Dreams come and go like butterflies in early summer skimming along in the early morning breezes. They pause here and there and then are gone, forgotten when the rains of late September appear. Sometimes a dream will linger too long and like a butterfly caught in the first hard freeze of November crystalize into a lifeless shell. We all have dreams and one or two stay long past their time, kept in a box with the love letters of past affairs. Sheldon was such a man, one who believed himself to be a romantic of the first order, if there is such an order. We went through basic training together and then the advanced infantry training and posted to Vietnam for our year in hell. We were the replacements for the regiment, the new meat, as we were called by those who had been in country for many months. Sheldon was too much the idealist to make more than a passable soldier and I was too rebellious to rise above the rank of private. But we survived, he with a minor wound and a purple heart to show the girls his bravery and I without a scratch to show my imperviousness to discipline. Chance makes heroes in war and that’s a fact. We had always been on the fringes like extras in a film company waiting for our walk on and chance to stand on our marks while the film rolled.
For my part I was ambivalent as to the loss of hero opportunity. I’m more the realist, never look a gift horse in the mouth lest you die making a grand gesture. Life was about living, not gestures. Sheldon was greatly disappointed. What good was a war if one couldn’t do great heroic actions. I told him he was lucky that he has a purple heart and was still living. Well, you know ho that goes, we often want what we can’t get or if we do the price is too high. A medal is just bragging rights when you’ve seen enough death. So we mustered out together at Fort Ord. Too bad they closed that base, nice place, good country before the developers screwed it up. It was within a forty eight hour pass of San Francisco and the music of our era. Not that the girls were impressed by our being soldiers. I had to get used to being called “Baby Killer”. I didn’t mind, as long as I could spend to night getting drunk and wake up in some girl’s bed i was happy to be a “Baby Killer”. Sheldon, on the other hand, had this idea that he would shack up with a woman for a while and then head on to the next destination. He wanted to be that wandering easy rider like Peter Fonda. Can’t say that I blamed him, I mean it was a nice life if that was what you wanted for five or ten years.
So we took our mustering out pay and bought ourselves motorcycles. I was a Norton Commando fan. That big throated roar from the twin cylinders was what I loved to hear. Born to be wild, man that was me. Sheldon was a Harley fan. He couldn’t afford the electra glide but he was in love with Harleys. Well, I could tell you tales about those two bikes. Nortons leaked oil and Harleys broke down constantly. I think w would have been better off with BSA or Triumph. Hell, it would be several years before Honda came out with their 750s which were superior to everything else. I never went in for the crotch rockets, no , I had to have some class for my ride. So Sheldon and I drifted around the western states for a while. After about two years I wanted to settle down and maybe put in some roots. Socorro, New Mexico seemed like a likely spot. Sheldon wasn’t so sure. Sure, he would find a woman to shack up with and start complaining that she was trying to trap him, put her hooks into him.
Me, well, I met a sweet woman. One of those sincere types that let a man be himself. She knew a net wouldn’t hold me and didn’t try. Maybe that is why I stayed. But I remember that Sheldon latest girlfriend, Joanne, definitely had a hold of him. I thought he was a gonner, on his way to buying her a washing machine, you know what I mean? Linda and I used to laugh about the latest ruckus between Sheldon and Joanne. A couple of weeks would go by just as smooth as silk and then. Wham! Stuff would erupt and tears would be shed and like a lamb to the slaughter Sheldon would make up with Joanne. I had it six, two and even that Joanne would lead him to the alter. Hell, Sheldon even bought a pick up truck. Man, four wheels is being real serious. Not that I hadn’t already bought my own pick up, a Jeep Gladiator, four wheel drive. A man’s got to have a diversion. Linda had her Corvair and it ran just fine cause I kept it tuned up. But Sheldon bought a new GMC 3/4 ton for him and Linda. I mean he even put her name on it. Just how crazy can you get? By this time I was predicting a knockout or at least a TKO. I mean, this was not going the distance, if you get me right.
Well, wouldn’t you know, Sheldon was laid off from the grain mill. Wheat had been hit hard and the drought that followed killed employment for the grain elevators and with it Sheldon’s job. Joanne was besides herself. Sheldon was out of work and while he had some savings, he became restless again. I remember the night he came over to see me. “Bill, I got to get away. This is my last chance. God knows I love her but I can’t breathe any longer. Come with me and we’ll ride to Oregon. I hear the sawmills are hiring.”
“What could I say? I had made my choice two years ago with Linda. Funny thing was, she knew what he was there for and she paid no attention to him. You never saw a woman so secure with her relationship. she knew she had a ring on her finger just as sure as the gold would have shone its light. “I heard it in a love song, ain’t no more to say.” Sheldon shook his head in disbelief. “Man, that’s woman has her claws in you, doesn’t she?”
My reply was simple. “No, I got my claws into her. Ain’t never gonna let go.” Well, what was left to say? “Down the road and wish you well?” Didn’t need to be spoken. Sheldon took off for Oregon. A year later Linda and I headed to Monterrey. I had a job offer from an old Army buddy in a motorcycle shop. Never heard from Sheldon again, though I wonder from time to time.