Hostage Michael Moeller's last message to his folks in the United States, written July 18, was a gooey, extravagant fantasy of homecoming.
"When you meet me at the airport," the U.S. Embassy security chief wrote his mother, "bring some of your fudge and chocolate chip and peanut butter cookies. It won't be necessary to bring cakes, pies and cobblers, as long as they're at the house when I get there."
He also wanted "chicken, ribs, fish, baked potatoes, three-bean salad, hamburgers, hot dogs, and -- it was enough to make me sick," -- laughed his wife, Lisa, of Quantico, Va. "He wanted a great big barbecue, but I guess it's getting too cold for that. He wants a big party to recelebrate all the birthdays and anniversaries and holidays he's missed with us."
Messages from Iran. For the families here, they are glimmers of light drifting strangely out of a distant murk. They provide a rare bit of punctuation to the long days of waiting, something to hold onto as the ordeal moves tensely toward its one-year anniversary.
Marine Lance Cpl. Steven Kirtley wrote his parents in his latest letter that he has been passing the time in captivity by reading, among other things, the Bible. But he said there is "a lot of it I don't understand too well, such as the part about turning the other cheek," according to his mother, Bettie Jo, a nurse in Little Rock, Ark. Dated June 16, the letter did not reach the Kirtleys until early October, she said.
Barry Rosen, embassy press attache, last wrote to his wife on their wedding anniversary, July 29, the first letter she had received from him in some time. A family spokesman would say only that it was "a sad letter."
Several families have had no messages from their hostage relatives since the failed U.S. rescue attempt in April.
A few have received mail very recently, since the start of the war between Iraq and Iran.
There is no particular pattern to the flow of mail and other messages, except that it has been reduced to a trickle since the April raid. No pattern as to who gets it and who doesn't, or when it gets here, according to the State Department and the families.
But the messages provide the best recent snapshots available of the hostages, and of the varied moods of captivity. The prisoners write of exercising in their quarters and about getting haircuts -- a big event in the monotonous routine. They write about doing a lot of reading, presumably books from the large U.S. Embassy library, and of receiving Scrabble, backgammon and other games and presents sent by their families. They often allude to roommates, indicating they are not in solitary confinement. They write of missing, and loving and praying. And they convey flickers of determination, despair, hope, boredom, bitterness, loneliness, humor.
Kirtley wrote of a recent struggle in which he claimed a meager victory. "I had to fight the roaches out of the shower. I won." And he reported that he was keeping himself generally so busy that "it's hard to squeeze a four-hour nap into my day."
Phillip (Red Eye) Lewis and his wife, Gloran, of Homer, Ill., last heard from their son Paul about a month ago. The young Marine sergeant wrote about a new-found desire to go back to college after his enlistment is up. That will be in December.
Paul's passing comment that he has managed to get his weights back, for working out, set his father to musing and remembering. "Red Eye" earned his nickname as composing room foreman of the Champaign-Urbana News Gazette, with a work schedule that ends at 3 or 4 a.m., and he recalled that often when he came home in those predawn hours he would find his son huffing back from a three- or four-mile run. "Then he'd sit and have coffee with me . . . . He's a physical nut. Got legs on him like the back supports on the piano."
Hostage Michael Metrinko, a consular officer, hasn't been heard from since April, just before the ill-fated rescue attempt, according to his father, Harry, of Olyphant, Pa. Metrinko had became known as the "forgotten hostage" because for nearly five months after the embassy seizure he had appeared in no fils, been seen by no clergymen, gotten no messages out to his family. Then late last March, the Metrinkos received official word that he was alive and well.
In the message the following month, carried out by a Red Cross representative, Metrinko wrote to his family, "I'm okay and miss you. (But I'm glad you're not here.) . . . . The jailers are heavily censoring all mail. So please don't mention anything but family news. Pretend it's World War II again."
Jesse and Mary Lopez, of Globe, Ariz., are also among the families who have had no message since April. The last they heard from their son, Marine Sgt. James Michael Lopez, he was asking who won the 1979 World Series, who was playing in the Super Bowl and joking about his pet mouse, Yasser Arafat.
"I'm going to shave and comb my hair," he said, in a description of his big plans for that night. "Then I might or might not decide to trim my nasal hairs. I don't want to do too much and burn myself out." He also mentioned an "uncontrollable craving for a beef tamale."
Dorothea Morefield of San Diego has, by contrast, a stack of 19 letters from her husband, Richard, the U.S. consul general. But only one, written Aug. 4, has arrived since the April rescue attempt. In it, he reported, "I am in good health, holding up as well as can be expected."
He said also that the previous week, "with our 25th anniversary and your birthday," had been especially difficult. "But I got through it thinking about the good times we had in San Francisco . . . . We were so young but were so lucky."
And he added, "I know this is more difficult for you and the family, but we must hold on. No matter how long it takes."