Skip to main content

Norfolk, 1969

ISSUE:  Spring 1986

He remembers the heat, the first summer in Norfolk, the summer of ‘69. He remembers the way it felt as it radiated from the steel decks, rising so fast that it pulled the breath out of his lungs. He remembers bringing it home on his uniform like the smell of paint and fuel oil. He remembers the withering lindens on the median strip of Military Boulevard, watching them through the shimmer as they struggled for life and air. He remembers those days at Virginia Beach, when the heat pushed them to the edge of the sea like a ribbon of survivors running from the flames.

And he remembers the day they arrived, young, frightened, as if the possibility of going to war was nothing compared to the certainty of calling this place home. They were lost on those miracle miles, returning helplessly again and again to a Pontiac dealership like hikers circling in unvarying woods. They drove past shopping centers, garden-apartment complexes, bungalows with brown lawns, all of them locked tight against the hot air like shelters sealed against biologic attack. They did not need to ask each other How will we survive here? They were sure they would not. Each time they completed a fruitless circle he could feel the accusation rise—this, out of all the alternatives, this is the choice you made. This is Norfolk.

They drove in silence, no longer entirely sure of what they were looking for. They kept believing one of those strips of tar and concrete would lead to a downtown, something familiar like a white meeting house with maples and elms, a regular town with a friendly spot to drink iced tea and gather their wits. They’d planned this—kept thinking on the long drive down to Cape Charles that even when they arrived in Norfolk there would still be this buffer, this time alone. But there was no center, as if the City of Norfolk was less the reason for these traffic islands and power lines than the result of them. Finally they ran out of time and asked a man where the Navy base was, and he laughed and made a 360 degree gesture. She cried, and when he, in his alien white uniform soaked with sweat, reached over to comfort her—she cannot have forgotten this—she ripped off his shoulder board and threw it into the back seat. He panicked: how could he, an ensign of two weeks, report to his ship with a sleeve ripped to the armpit? Then they both cried.

They cried again, four months later, gripping each other in bed the morning the ship left Norfolk. Six, seven months apart—the thought had been catching them at odd moments for weeks. He would make a plan for a weekend and suddenly realize that the date fell into the black hole. Looking forward, they felt like cartographers writing Here There Be Dragons at the lip of the earth. Maybe they can be faulted, now in 1986, for their terrors. He wasn’t going to Vietnam, wasn’t even going to the seas of Vietnam, but to the Mediterranean, to Naples, Barcelona, Athens, and Tangier, to Majorca, Marseilles, Malta, and Toulon. Physically he would be in no danger, but there were dragons awaiting just the same.

The USS Jupiter departed Norfolk on October 1. When the tugs came alongside, and the last line was cast off, and when, in turn, the tugs cast off and the Jupiter worked her way through Hampton Roads and through the narrow breaks of the Chesapeake Bay Bridge-Tunnel, and out to sea, Ens. Charles Martin, USNR stood at his appointed detail on the fantail, supervising something unintelligible. He watched the froth of the screw etching out a slender line to home until somewhere back it began to break and was reclaimed by a smooth surface that had been disturbed for a second or two without consequence, without change. He thought of Becky, and he wondered.

During the first few days, the sea and the shipboard world of order and purpose infused the career officers and petty officers with an almost childlike energy. The cruise, the chance for adventure and career advancement, rough seas and sheltered ports—these were the things that occupied their private thoughts. In little miserable groups Charlie Martin and his new friends ridiculed the spluttering excitement the lifers could not conceal. Did you see the captain when we cast off the last line? they asked. He had an orgasm. Boo hoo, said the executive officer to Charlie when he walked aboard after a last kiss on the dock. It was not meant unkindly. He said, Sailors find other pleasures. But you chose this, Charlie wanted to say. It’s your career. He wanted his superiors to know how much he hated, reviled, rejected this voyage, these politics. On land it might have meant something, might have hurt, the way those scenes of protest and rebellion on the six o’clock news bore into their hearts like dental bits. But here, now, underway at sea, they were free.

During those months, awaking to men in khakis and dungarees, passing those long hours in a steel room, closing out days at vigilant watches on the black seas, he grieved for her. At midnight, in the hushed chatter of the bridge lit with red bulbs and radar screens, lulled by a gentle swell and the vibrating hum of the propellar shaft, 500 men asleep under his feet, during this most private time he gave everything to her. Like turning the pages in a picture book he recalled her in every mood and every place they had ever shared. During slow watches passing like tortoises, he would keep awake by reconstructing every detail of their first ten dates—what they said, what she wore.

As perfect as his memory was for these details, they were not enough to keep her whole in his mind. Two months out, perhaps even one month, she had become foreign, a vision no longer completely believable. How strange it became, to think that in this world were people with soft cheeks and slender waists, people who would wear clothes printed with lavender flowers and dancing cats. Sex one never forgets, but the loveliness of hair and the delicacy of wrists, these become melodies missing all their notes. When he read her letters, they gave him joy, but it was her girlish script that fascinated him—concrete archaeological proof that another civilization, now lost, had once covered the earth. So he read her letters thinking more of the female hand that wrote them than the news, the details, the inner thoughts. And if, at that, he missed something, something big, perhaps it can be forgiven now.

Maybe he should have cleared his head with the whores that waited in every port. Some of his friends did. The first time they came into Naples—Jupiter’s Mediterranean home—the ship almost stank of male expectation. As they passed Ischia and Capri, Naples was still hidden by yellow clouds and Vesuvius was nothing but a dark lump in the south, but he had been told what to expect. At the pier there were lines of them, ready in white boots and leather minis as if the U.S. Navy had called each of them at home and told them to expect Jupiter by three. As the men stepped out of the launch in a line one by one, they were joined by a partner like ushers and bridesmaids walking up the aisle. In the bars and nightclubs the girls were more circumspect, waiting while the sailors finished the first drinks, waiting until they’d widened the circle to permit one more chair, and then another. By midnight the Campfire Girls came out to the streets, gathered in small clumps at each corner lit by bonfires burning on the sidewalk; in the early morning there would be piles of ash like broken camps on a battlefield, and then the water truck would come by and hose the residue of lost nights into the gutter. But Charlie Martin spent his time with pasta and Verdi.

Sometimes the helicopter pilots would invent a reason to fly to Rome for an overnight, and the XO would indulgently look the other way while Charlie and his friends hooked a ride. They’d take a pensione room together just like on ship, showering and dressing like high schoolers, and then go out to tour the Forum, eat overlooking the Tiber, and finish the evening drinking beer at a sidewalk cafe on the Via Veneto.

They would pretend to be conversing until one of those elegant, cosmopolitan women—no whores here, they thought—would happen, just happen to glance over and the three of them would stiffen wondering, Does she know I am alive and full of need? Would she notice me if I asked her for the time? Even then Charlie knew they were pathetic; even then he understood that three young seminarians would have gotten into more mischief than they did, young and free in Rome separated from vows with pockets full of money.

One time Jupiter stayed out at sea for 56 days. That was the time they left for Barcelona and ended up off the coast of Lebanon. There was a crisis on, and the Kennedy had left Norfolk with no warning at all. There may have even been some danger, but no one on Jupiter would have noticed if an errant Israeli missile took off the stack. Every morning at five-thirty there would be a new line of ships ready to come alongside for frozen meat and spare parts, and they’d keep coming until dusk. During the night, inside a steel shell darkened to wartime conditions, the lights blazed; through the night the crew opened the holds and refrigerators and prepared the orders for the next day. In the wardroom, given over to cafeteria-style against all tradition, twos or threes of reserve officers would look at each other stupified, each face wondering how it was, just how it had turned out that they were there at all. In college didn’t they have other plans for their lives? Charlie hoped against hope when the engineers said, if number two evaporator craps out we’ll have to go back to Norfolk. He listened eagerly as the supply officers said it won’t be long now—the holds are almost empty. And then one morning, standing off in the mist, was not a destroyer or an LSD but a refrigerator ship, loaded in Norfolk and crewed by men who didn’t mind at all a quick three-week trip to the Mediterranean in the middle of winter. How jaunty they sounded on the radio telephone as the ships steamed alongside, Jupiter’s holds filling once again; when they unfurled their precious banner saying “We Deliver” and played “Carry Me Back to Old Virginny” on their loudspeaker as they sailed away at the end of the day, even the captain swore at them. That’s how tired they were. And the next morning at five-thirty Jupiter waited low in the water as the destroyers and LSDs began their approach.

So it was 56 days before they came back to the old Italian home, and there, as always, the whores waited. The one that landed by Charlie’s side was new and didn’t know not to bother. It must have been his exhaustion, but she seemed prettier, different, as if he had indeed found the one whore in Naples that a lonely sailor should marry and take home to Iowa. Together they walked up to the Galleria, and she asked him to buy her a gin and he did. The waiter brought her water and charged him 4,000 lire, and he drank coffee and smoked cigarettes, and she waved her hand the direction of Pozzuoli and pointed to herself smiling saying mia casa, and he said New Hampshire and pointed to himself. At that moment he would have filled her purse with lire, dollars, Marlboros, Rolex watches if she would consent to buy a nightgown and come with him to the Ambassador, let him watch her comb her hair, and then crawl in beside him to fall asleep. He would have slept for 20 hours, and she could hardly have minded. But when, at last, she said Fun? to him he was too slow, and she went off angrily, not even trying to be discreet when the waiter handed her a thousand lire bill.

Whether Becky wanted it or not, when Jupiter finally turned for home after eight months, Charlie was unspoiled. They passed through Gibraltar at night, and the next morning, out of sight of land, the work on the ship stopped. They shuffled some papers and stood watches, but there was no need for deception. Jupiter’s men had worked as hard as the U.S. Navy knew how, and the work was done. The engineers and supply types, whose normal places of duty were the engine rooms and holds, came up to the bridge and clustered around the chart table, perusing those arcane scribbles with unusual interest. They stood on the wings for hours, staring west, freely distracting the watch from the vigilance it had been reborn to follow. Without much danger of running into anything a thousand miles at sea, Charlie and his friends could relax. Those college boys who a year ago had known absolutely nothing about ships at sea but in the past eight months had spent so many many hours maneuvering around merchantmen, fishing boats, and points of land, who had often late at night calculated nervously the distance it would take to stop the ship at All Back Emergency should it ever be necessary, these could suddenly thrill at the forward momentum of the huge mass, not caring if it plowed past Hampton Roads and came to a stop somewhere west of Richmond.

On the way over Charlie Martin had been too angry and miserable to notice it, but a day out of Gibraltar something began to happen to Jupiter and the men on her. The farther she plowed toward the center of the ocean the more an elemental soul asserted itself, as if all the steel and electronics and steam boilers were facade, an illusion that had concealed a primitive open boat at the heart. Each day she sailed deeper into the past. By the first evening she had left behind the yellow, dying waters of the Mediterranean and was surrounded by clear seas full of life. Five hundred miles from Gibraltar, Charlie saw seven or eight Cory’s shearwaters, sailing stiff-winged at the wave tops, crossing the bow and proceeding toward some indistinguishable, watery landmark. He could not have foreseen it, but suddenly so unified with those birds sharing the sea, his head went dizzy, and he felt the disorientation of man’s first flight on natural wings. He flew with them until the specks disappeared. Three days later he sighted the funnel of a ship just over the horizon, and its smoke, ugly and black at the source, looked in the sun like great full sails. The captain ordered a course change to come closer, and Charlie waved and dipped the ensign in response to a surprisingly smart salute from such a small steamer. Both ships stopped engines, and for a few minutes they bobbed in utter harmony with each other and with the sea. It was not so unusual to encounter other ships, but here Charlie understood for the first time why Ships Spoken were recorded in whalers’ logs with a tone almost of rejoicing. The crews of the two ships lined the sides, staring and waving. The signalmen, volubly conversing in a language all their own, clacked off messages with their lamps and brought down to the bridge a greeting from a Libyan captain that said, Wish of good weather to American Navy.

So perhaps it wasn’t so curious that this same American Navy that had seemed to be the cause of such pain, gave Charlie the most sustained feeling of joy that he had ever experienced. For it was during those ten days that a bursting lump of ecstasy settled in his chest and kept him breathless. For Becky! he thought, and he said to himself that it was this return, this love, this person so desperately missed that opened his heart. But he was not telling himself the truth, just as he did not tell her the truth during those last days in Norfolk. Charlie Martin had fallen in love, given an unfaithful pledge to this voyage now almost done, to the sea and— how he would have maligned the thought eight months earlier—to his ship. It was as if everywhere he went he found parts of himself like pieces of brass polished and smoothed by his own hand. None of the anguishes of the age, none of the compromises that had been forced upon him, none of the political confusions in his head mattered anymore. The sea— that was what mattered. And the unexpected majesty.

How clearly he remembered the day they returned to Norfolk. The watch sighted Chesapeake Light a little before six, in the mist, so perfect in time and place that it seemed a ghostly product of the navigator’s black arts. As the sun rose a storm petrel found them, looking like a barn swallow as it perched on a voice tube and crapped quietly on the deck. Charlie had the watch that morning, but the bridge was cramped with sightseers; the night before, the radiomen picked up the first commercial AM station and the XO piped it all over ship. He could not help feeling disjointed by the new sounds, the unfamiliar names being used so casually by the disc jockeys. And through the night he listened to that station with something—how could there be room in his brain for such rival forces—like sadness, even when the thought of Becky welcoming him home made him cry with relief.

He had no trouble spotting her on the pier; he didn’t need a turn with the binoculars being passed from hand to hand. There was a dense crowd of women and children. It was the variety of colors that struck him first, the screaming pinks and purples, violent yellows. After the more somber dress of European women the gathering could well have been mistaken for a troupe of clowns. Overweight wives in pantsuits held up infants with American flags taped to their wrists; a large family displayed a long banner saying Welcome Home Daddy. Several of the chiefs’ wives, veterans in the event, had brought aluminum lawn chairs and had taken their privileged places in front like a line of police barricades. There was a band, unusual for a mere supply ship, but provided out of respect for such a long time out of port.

She was standing apart from all this, disgusted—how clearly he could see that on her face—with the circus and determined to keep this moment private. He loved her for that even as he wished, for this one moment, that she could forget how she hated the Navy, that she could welcome him back as the Sailor’s Wife, that strange and precious creature he had created and been living with throughout the voyage. He knew that there was joy behind her look, that the sullenness of her wave was not for him, but as the other officers on the bridge—all of them suddenly equals—pointed out their shipmates’ wives and families, they were silent about her.

They were nervous when they met. She sat in his office preoccupied as he signed the last leave papers for his men. There was a strange echo in their voices as they drove home, a hollowness to the mundane chatter that, after so long, seemed outdone by the waiting. He gave her presents— Spanish leather, French perfume, a folding chair of Italian design—with the feeling that he might have been thinking of someone else when he selected them. And their first lovemaking was tentative, as if they were afraid of finding changes or the fingerprints of others. But they both knew these first few hours could not be otherwise, and in the evening, after they had settled onto a tiny square of lawn— the harsh western sun having set behind the gas station next door—they began to say real things, began to reclaim bits of the time apart, and they were happy.

The voyage done, Charlie resumed his episodic life in Norfolk. The ship went into the dry dock a week after they returned, and with the exception of regular nights on duty he worked the orderly hours of the businessman. He had plans stretching out for weeks with no fear of week-long training cruises or unscheduled runs to the Caribbean. Together they shopped at the malls, ate bad food at the local steak house, selected movies at the five-screen movie theater. They were modest pleasures, but they represented a normal domestic life and Charlie pursued them with zest. They passed an afternoon in those acres of car lots posing as serious shoppers, selecting air-conditioned Cadillacs, Bonnevilles, and Lincolns for test drives. They returned to Virginia Beach in those large boisterous groups that leave solitary bathers feeling unloved. They went to performances of the Norfolk symphony that began each concert with the National Anthem, everyone singing like baseball fans.

This was Charlie’s Norfolk, the Norfolk the Navy had created, and, at first, there was nothing to make him think that Becky might have found something different. But one night, a few weeks after the return, she suggested they go to a new place, a small coffeehouse she had found in a part of town he’d never been before. A coffeehouse? In Norfolk? He was surprised at the thought, and stunned when they walked into a room full of tiny tables with a guitarist singing, “Don’t Think Twice.”

Here was just the spot that, before the long voyage, together they had longed for, a memory of life in Boston that together they had mourned. He could not possibly imagine why she hadn’t taken him there earlier, even the night he landed. But then something unexpected began to grow inside him. They sat at a corner table, and when his eyes adjusted, when he saw long hair, bell bottoms and beads, he tried to feel secure, but did not. The protest songs—songs he knew well—and the congenial and knowing laughter from the crowd: these too rubbed against a confused nerve. He felt cramped there, as if that crowd had taken the measure of his tattered and unsatisfactory edges and would soon begin to snip them off with pinking shears. She looked at him nervously—she knew instantly something was wrong—asking if he wanted to leave, apologizing each time the waitress slammed into his chair as she delivered orders. No, he said. It’s fabulous. How did you ever find it? But when they finally stepped out into the night air his relief was overwhelming.

In the days and weeks following she unfolded to him the rest of the Norfolk she had found. She showed him a bedraggled, secluded Victorian neighborhood that felt like the village around whose walls a city had grown; there was always music from the windows, Sister Corita banners and Gods’ Eyes in the windows. The streets were lined with VW minibuses painted purple and old Volvos half disassembled. They shopped at a unisex boutique run by a tranvestite named Irving, who clothed him in bell bottoms, tie-dyed shirts, fringed leather vests which today, appearing in footlockers and cardboard boxes, make him laugh out loud. She showed him a community scattered across the city, head shops brazenly nestled between supermarkets and 7—11 stores; it was a minority culture, but confident, vibrant, undeterred by the heat. And Becky, like a conductor on the underground railway, knew every stop.

She showed him the people who had made this community. One by one—a chance meeting on Mowbray Arch, beers after an opening at the museum—they came into his life, and by degrees he began to understand. It had surprised him, during the first few weeks when they gathered for parties with Navy friends, to hear the women talking about her, slightly hurt and slightly peevish, as a stranger. Charlie had developed a very lonely picture of her solitary life, returning home after work to the apartment, cooking something simple, playing records. It made him sad. The fact was that this picture was accurate but not complete. There had been no lack of people in her life. They were artists and Old Dominion University professors, newspaper reporters working on the novel, hippies plotting disruption at the Navy base, black sheep from old Virginia families, a few pleasant but confused souls who didn’t know what they were. They lived in the attic apartments along the Arch or in feminist communities in Chesapeake. They gave parties in studios and warehouses, smoked marijuana and made veiled references to LSD. And they lived in a place far, far away from the U.S. Navy.

If anything about himself during those awful days had been relaxed and sure, he should have embraced these people. They were so like him in so many ways. Perhaps if they, at the start, had been warmer to him his life might have turned out very differently. Becky denied it angrily, but his return from the Mediterranean was an irritation to them and his presence tolerated only because of her. She was their den mother, their strength. She was the star for them; he was a previously undiscovered and barren asteroid that occasionally dimmed her light. They were kind enough in making him welcome to the general activities, but when the talk turned serious they saved everything for her and nothing for him. Half the time he spent with them it seemed someone was whispering into someone else’s ear, or sharing knowing looks, or disappearing into other rooms. He could gain a passing audience when he, a Navy officer, harangued most vehemently against the war or when he showed disdain by being indiscreet about military secrets. They’d listen, congratulate him for wisdom, and then patronize him into nothingness. Becky saw him struggling to be liked and to like, and she tried to help. But she never quite overcame, as much as she tried, a sense in his heart that in these temples of the sixties she agreed that her husband Charlie was unwashed.

At least, that was how it all seemed to him. Oh, he understood only too well how perversely he was resisting her new life, the exciting new places and captivating new friends. But one night with the group, toward the end of the summer, largely ended any deception. After dinner, sitting down to the obligatory and self-congratulatory marijuana, the conversation shifted to a backpacking trip in the Shenandoah that someone was planning, and they talked for a time about quiet communion with nature. And Charlie said that actually this was something that he had experienced rather strongly at sea. He talked of the swells and the storms, the play of porpoises, the sea birds he had learned to identify and love. He tried to describe flying with the shearwaters. He talked about the fraternity of running lights in the dark, ships passing in the unquestioned knowledge that here, on the ocean, man and his ships are not intruders, but subjects accepted and ruled by natural law.

He knew he had gotten carried away: it was the first time since he’d met them that he really believed he had something to share on an equal footing. As he finished, his eyes literally misted with awe, he recognized that he might have bored the group with these sea stories. But it was not boredom he saw when he glanced around the room. Somewhere in his ramblings he had sailed quite irretrievably out into politics. He felt the room turn to bone, as if he had startled a turtle in the middle of his nap. He looked quickly at Becky, who had heard and understood parts of what he said many times in the past months, and she was scarlet with embarrassment, dumb with surprise. What had he said? He suddenly had no memory of what he had been talking about. How had he offended so completely? Well, said someone at length, into the silence. And now, said someone else, there is time for an opposing view.

And then, humiliated, feeling alone and misunderstood, he lost his temper. An opposing view? he asked. Opposing what? Just what was it that I had said that would offend your delicate political sensibilities? he said sneeringly. He went on and on, attacking with full machete swings powered by contempt and disdain. He attacked them for being simplistic, fascistic, superficial, and middle-class. Every put-down line he had wished he’d thought to say earlier, every sarcastic pet insight conceived in anger late at night, he unleashed now.

After she had bundled him out of there—with a few obligatory words all around about the positive value of disagreement—and after his anger had turned to despair, she told him everything. They sat on their bed, and she said she had wanted to die during the first months of separation. She said she hated him, at times, for abandoning her in Norfolk. She said each time she addressed letters to the ship, each time she wrote the name she nearly vomited. And then, she said, she had decided to survive, and she had found these friends and they were good to her. She said that, when it was all said and done, his ship had come back too soon, that she was just beginning to find herself, the self that had been buried by him, by their marriage, by the Navy. And she said that she had not been unfaithful to him physically, but that she had wanted to, often and desperately.

The next night Charlie sat on the ship and resolved to do what he could. He would save this marriage. He would save this love. But there was a cloud hanging over these resolutions, darker and darker as September came and went. The throng of yard workers, which in the early summer had dismantled the guts of the ship, had been for some time reassembling the pieces, and what had once been so reassuringly immobile and helpless was becoming again a vessel fit for the high seas. The crew, which had been allowed to contract through discharges and transfers, was now growing to full complement, and daily he saw new faces in his division. All that remained was the firm date for departure, and when it came down—December First—it was as if the line he had been paying out came, at last, to the bitter end.

They both wept the night he brought that bit of news home, holding onto each other as they had done the last time, older now, but still frightened. It was not love that they had lost. It was not that anger replaced sadness. But this time they understood how little they could change, and they didn’t try.

And it was also true that Becky was, then, in the midst of organizing a Norfolk contingent for the March on Washington and had her hands full every evening with phone calls, buses to charter, box lunches, and other details. It was the kind of thing she always did so very well. She had taken on this responsibility without consulting Charlie and made no real effort to keep him current on the plans. But he believed the war had to stop—he believed that as strongly as she did—and had decided weeks earlier that in this demonstration there was a place for him, a place big enough to encompass the reservations that had begun to pollute and complicate everything he did. With his enthusiasm for the event, his stock with her friends had risen from its historic low; indeed, they began to think of him as a catch, even though he refused to risk wearing his Navy officer’s uniform. Their apartment became a drop-in center for people planning to come along: hippies, Navy sons and daughters, young officers and not a few enlisted men who winked and gave him peace signs when they discovered what he was.

They left for Washington in a caravan of buses at five in the morning on that November 15, banners and slogans taped to the sides, American and North Vietnamese flags stuck out windows, with Charlie sitting beside Becky in the privileged front seat of the lead bus. They navigated the crowds on the Mall as a group, and found room at the rally about halfway between the stage and the Monument. Charlie could have predicted every word of the speeches, but he was entranced, held silent by a quartet from the Cleveland Orchestra playing Beethoven; he hooted at the unexpected appearance of Earl Scruggs and was overloaded by the entire cast of Hair who, at the moment they sang “Let the sun shine in,” released hundreds of white doves, one of which landed next to their group and was patted and kissed until its tail feathers began to fall out. No one could have been unmoved, and Charlie would have called an end to it at that point and walked back to the buses with the feeling that he had triumphed, at long last, over the fears in his heart and had won, finally, a place in his time.

But Becky was not ready for it to end, nor were many of the others in the group, and they made plans to join the smaller, unplanned, and unlicensed assault on the Justice Department. He knew there would be trouble there, as indeed there was; he said he simply could not risk being arrested and she quickly accepted the excuse. If only, maybe, she’d argued with him, forced him to come. Would it, could it ever happen that she would understand how desperately he wanted to go with her? He was scared for her and scared by her. He asked her to be careful and agreed to meet her at the buses in an hour.

Charlie stood in his place under the Monument and watched the band head off for new conquests. Where there had been only minutes before four hundred thousand people, there were now a handful, some folding blankets, some hunting for lost bracelets and glasses in the battered grass. There were several dead doves on the ground, frightened to death by the unwilling part they had played in this pageant. A couple was trying to comfort or treat or revive a terrified teenager with a head full of drugs and a dark spot on her jeans where she’d wet her pants. Up higher on the hill a fight had broken out.

And now, when he looks back at the sixties, this is where Charlie Martin remembers himself, standing on that discarded spot, held by something in him from birth, or something remaining from that joyful crossing home six months earlier. He did not go forward with her. When he came back from the next cruise, she was not on the pier, as he had known she would not be. When his three years were up, he thought fleetingly, but hard, about staying for three more years, but there was never any chance that he would make a career in the Navy, just as there was never any chance that he would throw rocks and balloons full of pig blood at the Justice Department walls.


This question is for testing whether or not you are a human visitor and to prevent automated spam submissions.

Recommended Reading