A Missed Love
© J.J. Alonzo
It is Jim’s birthday. He painfully awakens on this humid August 6th 2007 morning, startled by birdsong echoing across the garden outside and, for a long time, he stares in confused remembrance towards where the swelling orange sun is burning the faded floral wallpaper across from his tumbled bed. He suddenly remembers that Nanci went to his daughter’s, to baby-sit his sick Grandson Deven, and won‘t be back till nightfall.
he finally realizes. 'I'm fifty-nine today. Where did the years go?' It’s been a bad ten years since he was last healthy. Once a robust man, a former combat soldier in Viet Nam, Private Investigator, Thug, skip-tracer, Deputy, and Head of a Large Security and Fire Safety department. He never realized that he would be this way so young. He has been on disability since 1998.
After a long and constant fight with the Veterans Affairs, the bureaucracy had finally recognized his physical disabilities, because of injuries to his body and mind in the war in Viet Nam. He had a heart attack, a five-bypass surgery, then had a minor stroke, and lost his short-term memory. Now they are treating him for the body and mind.
‘Well at least I still have my long term memories.’
Climbing painfully from his bed, standing in striped pajamas by the window, Jim stares towards the garden. A beautiful garden that his wife Nanci has designed and maintained.
A Garden that is emblematical of the inner beauty that Nanci has. Jim is a man that has never had qualms or ever question himself about his manhood, knowing that most men would not admit it, but he would, that he loved beauty. Beauty of nature, children, horses, dogs, beauty of a woman’s voice, her eyes, and her face, of everything.
Outside in the sunrise the flowers are already awake, clematis climbs like a growing child and all the border marigolds are on fire.
The neighbor’s Leonberger dogs are barking, because they are seeing another neighbor’s cat which has scaled a fence like wall and drops beside its shadow under an apple tree, stalking anxious sparrows with the first sun. Under the broken birdhouse, a mouse plays with a nibble of yesterday's bread. Shadows shrink in bright shyness against all the garden fences and the last star melts into the rise of dawn. There is heat in the breathless August day already.
Jim, is now dressed sitting in his kitchen, listening to the sounds of. silence. The house, holding its breath around him, the roof heavy and oven baked. He prepares toast and tea and sits there, thinking, ‘no birthday breakfast for you Jim.’
Jim's thick veined hands brush toast crumbs from the wood tabletop and when he moves, his slippered feet stirs dust dances giddily on the patched carpet.
He listens to the awakening of the new day: the clock on the kitchen wall ticks hurriedly and the mail box snaps awake from his thoughts.
Jim walks to the front door, and the mail box and picks up bills and ads that promise discounts and holidays abroad.. Jim has traveled to England, Asia, but never to the other tourist places. His tired eyes examine the envelopes at arm's length. There are no birthday cards to sigh over - these days who would know?
Returning to the familiar kitchen he pulls a knife out of his pocket, and slides the knife along his letters, slitting out their folded information. It's better than nothing. Even if they are utility bills and due..
No longer absorbed in his letter opening task Jim looks at the sunlight shining blindly on his glazed, brown teapot and then, laying the bad news aside for later, he pours more lukewarm tea. He sits and thinks about past birthdays. Cakes and ale, songs and celebrations and the caring friends and relative now gone, out of touch, or dead.
'Time flies,'’ he says aloud.
He's talking to himself most days - who else will listen? Up in the still shadowed living room a clock chimes the hour and Jim rises tiredly and prepares to face the day. When he turns on the TV, the CNN news assaults his soul. The world is littered with dead children and pain. It seems that bad news entertains while the ad men slip in a jingle. The world has gone mad with cruelty and nobody seems to have noticed. He flips the remote and foreign voices cackle urgently in the Television. Talking violence in tongues, telling of the rapes of children, no doubt. The media and talking heads, loves abusing the innocent with their excited updates and urgently breaking stories. It was different back then. In the 1950’s It seemed quieter and children could play on the streets. ‘Ring- a- ring- a- rosy!’ Way back when.
Jim smiles at those memories. Then he walks, cane in hand, to the front door, he had already checked the windows, doors and the bolts, all's secure.
Jim swings open the front door and sees
Kim* standing there, smiling like sunlight.
“You must go!”, her doe like eyes wide, fear in her voice, “Boo Coo VC, and they blew up your jeep! “
He used to call her danh từ (honey). Her face said it all, the kindness, beauty, and a no nonsense strength of character. Kim back then was, twenty-two. A single woman, who lived with her elderly parents, younger brothers and sisters. She was employed by the US Army on Long Binh Base, secretary to the Company Commanding Officer.
Jim has been thinking of Kim a lot recently. She walked behind him all the way to the hushed Williamsville library yesterday. And in the late afternoon, when he sat to rest in his yard on the patio, she was standing under a tree, waiting in its shade.
The sun slides down the street and settles on Jim's house and Kim’s face fades like a startled shadow.
“My dear danh từ, Jim whispers sadly with self guilt. “Why didn’t I stay with you; I could of protected you, but you told me you and your family would have been safer with me gone. Oh how I felt. I should of stayed with you that night when the Viet Cong (communists) attacked Saigon.” ***
‘There you go Jimmy,’ Jim sighs, ’You’re getting into the ’could, shoulda, woulda regrets thing.”
However, it is not possible for any person to change the past and therefore we only have options available with us, or to live while missing our old loves, or try to find that old love.
Earlier, that same day, Nanci had left a note and instructions on shopping for food. Jim avoids the supermarket. It's too complicated. Grim checkout people urgent to get home. Kids breathing asthma. Babes bawling immediate needs. Bald headed young men pushing forward, rings in their ears, and violence in their shiftless eyes. Never stare back. Girls demanding more and pushing the morality envelope. Housewives hurrying, car exhausts, liberated women with little freedom. The exhaustion of super markets and too much choice. Too big, too modern, too many people. All too lonely for Jim.
Jim goes to smaller stores, chats with familiar people and gets milk and eggs and a small loaf of fresh bread. Further along, outside the bakery shop, Mrs. Barrett, the neighbor from number forty-seven, nods an inquisitive greeting.
“How are you keeping?” she asks, looking past him at the bargains in the window.
Couldn't be better.”
Jim drives home through the hot and humid streets towards his sanctuary, his home in Williamsville, NY.
In his armchair in the living room, looking out on the road. Hearing the clock’s ten time chime and the long day stretching ahead like a dreadful eternity. The terror of ten AM.
Nothing to do and outside he can hear children playing. There are others, hurry through the morning, sun on their heads, time on their hands.
I'm glad I'm not young anymore.
Jim despises this time of day. Already too hot for the garden and nothing to fill the mind until making something at lunchtime. Light sustenance for the long afternoon lengthening drearily ahead like an empty road going nowhere. Jim tries to read but even in glasses the words are a blur. he whispers and her name rings in his head like a tolling bell.
Jim talks with her. Their talks were always so interesting, sweet, never confrontational. His eyes close. He becomes delirious with dreaming and again hears distantly the brass door bell clattering once. Jim shuffles down the hall and when he cautiously opens the wide door Kim is there, twenty-two and lovely, framed in the sun like a miracle. Kim, budding with womanhood and child fresh happiness.
“Will you come out to talk, Jim?”
“I can't Kim. I can’t even find you. I know you are not here, but somewhere in the next life. I wish I was with you.”
Jim goes back to his chair, sitting back daydreaming about Viet Nam. There wasn‘t a day he didn‘t think about Nam, as if the war was burned into his psyche, his soul. How in Nam he drove 10 wheel and 18 wheel trucks in Supply convoys throughout the country side. The ambushes that the VC attempted, the death, the violence, the constant fear.
How he remembered Kim, and how he had first met her on June 13th, 1967.
How the company Commander had hire her, as his secretary, that she could type, spoke five different languages, and she was part French, and part Vietnamese. He remembered her waist length long black hair, her petite figure, her large brown eyes, and alabaster skin. Kim's long hair covering her tiny ears. Kim, quiet and reliable as the moon.
She was 5’tall, and 95 pounds, nicely built lady, that was dressed conservatively in a Ao Dai (ow y eye).**.
As Jim shook her tiny hand, she lowered her eyes with such a smile. When he looked into her face and eyes, He knew he was in love.
Every time Jim was in Base camp, and not in the field on convoys, he would chat with her, and she would teach him Vietnamese Phrases. She told him about her faith Buddhism. Jim became a Buddhist soon after. They became fast friends, Jim and Kim, heads tilted, it seemed that an affection was drawing them closer and closer. As time went on, they talking, laughing, a pair apart from others. In love? They never spoke of it then.
“Will you love me forever?”
'Forever and ever,'
Jim asks Kim silently. But he says aloud, “I really like you.”
Kim assures, squeezing his hand. Jim dreams.
One day, months later, there was a Thanksgiving dinner at Base camp. The Commanding Officer Lieutenant. Best, insisted that Kim stay and learn about our customs, and enjoy the special Turkey dinner that was being helicopter in. The CO planned on Kim spending the night with him, but found out that she was not one of those ladies. She was an aristocrat, from a well to do and powerful Vietnamese family, and turned down his offers. Being an Officer and gentleman, he didn’t push it, but now it was nightfall, and he had to see that she get transported to her home, in Saigon which was 21 miles away, over dangerous roads infested with Viet Cong.
The Lieutenant had no interest in driving her home alone over the roads at night, because the danger was threefold now that it was dark. So Jim and his gunner JJ Jackson was assigned by the first sergeant who had no love for Jim.
“Alonzo!”, He shouted, “You like to sneak off to Saigon and get drunk, so get that gook broad home, and return ASAP****, or I‘ll court martial your fucking ass!“
Jim smiled, because the first Sergeant had been trying to catch him for months, sneaking off to Saigon at night, but the sergeant always seem to miss his chance to catch him.
Jim remembered JJ getting the Gun Jeep, and securing a M-60 Machine gun on the Gun Mount, and loading his M-16.
As Jim loads his weapons, thinking that the Lieutenant was a coward. Kim walks up with the Lieutenant Best, and says to Jim,
“Will you be taking me home?”
Jim feels only half married. (He had married Nanci a year before, back in the USA.) He wonders if in war, is there permission to sin.
“Of course,” says Jim, bowing, ever the gentleman.
Jim remembered that night, the long dangerous drive, ever vigilant, the humid heat of the tropics making sweat trickle down the back of his shirt. But Kim look comfortable, beautiful face forward. Her hair was blowing from the wind, and Jim could smell Jasmine scent from her hair.
J J’s Eyes wide, scanning the roads and terrain, sweat on his chiseled ebony face. A face that sat on top of a 6”2” 180 pound body. The heat is still stifling at 95 degrees, and humidity just as high.
When they arrive in the city limits of Saigon, it is like stepping from one dimension to another, from total darkness, into the bright Las Vegas lights. The noise of the hustle and bustle of the city. It took an hour to get through the streets, and to her home in ‘Cholon’ They parked in the rear of her house as per Kim’s instructions. It was not good if the communist Viet Cong saw the vehicle. Kim got out of the jeep noticing that Jim and JJ didn’t move.
“Don't you want to come in and meet my parents?” Kim asks
“I can’t,“ Jim replies, stomach churning, burning.
There is a sadness that takes over Kim’s Face and eyes. Tears well up in Jim’s eyes. Eyes red with pain. Soul seared by love.
“Kim, we have to go.”
Clock chime. Ding. One. Ding. Two. Et Cetera.
“No. I don't want you too” She says with her eyes.
Jim was trying to be brave and final, but he felt he was only cruel as winter, by not telling her the reasons, even if he knew the reasons..
My darling gone for evermore!
Jim struggles from a dream speaking her name into the listening shadows.
The pitch dark shadows silent as love words from dead mouths. Marble graveyard lips, cold as stone. Ivy and moss. Memories haunting his present. Jim shivers and steps into the window sun. Rubs his thick veined hands, he sits and meditates. Later he makes lunch. Tomatoes and lettuce. He dreams the day away - half out of life. On the radio a woman sings ‘Four Last Songs.’ You don't have to know the language.
‘Such sweet sorrow.’
Hours later, a seat in the garden looking towards the singing sunset. There is nothing to see except Cardinals, blackbirds and sparrows; nothing to hear except the noise of butterflies' wings.
Even later, late at night, the clock in the living room chimes twelve heartbeats. Night comes hot and bothered. Nanci had already come home and after supper, went to bed.
Proof indeed, you can live in a house with someone and still be lonely.
Climbing into his side of the King size bed, Jim turns off the sidelight and watches the shadows huddling against the floral wallpaper. At night, the nighttime house creaks with its own age, and Jim thinks of burglars and imagined home invasions, and the controlled violence that he plans for the perpetrators.
He keeps a pistol between his mattress. There is a weapon in every room hidden.
Stars look in at his smiling face. A hot August moon in the open window. Soft as silence, quiet as apple blossoms falling, gentle as Kim’s dimpled smile. In his dreams, Kim's same smile standing there by his bed. Lovely Kim, waiting.
“Do you still love me ?”
“Yes! Dear sweet
“Be patient danh tu, soon. And we will happy. Soon you’re your life span will end, and we will be together again!”
Forever and forever.
*Vietnamese names generally consist of three
(Nyguyen Thị Khiem)
** "Ao Dai" is the traditional dress for Vietnamese women. Developed from Chinese court clothing in the early 1900s. "Ao Dai" is considered to be an elegant, yet demure, garment. Traditionally, long, wide- legged trousers are worn under a high-necked, long-sleeved, fitted tunic with slits along each side. The outfit’s pants reach to the soles of the feet, often trailing along the ground.
danh từ - yes!” Jim says “I can love you now, Kim, If you like. I have finally found you.”
**** ASAP-As Soon As Possible.
*** The Tet Offensive was a military campaign conducted betweenWho said that?Jim despises this time of day. Already too hot for the garden and nothing to fill the mind until making something at lunchtime. Light sustenance for the long afternoon lengthening drearily ahead like an empty road going nowhere. Jim tries to read but even in glasses the words are a blur.
“Happy birthday, Em noy, (Sweetheart in Vietnamese).” Kim Says.
No longer astonished, Jim smiles back and sighs because he knows Kim isn't really there. He hadn’t seen Kim since the TET Offensive 1968, back when he was 18 years old, in Viet Nam, when they had been lovers. She and her family were killed by the Communist insurgents that last night he was with her. She had woke up at the same time Jim did, when they had heard an explosion, and gun fire. He remembers her getting up and while putting on her robe over her naked body running out of the house. He remembered getting up and getting dressed as fast as he could, and picking up his weapons, making sure they were loaded. He remembered her coming back into the room, and telling him,