Tag Archives: brown university

Meeting Alan – A Veterans Day Memory – 2015 – essay

Stars and Stripes

Stars and Stripes

How Alan and I met is a short, surreal film. Walter Reed Hospital, January, 1970. Walking through miles of connecting corridors to find his ward. Once there, (in the older part of this hospital), two long rows of beds, his the last on the right; and, he was asleep. I waited in the solarium adjacent to that ward, just around the corner from his bed. Another injured vet rolled his wheelchair ’round the corner.  He had no legs, missing just above both knees. He had a soft, Southern drawl. We talked, on and off, for almost an hour. Every once in awhile he’d wheel back, check and say, “No Ma’am, he’s still sleeping.” He and I were about the same age.

I was visiting, unannounced and completely unknown to Alan, delivering several copies of the Brown Alumni Magazine, in which was a beautifully written article by the Editor, Robert A. Reichley, about Alan and a fellow alum, both of whom had served in Vietnam, had been wounded, and wound up next to each other in that ward in Walter Reed.  The other alum had since been discharged.  Alan’s people were far away; and, he was alone.  I also brought the review copy of a first novel, My Main Mother, written by another fellow alum, Barry Beckham.  At that time, I worked for that magazine; and, my former spouse (a visual artist) was having a show in DC.

Just the walk through the corridors continues to be singularly memorable. Too many wounded. Not enough beds. Broken men, bandages, various body parts missing, unexpected sounds, unusual smells. As a younger woman, I made eye contact, said “Thank you.” and kept asking for further directions to get to that ward.

After he finally woke up, Alan and I talked for over three hours. We have sustained our friendship since. Operations. Healing. Law school. First marriage. More unexpected injuries from a lawnmower and a flying rock. Children. Divorce. Second marriage. Children marrying. Grandchildren.

Alan and I talked several days ago. We recalled (again) the circumstances of our first meeting and all that’s happened to each of us since. I recalled that piece I told him I would write once I got just the right words to describe the quality of light at the time he was hit. I mentioned it was finally finished. He didn’t even ask to see it. He knows he will.

There is no pain in these memories.  There is nothing but love, honor, and respect.

This, also, goes out to my mother, Helen, and my father, Mahlon; both of whom served in World War II.  Dad was awarded the Purple Heart. I have both their flags.  Until we meet again…

The Cambridge Poem

T H E  C A M B R I D G E  P O E M ~ #poetry

 

Commencement Address – Class of 1990 – The Cambridge School, Weston, MA

 

Give your regards when you go to the reunion and at the dinner,

say that you were thinking about them     They’ll, eventually, recall

your name; you went to the movies with that one, felt the weight

of their life when they sat next to you – they never said a word

 

All of you are rising friends: one used to play the piano, one once

wrote a play, one even seemed awakened enough to photograph the

fields as the unencumbered with tutored minds and unrehearsed passions

 

Meet them at the door, they’ve brought the souvenirs of time; a seashell

from the Pacific, the nose of a marble saint, and from the field

a spent casing divulged from the flower bed

 

Face a rising world bearing its gifts in its hands, kiss your incidental

dreams – rise, move away, take others

 

Give your regards to the well­-protected; you knew them, you went

to school together     There’s something to bury when you begin

to move away     When you are ready and rich in your wish for the

world, you have a new race to start

 

From the heart of this darkened quadrangle, I hear the library

hum, an immense chorus of writers murmur inside their books along

the unlit, alphabetical shelves; each one stitched into their

own private coat, (you will have to write your own) together forming

a continuous, enormous breath of language

 

I picture a figure in the act of reading, shoes on the desk, head tilted

into the wind, a person in two worlds, holding the nape of their neck

as another’s life saturates the page; or, in the middle of a thesis,

moving from paragraph to verse, touring endless rooms (you will have to  write your own)

 

I hear the voice of my mother and father reading and inside their

voices lie other, distant sounds

 

 

I see us reading ourselves away from ourselves, straining in circles of

light to find more light until the line of words becomes a trail

that we follow across a page and you will have to listen hard to

hear the voices going away (and, you will have to write your own).

 

 

© 1990 Jessan Dunn (DeCredico) Otis