He walks into that store bigger than life in that uniform with his stripes and ribbons and teeth. Bigger than life. She is standing behind the counter waiting on a customer whom she immediately forgets when he picks up a book of matches and a pack of Lucky’s. She gazes at him through that grinning haze, grinning back doe-eyed and stupid, unknowingly looking right at her own end. There are twenty-two reasons she should mind her own business and stay in school, but she can only think of fourteen. Math has never been her strong suit and the eight year difference means nothing to him.
She fills the cradle he’d robbed and the debt was somehow paid, but the innocence is lost forever. She matriculates through a new school, learning to cook and clean and nurse and wash and love and cry and obey. Obey. Hard liquor brings hard times to hard headed hopefuls. She obeys. Diapers and dishes. “Please… don’t ask me how I fell against the door. We are fine and everything’s OK. Everything’s going be OK in the end.”
Nineteen and a mother of three and still looking for Daddy. She looks hard into his heart for somebody like her Daddy, with tender hands to hold her and faithful feet to bring him home each night. The hands and feet she obeys, this good soldier’s wife. “This is love”, she says. “Please, God. Let this be at least love.”
A new war in a new country for the same old reasons. Almost a relief; a respite for her. “The children are enough. More than enough,” she hopes. Her oldest starts to school and he’s so bright and shiny and new. Surely all good men begin this way.
He is at war. She is reborn. But he will return and the peace will end.
They Love Lucy and hate Khrushchev and are ambivalent, at best, about each other. The boys are growing up and growing restless in the tiny house. He is one of General Motors’ most faithful soldiers and a new Cadillac will surely make her happy. Overtime and over-kill over nothing worthwhile further erodes the chasm each happy hour he is at the pub. He smells of perfume. She perseveres. “Surely, my Lord,” she prays, “there is refuge in Camelot.”
Her Baby graduates Valedictorian from high school. His senior trip is a tour of Vietnam. The oldest is in med school; the middle one is in rehab and the nest is empty. A house of straw, really; shallow, brittle, and weak, with her little piggies gone. Just her and the wolf now. She attends church while he huffs and puffs his Lucky’s down at the pub. First Martin, then Bobby, and last Baby are taken. His flag-draped coffin comes home just before Christmas like some patriotic present. Before the year’s end, her father dies, too. It is a black winter.
She is forty. Her hair is starting to grey, her eyes to dim, but she is resolute—she is not yet old. This is the space age and we can still win in Vietnam, she believes. For Baby’s sake, we must win. Her oldest is remarried and this time “for good”. “A nurse certainly understands the demands of a doctor”, he says. The younger brother is in Nashville and is definitely going to make it big. “RCA any day!” he writes. Their father gets a promotion and the future is looking bright. “I knew you’d be fair, God” she says, “In the end, I knew you’d be fair.”
“Come to Grandma!” she pines as the little one toddles forward, the progeny of his silent musical father. Grandpa is away again on business and the doctor is chasing a new wife; a new life. Her own mother is now gone.
Lucky’s emphysema somehow surprises him. He retires early and stays at the pub all day. She has a teenage grandson to raise and can think of little else. The doctor calls to check on his Dad and says to let him know if he needs anything. She says she will.
Forty-nine years of marriage ends in a fit of wheezing and frothing. His funeral is simple; the doctor and grandson are there. Brother is nowhere to be found.
The empty house is clean and quiet; no one to bother her now. The doctor calls cheerfully at Christmas. “All is well”, he says. “We’re all doing fine.”
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