(Aside: I wanted to explore what a letter from Richard to Emma Harrow might look like, as he would be able to express himself so much more eloquently in the written word than he can with speech.)
My dearest sister Emma,
I know I have not written you in some time. I feel I need to apologize for that, but my life has become strange since leaving Chicago. I work odd hours, and do not have much time for myself. And if I am being very truthful, dear sister, each time I put pen to paper in the hopes of writing you a letter, my hand trembles and I have to walk away from my desk. The thought of writing to you after so much time has passed is daunting. I look at all the books you sent me, sitting on my shelf, and I think of the man who used to find such joy in reading them - the boy you grew up with and the man I used to be. I think of that man, and any words that I might say to you all fall short of the words you expect; the words that man might have said.
I am different now, Emma. If you saw me, you would not recognize me. I remember how you nursed me when I came home from the hospital; how you never even flinched the first time you changed my bandages and saw the horror that my face had become. I don't look like that anymore; so bloodied and ravaged and raw. I still feel like that, sometimes, on the inside. But on the outside my wounds have healed.
I wear a mask now. I purchased it at a medical supply store in Chicago. The owner painted it for me himself. He was very talented. I like to imagine that when people passing by me on the street look very fast, they think my face is still whole - even if for just a second. But then their eyes change, and they realize what I really am - that I'm broken.
When this happens, I feel like a doll on a shelf. A ventriloquist's dummy. A marionette. Sometimes the right side of my face goes slack and dead and matches the mask on the left side so very perfectly that I actually resemble all of those things. All of those wooden playthings with no life inside of them to speak of.
Most days, dear sister, I feel dead inside too.
This is why I do not write you anymore. I can feel in your letters that you so very badly want me to be the boy you once knew. The brother who loved you and cherished you more than anyone else in the world. The boy who had your eyes, and your lips, and who shared the same symmetry in his face that you have in yours. But I'm not that boy anymore, sister. I'll never be that boy again. And I feel as though I've let you down in every way because of it.
For this, I will never stop being sorry.
I think of you sometimes. I wonder how you're faring, running the farm without me. I wouldn't be much help if I were there. There are many things I can't do anymore. I wouldn't be able to drive the tractor, or the truck into town to get supplies. I wouldn't be able to ride the horses like we used to (do you remember racing each other out to the creek in the summers to swim? In the winters to skate, when the water was frozen over and snow blanketed every treetop?). Mostly, though, I wouldn't be able to be the brother you need me to be. I wouldn't be able to laugh with you as we used to, or to love you the way that I should. As much as you say you miss me, Emma, it isn't me you miss. It's the idea of me. And it's better that I stay away. The war has changed me. I am a dangerous man now. I do sinful things and think violent thoughts. You would not be proud of who I've become.
I know I cannot ask you to stop sending me letters, nor can I ask you to forget me. I know this because I know you, and that you never do what you're told. Not when we were children, and not now that we're grown. You've always beaten your own path through this life, sister, and I've always admired you for that. I only hope I have the courage to do the same, and to somehow scrape together a kind of life for myself in this new place. You would like Atlantic City, I think. Do you remember the county fair Father took us to that one year? Atlantic City is sort of what it might be like if that county fair stayed open all year round.
Think of me fondly, sister, although I don't deserve it. For what it's worth, I do miss you. Every day.
The only person I miss more is me.
Your loving brother,