The story begins with two women on a plane. Every seat is filled, and it’s flu season. One of the two women has oval bandaids over her nostrils in an effort to keep out the virus bugs. The other woman is reading a dull book about the World War I battlefield. This one’s the writer. She has been poring over books, documentaries and any other source of material available about both world wars. Why is she doing this? She has no idea.
They get to their destination – Asheville, NC and in fairly short order, recover their luggage. The mother of the flu-fearing woman picks them up at the airport, to take them back to Flat Rock, about thirty minutes away. The ride is uneventful, they arrive at their destination and all three exhausted women go to bed.
The next morning, there is a mountain of paperwork on the kitchen table, with a Purple Heart decoration sitting at the place the writer will occupy for breakfast for the next week. Ah yes – part of the reason for the trip is to go through these documents in order to find material suitable for turning into .png’s and .jpg’s for use by the World War II Memorial and another one in Gainesville, where the brother of nose bandage woman lives and where the subject of the study briefly went to study pre-law. Breakfast is quickly gotten out of the way and the work begins. The writer and the subject’s sister open the big box of documents and start to peruse.
The writer examines the medal, a still-vibrant violet with a profile picture of George Washington embedded in the middle. The name is written on the back where George’s right ear would be: Clement L. Theed, Jr. KIA. Oh, that word – not the name of a Korean subcompact car; killed in action. Action. War. The writer flashes back nearly ten years to her son being in the ‘action’ in Iraq, and nearly being killed but for the base of an antenna that deflected the bullet meant for the middle of his forehead. Some live; many die. Many more died back then, but isn’t each death significant – at least to the mother of the young man who won’t be there for her?
The work continues – beginning to look at pictures, sorting through a variety of documents, some important, some middlingly significant and others irrelevant. The detritis of lives lead and held onto for a variety of personal reasons. But so far the work produces light chatter and a few laughs.
The writer and the sister take a pee and water break at mid-morning. The writer comes back into the kitchen where the sister is holding the dark blue box – the home of the Purple Heart. She opens the box. She turns her head, and tears appear on her cheeks. The box contains Clement L. Theed Jr.’s watch – likely the watch he was wearing when he was killed – when he was KIA. The writer cries too – not so much thinking about Clement L. Theed, Jr. – the uncle who died before she was born – but instead of the prospect of her son’s effects being returned from Iraq. But her son’s effects weren’t returned. Her son returned, had the usual issues with post-war trauma management, and lives on. So why does the writer cry? For all the mothers whose sons did not return – a shared grief that lasts forever.
The Sister Speaks
This section will be a first person narrative in the voice of the sister. It details how the news of Clemmie’s death was conveyed, first to her and his father, then to the father’s sister Emily, and from there to the mother. All this was necessary because the father was posted to an army training facility in small arms in Chicago, and couldn’t be there when his wife got the news. No car rolled up to the front of the house; the father had connections in Washington that provided him the information. The narrative talks about the sister being a teenager, and likely for the first time, having to deal with death, in this case a brother 8 years older than she. But the crux of the conversation will be about the effect it had on her mother and how her role as the caregiver – along with aunt Emily – of her mother, who often appeared to have lost her will to live after the death of her first born son. They travel to Chicago in the fall, and experience winter for the first time – one of the coldest Chicago had experienced. The picture of them in the snow shows a woman whose face does not smile; she is living one day at a time. Emphasis is on what happens to a mother when her son dies, but she cannot grieve because his remains remain – in New Guinea, burnt beyond recognition in a crashed, defective plane in the middle of the jungle. She is inconsolable. Nonetheless, until his remains are returned four years’ after the end of the war, she holds out a glimmer of hope that it was a mistake, and he will walk through the front door of her house, just as he had for the twenty years’ prior to joining the AF.
The Writer Speaks
The writer talks about how much she can relate to how her grandmother must have felt, and what it must have been like not to have had any inkling of what had happened to the son. The writer talks to the sister about her own experience with her son in Iraq, the phone calls, the farewells when it appeared he would not survive the battle going on, fighting for him and his unit with information to the media, and then getting the phone call that he had survived – the first of many. She talks about how not knowing took over her life, and the best day ever was when he got off the plane in Atlanta. He was on leave, but they knew he would return to a different assignment in Iraq, in a different capacity than fighting the Mahdi Army in Sadr City. Later that evening, she tells the sister that she’s decided to tell Clemmie’s story, with more than just a photograph and a few paragraphs about how he served and died. She would try to channel him – truly understand who this man was, by any means necessary. She would make it her assignment for the next however-long it took.
Channeling a Ghost
The writer returns home with the flu-fearing woman a few days later. Exhausted, she doesn’t even unpack her bags, and instead, lies down on her bed to meditate and try to rest before starting dinner. The writer begins to dream. She is back in her grandmother’s house in south Miami – 7411 S.W. 54th Avenue, a three bedroom bungalow built in the 40’s. She is lying on the bed in what was referred to as “the little room”, a small bedroom behind the kitchen on the north side of the house. The writer gets up because she senses the presence of someone else in the house. She walks through the doorway, and sees the double bed in the room across the hall. A man is lying on the bed. At first she does not recognize him – he is covered up by the sheet, so all she can see is half of his face from the nose up. The writer approaches the bed, and looks at the face. It is Clemmie’s face, but it’s horribly disfigured – with the mottled, charred texture of third degree burns. The writer reaches down and touches his shoulder. The man turns his head toward her, and opens his eyes. The writer starts and jumps back a step, bumping into the chest of drawers. He says, “hello, my name is Clemmie – what’s yours?”
Memories..like Scrooge with Fezziwig
Must talk with John and Sharon and Jopie about her memories of the house
Whose story is it? Layers of the onion
Must build up to the confrontation..his mother does not see that he is burned ..only sees her son..his father sees he’s burned and feels responsible for it all .. he knows what she does not
Relationship between pop and robert must be explored in all its painful detail
Key to part of the work is in the pictures .. is that a different story? Yes
Easiest one to write
Then cut it up and weave it
Gradually add additional characters/family members .. Blanche, Edward the artist, the Prices..have to speak with or meet with Doug to write that part
Jim and Bob