Wednesday, November 11, 2009

To The Better Man

This is an excerpt from a piece I wrote November 25, 1991:

I waited forever. Night and day. As I stood behind the yellow ribbon marking off the large grassy area, I was still waiting. In the past eight months, I 'd watched the world go to war and endured one of my own too. On that cool, cloudy August afternoon, it was hard to believe the waiting was nearly over. I frantically watched for the greyhound buses to appear around the corner with the Marines of the 1/24.

It was hard to believe we had all stood here months before, on a sunny, cold December day. That day started this long journey. That Tuesday, we put the men on the buses and watched them drive away. Tommy watched me from his window, signed "I love you" and was gone. We passed through Christmas. We passed through New Year's. We passed through Easter. I sat through those months watching war on T.V. along with millions of other Americans.

We passed through the first day of summer. By then, many service men and women had returned home. Then when it looked like the 1/24 might return, Mt. Pinatubo in the Philippines erupted. The guys had been stationed there since April. For three weeks we heard nothing. No letters. No phone calls. Everyday I watched the news coverage of the eruption -- for a possible glance of Tommy. Their base was decimated. The jungle surrounding the barracks disappeared, replaced with mountains of debris and ash.

One early Sunday morning the phone rang. It was him. I started believing I'd really see him again. At the same time, I wanted to lie down and sleep. Summer was long, and hot and slow.

And then it came. He was coming home. I felt cheated. He would appear as instantly as he had disappeared, and I had no power over any of it. I'd barely accepted his leaving and now he was coming home. I realized then it had nothing to do with me, or what I wanted to change. That was irrelevant. I could never be master. This was life -- the thing I'd been saying I was ready to take on. It had taken me on.

Standing there with hundreds of other people under the dark clouds of that August day, it began to feel like we were just going to wait and then go home. And then the greyhound buses appeared around the corner.

And they were there and people were screaming running toward the yellow ribbon the guys were getting off the bus and being dismissed people broke through the ribbon everywhere they were running and yelling out names I couldn't find him I yelled his name Tommy Clark! Tommy Clark! his sister calling, "Can you see him?" Tommy Clark! seeing the back of his neck his beautiful tanned neck Tommy! slamming into him crying laughing kissing face in his neck smelling it dreaming all this time of that smell him picking me up and walking away from the crowd and family all around grabbing for him his father crying taking pictures and laughing hard deliriously hard crazy with joy.

War is an ugly thing, but not the ugliest of things. The decayed and degraded state of moral and patriotic feeling which thinks that nothing is worth war is much worse. The person who has nothing for which he is willing to fight, nothing which is more important than his own personal safety, is a miserable creature and has no chance of being free unless made and kept so by the exertions of better men than himself. ~John Stewart Mill