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…