Just Bob

Posted by Doug White under Personal

Veteran’s Day was this week and it was another good day to reflect on my time in the service so long ago. Nowadays, there are a lot of businesses who offer various specials to honor Veteran’s Day and this year was no exception. I always feel a touch guilty when I take advantage of those specials as I only served for four years – more than 20 years ago – and even then I never fought in a war. I don’t feel like I really deserve the same praise as people like my father do, because they fought and sacrificed in ways I’ll never be able to properly imagine.

But, I am honored by the things people say and do for me. This year was a little more emotional for me though. The reason why has to do with a man who I served with so long ago.

In my blogging and various writings, I’ve mentioned him before but not in super great detail. His name was Robert Bowens (or Bob) and he was one of the first Marines I met once I was assigned to my first duty station, Camp LeJeune, North Carolina.

I had come to Camp LeJeune from Camp Johnson, North Carolina, which is not very far at all. I had gone to Camp Johnson to be trained in my position as Administrative Clerk. After I completed my training I was then ordered to go to Camp LeJeune and serve in the Headquarters Battalion of 2nd Marine Division.

I was understandably nervous my first day there. I’d been through a lot already since joining the Marines. I’d survived Boot Camp which even now, twenty-six years later still serves as one of the toughest things I’d ever done. Then I went to admin school and essentially learned a trade. And now, I was going to be finally doing the job for real.

But, I was still 18. I didn’t feel like an adult. I felt like a little kid in big kid’s clothing. I was sure I would look that way to everyone too.

When I walked into the office where I would serve, Bob was one of the first people I met, like I mentioned before. I didn’t know him as Bob at the time, he was Sgt. Bowens to me. Despite the fact that there was a significant difference in rank, he put me at ease almost right away.

Sgt. Bowens was one of the friendliest, most affable Marines I’d ever met in my few short months of being a Marine. I can still hear his laugh today and it makes me smile. He welcomed me to the office and put me in front of the desk where I’d be working.

As silly as it may sound, I had a pretty visible reaction to having a desk. It made me feel really grown up. Which I know now is probably pretty ridiculous. Sgt. Bowens took it in stride, he didn’t make me feel stupid at all.

Time progressed but within a short period of time, things changed drastically for me. I was moved into a different position and would be working as an administrative assistant for the Naval chaplain of 2nd Marine Division.

This meant, I wouldn’t be working with Sgt. Bowens anymore but we all lived in the same barracks and so I saw him often. We quickly became friends. Another friend of mine, Herb Middlemass hung out with us as well, as did a friend of Bob’s, Dan (or Don? I can’t remember anymore.) Rose.

We spent a lot of time doing what most young people do, in college or in the military. We partied. A lot. I’m not sure how I feel about that now, a lot of time has passed, but it’s what we did. The Marines worked us hard, but when we were off, we partied hard.

It wasn’t too long before Bob had gotten out of the Marines, but still would come to the base and hang out with us from time to time. This is when I learned something about Bob that I hadn’t expected. He was gay.

Keep in mind, that this was in the late 1980’s. Things were WAY different than they are now. This was prior to the ‘Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell’ times of the Clinton years and so what this meant is that Bob had to keep his homosexuality a secret while he was in the Marine Corp or he would have been dishonorably discharged.

As far as how I felt about it? I didn’t really have a strong reaction to it one way or another. He was gay. I was not. I’ve been taught from my faith that homosexuality is a sin but I’ve also been taught that it’s not my place to judge. I’m not perfect at that, but with Bob, I just really didn’t care. He was Bob. He was my friend.

But, I worried about Bob. He had other problems in his life that I could see were having an affect on him. He drank too much. Way, way too much. He also had some issues with drugs. I was pretty young and I just simply didn’t have the experience or maturity to help him with that, if he’d even wanted my help.

It didn’t help that I also drank. I didn’t drink at the level he did, but I did drink and so that meant that when we were together, we were usually partying. My 21st birthday party was no exception.

We had rented out a cabana at the beach at Camp LeJeune and had invited everybody I knew and several more that I didn’t. People were coming into this party all night long, it’s a wonder someone didn’t get arrested as things got a bit rowdy. Truth be told though, I think the Marines has an expectation of rowdiness with their soldiers, so who knows.

Anyway, the next day it was just my core group of friends, which included Herb and Bob and a few others. Bob had been drinking all morning and had decided to go to the main part of the beach. He’d walked into one of the buildings and upstairs to where they were playing “The Electric Slide”, a song that was pretty popular at the time. I had followed him.

I am a pretty bad dancer and even with the song having a specific way to dance to it, I looked pretty stupid. I stopped and watched him instead. Bob had issues, but one thing he could do is dance. I remember smiling, thinking how happy he looked, just being Bob.

After awhile we had gone downstairs and I lost track of Bob for a second. When I turned around, I found him surrounded by several Recon Marines. They looked threatening and Bob looked mad. “Aw, crap!” I thought running to him.

These Marines had correctly determined that Bob was gay, more than likely by the way he was dancing. They were saying things to him that I won’t repeat here and he was responding back in kind. I grabbed his arm, “Bob, dude, let’s go.” I tried to tell him.

One of the Recon Marines looked at me and said, “Don’t touch him, you might get something!”

I don’t remember what I said that day. Probably something like “He’s my friend, leave him alone!” Who knows. All I know was he made me mad, I yelled something at him and I thankfully survived. Recon Marines are not known for their weaknesses.

Not long after that, I received orders for Okinawa and I left Camp LeJeune for the last time. I wrote Bob some and when I got out of the Marines, I even spoke to him a couple times on the phone.

Unfortunately, as often happens, I lost contact with him. I’d tried to look him up several times but couldn’t find him.

As the internet grew in popularity and use, I would occasionally plug his name into a search and see if I could find him. I never had any success. I had a bad feeling he might not be alive, but I could never find out one way or another.

That is until about two weeks ago. I’d been thinking about him again and I plugged his name into Google once more. I found an obituary for a Robert Lyndell Bowens of Newport News, VA. He had died after fighting a long illness at a friend of his home, whose last name was Rose. He served in the Marines during the time that my friend Bob did.

It was him. I know this. I knew Bob was from Newport News, his friend’s last name was Rose, just like Sgt. Rose from the Marines and it showed that this Robert served in the Marines too. It’s him.

The problem? He died 18 years ago. That hit me harder than anything. He died four years after I got out of the Marines and I didn’t know. I had not gotten a chance to mourn him.

How do you mourn someone who’s been dead almost two decades? Someone I know told me that for me he hasn’t been dead for 18 years, he’s been dead for 2 weeks. That may be why it’s hitting me so hard.

I don’t know what would have happened if I’d kept in touch with him. He struggled with so much in his life. I’m not sure I was ever smart enough to help him with any of it. And sometimes, people just don’t want to be helped.

All I know was that this man took a fresh-faced kid from the Midwest and welcomed him into a scary part of his life. He became my friend when I needed one. I will always think of him with great fondness. I wish I had been with him at the end.

I was friends with Robert Lyndell Bowens. His life, as tough as it might have been, mattered. He mattered to me. And I will miss him.

Lost! Well, Sort Of

Posted by Doug White under Writing101

This blog entry is in response to this Daily Post prompt: http://dailypost.wordpress.com/dp_assignment/writing-101-series-one/

A church potluck brings up all sorts of fond memories. Conversing with other church members, the delicious smells of all the homemade foods, the laughter of the children as they run around and play. These are all common and welcome parts of any church potluck. Rarely though have I attended one where I spent a portion of the night in total, abject fear.

Several years ago we were going to such a potluck at the church we had been attending for some time. It was typically held downstairs in the basement and this night would be no different. Our youngest daughter wasn’t too old at the time, I believe she was probably six or seven. In her mind she was “all grown up” though. She had come to us that day and asked if she could go off and play with her friends. She wanted to do this without Mommy and Daddy watching over her, however.

She looked up at me with her deep, soulful eyes filled with expectant hope at the idea of playing like the big kids do and of course my heart melted. “Ok, sweetheart, you can go play but you stay downstairs. Don’t go running off upstairs, understand?” She nodded and away she went.

I went back to my meal and for a time I had put her out of my mind. But it wasn’t long before my wife or I thought it was time to check on her. I stood up from my chair and looked around at the various kids playing in the church but I couldn’t find her.

“Do you see her, hon?” I asked my wife. She looked around but couldn’t see her either.

I began to get a little annoyed. I specifically told her not to leave the downstairs area and she was nowhere to be found. I headed upstairs to find my kid, muttering under my breath as I did so.

I walked around the church and couldn’t find her anywhere. She wasn’t in the auditorium or any of the hallways. I stood there for a moment scratching my head. “Where could she be?” I thought to myself.

The pastor’s office and various meeting rooms were on the second floor of the church. This wasn’t a place where she would be used to going into but it was the only place left. I headed up there, sure I was going to find her playing some game with one of the other church kids.

But, much to my increasing frustration, I was unable to find her on this floor either. I went into every room and checked all over but she wasn’t anywhere. My frustration was quickly switching to fear.

I ran back down to the first floor and outside yelling for my daughter. One of the other church members asked what was wrong. “I can’t find Nora!” I told him. He came inside and began to help me look around the church again.

I headed back up to the second floor and looked around once more, my heart beating frantically in my chest. I started thinking of all the horrible things that could have befallen her. She’s hurt somewhere or she stepped outside and somebody lurking around the church decided to steal her away from us. My voice was trembling as I kept yelling her name, “Nora! Where are you?”

I finally went downstairs to the basement and told my wife I couldn’t find her.

“What? Have you looked up near the Pastor’s office? How about outside?” she asked.

“Yes, dear, I looked everywhere.” I said, exasperated.

“Did you check the rooms down here?”

“Yes, Norene of COURSE, I che…” I paused. “Down here?”

“Yeah, like the nursery over there?” she pointed in the direction of the nursery, whose door was currently closed. A bit embarrassed, I turned and headed that way.

I opened up the door to the nursery and sure enough, there was my daughter, playing a game with one of her friends from church. She looked up at me and smiled, “Hi, Daddy!”

Relief washed over me in waves. I went over to her, bent down and kissed her on the head. “Hey, kiddo. Having fun?”

“You bet! And I stayed downstairs like you told me to!” she replied.

“Yes, you did, Pipsqueak. Yes, you did.” I turned, leaving her to finish her game and headed back to my bride, who was waiting for me with a knowing grin.

A New Job

Posted by Doug White under Weekly Writing Challenge

This blog entry is in response to this Daily Post prompt: http://dailypost.wordpress.com/dp_writing_challenge/thats-absurd/

Abraham woke up early, eager to begin his day. He had been anticipating this day for the last several weeks! He was sure that today was the day where his life really began to change for the better.

Grinning, he flung the covers off and leaped out of bed, startling his cat Jack from a deep slumber. The cat hissed in annoyance before leaping off the bed and out of the bedroom.

“Sorry, kitty, but I don’t want to be late!” he told the grumpy feline with a laugh before heading into the bathroom to get ready.

Today was his first day at PP4 and he couldn’t wait to start. He had grown up hearing about the organization and how influential they were across the country. He could hardly believe his good fortune in landing this job!

He had met with a recruiter from the company towards the end of his final semester in college. He remembered the meeting because it had been, well, rather strange. His major was in Public Relations but she seemed to be mostly interested in knowledge of the current political events in the country. He actually thought that he had failed at his chance to work for PP4 because he really didn’t know much about what was going on in the political world currently.

However, this seemed to please her as she nodded approvingly whenever he failed to answer a question about current events. “It’s ok, Mr. Jefferson. This is to be expected of someone your age.” she reassured him.

He stepped out of the bathtub, dried off and walked over to the sink to shave. He was careful not to cut himself. It wouldn’t do to have little pieces of toilet paper stuck to his neck to stop the bleeding from a careless shave!

“Especially before starting my job as a …” he said to himself before trailing off. He never did find out what they were planning on having him do at PP4!

“That’s kind of odd? How could I forget to ask that?” he wondered, “Ah well, I guess it doesn’t matter. I’d work in the mail room just to get into this place!”

He finished getting ready and headed into the kitchen. He pulled out a can of cat food and instantly Jack was by his side looking at him expectantly.

“Ha! You are so predictable!” he laughed. He put the food into Jack’s bowl and without so much as a glance of gratitude, Jack turned away from Abraham and started eating. He smiled, shook his head and got his own breakfast to eat.

He was just finishing up the dishes when he heard a knock on the door. Curious, he walked over and slowly opened the door, only to find him facing two somber looking men. Each was wearing a dark suit and tie with equally dark, tinted glasses.

“Yes? Can I help you?” he asked the two.

“Mr Jefferson? Abraham Jefferson?”

“Yes, that’s me.”

“PP4 has sent us to pick you up, Mr. President.”

“President? Of what?” Abraham asked.

“The country, sir. Now if you would come with us, we can be on our way.”