Up shit’s creek, Joe had no choice but to enlist and go to Vietnam. “Where you probably smoked a ton of pot,” said Lynn.
“Well, yeah, there was plenty of that. I was just a farm boy from Iowa. I’d never been anywhere before. I guess you could say I grew up in Vietnam.”
“What did you learn about yourself there?” I asked.
Joe turned his blank eyes on me. “That I really didn’t like authority. I was terrified the whole time. All I wanted to do was go home.”
But to Joe home did not mean the family farm and his father, who was perhaps the most frightening authority figure in Joe’s life. He didn’t know where he wanted to go after Vietnam. From one day to the next he wasn’t sure if he’d survive, so the thought of life in a safe, secure, peaceful place was hazy and golden. He met his buddy, Lloyd, in the army, which was one good thing that came of it. Another was that the army sent him to college once he returned from Vietnam. They’d discovered his flair for mathematics and enrolled him, as an enlisted man, at the University of Virginia, where he spent the next four years.
“Where’d you go after that?” asked Lynn.
Joe turned his dead gaze on her and blushed slightly. “MIT, where I spent another four years.”
“Still in the army?” I asked.
Loosely affiliated? What the hell did that mean? Somehow I knew better than to inquire. Anyway, Joe changed the subject. “Enough about me. What do you do?” he asked, dead gaze still on Lynn.
“Oh, I’m just a mom,” said Lynn. “My eldest married Nicole’s son a year ago, but Nash keeps me pretty busy. He’s got that mathematical flair you talked about.”
“Yes, I sensed that,” said Joe. “You know, you have the same voice as a woman I once knew. Are you from New Orleans?”
“Yes,” said Lynn.
“So was she.” He hesitated. “Do you mind if I feel your face?” His voice was a little husky. Lynn said she didn’t mind at all and got up and sat next to him, so he could run his fingers over her cheeks, nose, forehead and chin. She kept her eyes closed while he did this, but I, of course, had my eyes wide open and watched Joe’s expression as he explored the terrain of my sister-in-law’s physiognomy. (We call each other sisters-in-law, not having any other word for our relationship.)
How did Joe look? As if he were falling in love. As if he wanted to weep. As if he couldn’t believe the architecture of skin and bones revealing itself beneath his fingertips. I cleared my throat, moved to be witness to the rapidly rising emotion in Joe’s countenance, even the eyes that were no longer blank and dead, but filled with nostalgic tenderness. “Who was this woman you once knew?” I asked.
To be continued…
Cover photo ~ https://hiveminer.com/Tags/nostalgia,sleep