“Remember Me?”

By

Tina Nelson

 

I THOUGHT IT WAS ALL OVER.

I THOUGHT THAT I COULD COME HOME…

I WAS WRONG.  DEAD WRONG.

Prologue.

Fall in Minnesota.  Summer was gone…finally.  I hate summer.  I always have.  Too much sun.  Too hot.  Too many bugs.  And now…unfortunately…too old to wear really  cute sun tops…sigh..

November on the other hand, is the perfect month.  The sun hardly ever shines and when it does, it’s weak and getting weaker…almost dying…I’m okay with that.

The wind is chilly but not piercing…not yet anyway.  November here is just like November in Winnipeg, Canada.  I love Canada.

I lived in Canada for many years…beginning in 1969…yes…that date is correct…and whatever you want to wonder about that…go right ahead.

It makes no difference to me.  I am way beyond that.  But here is something you don’t need to wonder about…because it is true.

The Vietnam war was a horrible and tragic  mistake.

And…more than 58,000 young boys and men lost their lives because of that mistake…and one of them was my very best forever friend,  Johnny Taylor.

I met Johnny at an outrageous Halloween party in 8th grade.

From that night on, he was my only true friend in so many ways and later became my forever friend and then…my ever so sweet and delightful lover.

Johnny didn’t die in Vietnam…oh, he was there all right.  He was definitely there…for 365 long, brutal, killing days and nights.  He was there for every single one of them.

And then…he came back home…to die of a heroin overdose…in my arms…in the back of a speeding ambulance with me screaming into his beautiful, unseeing brown eyes.

“YOU CAN’T DIE!!  YOU CAN’T LEAVE ME!!  YOU PROMISED YOU WOULD NEVER LEAVE ME AGAIN!  YOU PROMISED!!!”

It was 1967.  He was 19.  I was 18.

Fucking Amen…

 

 

Chapter 1

8th Grade Halloween.  I meet Johnny.

There comes a time in every childhood when you are told…you’re “too old to go ‘trick or treating’ this year.”

No more free candy from strangers.  No more running wildly around the streets in the deepest of darkness…screaming and hollering to your friends…stuffing candy in your mouth as fast as you can…yes, yes you heard right…even while you are running…and hollering.  It was…after all…1960.

All gone.  Forever…just because you got one year older.

In 1960, our suburb of Bloomington, Minnesota was new but growing fast.  There were acres of new housing developments with miles of streets that we could dash up and down…filling old pillow cases with candy and money and whatever else strangers were willing to give us.  Home-made fudge was the best.  Remember…1960.

There were no parents standing in the streets with glow lights or flashlights to guide us…or umbrellas to shield us from the rain.  If it rained, we got wet and we lived.  If we fell down…we got up.  And…we came home.

But this year…5 days before October 31, my mother said…

“Riley.  You’re too old to go trick or treating this year.  All of us moms got together and we decided that now that you kids are in 8th grade…you’re just too old.  No arguments (and here she held up her hand for emphasis)…we have all decided.”

Oh…we knew it was coming.  We had heard the whispers and had actually paid attention when the moms had dropped little hints…so we knew.

And we were ready.

 

Chapter 5

“No trick or treating!!” shouted my dad when he was told of the “new Halloween rule”.

“Has everyone gone mad?” he exclaimed..

“It’s a terrible idea!!!  Riley’s just a kid…she’s only 9…10…how old are your, darlin’?” he said turning to me.

“I’m thirteen dad and Karla’s having a swell costume party instead and I’m really looking forward to that!”

I gave him a huge supportive smile…because he seemed to really need it.

The next day he came home from work with a telephone number and an address he got from a guy he knew…who knew of a professional costume shop in Minneapolis.

My dad always knew a guy…or at least a guy who knew a guy.

“We’ll get you something really spectacular, Riley.  So…you won’t be so sad,” Dad said.

“I’m not sad, dad.” I said.

Mom just smiled and put three Swanson chicken TV dinners in the oven…they were her specialty.

After dinner, my dad made a phone call to make sure the shop was open.  We all trekked down to this really tiny (read kind of dingy) shop on Washington Avenue.

The costume shop was for adults…it’s okay to let your mind wander here…

I think he sold some other stuff as well…anyway…he had told my dad over the phone that he would give him a good deal…my dad loved a good deal.

Because I was thirteen and…you know…kid-short, I only had 2 choices of costumes.

A clown costume with blue and white baggy pants and red shirt…and a re-usable red ball I could pop on my nose…OR…a Hawaiian Dancing Girl costume–tin of dark brown body powder included with rental price.  The clown costume was really never even considered.

The night of the party, it took my mom over an hour to cover my exposed skin with  the dark brown powder but when she was done…I looked…like an 8th grade girl in a Hawaiian Dancing Girl costume…that was a  little too skimpy…but…

“Oh, what the hell,” said my mom…putting some more powder on my ‘chest’.

My dad gave me two thumbs up.

“You look great, kiddo.  Very…Hawaiian.”  He sounded so proud.

I don’t know if he was proud of the way I looked, proud of the costume itself or proud of the fact that he had indeed gotten a good deal.

He then leaned in to give me a big hug.  He pulled away and the front of his white tee-shirt was streaked all over with brown powder!

“Holy Crap!!” I said…not quite horrified.

My parents just laughed…and told me…”don’t go hugging anyone tonight!”

I thought…well, okay.

Do you remember Chapter 3…and my “Seven Minutes in Heaven”…with John Taylor and his black Zorro costume…many, many times?

Good memory.

Chapter 15

I hadn’t gone to Johnny’s funeral.  His father had planned a huge memorial for his first-born son…full of praise for the bravery John had shown in proudly fighting for his country.

If I had gone to Johnny’s funeral, this is what I would have said to his father.

“He OD’d on heroin, Mr. Taylor.”

“Maybe you’d like to read all the letters Johnny sent me.  They rip my heart to shreds every time I read them.”

“I don’t want to read them…but it’s all I have of him now.”

“He was so full of pain and horror at having…even accidentally…killed innocent women and children…he couldn’t sleep…not without drugs…and sometimes not even with drugs.”

“His heart was broken after watching so many of his friends blown to pieces right before his eyes or bleed to death in his arms…crying like little kids…so scared…because they didn’t want to die but knew they were going to.”

“He was haunted by the blood that poured from the bodies of all the Vietcong soldiers he had killed…some who looked younger than Alec.”

“He wasn’t a brave hero, Mr. Taylor…he was just trying to survive…just like all the other boys around him.”

“They were all just trying to survive and come home…just come home.”

That’s what I would have said to his father if I had been at Johnny’s funeral.

And…that’s why I stayed away.

 

 

 

 

Chapter 19

Later…at a little bar in Dinky Town…I saw Tommy siting with a bunch of other kids I had seen at the rally.  They were all sitting in a huge booth by the back wall.

I went over and introduced myself…just in case he had forgotten who I was.

I told him how impressed I was with his speech and told him I was eager to help in any way.

“Riley.  Of course I remember you!  Here sit down next to me.”  He said and patted the space next to him and everyone slid over.

Tommy said he had been talking to other anti-war protest leaders on other campuses across the country and they had been sharing strategies.

He was flying to Washington D.C. tomorrow to plan the inauguration protest…if Nixon was elected..

We sat and talked that night for hours and over the next several weeks, we got together to plan strategies and share more ideas.

We were all students…so we had to fit everything in around classes…but winter break was coming.

It was the middle of January when Tommy brought up the water tower idea again…only this time the plan was to blow it up.

“It’s the only way to get the press to pay attention,” Tommy said.  “And it will be safe…no one will be around in the dead of winter…I’ve checked it out many times and the place is always deserted…not one foot print in the snow.

“I talked with a couple of guys from New York and California and they all said…and I agree…we have to start making people sit up and take notice.”

“Blowing things up will do that…and we’ll get the front-page headlines we deserve.”

Everyone agreed with Tommy…but I did not.

“No.  Sorry…no violence.” I said.  “I’ll lay in the street.  I’ll get arrested.  I’ll chain myself to a building or whatever…but no violence that could possibly hurt innocent people.  Absolutely not.”

Sheila Baxter and her boyfriend Gerald Michaels were sitting next to me.  They were also working toward law degrees and had known Tommy when he was in California.

They also had come here on scholarship.

Another boy, Mikey Longwell was the organizer of a small group of kids who had been at the Wisconsin Dow Day protest…where there had been injuries…it was the first university protest to turn violent.

They listened to me and then turned back to Tommy.  It was like I hadn’t said anything at all.

I sat for a few more minutes shaking my head in disapproval.

Finally, I had enough.  I stood up and started to put on my jacket.

“I’m leaving.  I’m not doing this.” I said and started to walk out.

Tommy got up and followed me to the door.  He grabbed my arm so I couldn’t leave.

“You better keep quiet about this, Riley.  Remember all those people at that rally a few months ago?”

“They heard one thing over and over again…that ‘staging a protest at the water tower’ was your idea.”

And then Tommy smiled and my whole body suddenly got so cold I shivered.

I knew then that Tommy Clark could be very dangerous if you made him mad.  I think I just did.

I angrily pulled my arm away and walked out the door.