I remember, in Rohnerville, Philip on his motorcycle, tall, his smile easy with laughter like the wind in a grassy, sunfilled field. He’s my youngest uncle, and he took me for a ride. I sat behind him, shy to hold around him tightly with my arms as he turned the corners. He told me to lean as he leaned. The motor beat the wind with its noise as we flew out the back road. We turned around before the old graveyard gate. I was ten. He rode his motorcycle to Texas, and the Army. Here, chronology is unimportant. He went to Vietnam and back. Then he went to Vietnam and back, and then to Vietnam and back again. There, he flew a helicopter. He was a lieutenant. He married Sharon, the woman of my childhood dreams. Once they drove from Texas to visit with their two little girls, and they stayed a week before they left. They had a son, and named him Philip. Last year, leaving their three children in Kentucky with her parents, Philip, with Sharon, flew his small plane here to see us before he left for Vietnam again. They landed in the rain on the Novato airport. Philip is young and strong, safe in that confidence, I thought. He said he needs the money. I didn’t know, but he lengthened the distance, strengthened the obscurity of the war. Rationalizations are excuses, deadening broken feelings. After he visited our relatives he left. I didn’t know the difference between riding a motorcycle and flying a helicopter. I remember, once, drinking tea, sitting around a table in the Japanese Tea Garden in Golden Gate Park. Aunt Ruby and Uncle Vernon, Mom and Dad, my sister Sherri, and I were together. I was happy, laughing and talking, bringing the Japanese leaves to the color of my happiness. I remember Ruby, in the excitement of her discovery, exclaiming to Mom, “Tommy reminds he so much of Philip! In his gestures, the way he talks, everything.” I was happy, and proud to know Philip in me. Philip was far away. Dad’s little brother—what is there, in that, the son? Dad’s brother—something lives there that almost makes me cry. Time, and realizations are slow. Philip is dead, I didn’t go to the funeral.
3 September 1971