in a gloom of clouds
dogs under the bed
in a gloom of clouds
dogs under the bed
small brown wren
singing from a dogwood branch
never humming the chorus
on the bedside bible
a white shroud of kleenex
Of note, the holly tree is covered in blooms and for the first time in years, it is also covered in bees. Halleluja, little fellas.
I got a call last night from Bob’s stepdaughter. She said he had been found dead in his upstairs bathroom the day before. He had shaving cream on his face and was wearing a pair of boxers, the razor was in the sink and a thin stream of water was running. He had literally dropped dead. They suspect a brain aneurysm but won’t know for sure for another day or two, but that’s what it sounds like to me too. I told her how sorry I was and what a good man he had been. She had been pretty much raised by Bob and he had been a good father to her. I told her how lucky she was to have had him in her life and to let me know if I could help with anything. I hung up the phone and just sat on the couch — no tears, just stunned disbelief.
I had sat on the edge of the tub in that very same bathroom several times watching him shave. He was heavily dosed with Cherokee Indian blood and it was hypnotic to watch him scrape the white lather off his face and reveal that dark, toasted-pecan colored skin. He was 56 when I met him in 2004 and he did not have a single strand of white in his crow-black, thick, shiny hair. His eyes were large dark brown beads, hemmed in by more wrinkles than his age accounted for. He was 6’1″ and kept himself fit having lived a lifetime as a small city/big town police officer. He had served in the Navy during Viet Nam and had come home to attend dental school. The county sheriff quickly grabbed him and convinced him to try law enforcement. It was a life-long partnership. He stayed in the Navy Reserves, as well.
I first got to know Bob in November 2004. His stepdaughter asked me if I would write to him in Iraq. His two sons had not contacted him since he had left and he was getting a bit down and she was worried about him. My son had served in Iraq and she knew I corresponded with other young men who didn’t receive a lot of mail. She was particularly worried about him getting through the holiday season. Of course I said yes. A boy in my son’s unit had committed suicide while in Iraq, despondent over his girlfriend’s infidelity and the harsh reality of war.
I stopped at Walmart on my way home from work and picked out several military-themed “atta boy” cards, packs of jerky, powdered energy drink mixes, fruit cups, candy, deodorant, disposable razors, and a couple of cheap DVDs. Cool Ranch Doritos were at a premium in Iraq, according to my son, so I bought two big bags. I went home, dashed a message on a card, including my email address, sealed it, stamped it, put it in my purse for mailing. I put everything else in a box with another card enclosed. Next day I mailed everything and went about my business. Every week I’d send a short note in an atta boy card and never thought I’d hear back from him. For every card or letter I sent overseas, I might get one reply out of ten cards. Troops are busy people.
About three weeks later, I get an email from Bob including pictures of his tent, the gunboat he patrolled in, and a picture of him and two buddies. Nobody had mentioned to me how cute he was. But even then, in those first pictures, cop eyes stared out at me. Flat, opaque, expressionless — even though he had a big smile on his face. I came to learn a lot about the peculiarities of police behaviors.
We became chatty email buddies,learning about each other. I like baseball, he liked football. His alcoholic mother had taken his brother and left when Bob was 7, leaving him with an emotionally distant father. He never forgave her. My parents were decent but uninvolved. He had been married three times — two years to a high school sweetheart who divorced him after Viet Nam, a long stretch with two children to my friend’s mother, and a very short disastrous and financially draining marriage to a beauty half his age. Just once for me, thanks. And it went on.
The first phone call was by satellite phone. I was charmed by his soft Carolina accent. I would make him say over and over, “Brother may I please have a dollar?” It made me smile every time he said it. There were two or three phone calls a month after that. We got closer and closer. It’s hard to believe that lovely voice is gone.
Christmas was coming and I sent him lots of boxes with homemade goodies wrapped in bright papers. I sent him pictures of me with my first grandchild and he replied “I love redheads.” He sent me a gold necklace with my name written in cursive and a gorgeous framed quote written in Iraqi. I asked him what it said and he said he didn’t know, but probably something like “all American women are she-devils.” It was, however, very beautifully written in shades of brown, brightening to gold.
Months went by and things became comfortable. In March he called to say he’d be home in early May and we started to plan our meeting. He had never been out west so we decided to take a three-week cross country drive. I had a new car and he had active military ID for discounted hotel rooms and restaurants. We bought tourist books for out-of-the-way destinations — a diving pig in Texas, corn field mazes in Nebraska, etc. We bought a discounted National Parks entrance pass. We were set except for one thing.
Several times in our conversations, he had talked reverently about a hotel in the mountains of North Carolina. When as a child, he and his father went camping, they would drive by this beautiful white building hanging from the side of a mountain, a grand hotel. He always imagined what it would be like to spend a night in such a fine place. He recalled it being near Boone.
I hit Google.
As a surprise, I booked our first two nights at the totally renovated resort. It was very beautiful and old fashioned. When I made the reservation, I told them it was for a returning Iraqi vet. That first night in the dining room, the manager came to our table with a bottle of champagne and announced to the other guests that Bob had just come home. People came over and shook his hand, with a “Welcome home, soldier.” He was technically a sailor but why quibble with good intentions. It was a wonderful few hours. After supper we took a long walk through the gardens and down to the edge of a river. Even though we both knew what was ahead, we stretched the evening out as long as possible. If there is such a thing as picture perfect and meeting expectations, it was those few hours.
But I get ahead of myself.
(To be continued – posted as The Trip)
running fast on cement…
in her ear
my little dog
big fat clouds
big fat baby toes clouds
oh I want to bite them
I gathered up
the dove’s body.
a small group
asked to accept
I was grateful.