Tandem, An American Love Story

Said good-by and followed the river along the Indiana side, watching the tugs and barges chug upriver, or down, between broad river bottom fields of corn and tobacco. Large brick farm houses had the look of the ante-bellum; slaves once worked these fields I suspect. The riding was some the best in the Midwest. We crossed into Kentucky over the Markland locks and dam to Warsaw, just ahead of huge black storm clouds running upriver.

We asked around at the grocery for camping and someone suggested people sometimes camped in the town park by the river. After the rain passed, Claire checked in at town hall and that was confirmed, but we were cautioned to watch our things. It seems a friendly town, if a little ragged around the edges. Perhaps it’s too close to Cincinnati.

It felt like another humid night, and we set up the tent under a picnic shelter ; left the rain fly off for better ventilation.

Just as we were finishing up a couple came with a six-pack to watch the sunset over the river. We talked.

The man is another Vietnam vet who has had a lifelong battle with his war experience. He’s loosing the battle.

He is alternately enthusiastic about he and his wife getting back on the road, (they did a long car trip around the country a few years ago and he remembers it fondly) and bitter about every job he’s had turning out bad, getting fired. He’s angry about being poor. I think he might get a disability payment, but what he wants is a normal life, and his mind won’t let him have that.

After a fairly normal conversation, suddenly he turned paranoid about us, and began to yell about not being responsible if the black kids who lived near (not what he called them) stole all our stuff. He was very angry, and stalked off, his wife in tow, cursing us and the world in general. She seemed to be very patient with him; the only thing keeping him from the edge. Bless her.

It was not the first time I have seen Nam vets of my age just hanging on to life with little hope or joy. I was not drafted into their war (4F with a bleeding ulcer), was not damaged so, and I feel helpless and confused about it.

Many are angry at the country for not doing more to help them. But what? How do you sweep away 30 years of pain and fear?

And, we had deprived him of his sunset.

The smudged and softened red orb, sank into the gray humidity so indistinguishable from the river. The scattering of light in this thick air made the sun appear huge, feel close; as if the edge of the earth had been moved half-again closer; it more fades than sets. We were left with a muddy gray twilight.

Too hot to sleep, we watched the spotlights of tugs sweep the banks of the river, lining up channel markers. Their throbbing engines reminded us of the container ships, bound for the Far East past our home in Dungeness.

Near midnight, two girls and a boy came to sit on the picnic tables. They smoked and talked about drinking and sex. One of the girls told us she was 14, and her mom was 35, “I love to party with my mom, she lets me get really wasted.” They told stories about being falling-down-drunk and about having sex, “First time I played bad-house, was with Jeff O’Neil.” She lit another cigarette off the butt she’d just finished. “I need money for cigarettes.”

They finished their bottle and walked back toward town.

Depressing evening.

Early in the morning , we were visited by a drunk who sat about three feet from our tent at a picnic table, talking to himself. Soon he was joined by two women trying to get him to go with them, “Come on home with me, she knows how I feel about you.” Soap opera.

The humidity cooled enough to get a couple of hours sleep after the drunk was led off. We sure know how to pick campsites.


Comments

Tandem, An American Love Story — 2 Comments

  1. Thanks for the memories, and the update on your own adventures. That last few days back to Sequim was bitter-sweet after more than a year on the road. We’ve never been the same; a good thing.

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