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Now the war had carved a personal wound. Donald was dead and what remained of the abstraction of the distant war was abruptly made concrete. TV shots of flag-draped caskets that I’d ignored before now made my eyes water and my throat close up. I hadn’t even thought about Don going to Viet Nam. I’d taken for granted his dream of becoming Captain Whitten, the airline pilot.
But as my family and I joined others at the Bitumen Church of Christ for his memorial service, I learned that the Air Force had had other plans. Two years before, Donald’s name came up for the draft, but he’d been offered an opportunity to train as an officer in the Air Force if he volunteered. I’d been living in the isolation of the trailer park at the time and knew nothing of these events.
His choice may have kept him free of malaria, mud, and booby traps, but it didn’t save him from a North Vietnamese surface-to-air missile. It knocked him from the sky in the first week of January 1970.
Now his family and friends met to honor his memory. Donald himself was present only as a large portrait photograph mounted on an easel near the pulpit, flanked by sprays of flowers. His remains were still en route from the other side of the world, to be buried with appropriate honors in Arlington Cemetery.
I sat silently with my mother and father in the fourth pew, behind Donald’s relatives. Some had flown all the way from California. There was none of the joking and handshaking that goes on at the funerals of the elderly. This was the death of a promising young man at the dawn of his adult life. As we sang Abide With Me and listened to a dozen cadets from an Aurora military academy sing The Air Force Hymn, I thought of the three months I’d dated Donald. I’d gone bowling with him and his friends, necked with him in the theater, and happily been his date to the prom. Then came the evening in Kings Grove, and the glorious music he had played with his tongue, my body his instrument. But his unexpected behavior afterward had surprised and humiliated me. I’d broken off with him and taken up with Mike Perez. These decisions made sense to a naïve teenager, bursa escort but I’d since had plenty of opportunity to regret both.
I looked at his pretty, red-haired wife, Angela, in the front pew, holding an infant not a year old. That might have been me, a widow with a new baby to raise without a father. She wasn’t from around here, and I wondered if she had family to help out.
After the service, we lined up in the aisle to offer our condolences as we filed out the door. When my turn came, I took both her hands. “Angela, I’m so sorry. I used to be RoseAnn Grady. I knew Donald. I was a good friend of his in high school. I even dated him for a while.”
She looked up at me and smiled faintly. Tears had run makeup over her cheeks, and attempts to wipe it away had only made it worse. “RoseAnn Grady? Donnie told me about you. Won’t you come and visit tomorrow? I’m staying with the Whittens.”
I was a little apprehensive about meeting with her. What had Donald told her? What did she want from me? Nevertheless, next morning I stopped by the Whittens’ for coffee before returning to Chicago. I sat and chatted with the members of Donald’s family. Some remembered me from the brief period when I’d dated Donald, so many years before. I answered over and over the same questions about my divorce from Mike.
Donald’s son was named Andrew, and I held him in my arms for a while and thought I could see Donald’s smile in the infant’s face. Through the baby’s eyes, I could look into the great abyss that the loss of one person could open up in a family. Donald’s sudden death half a world away would reverberate through this family, perhaps for generations. Where would be the father to teach Andrew to ride a bike or swing a baseball bat? How would he grow up without Donald to show him the ways of men?
Angela led me into a bedroom. She took a manila envelope from a dresser and handed it to me. “I wanted to give these to you,” she said. “I suppose Donald saved them for sentimental reasons. I found them among his things.”
Curious, I reached into the envelope and drew out the first items I touched, two photographs. bursa escort bayan One was a formal portrait of me at 17, and the other, the picture of Donald and I taken by the photographer at the Senior Prom, more than six years ago. Even though I’d removed my heels for the photo, I stood six inches taller than him.
“You should have them. There’s more things in there, too. More personal.”
“Thanks.” I felt tears in my eyes and dropped the photos back into the envelope. I didn’t want to look at the remaining items in Angela’s presence.
“Sometimes I think he was still in love with you,” she said. “More than once, he said your name in his sleep.”
“I don’t know why. Once he was sure I’d broken it off, he never tried to contact me again. There’d be accidental meetings in the street or the grocery store, but we never talked. Just ‘hello’ and ‘see you later’, very respectful. I was married just four months after I broke up with him.”
There were other things about him I felt compelled to ask about, but this was the worst possible time to do it. I told myself I could live a contented life without ever knowing. The best way to honor his memory was to keep what I knew to myself.
We looked awkwardly at one another for a moment, until she said, “Anyway, you should take those things. They’re yours, really.”
I reached and held her. She felt so small, and smelled faintly like tomato soup. I held her for a few minutes while we both sobbed.
I drove Craig’s ageing car back to my parents’ home, planning to change into more comfortable clothes, eat some lunch, and head back to Chicago. The day was gray and cold. Occasional flakes of snow blew across the road. I looked at the gas gauge, which was below quarter-full. I also had to remember to pick up a couple of quarts of oil when I filled up.
I turned the corner to my folks’ house. My stomach clutched when I saw Mike’s Gran Fury parked in front. I should have guessed my mother would set something up, even at a solemn time like this.
I parked in the driveway, took two deep breaths, and marched inside. I was prepared to be furious.
He escort bursa unfolded from the couch, rising to his full height. “Hello, RoseAnn.” His voice was gentle. I could barely recognize him with the neat haircut, blue suit and tie, and polished leather shoes. He was so handsome. For a moment, I could only stare in astonishment.
“How are you, Mike?” Unbidden, my words came out soft and sexy. I glanced at myself in a mirror, astonished at the seductive smile that had blossomed on my face.
“Well, don’t just stand there gaping,” said my mother. “Come and sit down. Coffee?”
“I just filled up with coffee at the Whittens’, Mom,” I said, as I hung up my winter coat. “Mike, why the new you?”
He made a crooked smile. “I’ve been called up. Bad luck in the draft lottery. Wouldn’t you know, my birthday was the second one drawn.”
“I’m glad you remember.” He smiled. “I’ve got to report in three weeks. At least I get time with friends before I go.”
“But the suit? The haircut?” I’d never seen him dressed like this. Even when we were married in the courthouse, he’d only worn a clean tee shirt and new jeans along with his scuffed black leather boots.
“I’ve just been to a memorial. You wouldn’t want me wearing biker boots to church, would you? Anyway, I was way in the back. You didn’t see me. And the Army’s going to cut the rest of my hair off soon anyway.”
I shouldn’t care what he wore, but I said, “You look very handsome, all dressed up like that. You didn’t even own a suit a year ago.”
“I guess there comes a time when a guy has to grow up. I want you to come over and see what I’ve done with the house.”
“I’ve got to get back to Chicago. I don’t want to drive it after dark if I can help it.”
“Just come and take a look.”
My mother piped up. “Go on. You were going to leave now anyway. A few extra minutes won’t matter.”
I shrugged in surrender. I stuffed my things into my travel bag, kissed Mom and Dad, and followed in Craig’s car as Mike drove the half-mile to his home. The first thing I noticed was the coat of fresh white paint on the trailer, and a rail added to the steps. But though the afternoon clouds hung low and dark, there were no lights on inside.
I got out of the Studebaker. “Is Cheryl home?” I asked warily.
“Come inside and I’ll tell you about it.”
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