Janet Rattay

GOODBYES ARE NEVER EASY

IWVPA Double Tap Award for War Poetry: January 12, 2004
Awarded: January 12, 2004
The train station doesn’t exist anymore. It’s been turned into a fancy restaurant, an historic landmark. Passing by I remember days of long ago, etchings in my heart like an artist’s sketch.

Seeing you off to the service I tried to smile through my tears. I was scared. I didn’t want you to know. Maybe if I acted like everything was fine, you would be fine too.
The ache inside could not be stilled. I felt like a thousand butterflies had taken over my body. We promised to be faithful, to write and to be there for each other; after all, it wasn’t going to be forever.

Goodbyes are never easy and the ride back home was filled with a deafening silence, what with your father’s mind set, your mother’s crying. I think I was numb those weeks without you. Going through the motions of each day, keeping busy, working, and writing, writing, writing helped smooth the way. Days turned into weeks and you returned home. It was so great to be together again and we were so young.

As my biggest fear would have it, you were leaving again, this time to a faraway place. Where was this Vietnam? Hearing about the escalating war, I tuned in to the news every chance I got.

Family and friends had a gathering – a send off for you shortly before you left. Older guys in the neighborhood told stories about this place and what lay ahead for anyone going there. We somehow got through those days. This goodbye was difficult and different. We talked about our fears.

Over the ensuing months, letters became fewer and fewer. Somehow things had changed dramatically – was it you, was it me, or was it this war?

You were one of the lucky ones who returned home. We became like strangers to one another. Words spoken got shorter and shorter and finally came to a stop.

That was so very long ago. We still run into each other in the old neighborhood. We exchange hellos, say a few words, look into each other eyes down into the depths of our souls, and wonder at what might have been.