My good friend who never leaves me alone.
I met someone today. I was walking to the NEX minimart, and I realized something. Someone was with me, and I named him "Lon". We walked all the way there and back together. We've actually done everything together. I'm not sure which one actually gets all the ideas for our adventures, but we always agree on something. It's a lot of fun hanging with Lon. We've always done everything together. Back as far as I can remember, walking with him in the forest behind my house. We'd see deer, and wild turkeys, and lots of squirrels. Crossing the makeshift bridge spanning all four feet of a creek where we'd just stare into the flowing water for so very long without speaking a word. We'd watch crawdaddies and tadpoles, and whatever else floated by. A childhood friend, I cherished him.
I think my biggest problem with spending so much time with Lon was that I hated him. I recall trudging to work in the dark of night, staring into the starry sky. Lon would always point out Orion on a clear night. I didn't know constellations very well, so to me it looked like a butterfly, at least I saw wings. It became my angel looking down at me, always looking out for me. Lon was always there, but the angel somehow comforted me. Hearing the detonation of mines or mortars impacting the ground always gave me a startle, but I'd think of my angel, and I was safe. Lon was always on my mind, but I figured I could ditch him after this tour. Figured it'd be easy.
It was never easy getting any distance between me and Lon. He was always there. I hated him. After separating from service, me and Lon decided to drive cross-country. I wanted to stay off the freeways, just take the backroads, and Lon agreed. We'd listen to the same CD on repeat for days, being moved mile after mile by the same vocals, spinning on that shining platter, belching the Very Best of Meat Loaf. I rarely tired of it. I think Lon enjoyed it too, but he seemed to know that the choruses that cut me most deeply were the ones that didn't involve him. But he never shied away. We went everywhere together.
I remember standing on top of the world, a panoramic view from heaven, setting sun reflecting off the snowcapped mountains, glistening through the snow-dusted evergreens, silent, still, absolute beauty. Lon was there. I hated Lon for being there. This was the one time I really badly just wanted Lon gone. We were such close friends. He was ruining my life. There was no escape from Lon. I'm not sure if it was several days later, or maybe it was years, whether Lon told me, or if the thought just occurred to me, but the things I saw with Lon, the places I went with Lon, coast to coast, the rugged Badlands, the windswept Great Plains, the lowest canyons, the highest mountains, always on roads to nowhere, but it always led to somewhere, somewhere with Lon. Lon and I agreed on everything. If I hadn't been with Lon, I would have doubtlessly had to compromise, all those sunsets high up in the mountains, all those miles in the rain and thunderstorms and blizzards, tenting near a roaring river near the ghost town of Custer, Idaho with only a smoked sausage and a bottle of water. The things I did with Lon I could never had done without him.
It's good to spend time with him again. He tells me he was there when my wife left me, but I just didn't recognize him. Apparently he stopped smoking a few months ago. He tells me I stopped joining him, so he quit. But he seems to be eyeing the camels sitting on my hotel dresser, so I'm not sure if he's done for good or just talking. I remember him saying a lot of things. It's kinda discouraging to hear him talk about his failures. Just reminds me too much of me. I tell him he projecting, and he shuts up for awhile. I figure the wine I got from the minimart might distract him from his nicotine addiction. Or maybe it won't. I tell him the only reason I started was because he wasn't there. I tell him my wife got me into this bad habit. He tells me he was there, like, the whole time. Shaking my head, it's unbelievable the things he'll say. I ask him if he wants to watch something on TV, or maybe just browse through YouTube. He says he doesn't want to distract me while I'm writing, so I tell him to shut up and leave me alone then. He doesn't, but such are the days of coronavirus. He tells me we're the best of friends, and he'll do his best to make sure I never forget him again. Such are the days of COVID-19.
He says to keep putting pen to paper. I say it's a laptop. He asks me if that's supposed to be some sort of joke. He doesn't get me. I tell him so. He says I need to work on my jokes, that I'm not talking to myself. He sounds bored and uninterested. I tell him I may as well be.
Lon remembered our days together in Guam. It was a joy reminiscing, the memories he had. I was there, I said. I saw that too, I said. The steep incline, almost straight down the side of a cliff to get to the beach on base. He only went there a few times too. I talked to him about skydiving, about scuba diving, about all the fun I had flying. He said he remembered. I forgot he was there. I talked to him about the bus tour around the island, where I spent that day with three or four friends. He said he was there. I talked to him about going to Yokoi's Cave and Two Lovers Point. He said he was there. I talked about the B-52 that crashed on Liberation Day, how everyone perished at sea, how my squadron had to fish out arms and legs, how the bomber might've banked too sharply. He said he was there. I talked about Lt. Hescock, how he drowned in the water reservoir. He said he was there. I talked about the endless days, watching the waves wash up on the beach, day in, day out, never ending, surrounded by water, nowhere to go, in the middle of the Pacific. He said he was there. It was nice talking to Lon.
I try to remember my deployment to Incirlik. Lon reminds me of the tents we used to live in. I grimace half-jokingly. It wasn't so bad really. I remember needing to do laundry but had no detergent. Eyeing a bottle of liquid detergent resting near the machines, I opened it up and got a rancid, retched stench of piss. That got me gagging so badly, I tell him. He says he was there. I tell him of the time I spent in Bagram. I tell him about the medivac helicopters taking off and landing right next to where I worked. He says he wants to forget it. I agree.
I keep glancing at the bottle of wine, sitting on the table, the one Lon helped me pick out this morning at the minimart. He catches me eyeing it and tells me to brew some tea. We'll save it for later, he says. I open up my bag of Trolli gummy worms. He says he wants some too, but I don't share. According to the forecast, it was supposed to be raining now, but looking out the window, it's bright as ever. Another wasted day, stuck, nowhere to go. Such are the days of the coronavirus. The Keurig has just finished brewing my tea. Lon is thinking, always thinking, always pondering, always there. Such are the days of COVID-19.
When I was in 5th grade, my older brother was in 7th. We always walked to school together, I tell him. Forcing my mind back to an earlier time, a happier time. We'd always walk a mile to school in the dark throughout the long Michigan winters. I remember one time my brother was sick, so I had to go alone, I tell him. Lon seems more interested today, or maybe it's just me. I tell him that on my way to school, there's a row of bushes on the other side of the street. I remember walking. It was cold, and everything was still, everything was quiet. I could only hear my own footsteps as I scrape my way across the uneven sidewalks. I tell him I felt someone watching me, something. It was a peculiar feeling, I tell him. But it was only a feeling, so I kept walking. My hollow, echoey steps on the pavement was abruptly interrupted by a rustle in one of the bushes across the street. I was deathly still. It must've been a good minute before my mind settled on the idea of continuing my journey more hastily. But only one step more was all I could take before I started at the same crunchy noise in the bushes. My heart was beating hard, I tell him. My mind was racing, I tell him. My footsteps ceased, but this time the rustling did not. Broken silence, broken stillness, in the darkness, the bushes were alive. Then out leaped an animal. As I took a defensive posture in hopes I had the courage to discourage this rabid beast, the cat came up to me and purred. I will never forget that time in the cold morning darkness. Lon doesn't say he was there. He doesn't have to. I remember him. It was a long walk.