Chapter 05 - Love and War.
(Written in 2011 and Published in 2020).
Past - California, 1969 (Vietnam War)
I don’t like being left alone with my own thoughts. I guess when I am left alone with them I come to find that I never really grew up. The inner child comes to play, and I start imagining the worst of everything, the most fearful situations out of the positive tunnel I had once created for this journey. “Don’t leave me alone with them,” I begged him. He tried to comfort me, tell me I was his strong girl, but still, he left me alone with them. That was the day the rain came, the first rain of the heat spell of the summer.
It has been three years since I was left to face the fears of my childish thoughts. I imagined the most horrible of things - he would never come home to me. The war would kill him as fast as it drafted him. The dark shadows of my mind were laughing, evil in nature, as my child self stood in the center of my mind, fearing the walls around it. How could it be? How could I fear my own thoughts, my own self?
Out of it, I found that child-like courage that I guess I needed to find. I found that little girl that use to fall off of the monkey bars, get back up, and try again. When the laughter from the shadows resonated within my mind I found the spirit to simply, laugh back. I found the energy to fight my pessimistic thoughts, those realist voices saying that said he would die, that I would be left alone, forever, with my thoughts, and the world would simply never be the same. The idealist told me that he was too smart to get killed, too strong to fall in such a manner. Uncle Sam would not fire the bullet against him; he would stand up to him and disown that shameful family name. He would survive; he would come home.
Those were the good days, the days when my reason and my “strong girl” side would prevail. Those were the days would people would ask me about Will and I would tell them that it would be okay. They would say, “Come on love, find yourself a new man. He wouldn’t blame you—he should have been home by now.” Then, I would say, “He will come home when he does. Will is coming home.” I saw the way they looked at me when I told them how I felt, on those good days. Their eyes would just say to me, sweetheart, idealism doesn’t change the truth and cannot mend a broken heart. No, it can’t, but idealism stands at the forefront of my mind until pessimism may find a way in. Until they say he is gone, he is not. He simply is not.
But like I said, those were the good days. Today is a different day, a day in which I dread being left alone with my thoughts. As I sit here, on the sidewalk of my childhood home, bare feet, and oversized jeans, and I stare into the cement of the street. If I don’t look up; maybe the time will go faster. That’s what I say every year on this day; the day the vans come by and drop of the soldiers from the war; stupid, cruel, war of Vietnam. Sadly, we are all daughters and sons of this war, and by that, I vow that tomorrow will not be this way. Freedom will ring.
Splash—a raindrop on the back of my neck as I stare down at the cement of the street. I brush my hand across the back of my neck to confirm the wet feeling. Another drop; yes, it is beginning to rain. It isn’t cold, even in a tank top and jeans, it isn’t cold; it is the beginning of the summer rainy season. The first rain of this heat spell, as a matter of fact.
It’s pouring. Behind me, I can hear my mother yelling at me, “Samantha, get inside before the wind gets you sick!” Sometimes, I wish she would recognize that I am twenty-one years old. Just because I am home from school doesn’t mean I somehow regress in age, back to sweet sixteen. No, mom, I am fine. Jesus, I wonder what she thinks I do when I am not here. Maybe, to her, it’s a miracle I am even alive. “Yeah, mom!” I yell back to her. I turn my face to the rainy street, “Yeah,” I quietly repeat and look down the street to see if the van has pulled up yet. Every summer I have waited for the van. It is never on time, but still, I wait until it comes. I wait, physically patient, emotionally frustrated. I wait.
Maybe this is a sign. This rain. Last summer we had this rain, the first rain of the summer heat spells, but not on the day the van came. Not the year before that. Those days I was inside, writing or reading, possibly chatting on the phone with friends back in Boston, where school is. But today, the rain comes; my jeans are soaked and you can see my green bra through this worn-out tank top. I am out here, waiting for the van in the first rain of the summer heat spell. God damn it, just let this be a sign.
My heart just skipped a beat. Breathe, Samantha, breathe; God, my heart my just jump out of my chest. I do this to myself, every time I hear those tires slow, to a stop, where the gutter meets the cement of the street. It is a distinct noise—not just any car pulling over momentarily. No, I know this one. It’s here. Maybe if I just keep staring down at the street it won't hurt as much to hear the doors open and not see Will on the other side of the van.
I can’t keep staring down at the cement, I know, but it’s comforting for this moment of anticipation. My hair is hanging in a mess of knots. The water and my jeans must weigh ten pounds by now, that I am aware of. But, I am not moving until I get a sign that it’s safe to look, safe to cross the street to the other side.
What has it been, five minutes? Oh god, I guess the pessimists were right. Would he not have gone running down the street, racing to me, had he come home today? It would have been like some celebratory embrace, like that famous picture of the nurse and the sailor after the end of World War II. We would run to each other, in the middle of my neighborhood street, our Times Square, and would embrace, passionately, in the rain. How poetic; how unrealistic. It is extremely unrealistic, and that is something that I have to come to terms with. Realism tells me he is never coming home.
Splash - what the hell? I wipe the water from my face, as it has just been sprayed from some puddle randomly. I look down into the puddle. A small, used journal lies in the water in front of me. On the front cover:
Hughes, William. U.S.Army—CA.
Will’s notebook; why are they throwing this at me? Are they telling me he died? Are they disgracing him by throwing his private thoughts in the water in front of me, hoping maybe I will forget the things they probably made him endure as the ink washes away? Do they think I will grovel to preserve the last remaining memories of the boy, no, the man, I fell in love with three years ago and still love? Do they? Do they really?
I calmly picked up the journal from the puddle, its edges already curling from the water. Please, no, don’t let these words fade. These are my last words of him, my last pictures and images from his mind to share with me. My last. “He wants you to have this, ma’am,” The officer tells me in a monotone voice. It almost makes me angry, his monotone manner.
I hear his shoes click down the sidewalk. I listen, waiting for the echo to eventually fade into nothing. The van door is opening now, I hear him getting into the van. The doors shut, the engine fires on, stuttering a little bit, probably from the water. After a few moments of warming up, I hear those shrill tires fire away and tear down my neighborhood street. Our neighborhood street, really; his and mine.
Wait—a second click? A second pair of shoes? Is another soldier coming home? Daniel, four houses down, maybe he is back. It would be nice to see his face and maybe, just maybe, he saw Will over there. Maybe he and I could sit together and read over Will’s last entries, and maybe, just maybe, he could fill in some of the missing pieces within the stories, give me a bigger picture of what happened to Will.
My heart is starting to race again; brace yourself Sammy. Slowly, while trying to manage my heart rate, I pick my head up and throw my messy hair out of my face, turning my head slowly to the left to peer down the long, empty, and rainy street.
A soldier is standing at the corner where the van leaves them. Without an umbrella he is standing there, and I am not too sure why he doesn’t start the prideful stride back home like most soldiers do when they come back from the fight. Why won’t he move away from the rain? He bends over to pick up his bags from the sidewalk. Something glitters around his neck as it is caught in the dull light of the street light above him. A long silver chain, it looks like, and a ring around it. A small, silver ring, really small, I mean small enough to fit my little fingers. My little fingers…
I squeeze my eyes harder, focused in on my glittering object, looking for some sign of confirmation. My sign, where are you? The rain, the summer heat, now give me my final piece of the puzzle—let me defy the laws of love and war, because, in reality, nothing is fair in love and war.
THERE! My stone, my birthstone, my aqua-blue colored birthstone set at the center of that silver little band, that silver little band that could only fit one set of hands—mine. I threw the journal back onto my porch so it could be under the covering of it. I heard my mother yell, “Samantha, what the hell are you doing?!” Her wrath didn’t matter now.
“WILL!” I screamed, and ran down the street to embrace him. He turned to smile at me, that smile that had been so foreign in my memories, but so familiar in this moment. “Took you long enough, Sam!” he yelled, through the rain and splashing puddles. We were both running now, making our way to the middle of our neighborhood street.
The middle of the street approaches and here we are. God, he looks so much the same yet so much older. Either way, he is still my beautiful Will, the Will I fell in love with—blue eyes, goofy smile, and all. “Nice bra, love,” he says at me, kiddingly, as I reach for the ring around his neck. This is my new good luck charm, my sign of good fortune.
I laugh. I try and tell him that I didn’t actually think today would be the day and I didn’t want to get all dressed up and set myself up for the disappointment, but all these thoughts and words mixed with this extreme state of excitement left me speechless. I can't find the words. But the words don't matter now; he interrupts me. Our first kiss in forever. Our sailor reunion kiss in our time square of California, the neighborhood street - our first kiss in three years -
I am breathing a little heavy, erratic, as I find myself waking from a dream. It's raining outside—the first real rain of this heatwave. I climb out of bed and go to the window. Maybe the glass will be cold enough to cool me off.
I press my hands against the glass, producing steamy little handprints of my little, skinny fingers. I look out to the poorly lit, wet street. I see myself, sagging jeans and green bra, kissing a man uniform that I have longed to kiss for three, long years.
Three long years I have waited. If only, if only—but I will dismiss idealist thoughts and concede to the realism within me. This is why I hate being left alone with my thoughts. I begged him, but he left me anyways.
If only, if only—but never is anything fair in love and war.