Been a nostalgic week for some reason. Who knows where these recollections come from, how they are triggered, but there it is… the Sixties.
Although I faked it whenever it suited my purpose, I never was a flower child… you know? 1968… I’d already been to Vietnam and back, tried acting like I’d never been there, since nobody really cared… just wanted to blend in and start all over from scratch. Did I ever tell you what I wanted to do when I got back from the war? Don’t laugh, but I was hot to be and really tried to become a photo-journalist… tried going back over there to Vietnam because life back home… life Stateside… was like a vacuum, a round hole and I was utterly square-shaped with very hard edges that simply seemed never to quite fit into place, though God knows I tried.
No… I guess I never told you about that, since I never had the chance. I left Norfolk shortly after I heard you got married. Nothing to keep me there, so I left. Moved across the river to Newport News. I know you knew I’d been back, but… who knows?
Me? James the Recently Returned? He wanted something exciting, something dangerous, something different in his life… but all he got was the sporting goods department at Sears & Roebuck and they fired him… long story. Not worth telling.
I bought cameras, took pictures… got pretty good at it. Sent letters to newspapers all over the country, told them I’d be willing to work for them as a photojournalist overseas… in Vietnam or Israel, wherever there was a war because… I don’t know… adrenaline? Told them I’d work cheap, but nobody offered me a job and after Sears fired me, I pawned all my cameras and guns… and my television set, my stereo. Took a four-month sabbatical and tried to write a novel.
When the money ran out, I got hungry… so I went to work for the shipyard.
Was living in a tenement then, three-story brick buildings… right across the street from the yard. While I was living there, I went through about three lifetimes in a year… a crazy year… long story, but it was during one of those lifetimes that I tried becoming a flower child, hanging with a group of people who lived in my building, in a huge basement apartment where other people, kids mostly, down from Richmond and DC would party every weekend. The group was led by a guy from California, a guy whose name I can’t remember… some rich guy who’d been to Vietnam and was knocking around the country with another guy… from Minnesota, I think.
They were trying to start an urban commune… called themselves “the Real People.”
Long story. But I didn’t fit in there either.
Two years in Newport News… then Ohio and three or four more lifetimes in a couple of crazy years before I finally caught my breath… Readers Digest condensed versions of a life each… little novellas just waiting for an ending that never quite arrives. Lifetimes that felt a little like Purgatory, or like waiting for a bus in a Greyhound station that never, ever comes. Purgatory… Greyhound waiting rooms… they are interchangeable, I think. You meet interesting people, but you’re forever in transit, like those little eddies of current in a river, that circle and circle and circle for hours before they ever slip back into the mainstream again and get on their way downriver.
Don’t know where you went after you and what’s-his-name got married. I know you guys didn’t stay together. I don’t know why. God knows… he was a pretty good guy. I knew him pretty well, but your life was a total mystery to me, a book I’ve always looked for, but could never find.
The Sixties. I’d always imagined you’d get caught up in the whole flower-child thing… but in a good way. Not the whole drugs and sex and the Green Tambourine thing, the me-me-me culture, but something like that quintessential catcher-in-the-rye rejection of self-aggrandizement, that higher place… a role you seemed born to assume and I know you were looking, always looking… so many did. Somebody had to find it. Not many would, but I always thought that if anyone could, you’d be the one. I hope you did.
Best always… your old friend,
Letters to Virginia by James Lloyd Davis is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial 4.0 International License.