While they called it REFORGER – Return of Forces to Germany– for him it was only "play war" that at times had severe and often sad consequences. Maneuvering the narrow streets in these small German towns taxed the skills of the best drivers in regular automobiles. It was a far more difficult task for the many tanks and trucks that had been storming down the cobblestones for the past few days often leading to disaster.
While most of the resulting damage was to a few cottages scattered about or to the cobblestone streets themselves, every now and then a tank would lose one of its massive tracks and go careening out of control, sometimes slamming into an unsuspecting auto or pedestrian. And at those times, his work turned away from escort to work that was far grimmer.
Fortunately, on this particular trip there had been no fatalities and only a few close calls. It was stressful. And so, the beer in front of him was a welcome respite.
He had come into town earlier in the evening with a few Military Police friends; but they had somehow decided to go their own separate ways. He didn't care. He just wanted to be alone, to commiserate, and to drown his thoughts in solitude and a nice cold beer. So, earlier, while he had walked the streets of Delmenhorst, this small Gasthof seemed to choose him. For some reason, maybe because it was off the beaten track, he felt compelled to come inside and enjoy a beer. And once inside the place - with its small dance floor and juke box - he realized it had a charming appeal to it. He was happy he had come inside.
Now satisfied with his surroundings, he nursed his beer and listened to song after song, as the locals fed the jukebox. Every now and then he would recognize a tune and lean back and listen to and mouth the words.
Then that song came on. Remarkably, someone had chosen 'the song'. He didn't mind that it had begun to play on the jukebox. He loved the song. But when it began, memories, thoughts and emotions began to flood out of his ragged body and tired soul. He had not been home for what seemed like an eternity and it was this song that marked the memory of his last day with her.
Before her, his life had been one big blur. Living fast and hard and never slowing down to take in the scenery of life. He had become destructive. And each day it became worse - to the point that he woke up one morning, in a drunken stupor, with no idea where he was or how he had gotten there. That was the point in his life that drove him to the Armed Forces Recruiting station where he asked the recruiter to find him a specialty that would send him as far away from home as he could get. He had to stop the bleeding, the downward skid. And he felt that this was the way that he could do it. For him, once he joined the army, there was no turning back. But it seemed that life has a way of being cruel. Just as he had given a three year commitment to his country, along came that special someone that seemed to make living worthwhile. And while she came into his life at seemingly the perfect time, because of his recruitment, he had to leave, and in actuality, the timing could not have been worse.
He fell for her. He fell hard for her. He fell for her to the point that he had actually considered not showing up to honor his commitment. When she heard his misgivings, she stood with him and assured him that while he was the love of her life, he had a responsibility. And he had to live up to that. But she told him that despite the Army, Germany and all that came with it; she would be there for him, every step of the way. She would write, call, and if possible visit. And when his commitment had come to an end she would be the first to meet him as he walk away from the Army for the last time, at the end of his tour.
She told him all of this. He believed her. And at the airport, they sat in silence. And as they sat, that song came on. When the song gently broke the silence of the airport café, he could feel her gripping him tighter, as though she never wanted to let go. It was a difficult moment for him. He could feel her love and conviction. He knew, beyond a doubt, that she would be there with him for the long haul. He felt it in his heart. The feelings, the thoughts, the whole idea of remaining behind began to encompass him. But he knew he had to go.
He would never forget that day. The tears streaming down her beautiful cheeks as he finally released her hands and grabbed his duffel bag and headed to his gate. He paused for a moment to take in her beauty once more and then, with the image of her imprinted in his mind, he headed for the awaiting plane. Her tears, her solemn gaze and that song, were the memories that would stay inside of him for the rest of his tour.
And now, as he sat in this place, thousands of miles from that café, where he first heard that song - their song – it was now playing on the jukebox, in this small, out of the way, inn. As he listened to the lyrics, the memories, the feelings came rushing back. Her smile, her laugh, and that refreshing, lingering scent that always seemed to permeated the air when she was about. It all came back to him.
"All alone at the end of the evening..." The song began. "I was thinking about a woman who might have loved me I never knew..." He listened to the song, by the Eagles, while it interrupted the silence in the Gasthof. As the song continued to gently liven the air, he closed his eyes and leaned back in the chair and went back to her, in his mind, just for a brief moment. While he briefly reminisced, he was suddenly interrupted by a gentle tap on this arm.
He opened his eyes, almost hoping that it was her, right there, in the bar, beckoning him. When he finally found his sight in the dimly lit bar, he saw a lovely German woman standing before him. Her eyes glistened, her smile sparkled.
"Dance?" She asked with a nod. He thought about it momentarily and decided to dance. In a way, he felt that he was cheating on his beloved, back home, by giving this dance, during their song, to another woman. But despite his misgivings, his memories, he knew that he needed this dance. But he wasn't cheating on her, he surmised in his head. In a way, he felt that he was honoring her. No, he hadn't forgotten about her. But he knew that he needed this release. He needed to be close to someone, if just for the brief duration of this song.
He stood from his chair, took the young lady's hand and headed to the small dance floor. And for the remainder of the song he danced with this young lady, silently –t moving slowly and pensively to the music, and taking in his special song one more time. And he felt this closeness with this young lady, as though he had been there, in this moment before. He felt warmth, a caring, not unlike what he had felt before he came to Germany with his lovely lady in the states.
They slowly rocked back and forth until the song finally faded to an end. And in the silence, they embraced for a little longer, taking in the moment. Finally, she looked at him and said, "Danke,." and turned, and left the dance floor. He watched her as she walked out the door of the bar, and disappeared from his life just as abruptly as she had entered.
When she left, he could smell a lingering, beautiful scent - a sweet perfume permeating the air. Not unlike his beloved, back in the states. It was almost as though she had somehow reached out to him, over the ocean, to this foreign land, to give him a dance, a moment of wonderfulness, to lift his spirits and his renew his hope.
He returned to his seat, smiling. He took out his wallet, and for a moment gazed at her photo. He grabbed a few bills and dropped them on the table. He took one long gulp of his beer, sat the mug down, and joined the cool, evening air outside the Gasthof to find his friends.
© 2005 Lonnie Heath, Alonzo Heath and LonnieHeath.Com This story may not be reproduced without the written permission of the author.