I began writing these reflections 2009, after reading Tim O’Brien’s The Things They Carried. Vietnam was my war. And Bill’s war. And Connie’s dead husband Michael’s war. And Nam was Tim O’Brien’s war. He’s written it for us. So all those who don’t or won’t remember can remember.
“The thing about remembering is that you don’t forget. You take your material where you find it, which is in your life, at the intersection of past and present. The memory-traffic feeds into a rotary in your head, where it goes in circles for a while, then pretty soon imagination flows in and the traffic merges and shoots off down a thousand different streets. As a writer, all you can do is pick a street and go for the ride, putting things down as they come to you. That’s the real obsession. All those stories.”
O’Brien reminds us that remembering makes things now. “And sometimes remembering will lead to a story, which makes it forever. That’s what stories are for. Stories are for joining the past to the future. Stories are for those late hours in the night when you can’t remember how you got from where you were to where you are. Stories are for eternity, when memory is erased, when there is nothing to remember except the story.”
I was still at MSU when Bill was in Nam. Still working at All Saints Episcopal Church, living at home with my family that year.
I remember walking down Burcham Road and turning onto Lantern Hill Drive. I see myself approaching the curve where Knoll Road meets Lantern Hill Drive. Now I can see the driveway of my family home, many houses away. Do I look quickly or slowly? Is there a car in the driveway? Is it Bill’s mother’s car? Because if it is, that means something bad has happened. She told me she wouldn’t call. She would drive from her home near Detroit to East Lansing to tell me personally.
I see myself, over and over, approaching the curve. Taking a deep breath. Looking down the road to the driveway.