Veterans Day + 1

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-dawson-aycrigg-68-22122016

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.

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No Means Everything. Parts 1 & 2

A story in 4 parts.

Part One

It was 1967. Iris lived with her mom and brothers on the California side of South Lake Tahoe. If you were standing in her room, you’d have heard any combination of rock and roll blasting the airwaves, including, but not limited to the Beatles, Paul Anka, Connie Francis, and the Rolling Stones.

She’d graduated high school the previous summer (’66) with her class, known officially and forever as the ‘Rebels’. After a wild and crazy senior year, full of class cutting, skiing, and hot springs soaking over the Markleeville ridge, she was delighted to be finished with South Tahoe High.

Iris got a work permit and a busgirl job in one of the casinos. Soon enough, before she knew it, she was 19, pregnant – and married. She hadn’t planned on being pregnant. She hadn’t planned on being married. But all those noes of hers, in the still quiet of a dark room, fell silent on Alan’s ears.

Six years older than she was, Alan drove a shiny black Mustang. He had striking blue eyes. He was her neighbor. Their moms were best friends. He worked with Iris’s brother. Iris was in love.

There were times, though, when she worried. She and Alan spent quite a bit of time in the house Alan shared with his mom and brother. It was during those family visits that Iris witnessed the man she loved being extremely cruel. He criticized, belittled, and blamed his mother for everything. His behavior, his words, his rage, gave Iris the shivers. She found no pleasure in recalling her own abusive household as a young girl. Iris did what most irresponsible young women did. She swept it to the back of her head. She kept quiet.

Alan told Iris he didn’t want a big wedding. She said that was fine, though secretly, she was disappointed. Alan arranged for a few days off work. He and Iris eloped to the Nevada ghost town of Virginia City, where the Justice of the Peace married them. The courthouse cleaning lady and the bar owner next door were the witnesses. Surreal, Iris thought. In the mirror behind the judge’s desk, she observed Alan, his arm wrapped tightly around her. Iris was in her favorite pale blue blouse and mini skirt. Alan was dressed in his typical every day black slacks, white short sleeve shirt, black shoes, white socks. No friends, no smiling moms wishing Iris congratulations from the mirror.

They recited their vows. Alan smiled with Iris’s grin as he paired the wedding band to her engagement ring. They kissed. Man and wife. They were married. They hopped back in the Mustang. They drove over the mountains, down to the ocean, to spend their honeymoon on Monterey Bay.

Iris ended up sick most every day. The fog was wet. She was cold. She just wanted to go home. Awake sometimes in the dark night, she worried over a conversation with Alan’s mother in which Iris had been warned to be very careful of Alan’s terrible temper.

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