By Ken Korczak
He had know her for only an hour or two.
They met in the Roseau City Park at a picnic party of a mutual friend. Now he could scarecly believe she had agreed to go alone with him out into the summer night, all the way to the shores of Hayes Lake State Park, Minnesota.
From the moment their eyes connected, all normalcy ended. Both of them instantly perceived the force that powered reality — love — at it’s most fundamental level.
For them, to obey the love that now compelled them seemed more sane than sticking with the proper conventions of correct society.
Perhaps the American genius R. Buckminster Fuller was right — maybe love and gravity are one and the same force! Irresistible powers of attraction both!
What can oppose them? Gravity caused all the matter of the universe to come together, to combine, to cling tightly, to cause heat, energy and all life! And love … we all know it does the very same! Often the terms of gravity and love are used interchangably: we “fall” in love, we are “attracted” to each other, we “pull” together …
But let’s get back to our stricken couple.
They experienced a crackling electricty which came from the fact that they were near total strangers, yet they undeniably loved each other beyond imagination, beyond hope, with abandon and energy.
The night air pressed soft agianst their skin as they walked through the pine-scented environs of Hays Lake. Millions of liquid-white moon diamonds melted and reformed on the satin surface of the water. Gentle wavelets rippled musically, more lovely than Mozart.
They walked together, not touching, not holding hands, which took supreme effort. There was yet a tiny bit of “properness” infringing their desires after all.
They soon found themselves on a wooden deck suspended high above the silver dappled water, looking out. They turned to face each other. It was time to confront this astouding power. It would almost have been more easy to run from it, but that they just couldn’t do.
He said: “Maybe it’s this enchanted night that is working so much mischief on us. Maybe it’s what I have to do tomorrow. But this here now, is like a dream place, a fantasy forest by an unreal lake of light.”
She said: “I’m aware of it too, but what can I do, what can we do? I can’t leave.”
With that they both weakened a little. He drew his arm around her shoulder. Touching her sent currents through his arms, through his body. She became supple and relaxed herself into his embrace.
She pulled away just slightly and turned her face up toward his. He kissed her delicately. He kissed her again. Then a third time. Then she kissed him back even more tenderly, and then she kissed him again.
They clung close to each other and looked out onto the shimmering lake a perceived a stillness that mysteriously filled everything. It was a dynamic stillness.
Glancing over at her was astonished to notice for the first time that she had rich brown eyes, almond in shape – she was oriental! Astounding!
How could he have not noticed something as fundamental as her race all this time! Such a distinction was just so meaningless in the glare of their open souls! He touched her silken hair, jet black, absorbing moonlight with a sheen.
Her physical beauty was almost more than he could grasp. So much could not fit into his heart!
Finally she said: “I can’t tell you how stunned I am to find myself with your here. On one level it seems such an outrage. I don’t even know who you are! Is this real? What will we say tomorrow?”
The thought of tomorrow intruded into his mind like a shard of dirty glass, suddenly stabbing into the warm tissue of his heart.
For tomorrow he would be leaving for the jungles of a far-off land where he would have to fight a deadly battle with a determined enemy he knew near nothing about.
Tomorrow he would leave for Vietnam.
From somewhere, an irony he could not yet understand prodded at him: this overpowering, irresistible love for an oriental woman, possibly of the same race as the people he must fly off toward tomorrow — to kill.
How could this be an accident? He pushed the feeling out of his mind. He was too young and innocent to think through such intellectual subtlties anyway. What he preceived with his heart he could not get around with his mind — yet this ironic meaningfulness would never leave him.
A moment passed. Tomorrow he would be going to Vietnam, but here now he was with her, this stunning woman — the completion of his all his unfinished parts — suddenly materialized magically before him.
Why would God do this? Why complete these two people, only to rip them apart hours later?
They stood holding each other, possibly thinking the same thought, though neither of their young minds were trained to handle such tangled intrigues of fate.
She broke from him and walked off the wooden platform and moved toward the beach. He was still for a few seconds, then followed her. He came to stand behind her on the beach, close by the water in the sand. She turned, and again they embraced.
He took off his jacket, and her cloak and spread them on the sand. On the shores, under the stars, under the moonlight … like the Earth hugs all people warmly and safely to herself with gravity, so they held to each other warmly and safely with love.
They never saw each other again.
The next day, if a haze of fatigue and unimaginable heartache — with the severe pain of separation from mother, brothers, sisters, home, home town, and total love that cruelly vanishes — he flew off to his military base, and numbed himself for war.
17 YEARS LATER …
… in the oldest city in Minnesota, Winona.
Long returned from the jungles of “Nam,” he now found himself a broken “old man” among a group of frisky college kids working part-time evenings selling newspaper subscriptions by telephone.
Every time a sale was made, the supervisor gave the telemarketer a quarter. The quarter was taken to a tall, fat jar filled with water. At the bottom of the jug was a shot glass. If you dropped the quarter into the water and your quarter lilted down into the shot glass — you got double the commission on your sale.
For our Vietnam Vet, it was a humiliation, but he made six sales that night, and everytime, trudged up to the jar for a chance at doubling his commission. He couldn’t come up with a good reason not to do it, so he just did it. He dropped his six quarters into the water and smiled lamely when two of the six hit the mark.
The college punks watched his facial expressions with wry amusement — or maybe it was pity. Even a bunch of comfortable college kids could see that he was a wreck, a shabby dresser, a loner, most likely a drunk.
He was pasty white, balding, and wore thick glasses that were always smeared. He was a 40ish chronic underachiever of some kind, a geek, in their eyes.
But the carefree college kids didn’t know this: he had spent two years of his life in the nightmare jungles of Vietnam, confronting death, and the wild, senseless chaos of war.
The first oriental person he had ever met, he had loved enormously with all his exisetnce — the next several thousand oriental people he met all carried the face of insane death, insane fear, and perhaps worst of all, a kind of alien “otherness.”
Furthermore, college boys and girls didn’t know this: In Vietnam he was shot in the head. His brain was damaged, but he retained most of his “normal” mind and facilities. His soul was another matter. It was damaged beyond his ability to heal itself completely.
After the war he didn’t go back to his home town in Northern Minnsota. He didn’t want everyone to see what he had become. He drifted from job to job and drank a lot of alcohol every night. At one point he finally got enough control over himself to get a job as a cab driver in Winona.
After a couple of years on the job, while transporting a passenger, an artery inside his brain burst, rendering him unconscious.
Luckily for him and his terrified passenger it was wintertime. When the cab veared off the street and plowed out onto the barren ice of Lake Winona, it was thick enough to prevent the cab from plunging through, possibly sending driver and his fare to frigid deaths.
After the incident, his driver’s license was suspended, and he was reduced to the kind of jobs where the best incentive to be hoped for were to be given a quarter which could be droppred into a big jar of water to see if you could get lucky to be granted an extra three dollars.
One night at the newspaper job during the coffee break, our Vet was sitting off to the side and alone, when he overheard one of the college guys say that he was from northern Minnesota, from Greenbush.
In the parking lot after work, he approached the young man and said: “I overheard you saying you’re from Greenbush?”
The young man said: “Yes. It’s hard to believe I’m 500 miles from home, yet still living in the same state!”
The Vietnam Vet said: “I’m from northern Minnesota, too, from xxxxxx. You want to go out for a drink?”
The young man said: “Sure, why not.”
They went to one of Winona’s numerous blue-collar corner bars, redolent in the kind of shabby seediness that makes them irresistible in character, atmosphere, and lost Americana.
After a couple of beers and exhanging some stories about their former northern Minnesota stomping grounds, the Vet learned that the student was a journalism major, and was thinking about a career in writing.
He became strangely silent after this, saying next to nothing through a couple more beers. The student started to get a bit restless, although he took a sympathetic liking to this man, obviously soaked in sadness and tragedy. There was also that certain camaraderie felt between to displaced people who grew up in the same corner of the world.
Finanally the Vet said: “You know where Hays Lake State Park is?”
“Of course,” the student said. “It’s only about 35 miles from Greenbush.”
Again, the Vet was silent for a long period of time, and he seemed to be struggling with deep, inner feelings. The student knew that he was attempting to open up in some significant way, and though he felt a bit uncomfortable, he decided to see what he had to say.
Finally, with a trembling voice, the Vet mentioned a certain picnic in Roseau which seemed like an endless eternity of years ago, at which he met an achingly lovely young woman who agreed to go with him to Hays Lake State Park that same night.
For moe than an hour, the student listened to his story — poorly told and rambling, and often filled with pathetic, drunken, teary digressions — yet with a genuine emotion and conviction that made the garbled tale strangely effective and difficult to forget.
At about midnight they were both fairly drunk. The watery 3.2 tap beer began to taste like the afterwash from a dog basin. They finally stepped out of the bar, and on the dark street under a purple mercury-vapor light fluttering with insects, the Vet grabbed the student’s elbow and said:
“Anyway, if you’re going to be a writer some day, maybe you can write about her and me, our one night at Hays Park together … you know … about love, about what love really is. Somebody should know about it. Even though my life is a mess now, I know there’s something big out there in the universe, something big and powerful, something to do with love. Do you think you can ever write about that, about my girl? About love? About love being a force .. some kind of energy force?”
The student said: “I’ll try someday.”
“You promise, Ken?” he said.
“Yes,” I said. “I promise.”