We all know about The Wall, the Vietnam Memorial in Washington DC. I never toured anything in DC.
The last time I was there, it was to attend my brother’s naval retirement ceremony. I had contracted the flu, a gift bestowed upon me by my seatmate, during the flight from Seattle. The only thing I saw on that trip was my brother’s basement.
This visit would be different. I arrived Wednesday night and planned to accompany my brother on his drive to work Thursday morning. He would drop me off at the Lincoln Memorial. I could spend the early morning hours walking the length of the reflection pool and visiting the war memorials.
Initially, I thought the early arrival was to accommodate my brother’s work time. I came to learn, quite early, that the reason he deposited me at sunrise was to avoid the crowds.
The sun had just broken the horizon. The first rays of dawn found me standing on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial to turn and capture the reflection pool and the Washington Monument on film.
The Reflection Pool At Dawn
The park was hushed and quiet for one brief moment. The sun brought the rush of birdsong. The vibration of the distant traffic on Constitution Avenue rolled across green, undulating grass.
I wanted to see the Vietnam Memorial. I heard someone I knew in my high school years lost his life during that conflict and I only half believed it to be true. I wanted it to be not true.
I was sixteen when I started dating Floyd. He was a senior and I was a Junior. I recently had my heart broken for the first time and I wanted to be with someone who was safe and someone who would not hurt me. That was Floyd.
He was a curly, honey haired boy with round cheeks and a soft body. His nickname was “Fluffy.” Primarily, he made me laugh. I don’t remember when we actually started to date. I remember one date, besides his senior prom.
We went to a drive-in. The thing I remember about that date was that Floyd returned from the bathroom very excited. He was overjoyed to tell me that he had discovered the purpose for the little flap in the front of his underwear. I was hugely embarrassed in the face of his jubilation. I think this was the beginning of the end for Floyd and me.
I went to the graduation barbeque given by his family. I remember Floyd taking me into his bedroom and asking me to marry him. He was eighteen and ready to marry. The idea scared me to death.
Floyd was nice and sweet and kind. We had fun together. There was a group of three and sometimes four of us that hung out together between classes and during lunch. I liked Floyd but I wasn’t anywhere close to being in love with him, let alone viewing him as marriage material. I was only sixteen!
On the heels of the underwear incident, the proposal scared me enough to break things off with Floyd. He proved difficult to get rid of. He kept asking to see me. I kept saying “no.”
Since he had graduated, avoiding him at school was a moot point. He was not there. This was my senior year and I was one month from graduation.
On a sunny, California Saturday in late April, I lay in bed and heard a car drive up in front of my house. I peeked out the window and saw Floyd’s Dad’s car at the sidewalk. Even though I knew he could not see me, I scrunched back down in bed and pulled the covers over my head. I heard the knock on the front door.
Shortly after, Mom tapped her fingernails against my bedroom door.
“Floyd wants to see you.”
I groaned and buried my head underneath the pillow. ”Tell him I’m asleep.”
I heard the front door close and watched, from the bottom of my curtain, as Floyd walked down the sidewalk to his Dad’s car and drove away.
“Whew.” I breathed a sigh of relief just as Mom stuck her head back into my bedroom.
“Floyd says he was drafted and he is going to Vietnam. He said he is going to get killed and he wanted to tell you goodbye.”
I wish I could say I reconsidered and contacted him. I can’t. I didn’t.
I headed for the memorial. I walked a wide, asphalt path through the trees, remembering Floyd and my mistreatment of him. I took my time getting there. I could see the Wall rising up ever higher as I approached.
A motorcycle cop passed me and stopped at the entrance to the walk that leads past the panels of the memorial. He took long steps and made his way to a specific panel. He stood there for a moment then headed back to his bike. He gunned it alive and drove away. All that time, I stood under the cover of the trees, watching him and smoking a cigarette.
The Wall From My Hiding Place
At the west entrance to the memorial, there is a box on a pedestal. The box is closed on the back and sides but open in the front. The top is Plexiglas. Inside the box is a large book. The book alphabetically lists all the names on the Wall. I sighed and put my hand inside the box, flipping the pages to the “R’s.”
Floyd Irwin Robinson, San Jose, 28E 105
My stomach dropped and tears came to my eyes. My God Fluffy, you really did die over there. I am so sorry.
I am sorry I didn’t get out of bed and tell you goodbye. I am sorry I didn’t offer to write to you while you were gone. I am sorry I didn’t marry you for that brief moment in time. I am sorry I didn’t make out with you after the prom. I am sorry your innocent sweetness is gone from the earth and I wish things could have been different. I wish I could have been wise and compassionate but I was just a teenaged girl suffering my own adolescent angst.
I walked d0wn the path in front of the panels, noting the address of each one. From the other direction, a high school class was grouping around an adult man. This man held a framed plaque high above his head and spoke of the young man to whom this plaque was dedicated. He said this young man was just like you, romancing his girl friend, working on his car, thinking about his future.
The man placed the plaque at the foot of the panel and moved on, the class stringing behind him talked among themselves of other things. I spotted my panel through legs and moved the lagging students aside with my arm and a polite “excuse me.”
There he was. Dead at nineteen. Blown to pieces on a distant battlefield and memorialized with his name on a granite wall.