Saturday, June 12, 2004

To Gordon

What difference does it make how Gordon died
or who he was? It’s all the difference in
the world to me. I called him shipmate and
a friend. We were two aviators in
a class in Monterey. I’ve learned that Life
is not so cruel as those who once were friends.
My friend, how many times have you and I
conversed one-sided, drinking late into
the night? While one discoursed profound,
the other slept until the drink caught up
and turned the situation ‘round. How oft
did we replay this cycle through a night?
How many times would you prod me awake
in class and I’d blurt out, “I AM awake!”?
How many times did we work out our rage
and our frustration playing racketball
until our shirts our shorts our shoes were soaked
in sweat and neither one of us could breathe?

You played a trick that turned into a long
revolving joke. You’d planted in my bed
a bra I intercepted when a Wife
returned with me from Christmas break; I found
the bra before my bride had such a chance
to find this sign of infidelity.
We sneaked the bra into the glove box in
your Vette. You found it, nonetheless, before
a date one evening might discover this
suggestion of your aspirations, clear
revealed. So thus began the saga of
the wayward bra appearing at odd times
and places unpredictable for years.

My wife and I pulled off a stunt on you -
we sneaked a kitten in a basket once
into your car; and we got back a cat
when you got orders to the Philippines.

It hurt to watch your luster fade while you
worked there between the joy of flight and crush
of drudgery for seaweed eaters lost
in purgatories of their own washed up
careers. When you reluctantly let go
a life we both had loved in Naval Air,
I shared with you a sadness born of change.
One weekend out of San Diego I
dropped in on you, and we dined out ‘til late.
Next morning at the Club, while we drank beer
for breakfast, Alameda lost a jet
too heavy off the runway to sustain
sufficient lift and left a broken “Whale”
beneath salt water on the rocks in San
Francisco Bay. The A3D consumed
its crew and fiercely burned until it sank.
The plane confirmed the name the pilots all
had given: All 3 Dead because there were
no rocket seats, no way to bail out
but down – no exit at low altitude.
We heard the engines’ take-off roar, the thud -
more shudder felt than noise heard - the Crash
Crew sirens’ wail. I felt a sadness then,
the shadow of a prophesy that this
event portended. This black pall of smoke
that hovered over Alameda rode
me back to San Diego. Gordon, I
was unaware how like that hapless Whale
you were. Your wounded wings and fuselage
on rocks in water without depth enough
to swim back out to sea and yet too deep
to walk back to the shore, you drowned while I,
with all my Search and Rescue training, could
not save you. No one builds a helo that
can pluck a damaged soul from broken dreams.

The Navy done, you went abroad to fly
big jets for foreign airlines, hoping for
an opportunity to come back home
and fly domestic in the U.S.A.
As you pursued a new direction, I
continued mine; and we lost touch.
With no address, there were no letters, cards,
no news of new adventures, loneliness,
of triumphs or of failures or fears.
I hoped one day to recognize your voice,
“This is your Captain speaking, ...” overhead
my seat on board a flight somewhere, and we
would send a brown-bagged bra up to the front,
instruct the flight attendant, “Tell him
‘This token’s from a shipmate in his past.’ ”

Some ten years hence, again in Monterey,
I sought and found a link that might
connect us one more time. I called and spoke
to one who would protect and isolate
a fragile friend. We did, however, talk;
and you told me that you had ARC
and did not want your friends to know. I told
you then that it was more important
now than ever that we visit you.
I only knew we had to see you soon
before this illness dashed you on its rocks.
My family and I drove up to see
how you were getting on and let you know
we cared. We shared some memories and laughed;
and when we left, we hugged. You told me that
my children’s hugs turned you into a long
lost uncle reunited now, at peace.

That afternoon with you became for us
a highlight of that year in Monterey.

A few months afterwards, a letter I
had sent returned with sanguine hand-stamped cold
inscription “Addressee unknown”. I knew
your fight was done and told the envelope
that it was wrong - you simply did not live
there anymore – the tide had set you free.

Copyright 2004 by Pete Freas.
All rights reserved.
Reproduced by Poetry 360 with permission of the author.

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