2 Stories — Mike Dillon
April 10, 1963
I first heard the word “Jew” said in that certain way on April 10, 1963 when I was twelve.
I know the exact date because on the short drive to my grandmother’s my mother had the radio on and a news bulletin came on with a man’s voice saying the nuclear sub Thresher has vanished a few hundred miles east of Boston.
We soon arrived at my grandmother’s, just back from her first winter in Florida with her second husband, a retired U.S. Navy officer who believed he never got the high rank he felt he deserved.
From the next room I paged through a National Geographic, but I was really listening to them talk about the freakish heaven that was Florida: pink flamingos, palm trees and blue warm salt water.
And then my grandmother’s second husband compound-fractured the day: “The damn Jews were everywhere.” This was swiftly followed by my mother’s conspiratorial” “Shhh!” in the way a person shushes a foul-mouthed grown-up because tender ears are near.
My flesh chilled.
I’d read Anne Frank in school. The good guys, my dad included, had won the War. They couldn’t save Anne Frank but they saved the rest of the world. I thought the crow-black shadows had been chased away forever.
On the drive home, the radio off, I didn’t say much. The world out the window lay like a sheeted corpse beneath the soft, late afternoon sunlight of April.
I already knew the Thresher had sunk.
A couple of years after high school he came home from Vietnam in a coffin.
A doughy, overweight boy who played no sports, joined no clubs. He nodded off in class instead. His family lived in an old. dirty, white-painted house on a few tattered acres with their chickens and hogs.
(The place is a manicured gentleman’s farm now, with the requisite llama and a pair of golden retrievers).
“I’m sleeping so I don’t get tired,” he informed a white-knuckled teacher to a squall of teen-barbaric laughter.
One morning at the school bus stop he made a running start at the frozen pond and ass-skidded all the way to the other side accompanied by howls and cheers. He rose in exaggerated slow-motion, made a harlequin bow and doffed an imaginary top hat.
It was a theatrical gesture incised upon the ages. He stood there, soaking it all up, the white plumes of his breath vanishing beneath the risen sun.
The school bus, downshifting gears, approached. The brakes wheezed; the yellow door buckled open. And we all boarded for the same destination.
For a little while longer.
Mike Dillon lives in Indianola, Washington, a small town on Puget Sound northwest of Seattle. His most recent book is Departures: Poetry and Prose on the Removal of Bainbridge Island’s Japanese Americans After Pearl Harbor (Unsolicited Press, April 2019).