I have lived at Camp Pendleton for almost exactly three years. Three years of the same day to day routine involving the same people. Over time, at every duty station, I like to say "I collect people." I have the the same man and woman that check me out at the commissary on Friday mornings. I have the cell phone number of every housing maintenance crew and I know all my UPS drivers by name. (Thank you Amazon.) Most importantly, I have Sai. Sai, is the clerk at the post office near my house. Over time, we have come to know each other in this strange, familiar way and so today I went by to mail my last package to my sister, and to tell her goodbye.
A few weeks ago, I stopped in and told her all the latest and greatest about our move. I like to go between 3:30 and 4:00 when I know her office is mostly empty and she and I can have a chat without the annoying interruptions of other paying customers. (Geeze, guys, you really need that package to go out today??) So as soon as I hit the door today she said, "Oh goodness come in! How much longer till London?!" I bring her a package I am mailing to my sister. Its a tray my husband and I made for her, and while I thought I could get creative with this box I found to cut cost, the box is tragically too short. Sai, vaporizes into her back office and appears with a box full of priority boxes. She's laughing and telling me about her day as she dumps the contents of the box onto the floor. I realize she is going to use the storage box, instead of the priority box to fashion a vessel for my tray. Sai knows I need a budget win after we have hemorrhaged money during this move. As she starts to tape it up using her own tape I ask her the question that always weighs on my heart when I leave the post office. And that is, "how is Sai doing with the loss of her husband."
This week marked ten years since her companion of 26 years suddenly passed. She is brutally honest and genuine when she talks about how hard it is to miss him, I appreciate that she is also honest about the hardships of marriage. When I ask her she says, "you know, that relationship was not perfect but I miss him everyday." She recounts how she has struggled the past few weeks with the weight of his absence and that some days getting out of bed was hard for her. Just when I think I want to climb across the plexiglass table to hug her neck, she tells me how the Marines that come in have been so encouraging for her. What I forgot to mention is she works in the post office in the barracks. So I know there are a lot of young Marines that look forward to seeing Sai just like I do.
As she wraps my box three times with knock off duct tape I realize how important Sai was to me. She often said things to me that I needed to hear and I believe that I was sometimes a sounding board for her. The great disparity between the amount of time we actually spent together and the deep struggles we knew we shared is proof of the human condition. We are all just out here looking for someone to hear us, see us and connect with us.
So as I look down the barrel of my final week in the US, I am silently containing my excitement to "collect" a new set of friendly faces across the pond. I hope they are ready for a nutty bleach blonde, with a southern draw.