Cathie arrived in country April Fool's Day, 1968. She served as an Army Nurse at the 24th Evac Hospital, Long Binh, on the neuro surgical post-op recovery ward. She cared for wounded U. S. military, soldiers from multinational forces, and Vietnamese civilian war casualties. She participated in Med-Cap programs with her brother, Timothy, a Navy Medic stationed nearby with a "Sea-Bee" Company.
I can show you where his wire sutures
Pressed into my cheek
But I probably won't....
He was one of the few
That could actually be moved
Out of bed. His name was John.
And he was from some small town on Long Island.
He looked to me to be Italian...
Gorgeous black curly hair
(Where it wasn't shaved from surgery)
Beautiful dark olive skin
(Where it wasn't dappled with scabs
Or abrasions )?
I would talk him through the moves to prepare him...
"John, I'm going to move you to the edge of the bed."
Then I'd slowly support his upper body as he shimmied
To the edge and then dangled his legs
Over the side.
I would take care not to touch
Any of the gauze covered areas
That hid the wires holding together the edges
Of dozens of painful frag wounds.
"OK, we'll stand for a moment and then swivel
Into the chair that's right alongside the bed here."
Then I'd lean into him and place my arms around
His chest and press my face against his and pull
Him forward until he slid-down off the mattress
Onto a wobbly stand...
And for just a brief moment we were locked
In that same wonderful embrace I remembered
From the slow dances at the high school sock hops.
And I had the same longing for the song not to end.
He was blind so he couldn't tell much about me?
Couldn't tell I had skin like silk
From my Scottish grandmother,
Couldn't tell I had Barbie doll legs and
An ultra-brite smile.
Couldn't tell, and it didn't much matter,
That I was the stuff of prom courts and wet dreams.
What he could tell was that there was no way in hell
I was letting go of him?
No matter how deep the wires pierced my cheek...
No matter how much green slime came lunging
At me from his trach. I would not let go
Until he was safely and lovingly escorted
To his seat when the dance was over...
And 20 years later when the armed forces recruiter
Called and asked to talk to my first born son
I made no attempt at politeness...
I was a nurse in Vietnam, I said.
I have seen what the Army does
To the men and women placed in its care.
Do not call here again. And, as I placed the phone
Carefully back in its cradle, I realized
It had been pressing against that same spot on my cheek.
The night shift officially ended at 7am .. If we were lucky,
we got one of Sgt. Peveehouse's omelets by 9?
and then some shut eye
We never needed a wake up call
Some inner urging brought us out each afternoon
We sat on the rickety picnic table nestled between
our sand bagged homes letting the warm monsoon rains
wash away the night's memories
You talked of the boy with Black Water fever
I spoke of the one who kept going bad
Sometimes we choked on our words
Sometimes we just sat silently with our eyes closed
Letting the downpour caress us,
faces gradually turning upward
toward the heavens?I was sure,
no longer cared about anything
that mattered to me
But you did dear Nance. You did.