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Dear Alex

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Dear Alex,

In the Pentagon, there's a storage room full of boxes. I suspect there are many storage rooms full of boxes in the Pentagon, but this one is special. It's special because it's ours; every letter I wrote while you were gone is kept there, neatly organized by date received.

They showed it to me once, which is how I know it's there.

I don't know if they were subtly trying to convince me to stop writing, or if they were just trying to show me that they were taking good care of my letters until they could deliver them to you. I didn't stop sending them, anyway; let them file them in their boxes, I refused to give up hope.

I suspect that some day in the not terribly far future, a government truck will show up on our doorstep, laden with the history of your absence in carefully labeled cardboard containers.

You'll read them, because that's the kind of man you are. Reading them will help you orient to your new old life, I hope, and make it feel a little less like you missed so much. I've chronicled everything in them; every milestone of the children, large or small; each discovery I made; conversations I had; trips I took. Not many of those, since the children were too young to be left alone and I couldn't fathom having to wrangle all of them by myself.

I suppose we owe them a vacation. Florida, perhaps, or maybe further - the twins are old enough to appreciate Europe, and Charles Wallace is wise enough to appreciate nearly anything, in his own way. It will do Meg good to remember that there's life beyond this tiny village, intergalactic travel notwithstanding.

When I was young, I dreamed about getting out of my small town. I wanted the whole wide world. I fear that Meg's dreams are smaller, because she's seen us find happiness here, even while she is miserable, and she is too attached to her family, to us, to feel anything but guilt if she dreams of running away.

Meg, I fear, is a girl who has adventures but longs for home.

Enough about Meg for now. Perhaps you will be able to help her in ways I can't; she's always been Daddy's girl.

The twins have always had each other, and both feet firmly on the ground. I worry about them in abstract ways - can you be wholly happy in a life without wonder? - but I suspect once they're grown and away and no longer required to be "the sensible Murry twins," they may be able to find magic in the world.

And Charles Wallace. I can't wait for you to get to know Charles Wallace better. Sometimes I feel as if we've been granted guardianship of him, as if he doesn't really belong to us at all. He stays because we amuse him, and he needs protection while he is small, and some day he'll tire of us and move on. But sometimes he feels like the embodiment of our work and our dreams, like he was conceived in the lab figuratively and literally.

In the meantime, it's time to put our custodial child to bed, so I will sign off for now.

All my love,

Alex Murry sat in his chair by the fire, poring over a letter. It had grown dark while he was reading, the early darkness of late fall, but he hadn’t stopped to turn the light on yet. Light spilled from the kitchen, where Meg and the twins were working on homework, and with the fire, it gave him enough to read by. Coming to the end, he folded it back up and returned it to its envelope, then reached for the next one in the pile.

“When are you?” Kate asked softly, coming into the room. He stopped just to look at her, and she came to his side, running a hand across his hair with warm affection.

“Charles Wallace just turned three,” he said. “He seems quite the handful.”

“He was - although in a completely different way than any of the others. I thought I’d gotten the hang of dealing with toddlers, and then along comes Charles Wallace and knocks me for a loop all over again. He’s still good at that, even now.”

Alex chuckled. “Dinner about ready?”

"About half an hour. You have time for another one."

Dear Alex,

I am so angry at you right now. Angry but writing to you anyway, because I love you and I won’t stop talking.

I did manage the children, and the house, and the bills entirely by myself while you were gone. I know more than you do about the household expenses at this point.

Is that what frightens you? Are you worried that since we've managed well enough without you, it means we don't need you at all?

Managing is not thriving, my heart. We could all get along without you because we had to, and always with the belief you were coming home. How many families had to do the same during the war? It didn't mean that our boys weren't desperately missed and wanted the whole time they were gone.

I want to tell you these things, but I'm afraid you wouldn't listen.

We will have to re-learn how to listen to each other, though. Without another adult to rely on, I’ve gotten used to being independent and making my own decisions about things. When you were first gone, I kept looking for you to ask you things, but of course you were never there, and eventually I stopped looking.

"Kate," his voice interrupted her train of thought and she looked up from the clipboard on her knees. "I'm sorry - what are you doing?"

"Writing to you," she said with a little laugh, ducking her head. "When I was frustrated or upset, I would come in here and add a few paragraphs to your letter. It seems silly, now."

"Hey," and he touched her cheek until she looked up at him, blue eyes fierce behind his glasses. "I'm right here."

"I know," she said, and she leaned into him, putting the clipboard on the counter so it wouldn't be in the way.

"I know it's been hard for you, sweetheart. I know. But I promise you, I'm not going anywhere. At least, not anywhere you can't get a hold of me if you need me."

"I always need you," she said. "I managed without you because I had to, you know. I never stopped needing you."

"I know," he said, voice soft and raspy. "I should never have implied otherwise. But - can I say you're stronger than I thought you were, without sounding overbearing? Probably not. It's not that I thought you'd fall apart, just - you've handled things so well."

"The world kept going, even without you. Work had to be done, and I did it. Like any woman whose husband was away."

"I'm a very lucky man," he said. "That's what I really meant."

Dear Alex,
Sometimes I am afraid that I have been alone too long; that the directions we have grown while apart are too incompatible. I have spoken in soliloquy so long that I've forgotten how to dialogue and I have been the sole parental voice too long to remember how to share the burdens and the joys.

I missed you so desperately while you were gone, and in some ways I miss you still, even as you sit across from me, close enough to touch. Perhaps I have missed you so long I don't really believe that you're back.

Back but leaving in the morning, and part of me wants to beg and scream with you not to go. Let the great minds come to you if they need you so badly. It's selfish, I know, and I won't really do it, but it is amusing to think of all those Great Men clustered around our kitchen table eating liverwurst and cream cheese and discussing the mightiest problems of the world. Perhaps they will seem less serious and unsolvable after a walk through the woods.

And now you've suggested a walk, as if you've begun reading my mind. I suspect you don't want to leave any more than I want you to. But we both must be brave and do our duty.

I love you,

"This is one place where I feel like the world hasn't changed much," he said, glancing over at the glacial rocks.

"Same old rocks, same old meadow, same old stars?" She slipped her fingers through his and he pulled her closer. The days were warm with spring, but the nights were still chilly enough to need a coat - and a warm body pressed against his own was nice, too.

"Not exactly the same, but they change in predictable ways."

"Unlike the children?" she laughed.

"Unlike my wonderful wife," he corrected with a teasing smile. "The children grew, which you must admit is fairly normal for children, even ones as generally remarkable as ours."

"I got older, which is also predictable, when you put it that way."

"Chronologically, yes, but few mothers of four grow lovelier with every passing year, so that aspect is certainly surprising."

"Flatterer." She leaned her head against him, sighing with contentment.

"Scientist. I only speak observable truths."

"Do you have an equation for how beautiful I am, then?"

"Naturally. Come inside and I'll tell you all about it."


Dear Alex,

I felt sure when you came back that I'd never have to face another crisis of the children alone. In fairness, you're only a phone call away, but I wish you were here to see how sick he is and tell me that he's going to be fine, even while I’m desperately afraid that he’s not. He was jumped on the way home again - by one of Calvin's little brothers, no less, and there's another young man who will need soothing because of it - and I'm tempted to just pull him out of school and let him learn at home until next term. But he'll have to go back eventually, and staying home won't help him learn protective camouflage.

Camouflage is as alien to Charles Wallace as toys and other “age-appropriate” things, I fear. When you read this, I’m sure you will laugh at me because I worry too much, and when we are together again, you’ll tell me that all the children will find their place in the world sooner or later.

Do I talk too much about the children in my letters? But you know where I am in my research, and everything I’m doing is all tied up in Charles Wallace right now anyway. I am a better scientist because I am a mother, and wouldn’t that confuse our lab mates in college? Everyone was so convinced that I wouldn’t be able to do both, as if my brains would fall out of my head the moment my firstborn was laid in my arms.

I try not to be bitter about it. Bitterness is a drain that accomplishes nothing, I know, but I am unrelievedly glad that the world that Meg will grow into is a bigger and more welcoming place for women than it was for me at her age.

Am I being maudlin? I hope not. It’s cold and wet tonight, and I’m very worried about Charles Wallace (repeating myself, sorry) and feeling twice my age or more.

But I will (I must) find a cure for him, and you’re not further than Brookhaven, and I know for certain when you’re coming home. I will count every blessing and hold them close with both hands until this feeling goes away.

The phone is ringing. Is it you? I’d better go and find out.

With love,

"Do you need me to come home?" he asked, when she had finished her update and the silence between them had grown uncomfortable.

"No," she said, and it was as hard as she'd expected it to be. "Louise and I have it as under control as it's going to be. I'll tell you to hurry, though."

"As much as I can. And I'll be home for the weekend no matter what's happening. The universe can wait to fall apart until Monday."

"Did you tell it that?"

"I will. I'll be quite firm with it, too."

She managed to laugh faintly. "Maybe the universe just needs some tough love. Try telling it to stop falling apart."

"I'll do that." She heard voices in the background. Alex said something, muffled, then said, "I have to go. I'll call you tomorrow, and call right away if something happens. I can be home in a couple of hours."

"I will."

"Tell the kids I love them."

"Every night."

"And tell yourself that, too."

She did laugh at that. "I love you, too. Go save the universe."