When he flew home from Vietnam, my first husband, Bill, brought with him a carved wooden hand with two fingers extended in the peace sign, photographs and memories of men in his platoon, and his short-timer calendar.
Most soldiers with fewer than three months left in Viet Nam kept such calendars. They were painted on helmets, sketched in notebooks, drawn on paper. All were illustrated; some were funny; many were salacious, a few were works of art. Every calendar had numbered spaces counting down to wake-up on the soldier’s last day in country.
As the final months crawled by, short-timers colored or marked off a space a day.
A fellow soldier drew Bill’s calendar: a psychedelic design decorated with joints, peace symbols and jungle trails. My husband had colored in every space. Here and there around the edges, he also scribbled addresses, phone numbers, and reminders. A random note caught and held my attention: “Time stands still. I’ll never make it home.”
When asked, he said: “Time moved like mud those last few weeks,” and nothing more.
Now I’m embarked on my final season, I think about his calendar, his comment, and the nature of time.
I wonder if time fears its own passing; if it drags its feet in an attempt to slow itself down. I wonder if it ages, develops wrinkles and aches, rues the fast pace of the passing years. Does time lose track of itself when lost in memories as I do? Does it remember the freedom it enjoyed as a child, the possibilities it sensed as a youth, and the rewards of being needed and useful as an adult?
I tell myself if time wanted to postpone the inevitable result of its relentless passing, it wouldn’t spin out of control, crazed with speed, as it has since I turned sixty-five. It wouldn’t fold in on itself, causing months to fly by as quickly as days once did, and days to flash by in minutes.
I know that time doesn’t age as we do; but it does seem to possess a contrary personality that compels it to act in opposition to our lives.
To children, the weeks before Christmas crawl more slowly than a slug; teenagers, yearning for the endless years to pass, think they will never be old enough to drive. Meanwhile, adults are amazed that their offspring are in high school already; and grandparents look into the face of old age, incredulous that it arrived so quickly. At the same time, a soldier colors in a calendar and despairs.
Time passes for all of us, seeming to adjust its pace for each of us; and I find myself at the center of a whirlwind.