The International Writers Magazine: Life Stories in Dreamscapes
If I had to do it over...
The car was a white, two-seater, 1965, British made, Triumph Spitfire, convertible. Low to the ground and high on looks.
My old man had seen the car on the front lawn of a house down the road, with a bright orange sign on its windshield that read: “Make an offer.” The offer was low, and the car was mine. The guy was selling it cheap, because he was getting married, he said. The car was impractical for someone ready to have a family, he said.
It was the perfect car for me. I saw myself cruising the town with the top down, and Motown music high on the rear speakers. I could see myself with Brenda Jo pushing its limits on the open road. First, though, I had to get it working. That was the catch. The car was immaculate inside and out: shiny white exterior with matching white-wall-tires, chrome wheels, black leather interior, and wood paneled dashboard.
The car looked delicious.
The catch, of course, was the car’s malfunctioning engine. As far as engines goes, it was a lemon. I had been warn by my buddy from the oil and lube station, that British made cars, for the most part, were lemons. You can’t trust the electrical system on English cars, my friend Mike had told me. He knew about cars. He had worked during the summer as a driver for an Auto Parts store. English cars are unreliable, he had warned me.
I didn’t heed his warning. I fell in love with the car the moment its mesmerizing curves reached my eyeballs. I didn’t care that I would have to work all week to get the car going on weekends. Brenda Jo loved IT. She loved me in it. We were hot together, all three of us. Me, Brenda Jo, and Diana Ross and the Supremes, blaring on the speakers.
Brenda Jo got giddy and hot when I showed up at her doorstep, with the rag-top down and the speakers playing the Motown sounds of Smoky Robinson and the Miracles, or The Four Tops. As soon as I turned the corner, Brenda jumped off her porch, jumped in the car, and put her arms around my neck to greet me. When we reached the open road, Brenda Jo let her long hair down to feel the frenzy of the wind, and began singing along with Diana Ross to the open sky and the endless cornfields, to the full capacity of her lungs:
“Baby Love, My Baby Love, I need you, Oh how I need you...”
Her name was Brenda Jo. The “Jo” was short for Josephine, which had been her grandmother’s name, and her mother’s first name. Her father had insisted that the name Josephine was too old-sounding for a girl. He’d given in, and allowed it to become her middle name, as her mother had insisted, in honor of her mother, Brenda Jo’s grandmother. He had agreed to this, way before he had skipped town with a floozy, and had left Brenda Jo and her mother to fend for themselves in the town.
Every Friday night I drove my Spitfire to Brenda Jo’s house. Her mother was a wonderful human being. I knew she trusted me and Brenda Jo being together, but she mistrusted the car, and the music. The moment Brenda Jo jumped into my car and wrapped her arms around my neck, she waved to her mother with a smile on her face. I could see Brenda Jo’s mother in the rear-view mirror, her body diminishing in size as she lingered, leaning against the front porch, with with arms crossed, and her head tilted to one side, watching us vanish in the distance.
I put on quite a show! I knew my lines perfectly: I kept one hand on the wheel, and one wrapped around Brenda Jo, as we drove past the convenience store and the filling station, whizzing by on our way to the outskirts of town, to where the cornfields, our sanctuary on earth, awaited us.
We drove fast, and we drove far. We went past the farm houses, the silos, until we reached the vast cornfields. The music was the perfect compliment for our adventurous drive. Brenda Jo always let herself go. She became enraptured by the thick wind on her hair, the sound of the music, the speed of the Triumph, and the feel of my free hand caressing her body.
When we reached the cornfields, the world was silent. Brenda Jo loved the feel of the warm wind, and the thick layer of grass beneath her. She smiled when she saw the tops of the corn stalks swaying in the wind. We watched in ecstasy, as the sun, with its last dying rays, bled all over the sky.
When the light from the sun had melted behind the dark cornfield, Brenda Jo and I lay on the sacred ground. It was during that mesmerizing stillness, when she’d ask me to tell her my stories. Stories that I had read in books. Stories of Greek heroes, and legends. When the sun had completely disappeared from the sky, and the stars had taken over the firmament, it was Brenda Jo’s turn to tell stories. She mostly talked about us, in some distant future. She loved to make plans for us. She spoke as if the book of our lives had already been written, and she was reading page, after page, from it, pausing briefly at every comma, and stopping at every period, to take a deep breath in the form of a deep sustained sigh. Brenda Jo’s declamation was steadfast, as if she had written every word of the book, herself.
It was endearing to hear the excitement in her voice as she told and re-told the story of our lives together. They reminded me of some of the Greek legends I devoured in school, though I feared that some legends were tragedies. But Brenda Jo’s stories were always up beat, and more real than any of the legends, and we always lived happily ever after.
In her stories, we got married, had children, and lived in a house adorned with two dormers, and a well behaved golden retriever. Brenda Jo, had a name for each of our children. In her stories we grew old together and became loving grandparents to our children’s children, who grow up to be lawyers and doctors. I liked listening to Brenda Jo’s stories. Even though, somewhere inside me, I knew they were only the musings of a young girl in love.
It was on a Friday night, as I was speeding down the highway hurrying to get to Brenda Jo’s house, when my car went haywire. The Triumph died. It had spat its last fire. It shut itself off; lights, engine, radio. Just suddenly, off! Momentum kept the car going until I was able to safely pull over to the side of the road. I pushed up the ‘bonnet’ ( the hood of the car, as it’s called by the British) and inspected the engine. A piece of the carburetor was missing. The battery cables had come loose. The solenoid was charred. The fuel filter had burst. The car had literally died, like a racing mustang whose heart had exploded in mid stride.
I walked several miles before I found a pay phone to call my father. I called the house and asked for him. My mother answered. She was uncharacteristically curt as she handed the telephone to my father. The old man was surly as well. He said it all with a cold, calculated phrase: “Get your ass home,” and hung up the phone.
When I arrived home, I found my father sitting on the sofa with a tumbler in his right hand, watching the news on the television. The black-and-white set was buzzing with noises of helicopters, bursts of rapid gun-fire, and scenes of soldiers, wounded in battle. Soldires being carried in stretchers through waves of green vegetation. They were being loaded onto waiting helicopters. It was the Viet Nam war in our living room. Live! Father said it was tragic. He called it by its formal name: “Tet Offensive,” he said, with an angry and sad look on his face. Thousands and thousands of miles from our cornfields, he said, young men are dying for our freedom.
In the fight for freedom, my father’s father had served in the Army. He had taken part in the D-Day invasion. The old man, my father’s father, my grandfather, had been decorated for his valor. My father’s father had seen the horror of war, even a so called ‘good war,’ which had prevented my father from serving. This was the reason why my father insisted that it was my duty to defend my country. Hew wanted to vindicate his non-involvement, and live vicariously through me. I was turning eighteen in a few months, so he asked me to look into enlisting. He said he would sign for me. I wasn’t eighteen then.
The week I signed up for the Army, turned out to be a difficult week. I hadn’t a clue that it was about to turn worst. I showed up at Brenda Jo’s home, on foot, to give her the news. We sat holding hands on the porch swing. It was then that I noticed Brenda Jo’s pants were unbuttoned. I made some hasty joke about eating too many french fries. She didn’t laugh. Instead, she squeezed my hand hard, and with a nearly inaudible, trembling voice, she blurted out: “I’m pregnant.”
Brenda Jo had been pregnant for a while. Her mother had know this. Her close friends at school had known this. She had even told the Principal at her school that she was pregnant, and made it clear that she could not continue her studies. She’d know this, way before she’d had the strength, the courage, to confront me with it.
I was silent. My silence triggered a difficult and angry response from Brenda Jo. She began reciting “our” plans. Word for word, she recalled “the plans” we had made in the corn field. The stories she had made up as we cuddled in the corn field, under the stars. The stories had been real to her: the house, the stereo, the two kids, had been as real as the the feeling she had for me in her heart. The plans which I had always considered to be musings of a young girl in love, had been promises we had made to each other under the stars. My first reaction was defensive. “There’s a war going on, my country needs me,” was the first thing I said. Brenda Jo was not happy with that answer. She lost it.
She left me sitting alone on the porch swing. After that incident, I remained silent for almost a week. I didn’t know how I would break the news to my father. He had signed me up for the Army. I was ready to leave for boot camp within a couple of weeks. I waited until I had an opportunity to tell him, so that he wouldn’t blow a gasket, but I never did. I left for the war without telling my parents that Brenda Jo was carrying my baby.
I spent nearly two years “on tour” in Viet Nam. War is hell, I’d heard people say. The I experienced. that hell. I was lucky. I was very lucky. I was shot in the leg. It was ruled an accident. One of the members of my platoon had been cleaning his rifle when it went off, accidentally. The bullet shattered my knee cap. It blew it to pieces. I had become the victim of a “Friendly Fire” incident; many of which were investigated thoroughly, for obvious reasons. When I was cleared, I was transported back to the States. It was a lucky accident for me.
Soon after I arrived at my hometown, I learned that my entire platoon had been wiped out by the enemy, defending some outrageously irrelevant hill in Da Nang.
The night I learned of the massacre, I had been sitting with my mother at our kitchen table. Mother was trying to console me. She was trying to convince me that there is a reason for the way things happen in life. She had been adamant about the ‘Friendly Fire” incident. It meant that I was not supposed to die in combat, she said. That I had been spared for a reason. Never in my mind, did the thought of Brenda Jo and her baby boy, registered as the possible fateful reason.
I sat at the kitchen table with my chin resting on my hands. I was trying to understand the meaning of it all when I saw Brenda Jo out of the corner of my eye. She was climbing the steps that lead to the kitchen. Her child was clinging to her hip with his short, chubby legs. Brenda Jo looked different from the image I had of her in my mind. She looked solemn. Her hair was bunched up in a bun, which made her looked older than I remembered her.
It had been less than two years since I had seen her. She looked like she had aged twice, thrice that amount. The child on the side of her hip aggravated the scene. The child had his head on her shoulder. I could not see his face. I wanted to see his eyes. I wanted to see for myself if in fact the resemblance was there. When Brenda Jo let the child down slowly to the floor, she looked me in the eye. I looked back. We stared silently at each other, the words caught in our throats. I examined her sallow face trying to decipher what was in her mind. I sensed she was doing the same. We didn’t speak a word. The silence was broken by the toddler, who was making a racket with some pots or pans my mother had given him to distract him.
Brenda Jo and I tried to make sense of the moment. I looked in her eyes for the young girl riding with me in the Triumph Spitfire, with her hair to the wind. She wasn't there. Instead, what I saw was a vacuity in her pupils, which I’d seen in the eyes of some soldiers in Nam at the worst of the fighting. Perhaps I saw my reflection in her eyes. I wept. I wept out of anger, frustration and sadness. Brenda Jo just looked through me. I could tell she had suffered as much, if not more. They said in the barracks, that those who suffer the most, are the ones left behind.
Brenda Jo looked bereaved. She wept quietly.
Somehow, we both knew it was over.
Before saying good-bye, Brenda Jo threw her arms around my neck and whispered that she’d always love me, that having my baby was the best thing in her life. I sensed that she knew, that I knew, that it was all over. There would never be a white wedding. There would never be a house, a fence, a stereo. Life as she had often recounted it to me as we held each other on the cornfield, was never to be.
I never recovered. I got lost in the aftermath of an unmentionable war. The wounds of the mind, unlike the wounds of the flesh, are deep, and often don’t heal. I was a broken man, useless, just like the rusted roadster I abandoned on the side of the road, destined for the junk heap.
Brenda Jo was sixteen-years-old when she got pregnant. She had suffered, lost, and endured. She had almost given up her baby for adoption. She had never considered abortion. Brenda Jo’s mother, in her wisdom, had let Brenda Jo hold the new born in her arms, which had strengthened the bond between mother and child. Brenda Jo kept her child and made a good life for both.
It’s been nearly forty years since the day I came home. I can almost feel the spirit of Brenda Jo’s sweet love, traveling the highway at my side on the Triumph, doing seventy-five-miles-an-hour, singing at the top of our lungs with Diana Ross and The Supremes, on our way to the cornfields:
“Baby Love, my Baby Love, I need you Oh how I need you....”
© Oswaldo Jimenez May 2014
Returning to America
It was precisely zero-six-hundred hours. Lieutenant Wilson climbed the steep step-ladder that led him into the bowels of the C-5 Galaxy that will transport him stateside
There wasn’t a day when Alice didn’t get up before her alarm clock went off. Alice was what people call a morning person. Mornings were magical to Alice for many reasons
One bite. That’s all she thought she needed to satisfy her hunger. One bite of the funnel cake. No more than that. There was no need for more. A single bit of food would have satiated her starving stomach.