I stood at attention in the General’s office. You can imagine the scene. I know I’ve seen movies like this. There were four of us. One arm less man, one with no legs, a man in a wheelchair. And then there was me. I was 25 years old, in perfect health with no injuries. The other men wore standard issue blue pajamas as required of hospital patients. I was in my class A formal uniform. The General moved down the line as he pinned medals on each man.
As he moved from man to man, I felt more and more uncomfortable. I was: no other word for it: Ashamed.
The General announced the awards to a small group of assembled people in his office.
“A bronze star”
“A Purple Heart”
I began to sweat in my heavy jacket and precisely tied tie. I had my hat under my arm and I squeezed it close to me for some weird comfort.
The awards continued.
And without any pause, then there was me. The General spoke to me directly.
“And last but not least, Specialist 4th class Gorodezky. - Soldier of the Month at Letterman General Hospital.” He said more, but I thought “How soon will this end and can I get out of here.” “I’m here in a line with real soldiers and here am I in perfect health, all dressed-up in my formal green uniform."
The General, said: “I see you near your discharge date. I hope you have decided to stay with us.”
I stammered, “Uh, I’m getting out. I’m going to graduate school.”
The General ended his smile.
My Sargent had put me up for this “honor” as part of his clever strategy to get me promoted. He knew how to work the system. Most importantly, it meant I would get my moving expenses paid. As a person with a salary of $123 a month, this was very important.
Sarah and I drove our non-air conditioned Toyota from California to the University of Michigan during a very hot Summer. We were accompanied by our baby Suzanne (1) and Laura (3). We arrived in Ann Arbor with no place to live. A moving truck was due to arrive with no clear destination. We had to find a place to live.
Was that me? Was that really me? Drive your family ½ way across the country with perhaps $500 in the bank. We arrived in a new city with no place to live.
Were those two people, Sarah and Mike insane, irresponsible people? Where did they find the courage?
Once in Ann Arbor, I was ushered in to the housing office to see if Sarah and I could get in to married student housing. I saw a woman alone in her wildly cluttered office.
There were stacks of papers and file folders, brochures, and forms.
I told my tale of woe.
“I’m here for graduate school. Wife and 2 kids. No money to speak of? I am on the GI Bill.”
Unmoved, she said:“We have nothing. The waiting list has 120 families ahead of you.”
I sat on a folding chair next to the desk. I had long somewhat scraggly hair, a dark full beard and wore my US Army field jacket with my name nicely stenciled on it.
I hung my head. I said nothing.
“OK, so I guess that’s it. We have your address. You have a rented place in, (she consulted my forms) Hell, Michigan. She paused, “Hell! Is that really a place?”
“Yes it is really a place. We rented a tiny house. It is on a smelly moss covered lake.”
My mind raced. Where could my family live? I tried to breath slowly to stay calm. The office seemed smaller and I felt unsure.
“Well I guess were are done, Mr. Gorodezky. We’ll be in touch.”
I didn’t move. I sat their mute. I was there for a good bit of time. Minutes crawled by.
“Uh, Uh, oh” She made lots of grunts and sighs with scrambled papers, she stacked things and fussed with her desk.
“Well, let’s see. Oh! We just received a note that these folks are moving out.” She held up a hand written letter.”
I know you are in jam, so just promise you’ll never tell anyone, I’ll just give this to you. (Thinking: “ and then you will leave.”
Sarah and I struggled with a pile of moving boxes in the apartment when
Bob charged through our open front door.
He carried a can of beer spilling foam on his red scraggly beard. He was taller than me, big and very athletic looking.
He had a flirtatious smile for Sarah and for me.
“Hi, I am Bob. I am your new next door neighbor.”
He put his arm around my shoulder and pulled me out our front door and on to the little cement porch.
I resisted him. But he was bigger and stronger.
He had a pressured, slightly manic style of speech. Still a stranger, he began:
“Well, let me tell you this one.”
“We applied for Married Student Housing and I told them Mary was pregnant. She wasn’t, so when we moved in, we told them that she lost the baby. So they let us stay.”
My thoughts flashed from sympathy to amazement. “I would never do that.” “Who was this guy?”
He said, “I just got out of the Army. I went to West Point, then Vietnam, now I am in the Law School here. You are, Mike right?”His eyes twinkled. Really. His blue eyes twinkled.
I was uncomfortable with the question. Oh boy, here we go. Vietnam. Down that ugly road.
“Oh, I was drafted. I’ve been out 2 years. I worked in an Army psych hospital.” My reply was somewhat of an apology, as I imagined what Bob had experienced.
Later, inside the apartment, I spoke with Sarah.
“He’s very friendly, but god, he went to West Point. His dad is some Air Force General and his wife’s family is military too. We aren’t exactly like two peas in a pod.”
As life will have it’s way, over the next two years, I would remember the pea cliche.
Sarah soon named Bob and me : “FRICK and FRACK”.
Bob always wanted, sometimes demanded my attention. When we were at home he would often stand in our little courtyard and call out to Sarah.
“Is Mike home?” “Can he come out.” Sarah’s translation to me: “Bob wants to know if Mikey can come out to play.?”
Most evenings we drank and smoked dope as we talked, sometimes late into the night. Mostly Bob talked . He began to tell me his story. Quickly the stories were all about war and combat. The stories were intimate. They were filled with his pain and fear.
Since I had worked with the wounded, I had heard these stories, but I really had no story. I was always safe. I worked in a nice hospital.
On occasion, he would drag me out of my apartment like the Army officer he had been. “OK, we need to run. You are getting too soft.” Bob was very fit. I was not.
“Ok let’s go”, he yelled. Literally pulling me by the hand we would run around the snow covered play grounds and parking lots.
He would loudly sing an Army standard:
“I want to live a life of danger.
I want to be an Airborne Ranger,
We returned home. I was the person gasping for breath. Bob looked at me with that frenzy he had.
“Hey I’ve got this great idea. I will get an on campus parking permit and then we can drive to school and park.”
I said, “That’s impossible. Only senior faculty and staff get those permits.”
He pulled off his jacket and shirt.
I had noticed the scars on his face beneath his beard. His lips were oddly twisted and scarred as if something had been sewn on askew. But now, I saw his chest and back. “Look, I was shot here and here.” His body was covered with scars that glistened with sweat from our run.
Bob: “I’ll claim that I am disabled.”
Me: “You are disabled”
Bob: “I’ll show them my paperwork.” He went into his place and returned with papers.
Me: “It says here you have a 75% psychiatric disability.”
Bob: “They will give me the parking permit. I’ll limp.”
That was a minor adventure for Bob. I always thought of the proper way to do things. Not so with Bob. I was drawn to him. He was the brave person that I was not.
We lived the modest lives of relatively poor students. We rarely spent money to go out to restaurants.
Bob came over one day with another of his ideas.
“Let’s go to the Gandy Dancer next week.” It’s graduation week at the Law School.
Always the voice of reason, I said: “That’s one of the best places in town, you’ll never get a reservation.”
“Just watch me.”
He dialed the telephone. We watched.
“I need a special reservation for 8 people at 8 pm next Friday. Our guest is Adlai Stevenson, the US Representative to the United Nations. He will speak at our Law School graduation. Ok, I’ll hold.”
“Great. Thank you.”
He turned to us with a bow and a flare of his arms. Voila!!. I cringed, but we went along to dinner.
I was at work when my phone rang. “Mr. Grantham from the FBI is here to see you.”
I shuddered and was worried as a classically dressed FBI agent came into my tiny office at the Mental Health Center where I worked. Special Agent Grantham had called ahead and told me the FBI wanted to check out Bob for a security clearance.
How exactly should I talk to the FBI? I knew quite a lot, but was mostly concerned about our drug use.
Should I lie?
Grantham quickly came to the point.
He said, “Do you know of any drug or alcohol use that would jeopardize the security of our country?” Sigh. I could easily answer that question.
“No” “Bob is a patriot.” And that was the truth. Bob later explained to me that they already knew about his recreational drug use. He had told them.
In time, we both moved away from the apartments. Bob went off to Europe on some assignment and I stayed in school, but we moved into a real house.
I returned home one afternoon. I unlocked the front door and was startled to find Bob seated in our living room.
“God! You scared me. Why are you here? How did you get in?”
“Oh, I guess I sort of broke in. I found a window unlocked and crawled in.”
Bob was out of control with a strained staccato talk. He was probably high on something.
I knew, the kids would be coming home from school and I wanted him to leave. Nothing subtle was going to work.
“Bob, you’ve got to leave. We have to go somewhere tonight.” I lied.
“That’s fine, I’ll just stay here. I can sleep on the couch.”
“No Bob, you have to leave. I want you to leave right now. You broke into the house. You can’t do things like that.”
He bent is big body and gave me a child like look of innocence.
“Really!?” “Aw, common Mike.”
His plea made me so very sad.
I went to the door and held It open.I hoped he would leave. He did not.
I tugged on his arm and pushed him out the door.
Fifteen years later, I sat at a long formal dinner table across from a stranger.
Chatting as strangers do, I told him a bit about my past life and somehow mentioned Bob as one of the most interesting men I have ever know.
“How did you meet him?”
“We had both recently left the Army and but, I was drafted and he was a West Point Graduate.”
“Tell me his name, you might be surprised. West Point isn’t that big. My son went there.”
I told him the name.
“My God! Of course I know him. He was infamous. Remember when he testified before congress about the Vietnam Wall Memorial? “A black gash of shame, Bob called it.”
“Yes, I guess Bob didn’t like that memorial.”
“You know,” the stranger continued, “ he has written a book. You ought to get it.”
The next day I went down on Connecticut avenue and easily found the book in the military history section. Yes, Bob had written it. It was filled with all our front porch stories.
Sarah and I were both in D.C. for a conference. On a whim, I tried to find Bob with a Virginia phone book. There he was. Considering I had thrown him out of the house some years back, I acted on impulse.
“Hi Bob, It’s Mike.” He recognized my voice immediately.
“Mike, where are you!”
“Sarah and I are at the Shoreham hotel.”
“OK, wait in the lobby, I’ll meet you in 15 minutes.”
He pulled up at the curb and ran inside.
“Quick, get in my car and we’ll go have a drink somewhere.”
Sarah and I climbed in the back seat. Bob took off.
He drove fast and talked non-stop. Soon we were on dark country roads. We had no idea where we were headed.
Sarah looked at me in the dark car and we both shrugged and our rolled eyes.
“So where to begin…”, Bob said with some glee.
Sarah and I barely spoke as he tore though Virginia. We were not sure just where we were headed.