What If: Vol 5-3
Midafternoon on this day
the young man
drove to Talman Avenue,
stopped in front of Susan’s building,
looked at her bedroom window,
drove to the corner,
made a U-turn,
passed the building without a glance,
went east on Peterson,
north on Ridge,
east on Howard until he found the building,
put three pennies into the parking meter
and walked through the door of a one-room,
“I’ve got to take a test?”
Tapping the eraser end of a pencil
onto the desk-set blotter,
The young man looked about the sparkling clean office:
Centered on the wall behind the desk were two flags:
one, the Stars and Stripes;
deep blue with a gold,
Between the flags was a picture of President Eisenhower.
Hanging on the wall were photographs of ocean-going vessels.
On an easel to the left of the high-sheen varnished desk
was a large poster of a sharp-prowed ship
slicing through mountainous seas.
“So, you in?”
Straightening his back.
“Yes, Sir, I’m in.”
“Good. You won’t be sorry.”
Opening the top drawer of the desk,
Chief Petty Officer Brian Walters removed a sheath of papers.
“We do the paperwork here,
then tomorrow you go to Civil Service downtown
for the physical exam and written test,
and if you pass ’em both—”
Walters looked at the young man over his glasses—
“and I can’t imagine why you wouldn’t
you’re in the United States Coast Guard…
You do know the term of enlistment is four years?”
Four years away from his home.
Four years away from his family.
But he could not stay here!
He could not stay in this close proximity to Susan
and not be allowed to see Susan,
to love Susan.
He could not!
Chief Petty Officer Brian Walters said.
“Name: last first;
then middle initial.”
What If: Vol 5-4
Finding it all but impossible to sleep on this
his last night at home,
sleeping but a few hours,
awakening before dawn
the young man felt the anticipated loneliness
as a factual weight upon his stomach…
as a factual weight upon his heart.
With hands crossed behind his head
he stared into the shadowy darkness until
daylight mottled the ceiling and walls.
Coming off the bed,
sitting on the floor before his dresser,
taking it from the bottom drawer,
holding the luxurious folds of the
cranberry-colored cashmere sweater
tightly to his face he closed his eyes
and the emotion of the past four months,
along with the knowledge that in two hours
he’ll be leaving his home and all that has he loved
ripped through him as dynamite upon a floodgate and,
sitting cross-legged on the cold linoleum floor
with the softness of Susan’s sweater tightly held against his face he cried.
He cried until there were no tears left to cry,
then replaced the cranberry-colored sweater into the drawer.
Lifting himself from the floor,
going into the bathroom,
he brushed his teeth and washed and shaved.
At 6:40 a.m., five days after taking a physical exam and a written test,
after signing papers and swearing to defend the United States of America,
the young man gave his car keys to his mother,
and after tearful hugs and kisses goodbye to her and his brothers
waving goodbye from the curb,
his canvas bag held in one hand
and a manila envelope containing
indoctrination papers in the other,
the young man was driven to Union Station by his father.
Waiting for the call to
they stood at the same platform that
four and a half months ago
he had stood
when he awaited the train that was to take him to
Rochester for the entrance exam that,
brought him back to this exact place,
at this exact time.
The father and son waited in silence.
Each smoking a cigarette,
both tried to think of appropriate
words to say to each other.
Dropping their cigarettes to the concrete,
grinding them beneath the toes of their shoes.
“Yeah, Dad, I guess…”
as though pushed by some unknown force,
their arms about each other
the young man felt the roughness of his father’s unshaved cheek
as, his eyes moistening,
“Dad, I love you.”
Saying what he had never said,
“Me, too,”the father said to his son,
“I love you, too.”
Breaking the hold of their arms,
“Take care of yourself.”
“I will, Dad.”
Turning from his father…
but turning back,
giving him one last, fast hug,
he saw something he had never seen before:
his father’s eyes were bloodshot and watery…
without looking back,
he ran to the train,
up the steps and into the coach.
The train left Union Station at 8:05 a.m.
To be continued
©March 25, 2012 / Mark M. Lichterman
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