It suffices to say Jeremy’s heart beat easier now that the plane skipped down on U. S. soil. With a tour in Nam, a two day diverted flight to Japan now behind him, and now landing in San Francisco, he and 55 other returnees filed down the steps of their plane; home at last.
It was a long walk to the terminal; no docking port was available. The soldiers with duffel bags hoisted on their shoulders squeezed through a small employees only door near a docking port. They climbed two flights of stair and finally walked among civilians.
Jeremy walked next to a guy from Oklahoma he met just before boarding in Saigon.
“I don’t know about you, Cowboy,” Jeremy said, “but I’m about to cry.”
“I’ve bee cryin’ ever since we been walkin’ ‘cross the tarmac,” Cowboy said. “They said the bus won’t arrive for another hour, can I buy ya a beer.”
“Only if you let me buy you one,” Jeremy said. “but I’m going to find a phone and call my fiancee.”
“She a California girl?” Cowboy said.
“Yeah,” Jeremy said, “I met here when I was a junior in high school. The place next the my dad’s and mom’s ranch was dude ranch. They hired me for the summer when her family spent two weeks in Montana. We wrote and called. I attended college with her in LA, but I ran out of money I went back to work and got drafted. I got the GI bill now.”
“She gonna come up to see you?” Cowboy said.
“This is sort of a surprise,” Jeremy said. “The Army told me I would be going to Hawaii for a week. She doesn’t expect me for a few more days.”
“Tell her to bring a friend,” Cowboy joked. “We Okies are full of good times.”
“Hey,” Jeremy said, “there’s a phone.”
“And there’s a bar,” Cowboy said. “I’ll have a cold one waitin’.”
A few minutes later Jeremy joined Cowboy at the bar.
Jeremy heaved a the bottle to his lips. “That’s good.”
“How’s your girl?” Cowboy said.
“She wasn’t home,” Jeremy said. “I’ll give her a call when we get to Fort Ord.”
“You really miss her, don’t you,” Cowboy said.
“Yeah,” Jeremy said. “There’s nothing more painful than leaving a love that has not quite bloomed.”
“It ain’t the same,” Cowboy said, “but I got a five year old nephew. My sister wasn’t married and I looked after the boy like he was my own. I bet he’s spittin’ tobacco and drinkin whiskey by now.”
“What!” Jeremy said.
“Just kiddin’,” Cowboy said. “That boy ain’t gonna do none of that kinda stuff if I got any say in it. That was like he ole man; a real piece of crap.”
“Sandra will be relieved to see me,” Jeremy said. “I remember when I was a little boy, my dad went into the high country to hunt for an elk. He said he’d be gone for three days. There were reports of avalanches. Mom’s gut was all tied up in knots for days. I remember how relieved she was when dad finally walked through the door. The two years of worry she put on in five days was taken away in 30 seconds. “I am so relieved,” she said.”
The conversation continued for another twenty minutes and another beer.
“Let’s go, Cowboy,” Jeremy said.
They hoisted their bags and walked toward the front of the terminal. They heard chants to closer they got the to doors and the bus waiting to transport them to Fort Ord.
“Antiwar crap,” Cowboy said.
“Just ignore them,” Jeremy said. “All they want is a confrontation.”
“If it’s a confrontation they want I can tell them where to find some,” Cowboy said.
Jeremy and Cowboy walked through a gauntlet of about 100 protestors.
Jeremy suddenly stopped in front of a girl with long blond hair and square rim rose colored glasses. She stood tucked under the arm of a protester with an adolescent beard and long frizzy hair. She had a sign, Make Love. He held a sign, Not War.
Jeremy stared. The jeering and chanting intensified.
Cowboy tugged on Jeremy’s arm. “Let’s go, man.”
Jeremy reached out and gently touched the girl on the cheek. Expressionless, he turned away and climbed onto the bus.
Jeremy sat next to Cowboy.
“That was her, wasn’t it?” Cowboy said.
“Yeah,” Jeremy said staring at the back of the seat in front of him.
“I’m sorry, buddy,” Cowboy said. “When ever you wanna talk, but I think it’s best I leave you alone,”
“I’m okay, Cowboy,” Jeremy said. “I really am. In fact, I’m relieved.”
“Now here’s a good way of lookin’ at it,” Cowboy said. “Yer relieved of nothin’ but your down payment.”
In Jeremy’s old age, on occasion he thinks back to that difficult time when love became mired and confused in the battlefield mud and political mindlessness of the times. Where is she, he wondered? Is she happy? What did that day mean to her? I hope she received the same solace ole Cowboy gave me. I wonder how things turned out for Cowboy? The frizzy haired guy—who gives a crap?