I didn’t think about him yesterday.
My Veterans Day was spent in a swirl of activity and a few chats with Facebook friends and veterans.
He and I were best friends in high school. The last time we saw each other was more than 50 years ago. We were the friends who cleaned up the vomit on the floor that our other friends left behind. We were the friends who drove our other friends home after they had partied too much. We spent years walking together in the bright Tahoe sun, sitting beneath the twinkling stars in the dark, or huddled in the cold snow as we focused on the business of growing up and learning about life. We were never in love. We were friends. We shared our secrets, our fears, and our dreams.
He went to Viet Nam right after we graduated.
I got married and moved away from our hometown just after he went to fight halfway around the world. He was on one side of the Pacific and I was on the other. I had a baby boy the following year. My husband was fine with my insisting on naming the little guy Rob — mostly for my best friend — and a little bit for that cute Robbie in My Three Sons. My husband’s nuclear family had a tradition of using two middle names. He chose Allen Nathaniel. We were happy and knew we’d made the right decision.
Rob sent me scribbled letters on pale blue military paper marked APO. One day I received a stiff-backed black and white picture of him in country, signed Rob and ’68.
I sent care packages of photographs, mixed nuts, soap, toothpaste, home-made cookies and fudge. For years, I wrote long letters with news about home and life as I knew it.
I received a letter one day telling me he’d be leaving Saigon two days later – coming home. He said he didn’t know what he’d be doing next. For some reason, I remember worrying about that.
I never heard from him again.
That last letter of his is pressed between two sheets of paper, along with his black and white photo. Saved for I don’t know what.
Over the years I searched veterans databases looking for him. I missed him. I suppose I wanted to ease my heart. At one point, I telephoned and chased through several veterans affairs officers until one of them finally took me seriously and did his own search. When he called back a few days later, he told me that my friend didn’t die in service. That was that.
I let it go. Again and again, I let it go.
Several years ago, I had to look again. That time, with the advent of internet databases and Google, I found him. He lived within driving distance of where we went to school and where I was living. I sent an email to him at his workplace listed online. I waited. I sent another email. I waited again. When I could stand it no longer, I stared at that 100 pound telephone, took a deep breath and dialed the phone number staring at me from the computer monitor on my desk.
I don’t remember the exact words he used. He basically told me not to contact him again. He said he didn’t know who I was. He told me his wife thought I was a stalker. I know that was my friend on the phone. There’s not a doubt in my mind I talked to my old friend that sunny winter day.
I don’t know what happened between the time Rob sat down to write that he was coming home and what happened the next day and all the years since. I do know from my online research – stalker type activity – that he has a loving family and he’s been successful in his life.
A former lover of mine once told me my problem — one of many — is that I can’t let go of old love. Guilty. I’m guilty. I’m not sorry for it, either. I’m not sorry that my heart keeps love alive and feeds my spirit, no matter where the flesh and blood has gone.
I write about him today as much for myself as for him.
Veterans Day +1.