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  • Michael Roman

Jesus!

I looked forward to Thursdays more than any other day of the week. Thursdays were the one day of opportunity to receive news from beyond the reef. Just before lunch, I would hear the unmistakable roar of the Y-12. Its propellers sounded, like a chorus of chainsaws as it landed. Corey was a regular plane day attendee, receiving requested materials from the main hospital or accompanying patients to the field for treatment in Tarawa. I would head to morning tea or into a prep period when the plane arrived.

In the afternoon, Corey would drop by to talk and bring any mail that arrived. I could always count on receiving a Newsweek at least once a month from headquarters, and on good days I would get a letter from home. On great days, a care package filled with Kool-Aid and M&Ms that, with proper rationing, could last for weeks.

Easter was the next big holiday celebrated on the island, and celebration preparations consumed everyone. From making new clothes to harvesting crops, everyone had something to do. For the bootaki, I planned to make caramel candies out of sugar and condensed milk. I was taking count of my condensed milk cans when Corey showed up with a package for me. In a rush to the store for more cans of milk, I thanked her and asked her to leave it on the porch.

Like always, it was from mom and dad. I was amazed at the accuracy of their timing; Easter Sunday was just three days away. I sat the box on a bedroom shelf and continued my prep work for the next day. Over three days, I thought about what was inside, new toys for the treasure box, more M&Ms, or my favorite, a new cassette with recorded messages from home. It would inevitably contain Kool-Aid, but what delicious new flavors were there? I hoped not more lemon-aid. I consumed two months of lemon-aid in Maiana and was sick of it. However, if it were lemonade, I couldn’t complain.

Henry, my rooster, was the first to let me know of Easter’s arrival. As soon as I woke, I opened the package to find a new pair of shoes and a Christmas card.

Dear Michael,

We hope you are having a great Christmas this year. We are enjoying your nephew’s second Christmas and wish you were here with us. We know you are loving every minute though. Only one more year until you can be back with us celebrating Christmas together.

Take care,

Love Dad, Mom, Jen, and Kyle


I had something special that day. I may not have gotten candy, a recording, or toys for my kids, but for the first time in my life, I celebrated the birth and death of Jesus Christ with the same present!

My new shoes inspired me to start running again. But with only one pair of socks, I needed to strategize the length and frequency of my runs. Rather than running through the villages, attracting unwanted attention from dogs and chickens, I decided to run in the school field. It had a worn dirt path that looked to be around two hundred meters long. After a few days, I began attracting teenage boys and girls. Finished with their afternoon chores, they joined me for laps before falling to the ground in the middle of the field.

Letters from friends reminded me of another time, another place, and another world. I learned about the latest movies months after their release. America was America, and it seemed like little had changed. Everyone was busy with their jobs, grad school programs, and it was go, go, go. Everyone had so much going on, and here I was, with Henry. I hated how my friends called my life a simple life, it was anything but. If it were simple, I would have electricity, a car, and a store with ice cream.

Over the next two months, the days became routine, even boring. It was life on an atoll. Henry crowed, the sun rose, the children learned. The schedule did not change, and each day was as predictable as the next. At times, days seemed to drag on painfully slow. To help, I created a calendar and crossed off each day. I would count down the days until the end of the term, my vacation, my close of service, until anything different from the same.



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©2020 by Michael Roman