a vestige of thought...
Monday, May 29, 2006
I didn't understand then. I was only four years old. I stood in the road with my mother, who held baby Davy in her arms, and together we waved goodbye to Daddy as he drove away.
"Where is he going?" I asked Mama.
"He has to go do his job," she replied, tears in her eyes.
Every day I would ask when Daddy was coming home. Mama would answer, "Soon, honey. Real soon."
I waited two years for my daddy to come back. One day a strange man came to the door to talk to Mamma. They spoke in hushed tones for a moment, and then the man left. Mamma stood in the doorway for a long time. I stood with Davy and waited for her to say something. When she turned around, I could see tears running down her cheeks.
"Mama...?" I began. She came to us and held us close.
"Daddy's not comin' home," she whispered.
Now, twenty years later, I stand in front of The Wall with my two-year-old daughter Katie in my arms. She is fascinated by her reflection in the shiny black granite and fusses for me to put her down. I am not paying attention. I have found the right place on The Wall. I run my hand down the cool stone, searching. Then I stop. I brush my fingers across the letters and then take Katie's small hand in my own.
"Walter T. Sheldon," I whisper. "That's Daddy, Kate."
"Daddy?" she stops wiggling long enough to look around for her father.
"Not your daddy," I smile slightly and brush a stray curl out of her face. "My daddy, your grandpa."
"G'pa!" Katie squeals.
I stand still for a long time, looking at the names around Dad's. Maybe these were his friends. They might have been with him when he died. Soon a soft summer rain begins falling. I watch the letters face away and blend into the surrounding stone as they get wet. I know I should go inside soon. Katie begins to fuss louder. She doesn't like the rain. Before I leave I touch Daddy's name one more time.
"I wish you could see me Dad. You would be so proud of me. Davy too. He's getting married next month. He wishes you could be there. So do I..." I want to stay, but now I'm soaked to the bone and my husband Teddy is coming toward me. Katie reaches for him, and he takes her in one arm, putting the other around my shoulders. With one last glance at the wall, I turn and walk away.
"What do you think?" Teddy asks of the new Vietnam Veterans Memorial.
"It's beautiful," I reply. "Just beautiful."