Patrick and Melinda were young, 19. Everyone said too young to be married, but they did so anyway, April 22nd 1967.
They were married no more than two months when Patrick received his draft notice.
The morning he left for the Army before he climbed on the bus he held Melinda close. “It will be for just a short time.”
“I don’t want you to go,” Melinda said tearfully.
“Neither do I,” Patrick said. “I’ll write everyday.”
“I will miss you so much,” Melinda said. “I won’t know what to do.”
“You will be fine,” Patrick said. “You have good friends and family.”
“They can’t take your place,” Melinda said.
“As soon as possible I’ll send for you and we can be together again,” Patrick said.
“I hope it’s not too long,” Melinda said.
“War is all about loneliness,” Patrick said. “That is the real enemy. As long as we have good memories we are never lonely. Do you have good memories?”
“I have so many,” Melinda said.
“Me too,” Patrick said.
The horn to the bus beeped twice.
“I must go,” Patrick said.
They kissed and parted.
Patrick waved goodbye from the bus window. He wore a smile of hope, but there was a sadness in his eyes; a sadness that nothing could erase. A sadness that can’t be changed or altered. And Melinda had s sadness of standing helplessly and watching a person drown.
Melinda never saw Patrick again. He was killed six months later. Patrick left bitter sweet memories and a son who Melinda call PJ (Patrick Junior).
Melinda raised PJ on her own and told him every good memory of Patrick. She told him of that day, the last day she saw him and how terrible of a feeling she had, but PJ never quite understood. How could he? That is the type of thing that can’t be told, but only experienced.
It was a time of war again. PJ had graduated from college. He even got his masters. He was unsure of the direction he should take in life. He decided he would enlist in the Army. It was met with great sadness by Melinda.
Before going to the recruiting office to enlist PJ stopped to see his mother.
They talked at length and Melinda shed many tears. PJ reasoned and made every effort to allay an fears.
“If only I could make you see what I saw on that day your father left and feel the pain I felt you would change your mind,” Melinda said. “Dear God, if only you could see.”
“Mom,” PJ said. “I can’t live your life and your pain. I just can’t.”
PJ left the house and on his way to the car a man approached him. “Is this the home of Melinda Parsons?”
“Yes,” PJ said.
“You must be her son,” the man said.
“Yes, I am,” PJ said. “Have we met?”
The man slowly handed PJ a large brown envelope. “I suppose you can say we have met. Not formally, but I’ve seen your face many times.”
“Where?” PJ said.
“In the envelope is a picture,” the man said. “Twenty-three years ago I was fifteen years old. I worked after school to buy a camera. I walked all over town taken pictures. Inside this envelope was one of the first pictures I took. It is of your mother and father waving goodbye the day he left for the Army. It’s taken me this long to deliver it. The face in the picture is you.”
PJ opened the envelope and pulled a photograph out. PJ breathed deeply. Tears pooled. He reached for his billfold. “How much do I owe you for this.”
“Nothing,” the man said.
PJ stared at the photo. “I know what you mean. That’s my dad. I look just like him.”
“I couldn’t keep it,” the man said. “It’s not mine and I didn’t know what to do with it. I dreaded giving it to Mrs. Parsons.”
“You did the right thing,” PJ said and shook the man’s hand. “What did you think about every time you looked at this photo?”
“It’s not important what I thought,” the man said. “More importantly what do you think.”
PJ paused for a moment. “My mother has been trying to tell me something for a while. And it’s all in this picture; saying goodbye is like watching a man drown.”
“I’ll leave it up to you to show her the picture,” the man said and walked back to his car.
PJ walked back in the house. He walked into the living room and handed the envelope to his mother. “Mom, I’ve changed my mind.”