you. You certainly capture what its like to be at sea for days at a time and I know it has to be lonely for you being so far from home and civilization.

But what a great opportunity to travel and see other countries! I hope you enjoy that part of it and be sure to get postcards and other collectables from every port you go to.

Hey, I found an old diary last week! It was pretty embarrassing. It was from junior high school. Re-reading it the last few days made me realize how much I've grown and matured these last few years but it also made me look at some of my flaws (then and now) and I know I have to get better at some of them. For instance, the way I acted toward you at Christmas was not very nice. I was too busy feeling sorry for myself to think about how you might have been feeling and that was unfair of me. I guess we learn every day and we need to pay attention to those lessons. Sure, there may be disappointments and hurts but along with that comes moments of intense insight and growth. You probably already know all that because you're older and you've already experienced wisdom, especially being in the Navy with people who have all sorts of life experiences.

I need to understand that I will get hurt, experience pain and disappointment but that's part of life. In that diary, I spent six pages writing about the time Stephen Davison made fun of me in gym class. I don't know why I let him get under my skin like that or why I cared so much what a jerk like him said. Now, all these years later, it seems so stupid that I would let him destroy me like that.

Most of the diary is about my frustrations and loneliness but what I realize when I re-read it now is that I never really reflected on why I was feeling that way or what I could do to make it better. I need to get better at trying to make sense of whatever situation I find myself in at the time and then try to figure out what happens next – realizing that it's up to me to figure out what happens next instead of letting myself become overwhelmed by emotion.

Maybe it will get worse but then again maybe it will get a lot better. I need to think big picture sometimes instead of getting caught up in the moment. I wish you were still here so I could tell you that in person and to apologize for being such a jerk at Christmas time.

Keep writing and so will I.

Fondly,

Sarah Swaboda

March 28, 2009

Hi Jim,

I want to go to Venice!

Your last letter describing your port call there was so wonderful. I felt I was there too! What a neat and lovely city – thanks for capturing it on paper for me.

The weather has been reasonably nice lately for the season (late winter/early Spring) so I got my bike out and did some riding but my body let me down when I felt something in my leg rip or tear or snap or something so now I'm limping around pathetically – I don't know what hurts more – my leg or my pride!

Oh, big news here. Danny Roosevelt asked me out! He's in my class and we've been friends for a long time. Brandon knows him too and he gave me the okay! This was unforeseen by me but I was flattered and since I really haven't been out with anybody besides Brad Williams (and sort of kind of you, I guess) I figured I should give it another chance (since you're off in the Med and all that!). I guess he'll have to wait for my leg to get better before we can do some of the things he wants to do with me, like hike Mt. Griffin! It's true what they say: you're nothing without your health!

Oh well. This is kind of a short letter but I think I'll go take a bath and soak my leg. I hope you are doing well on the cruise and that you're not feeling to sad being so far away from home.

Write and I will too.

Fondly,

Sarah Swaboda

April 26, 2009

Hi Jim,

Thanks for the great postcards and those photos of some of the places you've been. I'm so jealous!

Sorry I haven't written in a while but I've been really busy. Danny likes to do stuff and it seems we're always on the go. Even Linda has been complaining that she never sees me anymore!

I spent this weekend trying to "downsize" my room some. My mother said I had lots of clutter in my closet and that my drawers were full of clothes I never wear and junk I never use. So I got rid of some of my prized possessions (but not my Barbies!) – books I like but have outgrown, clothes that are out of style or no longer fit (I think I've lost a little bit of weight!). It feels a little sad to get rid of things that were such a big part of my life but I guess that's part of growing up. I'll always have the memories, right? There were some stuff I just couldn't part with – my grandmother's old pocketbook, Milson's puppy collar, a kid's bracelet my Dad gave me in fourth grade, and of course the Barbies!

It is definitely Spring now – Danny and I go hiking and biking a lot and I'm enjoying that part of our relationship. I've learned to stretch and loosen up before riding the bike or taking hikes and I think that helps. My leg is fine now but I'm always worried I'm going to spaz out or smash up and hurt myself somehow!

I hope you are doing well. You're well past the half way mark in the cruise – you'll be back in Florida before you know it so just do the best you can and make the best of it. It sound like you're doing great professionally – those Letters of Appreciation and all that – and I know you'll do better in the future too.

Write and I will too.

Fondly,

Sarah Swaboda

May 28, 2009

Hi Jim,

I don't know why I'm not writing to you as much as I should be. I have a stack of letters from you here and yet I hardly respond at all.

You may already be back in the states by the time this letter reaches you (I really haven't figured out how the mail system works when you're overseas – you explained the Fleet Post Office Box and all that – but then having the mail delivered to other ships and being brought to you seems so complicated, especially in this world of electronic communication).

I haven't gotten a facebook page yet (my parents wouldn't let me before and now I'm not all that interested). I text religiously with my friends and now with Danny and I have instant messenger but no e-mail. I should probably open a g-mail account but there's something about sitting down and writing an old fashioned letter that I like. It's much more personal and intimidate.

I got this stationary a couple of years ago as a present and never used it until I started writing to you. Now it's almost gone. Maybe I'll get some more the next time I'm at Donovan's Department Store – I'd hate to write to you on notebook paper!

The weekend weather was gray and overcast. Danny and I went on a hike anyway. We got covered in mud slogging our way through the woods and we took a new trail that I had never been on before. Danny tends to be much more focused on the hike -wanting to get from point A to point B efficiently and directly and not waste time, but I like to wander and look and observe and stop and even get lost on purpose which sometimes gets on Danny's nerves.

I like listening to the birds and looking for animals and checking out the flowers and getting good views. Danny needs to slow down and smell the flowers sometimes! I think I'm getting better about thinking about new paths in my life as I walk along the paths in the woods. I am fortunate to have Danny with me. We enjoy each other's company and it is nice to have the socially acceptable presence of a "boyfriend" at school. We are spending a considerable amount of time together which Linda continues to complain about.

As our junior year draws to a close, I realize that I need to start thinking seriously about my goals and aspirations for the future. What colleges should I apply for? What kind of field do I want to pursue? What path should I take? Do I really want to be a teacher?

Danny says that it is the journey and not the destination that matters most. By the way, thank you for your insights and observations about (high school) relationships. I certainly value your thoughts and concerns. Everything is okay so don't worry about me.

Write and I will too (I promise!).

Fondly,

Sarah Swaboda

July 5, 2009

Hi Jim,

Did you have a nice 4th of July?

I know being back stateside was the best part of it.

Brandon was very happy to learn that you bought a car down there – and that he gets to keep using your car up there. He says you're going to sell it to him when you're home at Christmas?

Danny and I went to the Fireworks in Mt. Griffin. They were really great this year.

My job at the community center is going well. We have workshops for the young kids and we do skits and stuff in the afternoon. There are six of us working on the Staff (I'm the youngest!) and it is a lot of fun. The pay stinks but it's the work that is important not how much I'm getting paid.

Danny works at the Greenville Country Club and he enjoys it. Poor Linda took a waitressing job at Johnny C's – I don't think waitressing is her strongest calling! She doesn't have the patience for it and she can be kind of snippy when people annoy her.

So far the summer is going very well – I can't believe I'm going to be a Senior in less than two months!

Linda and I did have a "girl's weekend" last weekend. I must admit since me and Danny started going out I've had little time for anything else and I think my friendship with Linda really suffered because of it. Of course, if Linda hadn't broken up with John Ward she probably wouldn't have cared as much but because she's not dating she has more free time than I do.

It's kind of weird how the roles have changed for me and Linda. She was usually the one giving me advice, especially when I indulged in self-pity but now she's one who seems kind of glum while everything is really going great for me! Lately it seems that I'm the one who is giving her some advice and that feels different.

Senior year hasn't even started yet but Linda is already freaking out about college choices and all the rest of it. I don't think she wants high school to end because then she has to go out in the real world. I remember how you wrote in one letter that you enlisted in the Navy early on just to avoid all that hassle and stress and worry and concern. I don't think Linda knows what her real calling is. I'm not even sure if she really wants to go to college. I told her she should go to Blue County Community until she figures it out.

I've been busily looking at college programs and campuses. Obviously, Green College just across the river is the easiest choice but I'm thinking maybe I want to get out of Blue County and see a different part of the state or country for a change. There you are traveling the globe and I barely leave Hillsboro. My father mentioned the other day that we may go to Colorado to see his brother for Christmas. Were you coming home for the holiday again? How strange would it be that you might come and I wouldn't even be here!

I love summer the most because, except for working, I spend so much time doing nothing! I love just sitting around reading a book in the sun and I'm going to enjoy the next two months before school starts again.

Write and I will too!

Fondly,

Sarah Swaboda

August 7, 2009

Hi Jim,

I haven't heard from you in ages (it seems).

I even went out and got this new (Navy Blue!) stationary just for you!

Are you okay? I bet you're just busy and haven't had time to write.

The last letter I got from you (In June, responding to my May letter) you mentioned that Tim Donnelly (the second class) was getting an apartment "on the beach" (which I now know means in the community away from the ship and base). Are you staying with him now? I know you said that you really couldn't afford to do that because you're not entitled to housing payments and you don't make a whole lot with your base salary but I suppose if four or five guys share a place it wouldn't cost that much – but then what would be the point of leaving the ship full of guys just to live (and pay) for an apartment full of guys!?

Anyway, I hope everything is okay and that I didn't write anything that insulted or upset you.

I see Brandon a lot – he has a summer job at Fontaine's which is just around the corner from the Community Center. Sometimes we'll stop in at Johnny C's to harass Linda if she's on shift!

Danny's family is going on vacation to Summer Beach next week and I was invited to go along. My parents weren't very keen on the idea but Danny's Mom promised there would be separate rooms (it's a big cottage, apparently) and also "rules of engagement". I had to laugh because it's not as if separate rooms would keep us from doing anything we wanted to do if we wanted to do it. Oops – I probably shouldn't be discussing that sort of stuff with you.

I love summer because I get to read books. I love curling up with a good book even when there are other things I could (or should) be doing. Time flies by when I'm in a good book and even though I'd probably be better off spending that the time working in a soup kitchen or being with friends or whatever, I still see it as "me" time and I relish it. There's nothing like a good book to make me feel better. Sometimes I don't feel satisfied if I'm not enjoying a good read and I don't feel guilty doing it either!

Linda used to say that guilt kept me pudgy. I don't think that's true although I do eat more when I am unhappy and lately I have been happy enough to notice my jeans are getting a little looser! I guess Danny makes me happy and my job makes me happy and reading makes me happy.

I even joined a book group this year! (Through the community center). I enjoy the company. I'm the newcomer in the group (and the youngest!) but the one thing we all have in common is the appreciation for a really good book. We have great discussions and some of the conversations are a bit revealing but quite interesting and fun. They treat me like one of them and that makes me feel good. I also love Johnson's Bookstore these days. Mr. Golinski is a great guy and he lets me hang out in there for as long as I want.

So life is good right now. I'm dating a guy I care about and I take the time to feel the sun on my face, pausing long enough to take a deep breath and enjoy the moment as it happens.

Write and I will too!

Fondly,

Sarah Swaboda

October 3, 2009

Hello Jim,

Thank you very much for writing. I'm embarrassed that Brandon told you that I had gone off the deep end and that's what got you to write (finally!). I must admit that I resented that reality at first but I couldn't hold on to that very long after reading your very beautiful, honest, open, heartfelt and helpful letter.

Thank you for telling me such things and for being so revealing about your own love life. I know how much it must have hurt when Jackie left you like that. I had a feeling something was going on when I didn't hear from you for so long and I'm sorry that you had your own drama going on in your own life.

I guess living back on ship is probably the best place for you right now. I know you guys have gone out on small cruises to Cuba and Norfolk in recent weeks and probably getting out of Mayport is good for you too. I think the Chief was right when he told you that you should focus on your career and try to advance professionally in the Navy right now instead of worrying about your social life. I know its hard when its going on all around you but I think the lesson you should take away from Jackie is that Sailors are a dime a dozen. I know that sounds mean and cruel but I think it's true. You're young and Jackie certainly won't be your last opportunity. Twenty-four is pretty old when you're only nineteen (Oh God, now I sound like you talking to me at Christmas!) and it was only inevitable that she would move on pretty quickly to the next guy. I don't mean to sound mean but I'm sure that's true in a Navy town like Mayport (that's something you wrote in one of your letters a while back before you met Jackie).

As for me, well, what can I say? I thought my life had found perfection and that Senior year was going to be the best year ever. I went to Summer Beach with Danny and his family and that's where I decided to give up my virginity to him (the beach is romantic, right?). I was pretty sure I loved him – at least enough to be willing to take that big step with him and I was convinced he loved me too. He had been so patient with me all this time and I respected that about him.

So I gave myself to him and he dumped me a week after we got back from vacation. I never saw it coming and I was devastated. It never occurred to me that a guy could be so methodical and calculating just to get a girl into bed and then once he got himself laid would want nothing more to do with that said girl. Life is cruel, people are untrustworthy, and love sucks. All I saw was romance but all that bastard Danny saw was sex and once he got it he was ready to move on.

I was hurt and then angry and then crushed. Yes, I was an emotional basket case for a while and I guess Brandon thought I was going to do something crazy or stupid which is why he told you that he was worried about me. Mostly now I'm embarrassed by everything – for being so naïve and foolish and for thinking that life would be problem free and that sex would have no down side or fall out. I've put on a good fifteen pounds in a month and I feel terrible about myself. Linda has been very supportive and understanding and Brandon has been very sweet even though I don't think Sylvia likes it very much.

I hope you will trust me and be honest with me from now on. It's okay to tell me when you're with somebody. I told you about Danny, didn't I? You don't owe me anything and I certainly wouldn't expect you to not date but I don't want you not writing just because you're with somebody.

I'm not sure if I'm going to put myself out there like that again though. My goal now is to just get through Senior Year in one emotional piece. I don't need to be with someone to feel good about myself. I'm still in the book club, I'm still Class Vice President, and I even rode my bike for the first time in a month the other day!

The job at the community center is over but I'm doing some babysitting now. Kids are so much fun and I'm pretty good at it. I got my certification at the community center several years ago.

I have all my college applications in and I should be hearing from them soon. At least I was able to function enough to get that stuff taken care of even though I could hardly get out of bed for most of September.

I'm doing a little better now. It really made me feel better to get a letter from you and it meant a lot to me that you could be so understanding, supportive, and non-judgmental in what you had to say to me. Thank you for that.

Please write and I promise I will too.

Fondly,

Sarah Swaboda

October 27, 2009

Hi Jim,

Did you get my birthday present in the mail? Did you like it!? HAPPY BIRTHDAY!

Thanks for the great letter you wrote in response to my last letter. It means a lot to me that you're so supportive and nice. Promise you won't beat Danny up the next time you're back though! I moved past all that and I want to leave it in the past – buried and forgotten.

I have a regular babysitting gig these days with a girl named Ivy. She's eight and a sweetheart. Her innocence and carefree ways has really helped me stay grounded and focus on the simple things instead of obsessing about Danny or any of the other stupid stuff in my life. Yesterday we went to the Thrift Store in Greenville and tried on all sorts of things. It was like playing dress up!

Linda is still working at Johnny C's (surprise surprise!) so sometimes I stop in there when I have nothing better to do and sit at the counter and shoot the breeze and watch her work. It's kind of pathetic but it gives me something to do. In fact, that's where I am right now as I write this!

Lately, I have come to realize that we all need some sweetness in our lives. And we deserve it too! I've been working on losing the weight I put on after Danny did what he did to me (I realize hanging out at Johnny C's might not be the best way to accomplish that goal!). I'm riding my bike a lot and I think I've lost seven or eight pounds so far, so I'm hopeful.

I'm glad that after the next three week mini-cruise you guys will be back in port through the holidays. I feel terrible that I'm not going to be here for Christmas but I haven't seen my Uncle and his family in several years and my Dad really wants to go out there. We're going to go skiing and all that sort of stuff.

I know Brandon is keeping you updated on the football season – they're looking pretty good but I've skipped a few games because Danny goes to them and I just don't want to be around him. I'm not in the band this year because….well, I just couldn't bring myself to go at the beginning of the year so Ms. Dempsey kicked me off. I feel bad about that but it wouldn't be fair to the other kids if I mooched my way back on now.

I'm glad that things are going (reasonably) well for you and that you're getting over your broken heart (too).

Write and I will too!

Fondly,

Sarah Swaboda

November 20, 2009

I was going to wait until after the Big Hillsboro-Greenville game to write but it's a quiet night without much going on so I thought I'd sit down and write to you tonight. It's raining out and I can hear it splattering against the window panes.

I'm so glad you liked your birthday present – gift certificates always come in handy and I knew you could use it. I'm also glad that you liked the photo of me I sent with it. That was taken in August by Brandon went we went to a Serguci League game at Beano Field – I looked so happy then! And in great shape too. I'm still struggling with the weight I put on – I can't seem to break a certain (downward) plane but I'm working on it.

Brandon and I had a 'bud' day together last weekend. Sylvia had some family wedding thing (apparently Brandon wasn't invited) so he came over to my house instead. He is my oldest guy friend and I value his friendship even though we hardly hang out anymore because of jealous Sylvia.

The thing about Brandon is he knows me and accepts me as I am. I could fart in front of him and he wouldn't care (not that I'd ever do that!). Brandon has always been there with a sensible word helping me find my way when I couldn't find it myself. I miss Brandon the most when I think about my evaporating childhood. We are Seniors in high school now and all the goofy stuff we used to do when we were younger no longer applies. He has become much more serious since he started dating Sylvia. They've been sleeping together for a while now (not when your parents are around, of course) and I guess that's the biggest milestone change in any friendship growing up: who loses their virginity first. Linda called me at 2:30 in the morning from the bathroom a half hour after she did it for the first time just to tell me.

I have been blessed with wonderful friends. It has been important to have them to share my life with, especially through heartache and changes. A good friend is like a compass: they may not tell you where to go but they'll remind you what direction might be the best way. Brandon is always honest with me and that's what I appreciate the most. He feels bad that he didn't know Danny was a bastard – but who did!?

Anyway, we pigged out on junk food (I know I know) and we talked about what's been going on with us. He's upset that he's about to play in the last football game of his career but I told him to enjoy it and stay in the moment.

That's been my philosophy lately – enjoy each day and stay in the moment.

I hope that's what you're doing too, Jimmy.

Write and I will too!

December 2, 2009

Hi Jim,

I know you know that we beat Greenville 21-18 in the big Thanksgiving Day game! Brandon had a great game and I was so happy for him.

Thanks for you last letter – you are such a sweetie!

We had our first snow the other night (already!?)

I looked out my window that morning and saw the large maple tree in the yard with its branches weighted down from the heavy white stuff. I guess winter came early this year.

The thing about the snow is that Milson seems to forget how to do his duties when there's snow on the ground. He can't smell the grass, I guess, so sometimes he walks in circles for ten minutes before he finally squats. It can be aggravating and annoying. Oh, by the way, FYI, Brandon volunteered to take care of Milson while we're in Colorado so you'll probably seem him around your house when you get home.

I am so proud of you being a Third Class Petty Officer now! Congratulations on your advancement! So now I know what it means to have a "crow" on your arm (it's not a bird!) and what it means to have your crow 'tacked' on. Gee, maybe I should join the Navy – I certainly know everything there is to know having read all your informative letters these past eighteen months!

I feel so bad that I won't see you when you come home. I wish you could delay your trip home but I know you don't want to miss Christmas with your family and that you guys are leaving on another med cruise right after the first of the year. I hope you will miss me.

Merry Christmas, Jimmy. I already gave your mom my present to you for under the tree.

Write and I will too.

Fondly,

Sarah Swaboda

January 3, 2010

Happy New Year, Jim!

Thank you for the lovely present you left under my pillow. I'm guessing Brandon told you where the key to the house was. You didn't look in my underwear drawer did you!?

You're probably already in the Med by the time this letter reaches you – you feel so far away and its hard to imagine that it's been a year since we last saw each other. I thought about you a lot when I was in Colorado. I had a great time – my Uncle and his family are great people but I would have rather been in Hillsboro with you.

I cried when I opened your present - a leather bound journal was such a thoughtful gift and I really appreciate it. Thank you for the wonderful inscription and I'm glad you liked my present to you…..stationary with stamps! It should come in handy, right!?

Brandon said you had a great visit home – seeing some of your old high school friends, hanging out with him, going to Boston with your Dad, and walking Milson every day. (Thank you!). He also gave me a ride in his "new" car – which is actually your old car! I can't believe you sold it to him for $250. What a steal!

It was slightly weird having Christmas away from home – but Colorado is a great place to spend the holiday – it sure does look like Christmas out there with all the snow and mountains!

Wow, it's hard to comprehend that I'll be a high school graduate by the time you guys get back from the Med. My goal is to lose another 10-15 pounds for graduation. I probably put on a few extra lbs out there in Colorado even though we went skiing every day – there was also a lot of eating!

Don't fall in love with any European girls on the cruise!

Write and I will too!

Fondly,

Sarah Swaboda

February 2, 2010

Hi Jim,

Thanks for the lovely letter. I like that you wrote the inscription in my present while sitting at my desk (I'm sitting there now as I write this). Did you notice you photo underneath my glass? (I "borrowed" it from one of your family albums when I was at your house one time).

Brandon says I should have left you a naked picture of me for you to see ('accidently on purpose' is how he put it) but I need to lose weight before anybody sees me naked (again).

Danny is on his second girlfriend since me – I noticed that they're both tall and thin and that makes me have all sorts of paranoid and self-destructive thoughts. Maybe I was too fat for him. Maybe I grossed him out when he saw me naked (he was the first guy to see me naked,. Maybe we should have done it in the dark under the covers instead of in the middle of the day (his parents and sister went to get clams up the road). I was in my room getting changed from our day on the beach when he walked in on me naked. I screamed at first but then I knew what was going to happen and I didn't think about it – but now I do. I'm pudgy and probably always will be.

Sounds like you're an 'old salt' now that you're on your second cruise. I like it that now there are a couple of new young guys in your office and you get to be a mentor and positive influence for them fresh out of boot camp and training school. I know you will miss your friend Donnelly but as you say it's the nature of the Navy to have shipmates come and go. I guess we're lucky to have grown up in Hillsboro all our lives where we knew the same kids and stayed in the same place.

My Aunt Joan got married last week in Boston. Wow, there sure has been a lot of family stuff going on recently! This is my mother's side of the family. I wish you had been here to go with me. I asked Brandon but I don't think that would have gone over big with Sylvia so he politely declined. Linda was going to go but she was covering a couple of shifts for a friend at Johnny C's so I went alone (with my parents).

It was my Aunt's second marriage and the groom's too. They're both in their early forties but they seem to be happy together and both families gave their blessings. I couldn't help but cry when they exchanged their vows. It was very beautiful. There was a reception at this fancy hotel and everyone went swimming in the hotel pool including the bride and groom! It was a wonderful day.

I did meet this guy. My cousin's boyfriend's friend of a friend or something. He had come stag too so we ended up hanging out a little bit. I didn't mind because I always feel awkward at a wedding when I go alone (not that I've been to that many).

This guy (Anthony) plays hockey. I'm not much of a hockey fan but it was interesting listening to his stories. This was the first time I met someone new since Danny and I was surprised at how timid, insecure, cautious, and untrusting I was of him – which wasn't very fair to him because it turned out he was kind of a nice guy (bad teeth though). I was surprisingly inept at carrying on a conversation with him – I didn't want to tell him about my break up with Danny, or my guy friend in the Navy, or even my guy friend Brandon back home. I was unsure what to say or even how to say it. Everything seemed irrelevant. Who cares what college I wanted to go to? What difference did it make what I hoped to do in the future? Everything felt like too much information so I gave just enough information to get by without seeming rude or indifferent.

As I watched my aunt and new uncle at the altar, I realized how the ceremony signified commitment but I think at their age and because of their past failed marriages their commitment to one another had already been made. I don't know what my life will look like a year from now. Sometimes I wake up in a panic wondering what the heck I am doing and even who I am. But I'm getting more comfortable with it because I know I'll get through it!

I did stay just a bit too long at the pool, however. Some of the people started skinny dipping after enough drinks and that was when I headed back to my room. I'm still to pudgy for that, even with my cousins!

Write and I will too!

Fondly,

Sarah Swaboda

February 28, 2010

Hi Jim,

I'm so sorry you got sick.

Did they ever figure out if it was food poisoning or some kind of bug or something? Sounds pretty scary but I know you're feeling better now. Sorry you missed the port call in Israel because you were stuck in sick bay for nearly a week. I bet seeing the Holy City would have been the highlight of the cruise if you hadn't been sick.

I can't believe you lost nearly twenty pounds! Boy, if I could only lose twenty pounds!

I was up in the attic last week looking for something when I came across an old wooden box full of old letters from previous generations of the family, mostly my grand aunts and uncles. I spent most of the afternoon reading all the letters and it made me think about our correspondence and what the reader might think if they came across them fifty years from now!

These particular letters were not particularly flashy in style and the contents were fairly predictable. They'd start off writing about why they didn't write sooner and then they'd go into some description of what was going on - planting a garden, vacationing, and visiting family, but usually just the mundane routine of daily life. Gee, I hope our letters aren't that boring!

What I noticed most was how refined and exquisite most of the handwriting and script was. Very impressive, very legible. I don't think anybody writes like that now in the computer age. I'm glad I'm still handwriting my letters to you but I noticed that you've been typing most of yours on the computer on ship (thank you for printing them out on the stationary I gave you!).

Linda thinks we are nuts not to be corresponding/communicating by e-mail – you'd know as soon as I hit 'send' what was new with me but – call me old fashioned – I still like the personal intimacy and care of a hand written letter. Right now I'm writing this at my desk overlooking the back yard. There's a squirrel in the tree and it almost looks as though he is looking right back at me!

Write and so will I.

Fondly,

Sarah Swaboda

March 22, 2010

Oh My God, Jim!

I was sitting in the dining room eating a bowl of ice cream. My father had the news on in the living room and all of a sudden I hear the news that The USS SULLIVANS

struck a buoy as it entered the harbor at Manama, Bahrain, sustaining between $200,000 and $1 million in damage. They said that your Captain was relieved of his command!

I hope you weren't involved in any way and that all is going well now. They said the ship might be sent back to America early or it might finish the cruise.

I just got your letter – with all the funny stuff in response to my letter about the wedding. You made me laugh out loud! You are very sweet to say such nice things about me but we both know I really am pudgy. I can't seem to lose the weight but as Linda said the other day maybe the important thing now is to not gain any more weight. If this is my baseline I guess I'll just have to deal with it.

We're almost in the home stretch now as far as the graduation goes. Most of the plans for the prom and the class trip have been made. We're making all the necessary arrangements. It seems like we're just around the corner now. It's starting to get very exciting!

By the way, I've been accepted at Green College, UMASS-Amherst, UMASS-Boston, Worcester State, Westfield State, and a couple of out of state schools. I think financially I should stay in-state (unless I can score some real deals on loans and scholarships). I know going to Green College and living at home would probably be the cheapest and most reasonable decision but I kind of like the idea of going to school in Boston too!

You said you would be in Mayport for at least another year. I checked out some schools in Jacksonville - there's Edward Waters, Jacksonville University, Trinity Baptist College, and the University of North Florida. I recently sent out applications just for the fun of it – don't freak out, it's just sort of a pipe dream.

Linda, Paula, Marie and I are also thinking about making a high school graduation present road trip somewhere. At first we were thinking maybe South Carolina but now Daytona Beach (which is like 90 miles from Mayport) and Disneyworld in Orlando have come up as possibilities. You're going to be back in June, right? Would you be able to join us in Daytona Beach for a few days?

Keep writing and so will I.

Fondly,

Sarah Swaboda

April 14, 2010

Dear Jim,

I just got your letter today. Glad everything is okay on the ship and everybody is safe and sound. I'm sorry your Captain got relieved – especially since you liked him so much. He sounds like he was a nice guy but I guess when you're in charge it doesn't matter how nice you are when something goes wrong.

The weather here has gotten nice and some of us are starting to do activities together as graduation gets closer. Last weekend, a group of us went camping which is not something I do very often. I mean I like hiking and walking in the woods but sleeping in the woods is something totally different!

But now I know how to stay warm and how to cook over a campfire. I know how to set up a tent and how to build a campfire. I learned how to work together to and how to wash dishes without water. We spent the day hiking and in the evening we gathered together for a shared dinner and time around a fire where we told ghost stories accompanied by sound effects.

There were a dozen of us sitting in a circle. The trees were dark and the firelight lit our faces sharing stories and jokes, making funny noises and laughing. It was fun and I feel like I'm just getting to know some of these people just as we get ready to graduate and leave.

Before going to bed, I took my flashlight to the outhouse but I was stopped on the path by a large doe. It was the most magnificent thing I ever saw and I wanted to write to you to tell you that it took my breath away. Never before had I felt so alone with nature and the beauty of Mother Nature as I did at that moment. I was so awestruck by that moment that it almost felt like a life-alternating experience.

Write and I will too.

Fondly,

Sarah Swaboda

May 1, 2010

Happy May Day, Jim.

Thank you for your last letter and for not calling me crazy about thinking about school in Jacksonville. Of course I understand that you could transfer (or get out of the Navy deciding on what you do) while I was there if I actually went to school there. I could always transfer schools too, right?

I guess I feel kind of flattered that you would actually like having me there if I decided to go.

Also, as long as your shipmates are nice guys, I know Linda, Paula and Marie wouldn't mind meeting some Sailors on our road trip! Of course, there is only one Sailor I would want to meet!

I wish you could be back in time to come home to see Brandon and me graduate. Then you could come back to Florida with me and the girls! Ha Ha Ha. What a trip that would be!

I was eight years old when 9/11 happened. I remember it fairly well. And of course the United States has been at war ever since so there was never escaping that. But I must admit I never really thought about patriotism until you joined the Navy and started writing me letters about what it was like to be part of a military organization and what is involved in forming a team and defending our country and wearing the uniform and all that. All the sacrifices you guys make everyday and of course those who give up their lives on our behalf.

I always worry about you – especially when the ship is deployed overseas. I couldn't live if something awful happened to you or your ship. But I've never been more proud of our military or my country than I am now. I am glad to be part of this wonderful country and I am so proud of you for defending it for me.

Write and I will too.

Fondly,

Sarah Swaboda

May 18, 2010

Hi Jim,

Wow, this might be the last letter you get before I graduate from high school! Where did the time go!?

In that letter you wrote to me after Danny hurt me so badly, you said that most people manage to handle bad news with resilience and strength. You met people in the Navy who overcame tragedy. We've both known people who survived a dreadful illness, a death in the family, or disappointment in their life and found new meaning and purpose because somehow having this terrible experience provided them with internal strength they never knew they had.

Now that I look back on this year – that started of so terribly after such a wonderful summer, I find that it is amazing how well I got through my own misfortune and I'm pretty sure it was you who set me straight and got be back on the right path.

Right now, as my high school graduation approaches, I have a lot of uncertainty but I seem to know that it is okay. Falling in love was both euphoric and crushing (both times). Deciding what I want to do has been both scary and invigorating. Right now, I am aware of the blessings in my life more than my disappointments, hurts and fears. I feel guilty for not being adequately grateful in the past for what I have.

I try to deal with my uncertain future by imagining how I see myself forty or fifty years from now. Milson helps. He lives in the moment. And so should we. Nobody knows what the future holds so I try to remember to live each day today. The future will be here tomorrow with surprises, disappointments, and even some blessings in disguise.

And I just wanted to say thank you, Jimmy, for being there for me these past few years. You helped me get to where I am today. I will be thinking of you on my graduation night.

Fondly,

Sarah Swaboda

### ###

Sara stood in the cafeteria with her classmates in her brown and white cap and gown with her long curly blonde hair sticking out from underneath the cap. She was waiting for the graduation ceremony to start. Her marching partner Brandon stood next to her joking around with some of the guys and while she was quick to toss in a one liner or humorous comment she was mostly thinking about what was about to take place. She was graduating from high school!
"I wish your brother could be here," Sarah sighed to Brandon.
"Yeah, me too," he said with a shrug. "But that's life."
Mrs. Marcel who was acting as the ceremony stage manager called the graduates to order and told them to line up. Most of the students were giddy and in good humor, nervous yet excited, happy abet sad.
"Looks like we made it," Sarah told Brandon.
"Was there ever any doubt?" he laughed.
The music began playing in the gym cuing Mrs. Marcel to start what she had referred to the gauntlet line all day. The graduating class began the procession into the gym where family and friends waited to see the ceremony. Sarah had a wide smile on her face as she entered the gym and it took her a moment to find her parents in the crowd. They were sitting with the Murphys and Sarah did a double take when she saw Jimmy Murphy sitting with both sets of parents.
"Oh my God!" Sarah stage whispered to Brandon who was processing in next to her. "Your brother's here!"
Brandon lifted up his eyes until he caught sight of Murphy sitting in the stands. "Wow. How'd that happen?"
"You didn't know he was coming?" She whispered.
"Nope."
It was all Sarah could do not to rush into the stands and leap into Murphy's lap. She had been infatuated with him forever. Then she hated him for a while and she thought she found someone else but in the end, after so much time, distance and letters, she had come to the realization that she was still crushing on the Sailor, now more than ever. He knew most of her secrets, her failures, her embarrassments and her dreams because of their correspondence and he had proven to be an interesting and honest letter writer in return. She felt she knew Jimmy Murphy better than any guy she had ever known, even Brandon.
Sarah had a hard time not looking into the crowd to stare at Jimmy Murphy. She couldn't believe he was really present to watch her (and his brother) graduate. It was a dream come true. She tapped her foot impatiently through the various boring speeches and procedural activities until finally it was time for her and her classmates to receive their diplomas. Finally! But there were at least fifty graduates ahead of her and Sarah had to wait her turn. Brandon was in front of her and he did a cartwheel across the podium stage to get his diploma. Sarah chose to be much more lady like and mature, graciously accepting her hard earned diploma from the Superintendant and School Board Chair before proudly returning to her seat with a huge smile on her face. She glanced up into the stands to see Jimmy Murphy flashing her the thumb's up.

Sarah had to focus on not fainting for the rest of the ceremony and when the last kid finally received his diploma she was ready to jump out of her seat. But there was one more speech and then the benediction and then the exit march (after they threw their caps in the air) before the ceremony was finally officially concluded.

The Hillsboro High School Graduating class of 2010 celebrated in the cafeteria with hugs, laughter and tears before the public came rushing in from the gym to congratulate, hug, laugh and cry too. And suddenly there was Jimmy Murphy standing in front of Sarah with a grin on his face.

"What are you doing here?" Sarah asked breathlessly.

"Watching you graduate," Murphy answered.

"But you're supposed to be in the Med."

"I was," he smiled. "We pulled into Mayport yesterday."

"And you came home?"

"Seventy-two hour liberty," he said.

"And you came home?"

"Of course."

"To see me graduate?"

"Well, you and Brandon."

"Thanks, bro," Brandon spoke up from where he was standing with the parents and Sylvia (who was only a junior and had another year).

"You spent all that money to fly up here to see us graduate?" Sarah asked with disbelief.

"Sure," Murphy grinned.

Sarah unexpectedly leaped into Murphy's arms and gave him a hearty hug and a smooch on the lips. "Oh, thank you!" she said.

"You're welcome," Murphy replied happily, holding her tight.

"Oh, but I have the party tonight," she said, breaking free from the embrace.

"That's fine," Murphy assured her. "I'm fried anyway. Call me tomorrow whenever you wake up."

"Okay," she said happily. Then she stared at him long and hard. "I can't believe you came home."

"I'm quite fond of you, Sarah," he said.

### ###

It was nearly five o'clock the next afternoon when Sarah called.

"You're awake!?" Murphy laughed into the receiver.

"I didn't go to bed until ten o'clock this morning," she moaned. "I don't even know what day it is!"

"Saturday," Murphy informed her. "You want to go out to dinner?"

"Yes," Sarah answered happily.

An hour later, Murphy was picking up Sarah and taking her to a nice dinner at Serguci's Family Italian Restaurant. She looked amazing in a tight white dress and they spent most of the meal catching up - Sarah talking about the graduation ceremony and party, Murphy updating her about the last few weeks of the cruise.

"It really means a lot to me that you took the time and made the effort to come up here, Jim," Sarah said happily. "It was the best graduation present I could hope for."

"And you guys are still coming down to Daytona Beach in a few days?" Murphy asked.

"Yes, it should be fun."

"Yeah," Murphy agreed.

"So," Sarah said after a moment's hesitation. "I'm out of high school now."

"You are," Murphy agreed.

"Do you remember what you said to me that last Christmas we were together?"

"Yes, I remember," Murphy replied.

"Do you want to know how I feel now?" She asked.

"I don't think I need to ask, Sarah."

"I'm still quite fond of you," she said with a smile.

"I have to fly out tomorrow afternoon," he informed her.

"Well, what about tonight?" She wanted to know.

"My parents are home," Murphy said, chewing on his lip. "Yours?"

"Nope," she smiled. "Do want to come over?"

"You sure?" Murphy asked, swallowing hard.

"I'm out of high school, Jim," she reminded him.

He looked at her with want and desire. "Okay." He said.

Sarah's head was spinning and she barely remembered him paying the bill or them leaving the restaurant. A few minutes later, Murphy was dropping her off at her house and parking the car in his driveway three doors down to avoid suspicion. He walked back to Sarah's house and found the front door open with Milson the dog sitting there waiting for him.

"Where's your sister?" Murphy asked the dog.

"Up here!" Sarah called from upstairs.

Murphy noticed her dress and undergarments sprawled along the stairs and he picked them up as he hopped up the stairs. The door to the bedroom was open and he found Sarah lying on the bed under the covers.

"Turn out the light," she requested.

"No," he protested. "I want to see you."

"I'm pudgy," she pouted.

"I don't think so," he said as he leaned over and pulled the sheets off of her.

"Oh," she said with surprise, finding herself naked in front of him.

Murphy knelt down on the bed and pushed her hair off her forehead. She looked into his eyes hopefully and he kissed her.

"I should have waited for you," she sobbed. "I wanted my first time to be with you."

"Let's pretend it's the first time for both of us," Murphy whispered.

Later, as they lay together naked under the sheets with him spooning her from behind as they cuddled, Murphy kissed her neck.

"Are you okay?" he asked.

"I'm fine," she whispered turning her head to kiss him. "Thank you."

They heard a car in the driveway and Sarah sprang from the bed, tiptoeing to the window, her naked backside shining in the light.

"My parents," she sighed.

"I'd better go," Murphy said, slipping from the bed and putting on his clothes.

"I'll see you tomorrow," Sarah said.

"You can come to the airport with me," he agreed.

"Good," she said, as she turned from the window to face him in all her glory. "Because I am fondly yours, you know."