My Little Vine: Yes, my-little-imager, I admire your letters. Each line is like an imprint from your soul’s fingerprint.
By the way, I’m curious that you didn’t ask what it’ll be like for Dominique to have two daddies and a new mommy. I venture to say that it was because you didn’t realize that when you were his age you actually gained a third father in Brother Jimmy, not a second one. You already had two.
Scratching your head? No, I’m not pulling your leg. At first, it may seem like math emanating from the annals of prestidigitation. But it’s not—really and truly. The paradox will become clear to you. I have full faith that it will.
Before your brain wanders off wondering, let me ask you a question: how much attention do you pay to the bride and groom’s parents—natural, surrogate or otherwise? I do, quite a bit actually.
For instance, I also gazed as his eyes phased from glassy, to misty, to blurry, to teary. His stalwart mind told his ducts to promise to withhold their bounty. His heart made them promise not to keep that promise. His spirit advised the fountains at the corners of his visual ports to pay his mind and heart no mind. His soul was busy wrestling all the memories galivanting with their emotions into something resembling harmony.
I give it to him. He made a top-notch effort holding it in, keeping it together for as long as he did. There was not one splish or splash during the litany of preparations leading to the big day of celebration. But when his one and only, his angel, approached him in the gown he helped her select, he was done for.
In a manner that only she could, she disarmed his defenses. She subdued his back up coping mechanisms. She disabled his so-called fail proof security system. The grandeur of the moment was the sprinkle that broke the dam. It was a good thing that your mother was the only one in the room wearing makeup. As he pulled the veil over her face, tears trickled down his. Your Poppi may have been as arid as Arizona during Terrance’s wedding; he was Niagara Falls when it came time to give your mom away.
There they were. Standing at the base of the stairwell leading from the annex up to the sanctuary. Your Poppi had long been accustomed to swooping in on your mother’s behalf. But he raised a sturdy, capable woman. To come to Poppi’s rescue, your mother was about to pull out the tissues she had reserved for herself. His extra hand kerchief beat her to the race to dry his face.
A Foil to Another
Through a few deep breaths, Poppi regained himself while allowing decades of love to well up and saturate his eyes without falling from them. He had a record of perfect attendance to every episode of the epic that is your mom’s life. And he wasn’t about to ruin it—not on that day of all days.
Leeland Jackson, Sr. damped the saline precipitation from his barbered beard. He unpackaged the corsage he was holding. He wrapped it around her wrist and kissed the fingers that once wrapped themselves around his index. Then, they walked hand-in-hand up the inner steps of the church that your mommy grew up and your poppi helped establish with his blood, sweat and, yes, tears.
Their appearance at the sanctuary’s entrance cued the organist to proceed with the procession. His arm under hers, they tiptoed down the petal laden aisle splitting a sea of breathless stares and the rickety-crickety-clicks of disposable cameras armed and ready. (P.S. I also send my remarks to the flower girl—incredible success at making a “mess.”)
To keep angst in its place, Poppi subconsciously returned to a trick of his training. He remembered to breathe. He inhaled with one step and exhaled with another. His rhythmic respiration slowed the procession down. Poppi’s breathing was intrepid; his composure was stoic of highest class. Outwardly, he knew music was playing. Inwardly, he could not hear the tune over the echo of his heartbeat beating across the doldrums of his eardrums.
The air filling your poppi’s lungs was alive with memories of old making room for memories anew. That air was a foil to another dank with death; an air that almost caused his lungs to shrivel up in smoke. That air was worn. That air was weak. That air burned warm against his cheeks. IEDS shot shrapnel and sand as Poppi ran with a mask on his face, an automatic in his hand.
At that juncture, Poppi wasn’t a poppi—certainly not yours. Leeland Jackson, Sr. wasn’t even Leeland Jackson, Sr. To Laura Simpson of Queens, New York, he was the honey that she hoped against hope would come home. To his platoon, he was Sergeant Lee stationed in III Corp, a.k.a. the War C Zone.
Bringing Life Into Focus
The scattered depots on military camps checkered by a web of checkpoints were the muscle and sinew dangling from the town’s skeleton. Sandwiched between Cambodia and Saigon in Southern Vietnam, Katum lay abandoned by its original inhabitants. They fled to neighboring towns for refuge. Many a firefight by night, the stars stood by as rulers naked to my vision but imperceptible by most reduced my most precious creation to puppets in a repugnant replay of a tragedy called, “Power & Self Destruction.”
My Little Vine, ever since humanity chose death over me, I’ve been working to scrub death from its DNA. In due course, I’ve retooled death’s shadow to advance the cause. This is one reason why death, when you allow it, has a way of bringing life into focus.
The goggles of his breathing apparatus made it almost impossible for Pop…Sarge—well, let’s call him Sergeant Poppi—to focus his visual field. But as he trotted through the dense terrain in the dead of night, what mattered most to his life was plain as day.
Sarge was escaping an assignment gone haywire. He was supposed to take a unit to sweep an emaciated village and report whether Viet Cong forces had returned. The location had been cleared so many times that sweeping it had become routine: in; scout; out. And it was rather standard. The tired unit of tattered fatigues hadn’t encountered a single soul. But, when they were bounding the final round about, one agent—just one—sent them on the run. Orange. Agent Orange.
Some soldiers had protective gear. Others didn’t. The detection of the toxic haze disbanded Poppi’s unit in horrid disarray. And combatants lurking in the swampy foliage employed guerilla tactics to pick the people they were trained to regard as enemies off one-by-one. Before leaving the base, if you could call it that, Sergeant Poppi heard a still small voice nagging him to bring his tactical breathing gear along. He didn’t want to carry the extra weight on his back, so he left his tent without it. However, at the last minute, he backtracked and added the contraption to the pack on his back.
Now, Poppi was on the run uncertain if he was caught in a recurring nightmare. The barrage of bullets billowing behind him made it clear that he was wide awake. The mask made it hard to breathe yet gave him enough breath to pray. Death was catching up to him. All he could think about was a promise he made to Laura, your nammy. He promised her that he would come home. Come what may, he would return somehow, someway.
Not a Perfect Science
He swore that he would come back; he would marry her; build a life with her; they’d live long enough to be forever young in growing old together; she’d would witness him walk their daughter down the aisle one day. Your poppi and I weren’t close back then. But of all the scriptures his mother recited to him, one kept reverberating in his head. He didn’t know it verbatim, but he knew it was something to the effect of me not allowing my word to come back to me with return to sender status.
Poppi prayed. You’d think he’d ask to evade death; no, he plead for help to keep his word. He begged for a second chance to know me as the God who keeps his word so he could keep his. Sure, the scripture use was out of context. But I wasn’t attending to his accuracy. I was responding to his faith. There was no bartering or negotiation. I take no pleasure in being petty. But I do rejoice in providing an opportunity.
A limb fell into a ditch and took Poppi along with it. Blackout. Poppi woke up in an infirmary. Blackout again. This time, Poppi woke up doubled over the toilet five centimeters from drowning in his own fluids. Opportunity is not a perfect science. Poppi kept his word. He came home; your Nammy felt like she could finally exhale. They married as they intended to before the draft catapulted your Poppi into the Vietnam War.
Poppi returned to the States with his outer man intact. His inner man was not. The newly weds found an apartment in Brooklyn. Poppi found work at a factory. Unresolved trauma found him. An occasional cigar among blood brothers turned into cigarettes with coworkers. Cigarettes at break time became a habit. The habit became a necessity upon waking, after breakfast, lunch, dinner and to fill idle spaces in between.
During one of these spaces, Poppi met the burning leaf that promised to make the rushing thoughts racing along the terminals in his cranium zoom away. When a blunt was insufficient, he paired it with a beer to put a leash on the fear that his dreams would drift him back to Vietnam. Invariably, the leash would snap. So, he would tighten it with more puff-puff-passes paired with beer and a touch of rum. It wasn’t long before rum took beer’s place only to be replaced by gin.
Yes, there was a lot of gin…until the night Poppi learned that though he made it out of Vietnam alive, he was still running from death. By this point, your mommy had made her way into his world, into his heart. Oh, how he adored his precious three-year-old. He tried to shield her from his shadow. He only let himself get into a high stupor after she fell to sleep. He was smoking the memories, the flashbacks, the trauma into a blur. He drank himself to the edge of oblivion where he thought torment wouldn’t know where he was hiding.
It’s About Progression
When he awoke centimeters from deaths door, he realized that his enemy wasn’t agent orange. It wasn’t an insurgent who was trained to kill-or-be-killed. It wasn’t a bullet or a land mine. Self-destruction was the seductress that turned him against himself. Vietnam wasn’t the noose that would strangle promise out of him. He was—him without me; him without my opportunity to escape the seduction of self-destruction.
My Love, opportunity is not about perfection. Opportunity is about progression. My word is an unwavering locomotion. When it comes in contact with a person bent on progression, it’s relentless to bring all the good I’ve embedded within them out to mature completion. Nammy expected to find him passed out on the bathroom floor like countless times before. Instead, she found him kneeling, weeping the same prayer he whispered in the boonies of ‘Nam as it were only yesterday.
This time, however, he wasn’t making the request alone. This time, Poppi and Nammy asked that they both make it back home—back to the only home they could find in my open arms. From that point on, Poppi stopped running from death. He ceased fleeing from the darkness within himself and began pursuing the light within me at the speed of eternal life.
That day when Poppi gave your mom away was more than a hope fulfilled. It was a testament to progression over perfection. It was evidence of my word that keeps being kept. Marveling at you dancing upon Brother Jimmy’s feet took Poppi back to when his little angel danced upon his. And observing him watching your first dance was a glimpse of the impenetrable satisfaction that will reign when I watch my son salter with his bride.
What will it be like? Ah…selah. Here’s a taste: the last first dance will bring to completion a love that has stopped death in its tracks and passed the test of all time.
One more thing, then, I’ll let you go on being your lovely self. If you haven’t figured it out, my Love, here’s why you had three daddies instead of two. You already had a father who knew you before “knowing” knew to make itself known…me 😉
Your Quirky Mathematician ~ Abba