Iowa Writes

LINDA HIME NEWBERRY
Darrell


Darrell was heavy-set and at seventeen towered over most of our friends. His thick, black hair was straight and gleamed a bluish hue when hit by the sun. A swath of hair always fell across his eyes, causing him to toss his head back constantly.
           
Today Darrell's family might be called dysfunctional, as his divorced and remarried parents were constantly swapping custody of their assortment of children. When we sometimes walked home from school together, he never seemed in any particular hurry to get home.

Darrell was heavy-set and at seventeen towered over most of our friends. His thick, black hair was straight and gleamed a bluish hue when hit by the sun. A swath of hair always fell across his eyes, causing him to toss his head back constantly.
           
Today Darrell's family might be called dysfunctional, as his divorced and remarried parents were constantly swapping custody of their assortment of children. When we sometimes walked home from school together, he never seemed in any particular hurry to get home.

Darrell and I dated once, on the night of our senior prom. I borrowed a formal dress from a friend and his rented tux resembled something discarded from one of Elvis's Las Vegas acts. He bought me a wrist corsage of peach-colored baby roses. Dinner was uncomfortable at first, as we were really only casual friends, but we laughed throughout the meal. We decided to order "grown-up" food; it was the only time I've ever had duck l'orange. Realizing we didn't actually want to go to the prom itself, we met up with friends for the party after. We never danced together.

After graduation I attended a small college in northwestern Iowa. Darrell enlisted in the Air Force. I couldn't believe it. During dinner every night of my adolescence, I watched footage of the Vietnam War on the evening news. I had skipped classes in high school to join anti-war protests on the University of Iowa campus and campaigned for McGovern. Now it seemed the war was almost over. I thought no one in his right mind would enlist! All of the guys we knew were doing everything they could to avoid getting drafted or fleeing to Canada. One friend of my sister's tobogganed downhill into a tree on purpose, dislocating a shoulder so he failed his physical.

Many of our friends who had no interest in higher education were scrambling to get accepted to college somewhere. But Darrell didn't have an academic inclination. High school had been fun, but it was over. His home life was not welcoming. Maybe Darrell didn't have anywhere else to go. Perhaps he felt going into the military was his best alternative. I never asked him about his reasons. Instead, I yelled at him and told him I thought he was making a stupid mistake.

One fall weekend when I was home from school Darrell was also home on leave. I was on my way to go somewhere when he called out to me from across the street. Watching him stride across the yard, head up and shoulders back, I realized he had been transformed. He didn't hang his head like he sometimes had. The beautiful, jet-black hair was cropped close, revealing stunning grey eyes I somehow had never noticed before. His trimmed physique took my breath away.

Standing there in my elaborately embroidered bib overalls and earth shoes, I was too immature to appreciate the choices he had made, the dedication, direction, and discipline he had needed and found. Instead, I was furious with him. He told me he was heading to Southeast Asia. I urged him to do something to delay going, even suggested he go north. To his great credit he didn't get angry, but was clearly saddened I couldn't show support or wish him well. He stood his ground and told me he knew what he was doing.

One morning in May 1975, I stopped in the lobby of the dorm to read the Des Moines Register, a daily habit. In the bottom right-hand corner a small headline read, "Iowa City Man, 19, Killed in Helicopter Crash in Thailand." I thought, "Hmmm, I'll read this and see if I know this person." I now know what the expression "the world tilted on its axis" means.

I must have made some kind of sound because people were suddenly rushing towards me. I had to get away. I couldn't let anyone see the horror I felt, the shame.  I couldn't speak. I couldn't breathe. I didn't want to be near anyone. I ran upstairs and into one of the dormitory bathrooms. I hid in a shower stall in the farthest corner, sank to the floor, and sobbed. I cried not only for Darrell's too-short life but also because I am selfish. I knew I would have to live the rest of my life regretting the way I treated him the last time I saw him.

I didn't go home for Darrell's funeral. For many reasons, but primarily because I knew he wouldn't be there, I've never gone back for any of the class reunions. Over the last 30 years, I've wished countless times he had waited just a few more weeks to enlist. By then, the war would have been over and he could have spent his years of service in some relatively peaceful place. Instead, he was one of the last casualties of the Vietnam War. I mourned the loss of his potential and learned to live with my regret.

I think of Darrell often now that we are at war again. I think of him every time I see another flag-draped coffin. I think of the families and friends who will be missing that person. I believe what they say about history repeating itself. I am angry all over again.

About fifteen years ago I was in Washington, D.C., and forced myself to go to the Vietnam War Memorial. As I traced my fingers over Darrell's name engraved on the Wall, I was struck by a couple of things. First, the stone is so shiny my image was mirrored back to me. Not only does the Wall honor those named on it, it reminds those of us who come there we are part of that history. Second, the stone is jet-black, and has an almost bluish tint to it when the sun shines on it...just like Darrell's hair.

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About Iowa Writes

Since 2006, Iowa Writes has featured the work of Iowa-identified writers (whether they have Iowa roots or live here now) and work published by Iowa journals and publishers on The Daily Palette. Iowa Writes features poetry, fiction, or nonfiction twice a week on the Palette.

In November of 2008, the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) designated Iowa City, Iowa, the world's third City of Literature, making the community part of the UNESCO Creative Cities Network.

Iowa City has joined Edinburgh, Scotland and Melbourne, Australia as UNESCO Cities of Literature.

Find out more about submitting by contacting iowa-writes@uiowa.edu


LINDA HIME NEWBERRY

Linda Hime Newberry writes: "I am a 1986 graduate of the University of Iowa and an Iowa City native.  I earned my master's degree from the Harvard Extension School in 2002.  I travel widely lecturing and teaching quilting.  My husband and I live halfway between Boston and Cape Cod."

This page was first displayed
on October 07, 2006

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