|Stanley M. Fried|
I walked to the Viet Nam War Memorial. The day was appropriate: the light was gray and a soft mist hung in the air. Only a small sign denoted where it was in that grassy park where Lincoln and Washington are honored with monuments. Only a small sign pointed to the gash in a knoll that honors so man. When I reached the site, I: looked up the name of my friend Kenneth Earl Baker, Jr; wrote down his date of birth his place of birth his date of death. I did not have to write where it was he died.
Walking along the pathway that hold close to the polished granite panels where letters have been carved to spell out the names of those who died or are missing-in action in Viet Nam... Walking until I descended into a place where names reached os high they could not easily be read... Standing there looking at the number of names... The number of people... The bodies attached to those names... I walked on to panel 45-E. I looked at line 53. It was quiet.
I noticed some flowers on the ground in front of the stone panel placed there by someone else for someone else. A look back to the name on the wall. I stared at the depth of the hollow of the letters...at the way they were cut.
The memory of three years with Ken: the separations, the comings together; what his body felt like and his scent. Nearly twenty years had passed yet, at that moment, I could recall the sensation of his lips on mine. It was a remembrance of that time of our discovering what was possible between us physically and emotionally. Neither of us had been in love before. It was a time of realizing our potential both together and alone. It was a time of sharing: our youth; our first experiences with another; our first experiences with women; a time of learning to smoke, to drink; learning to love. It was a time cut short without the possibility of ever knowing what may have ever happened.
There was the memory of our arguments, our fights, the difficulties we had. This was there. As was the look in his face as we said good-bye when he left to go to Viet Nam. There was the feeling we would never see each other again. We spoke of this, Ken and I. He knew he would die. I could not tell him that I knew I would not see him again. It was a feeling we both shared. It was a memory now. All the memories at once pushing at my mind and my emotions. The letters we had written. The letters carved into that wall. This... This was final.
There was only that letter that was marked deceased. There was only that letter that told me he was dead. No one to write or to call. I did not know his family somewhere in Texas. There was only a letter returned marked deceased. No one to tell. No one knew Ken and I were lovers. I had lost a close friend from school is all they knew. No one ever knowing how close a friend he really was. Twenty years and I still missed him. Twenty years and I still missed the way he smiled the way he held me the way he talked. Twenty years stared at that name on the wall. Twenty years of never truly accepting what stared back at me now. Deceased. Ken was dead.
Two teenaged boys nearby searched through the names on another panel distracting my thoughts. The older one cired out, "Mom! Over here! I found Dad." The younger one began to cry. His brother held him. A woman of my age came close. Her back straight. Her lips taut. She walked up to the panel and reached out her hand. Her fingers brushing across the letters of a name. I watched her for a moment. I looked to Ken's name. There was no one I could approach to hold or to touch. There had never been anyone. The woman looked at me. We both were crying. I turned away.
The desire I had to be close to him before either of us knew what would happen between us. The feelings that developed until it could have happened no other way. The touching of his body. His body touching me. The seeing him again after we were apart. His countenance.
He stood in the doorway. I stopped at a phone both while driving to work to call in sick that day. He stood in the doorway in a t-shirt and boxer shorts: regulation from the military. I knocked on the door where he was staying. He called the night before to say he was in town. We had been writing each other. Now, he was on his way to the war. I knocked and I waited. The door opened. He stood in the doorway. We were cautious with each other. I was dressed in the white uniform of a hospital worker. I could not wait until evening. I had to see him. Wanted to see him the night before but he had plans with other friends. I said I would see him after work. I could not wait until evening.
He stood in the doorway tired. He welcomed me in. We sat for a moment talking. It was early. The sun was still rising from the dark. He said he wanted to sleep. He had been up late. He said I should join him and we would talk later. I laid down next to him on the bed wearing my t-shirt and boxers that were not from the military. Both of us in white on a white sheet covered by a white blanket. We looked at each other without touching.
We talked. I was overwhelmed at being so near him. I told him that I still loved him. He moved to me gently and kissed my lips then pulled his head back so I could see his eyes and told me that he loved me, too. We did not speak. We touched. We kissed. The morning moved slowly for us. There was time for us. There was only time that morning for us together with each other giving pleasure to the other. Then there was no other for a time. There was only the being we became together.
Sleep. Then his movement stirring to wake me. Together. Sleep.
Waking again to see him watching me. Later, waking to watch him awaken. We were in that morning forever. Now a name on this wall.
I walked away going up the pathway passing more and more names until I was away from that place. I sat on a bench in site of the Memorial and watched the posture of people change as they descended that path into the flood of names. Through a gray winter mist, I watched as people entered and left this sad place each with their own memories unshared. This is an honest monument to what really happens in war: people die.
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