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  • “Through the too many miles, and the too little smiles
    I still remember you….”

    - Harry Chapin, from the song “Taxi”
    “Just yesterday morning they let me know you were gone
    …I walked out this morning and I wrote down this song
    I just can’t remember who to send it to
    I’ve seen fire and I’ve seen rain
    I’ve seen sunny days that I thought would never end
    I’ve seen lonely times when I could not find a friend
    But I always thought that I’d see you again”

    - James Taylor, from “Fire and Rain
    Leaving Connecticut, next stop on the “Freedom Tour” was my parents’ place in Cherry Hill, NJ. They were hospitable towards me, but it no longer felt like “home” there. It had never been my home, but it had been the place I’d gone to visit my family the entire time I was in the Navy, and over the years, had acquired that aspect of being “home” – but now, it felt rather chilly - hospitable, yes, but not very welcoming.
  • This was undersandable. I’d never contacted them the whole time I was AWOL. I hadn’t wanted them to have to lie to the authorities if they were contacted by the Navy or the FBI while I was out there on the lam. They had come to visit me in Norfolk, a few weeks after I’d left, and had to find out from my roommate that I had taken off, and he had no idea where to, or for how long. He had told them what a bastard the captain on the ship was, though.

    I’d had some pretty bitter arguments with Mom on the phone from Treasure Island, when I finally did contact them. I’d written a very nasty letter after one of our talks, basically threatening to sever our relationship completely if she couldn’t find it in herself to recognize and accept me as I was, without labeling me as “sick” or trying to “fix” me. A lot of other issues had come out in that letter – looking back, it’s amazing to me that she would even have me in her home after some of the other things I’d said in it. But then, she was used to dealing with alcoholics and sick people – it’s what she did for a living – so, I’m sure my “shit” just rolled off her back. She dealt with it, and still loved me, despite my nastiness. But she was human, and some of the things I’d said had been most hurtful.

    I’d always figured Dad had just been waiting for me to screw up, the entire time I was in the Navy, so he should have been satisfied that I finally fulfilled what he’d known would happen all along. I really didn’t have the time of day for the man at that point, and I felt like the feeling was mutual. We tolerated each other, at best. He just seemed disappointed in me. My little sister Mary was there for me, as she always was, but even she didn’t seem to know how exactly to take me, now. But, she tried.

    It was all kind of a mess, not what I’d been expecting there, at all. Where were the congratulations? Where was the appreciation that I had gained my freedom from the chains of oppression? They just expressed concern for my well-being, and were rather subdued about the whole thing.

    It was true that I had changed a lot since I went AWOL. I was a very different person. I no longer felt like I was a victim. I had taken a stand, grabbed the reins of life, and wasn’t taking it anymore. I was going to make something of myself. I was no longer a “follower”, finding stronger people to hide in the shadow of. I was bolder. I was my own person, now. I felt like they just couldn’t see any of this. It was very frustrating to me.

    Brother Ken was the only one who seemed to get me, now. I had always taken him for granted growing up, but was finding that he was a brother I could really count on. The fact that he’d taken the time to come out to be with me in San Francisco, and was willing to listen to me, meant the world to me.
  • I could only handle a couple of days there, then made my way back down to Norfolk by train. The first thing I did there was to look up my old drinking buddy Harry, the guy who had driven my “angel”, Jean, and I down to the Greyhound Station to start my journey west, four months earlier. I needed to find out if she had ever came back. I hoped that if she did, she had run into Harry. I needed to find her. I needed to find out if she really cared about me.

    In fact, he told me that Jean had come back - about a month after we’d left together. She’d been asking all around about me, and had found him at the bar where she’d first met him, the bar where she and I had goofed on Harry that day, pretending like I’d just picked her up. She’d been really upset about my sudden departure from the bus in Nebraska, when I’d gotten thrown off and wouldn’t let her come with me. She’d desperately looked for me all over Portland, the whole time she was there. She’d broken up with her boyfriend, over me.

    She and Harry had become friends. Harry told me that he tried hitting on her (typical Harry – I would have expected nothing less of him), while they were hanging on the beach together one day. She had just shaken her head, with an ironic chuckle, and confided in him that she was really hung up on me, and wasn’t interested in starting something else. Damn, damn, damnit! If I’d only let her come with me, how different that whole journey might have been!

    She had planned to wait there for me, but that was months ago. By the time I got back down there, she was long gone. My sweet angel had flown away. I would never see her again, after that.
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