Speak of Me Kindly
My brother was asleep on the couch in the living room. The TV screen was still on and showed a shapely blond leading an aerobics class. It was later than I thought. I went into the kitchen, poured a glass or apple juice, and lost it.
It was over.
There was no doubt left in my mind.
That meeting was as final as it could have been.
I was too distraught to sleep, so I washed my uniform, ironed it, took a shower and packed. If I could catch an early train downtown I might reach DC by noon and catch a Space Available flight out that afternoon.
My mother came down stairs about 6 a.m.
“So, Brian...do they know you’re up here?”
“Well...not really. It’s a little gift to me. It keeps me sane to see Colleen while I await my separation orders. Although, to judge from last night...ah nothing.”
“What happened last night?”
“I think we broke up?”
“I’m not completely sure. Fate. Different backgrounds. Different plans. She’s not ready to be as serious as I am.”
She looked at me plaintively.
“Give her time. She’ll come around. Wait for her to make up her mind and don’t pressure her into anything.”
“Yeah ... like you gave Dad all the time in the world to come around and he never did.”
The words were out before I had time to think.
She was hurt but didn’t show it.
“Don’t ever compare yourself and Colleen to your father and me. We’re old with our lives behind us. But you and Colleen are just starting out. Young girls sometimes have difficulty making up their minds. Just give her time. What time’s your flight back?”
“Uh...this afternoon if I can get back there.”
That wasn’t true but give my mother an opportunity to worry and she’d take full advantage of it.
“Then we’d better get going. Let me get my make-up on.”
She drove me down to the Ambler train station and kissed me good-bye and dropped me off with, “You come from good people. God protects us. You’ll be fine. Pray for me always.”
I got my stuff and walked into the terminal. Right away a woman came over to me and started to unload, mainly due to the uniform, I guess.
“I had an uncle in the Philippines who was in the Air Force. My father was in the Coast Guard. I had another uncle in the Navy who was killed in the Pacific. Then I had an uncle who fought in France and one who fought in Germany. I must have had at least five uncles killed in that war...
It went on like that for an hour until she pulled a sheet of paper from her pocket, gave it to me and said, “Do you know where this is?”
I looked at it and it listed “Love Brokers Motel” at 14th and P, the hooker district.
I used to live two blocks from there because the rent was cheap.
“Yeah...I used to live right near there.”
She smiled wide. “Can you show it to me then?”
She leaned against me and winked.
“No, not really. I’ve got a flight to catch.”
“What time? Maybe you still have enough time to show me where it is, huh?”
She winked again.
I never was any good at being real blunt with strangers, but fear came over me in a big way. I began to see her as part of a team. No doubt her love broker was two seats behind waiting to put a knife in me for my wallet. We’d been warned at OTS about what easy targets men in uniform make because chances are they’re travelling alone and they have a lot of money on them and they’re lonely.
“I’m sorry. There’s no way I can miss this flight.”
“Who needs you anyway, Kid. See ya when you grow up.”
With that, she stormed away. I saw her later when I took the Metro to the Pentagon to catch a bus to Andrews. She’d cornered some businessman who no doubt was willing to pay the price that I wasn’t.
The flight back was smooth. I caught a flight out that day and thought about what had just transpired the whole way back. It was over, but hope springs eternal in the hearts of young men, so I called Colleen a couple days after I returned when it looked as if my real release would come through in a few days.
“Colleen...do you want to drive back with me from Florida?
I should be able to pick up the tab with my final pay.”
“Do you really think we should after all we said?”
“As friends ... that’s all. Nothing involved. Just enjoying the ride back.”
Her voice grew distant.
“Let me check with my parents. I’m not so sure they’re going to like it.”
She was correct about that as I learned from the next call.
“Brian...my father took me into a room and had an hour talk with me. They’re completely opposed to the idea because they think it will cause scandal.”
“But we’ll sleep in separate rooms.”
“It doesn’t matter. They’re right in that it doesn’t look good.”
I spent that call and several other calls trying to convince her otherwise, but her mind was set. Still, I got the feeling that I wasn’t getting the whole story, so I gave her friend Beth a call one night. Beth laid it out more clearly.
`“Hey Beth...I know you’re never supposed to ask a friend about a friend, but how does Colleen tell you she feels about me?”
“Brian, I’m tired of all the bullshit between you guys. The fact is that you love her and she doesn’t love you. That’s what you’ve got to realize. Does that make any sense?”
I felt like a bullet had shot through my heart. In all its truth, it finally came home to me. “Yeah...I guess somewhere had I’ve known it all along, but I’ve had these mixed signals coming to me so I went will1h the ones that offered hope. Why I don’t know.”
“It’s not all you. I’ve told her time and again to be honest with you about her feelings. And she tries. But she says that every time she gets near you it doesn’t happen. Maybe hearing it from someone else win bring it home to you.”
“It does. Christ!”
“Will you be alright?”
“Yeah. I’ve been through these things before. Thanks for the info.”
I hung up the phone and the numbness of the truth struck me like a Mack truck. I put it away and concentrated on my out processing from the Air Force.
My out processing when it came through finally the next day, happened at a rapid clip. I signed dozens of forms, attended several debriefings, had my military ID shredded, and I was free.
I loaded up my red Triumph Spitfire and took to the road.
Rural Georgia and Alabama began to cure me of the pain. The easy going manner and simple conversations at each gas station and country store reminded me that my life was too complicated, that the rhythm of the earth is what really matters and man is a mere visitor on this earth.
In Atlanta I stopped at Stone Mountain and caught the largest laser show in the world. On 14,000,000 square feet of white stone were set ablaze each night on top of a huge carving of Lee, Jefferson, and Jackson.
When Dixie played the entire crowd sprung to its feet and began yelping and screaming. Here were people who celebrated defeat in a defiant and exuberant way, claiming victory from disaster’s that happened over a century ago.
There was a lesson in that.
Above Atlanta I caught the Blue Ridge Parkway into the Great Smokey’s and the mountains of the Carolina’s. From atop each Appalachian overlook the stunning beauty of the scene below made my current predicament tiny indeed.
Somewhere in those mountains I gained back a strength and belief that had been sorely tested the past months. The dignity of each mountaintop, the soft beauty of each ridge, the hardiness of the people who lived there reminded once again of the source from which it all sprang. I smiled again easily for the first time in weeks.
I arrived home to the news that my aunt died in her sleep.
The first day I was home, my mother walked in the door from work. I had the phone in my hand with my cousin telling me my mother’s sister just died. I had the task of letting her know and she collapsed. Later she told me she had had a dream the night before where her sister visited her and said, “I can’t do it anymore. You’ll have to take over.”
It was painful the next few days with the funeral but it provided perspective on the end of Colleen and me. Death puts everything in perspective, including the end of a love interest.