He was six days home from war when she knocked on his door. He had been contemplating suicide. Sworn to secrecy by law and strange spooks with dead eyes, he couldn’t tell her that. Whatever wounds he had suffered were his to bear alone and would be for many years. Still, his world was so turned upside down by the madness he had just escaped that her unexpected arrival seemed appropriate.
San Francisco, 1972; not the halcyon hippie days, but the lull shortly thereafter. It was a good place to be, safe and cheap. Much better than upland Laos with its piles of dead gooks and terrifying fire fights. His apartment at Geary and Van Ness cost $275 dollars a month and felt like a sanctuary.
And there she stood, even more beautiful at nineteen than she had been at fifteen when they first made love on the grass in their hometown cemetery beside the Civil War memorial near the pile of cannon balls. You don’t turn down a vision.
Come in, he said, and she didn’t so much enter as flutter back into his scarred life. Her traveling companion, a nondescript hippie wannabee, stood beside her. She dismissed him with a wave of her hand and he disappeared.
That night, they made love like tigers. All the unspent lust accrued in battle erupted out of him and flowed into her. He wasn’t gentle or considerate or skillful. When they fucked, he smelled cordite, heard choppers beating and saw bloated corpses. It was like another deadly encounter in the bush, ferocious and abrupt. What she made of it, he couldn’t tell, but she was more than game.
He had orders for Germany, but that was weeks away. They spent those weeks mostly in bed, as only the very young can manage, doing it every way they knew or could imagine. That tornado of desire took the edge off his rage and sense of betrayal. It may have saved his life.
Later, when he flew away, she stood and waved, astonishingly lovely in a miniskirt, her long chestnut hair flowing. She had no idea what she had done.
Things changed. It was decades before they really talked again. By then, not even her name was the same, if she even really had one. Although their lives had long diverged, the connection remained, name or not. When he saw her, after all that time, all those bodies, all those endless miles, she was exactly the same girl who had knocked on his door those forty years gone, and he knew in that instant that nothing true ever really dies.
What was is, and turns, and returns…