Letter From Milo: Bonnie’s Tale

December 31st, 2018

Mickey came home from Vietnam in February of 1970, just a few days short of his 21st birthday. He had been an infantryman, a rifle-toting grunt who had slogged through mountains and swamps, bombed out rice paddies and impenetrable jungles. He had seen and done things that no person should ever see or do. Some of the memories would never leave him.

Back home, Mickey was at loose ends. He didn’t know what to do. He was lost and confused. His old friends, high school buddies, seemed like childish strangers to him. He wasn’t sleeping well and was eating poorly. Even his mother’s cooking, which he had always relished, was tasteless to him.

Mickey spent most of his time in his car, driving aimlessly, listening to the radio and smoking lots of marijuana. Sometimes he’d pick up a six-pack or a pint of whiskey and drive out to the beach, where he’d find an isolated spot near the shore of Lake Michigan, park his car, and watch the waves roll in and out for hours at a time. The sound of waves lapping at the shoreline soothed him and often he would fall asleep, lulled by the rhythmic play of the waters.

Mickey knew there was something wrong with him but he couldn’t quite put his finger on the problem. The term Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder hadn’t been coined yet. If he had known about PTSD he might have tried to get some help, although Mickey was by nature a self-contained type and probably wouldn’t have asked for help even if he knew he needed it.

After being home for a few months, the time had come for Mickey to make a decision. He could either get a job in one of the local factories or do something else. He opted for something else. He decided to take advantage of the GI Bill and go to college for a year or so, just to clear his head. Maybe he would get a new perspective on things. Maybe his demons wouldn’t follow him to southern Indiana. Maybe he could outrun his past. Maybe.

His first months at college were not much different from the life he had been living in his hometown. Mickey wandered around in a daze, keeping his head down, unable to reach out to people, unwilling to expose himself more than absolutely necessary. He attended classes sporadically, spent time drinking alone in the local taverns and smoked pot to take his mind off of, well, who knows what. He may as well have been a ghost, his presence unnoticed except for those whose senses were attuned to the high and lonesome end of misery spectrum.

And then Mickey met Bonnie.

She was a beautiful, long-legged art student, a farm girl from southern Indiana. She saw something in Mickey that he thought had been lost and gone forever. She saw a spark of intelligence, a glimmer of humanity that he thought no longer existed. For some reason she decided that he was someone worthwhile, someone she wanted to know better.

Bonnie took Mickey under her lovely wing. They became friends, then lovers. She had a kind and generous nature and, more than that, she seemed to have an intuitive sense of how to deal with Mickey’s damaged psyche. When he went into one of his funks, she knew how to lift his spirits. When he woke up in the middle of the night, drenched in sweat and gasping for breath, she soothed him with hugs and kisses and gentle words until he was able to fall asleep again. She was comfortable with his silences and listened patiently when he felt like talking. Although Mickey didn’t realize it at the time, Bonnie was exactly what he needed at that point in his life.

When Bonnie brought Mickey into her life she also introduced him to her world. As an art student, Bonnie’s social circle included other artists – actors, writers, dancers and musicians. Mickey, who was used to the rough world of soldiers and working men, found himself enjoying the company of his witty and creative new friends. They made him laugh and think and look at the world differently. He was changing.

Slowly, Mickey began to come out of his shell. He felt healthy again. He was sleeping better, too, his dreams less vivid and frightening. He took pleasure in good conversation, good music and even began enjoying some of his classes, although it must be said that Mickey had a low opinion of organized education. He no longer had a sense of dread when he woke up in the morning. He had the odd but welcome sensation that he was becoming a human being again, reconnecting to the person he once was and seeing intimations of the person he might become.

Mickey understood that none of this would have been possible without Bonnie. She had literally saved his sanity and, possibly, his life. She had lifted the darkness from his soul and replaced it with dawning hope. Mickey knew that he could never explain to Bonnie what she had done for him. He could not find words that adequately expressed what she meant to him. In fact, he doubted that the proper words of thanks existed in the English language. The only thing he knew for certain was that without her he might have remained a ghost, a blue-collar Flying Dutchman, doomed to spend eternity wandering. He would never forget what she had done for him.

All stories have a beginning and, sadly, an end. When she finished school, Bonnie decided to move to New York City to pursue her artistic dreams. Mickey’s future lay elsewhere. They went their separate ways, but Mickey always kept Bonnie in his heart, safely tucked away in a place where a person’s most precious treasures are kept. He thought of her often, wondering where she was and what she was doing. Always, when he thought of her, he wished her peace, love and happiness. There was nobody more deserving.

And there was absolutely no doubt in Mickey’s mind that when Bonnie thought of him, she wished him the same.

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