[Continued from the previous entry]
Six years ago at this moment – just six – Pearl Harbor was bombed.
President Roosevelt appeared before a joint session of Congress and declared, “Yesterday, December 7, 1941–a date which will live in infamy–the United States of America was suddenly and deliberately attacked by naval and air forces of the Empire of Japan.”
Johnny, a muscly guy aged in his late 20s, now occupies one of the unused beds in my room here at Eloise. For whatever reason, he transferred over to my neck of the woods yesterday. As coincidences have it, he was at the navy base in Pearl Harbor when hellfire rained upon him. Needless to say, he’s in particularly bad shape today.
He still sports a military buzzcut and a crucifix dangles off his silver necklace.
“You were there, huh?” I ask, attempting to make conversation.
“Yes sir, right on the West Virginia docked on berth F-6. I can still see it plain as day. I’d just woken up and heard a lot of commotion on deck. And here she comes, the Japs torpedoed the port side. Two big holes. Bam! Bam!” He slams his arms downward twice.
I flinch at his shouts.
“It must’ve been chaos,” I say.
“Carnage on that base,” he continues. “Watched friend after friend get blown to bits by those bombs.”
“Wow, sorry you had to see that. Thank you for your service.”
“I didn’t head home. Naw, I had revenge in my blood. Went to Iwo Jima.”
“You were at Iwo Jima?”
“Absolutely, sir. Beat the hell out of them Japs, too.” He makes a bunch of bomb and gun sounds again and stretches his neck around, so it cracks like a knuckle. “But let me tell you one thing. I live it every day. I live it every night. I see it. My wife and son. They know, they know. Whiskey soothes the pain.”
I get it.
Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder. I’m not certain if PTSD is an official acronym or diagnosis in the medical community in these days. I find myself amazed that I’m speaking to a young veteran from WWII.
“You’re from around here, then?” I ask.
“Yeah, Lincoln Park.”
He looks at me intensely, perhaps a few too many seconds for my comfort.
“What are you in here for?”
This is the first time a non-doctor or non-counselor has asked me this question. I’ve always answered with pure honesty. But now I am confronted with explaining my exceptional situation to Johnny. I decide to go vague, but not veer far from the real story: I tell him I have a strange amnesia where I can’t remember anything except for a family and life that doesn’t seem to exist.
“I’m just trying to figure out what’s wrong with me,” I conclude.
He points toward my head.
“Nothing’s wrong with you. We’re all right, sir, we’re all right. It’s the world out there that puts us in our place. To make us need fixing. Do you understand?” He salutes me, military-style.
I reflexively and perhaps awkwardly return the favor.
“You don’t remember where your home is?”
“Rochester Hills.” I pause. “I mean, Avon Township.”
Johnny chuckles. “Sir, you don’t remember your home town? Your house. Do you know your own house?”
I shrug. “I think I know, but I’m sure where I think it is, it’s just wetlands at this point.”
He pauses again. His body doesn’t move.
Then he offers a slight grin.
“You’ll find it, sir.”
He leans down on his bed with a Life magazine he pulled from the stack in the lobby. It’s got the distinctive red logo with a “15 cents” label on it. He lays on his back and holds up the mag above his face and starts flipping the pages.
“Love this issue,” he says without looking away from the pages. He points to the cover.
“Rita Hayworth, sir. Sexy.”
I’m noticing he still carries the formal “sir” around with him from his service days in the war. He reaches down on the floor, picks another Life up and tosses it to me.
“I’m not reading this one now. You can check it out of you’d like. You get to read about Peck.”
I reach for the magazine and see Gregory Peck gracing the headline. It’s the December 1, 1947 issue. Again, for just 15 cents. Brand new with just a little wear and tear from being passed around in the lobby, resting on my bed.
Peck is that young. Now. Gentleman’s Agreement is actually a current movie.
I flip through its pages and find myself more interested in the ads. I’m fascinated.
Here’s one for Campbell’s soup. A husband in a full black suit is peering from behind a door and asks his apron-donning homemaker wife standing in front of the stove, “What’s cookin’, good lookin’?” A few pages later, a two-page spread for Columbia Records, with a little section of children’s albums complete with a drawing of two kids sifting through vinyl records.
Next ad screams, “Come on, try this one with all-joy, no-work Birds Eye Spinach!” I’m amused at an accompanying picture showing a woman yelling at her husband because he bought an off-brand box of spinach instead of Birds Eye. The image reminds me of Alice and Ralph Kramden, characters that probably won’t be on the black n’ white television screen for a few more years.
A bit later in the magazine, adjacent news blurbs on Siam and Palestine, an ad for glycerine tablets, for stubborn coughs – according to the little black n’ white ad.
A couple more pages on, the RCA Victor, which promises “clear as carols on Christmas Eve.” The massive box changes twelve records automatically with a lot of storage cabinets for your vinyl collection. Every hipster I know in the twenty-first century would be drooling at this. It also comes complete with AM-FM radio. I wonder how much this finest tone system in RCA Victor history (per the ad’s description) costs.
Finally, a full-page ad for the Green Dolphin Street movie starring Lana Turner.
No Marvel or DC Comics movies bathed in CGI quite yet.
I nearly ask Johnny his thoughts on some of these records I see – anything for casual small talk – but I notice the magazine is resting on his belly. He’s sound asleep.
I’m still in awe of this guy. He’s about five years my junior, yet he’s gone through World War II. Saw Iwo Jima up close and personal. I’m too used to old men, many of them with walking canes and wheelchairs, as being the last voices of wisdom on this war. Yet in this era, it’s flooded with them, young, back home and ready to produce families. I’m witnessing the advent of the Baby Boomer generation.
It occurs to me that we’ve all got a story here. Although it’s not lost on me that my soliloquy would be the oddest by far. Whenever I hear a strange tale being told by one of the patients here, I find that I can’t totally dismiss them, can I? No matter how bizarre their claims. Suddenly, outlandish stories don’t seem so outlandish anymore.
I’ll try to get to know Johnny better, hopefully hear more stories from the war with it being so fresh in his head. Then again, I want to be careful not to trigger something. He’s mentally skating on thin ice.
At the same time, I’m a bit jealous of Johnny. Once he finally gets “better” with medication and counseling, he’ll be rejoining his young wife and little girl. That’s not the case for me, no matter how long I take up residence in this place. Amanda and the boys exist… somewhere in time.
But not here.
Once I get better, however that’s measured and defined, I’m still that future fish out of water.