I guess I wasn’t paying attention in high school, in the contemporary history class we all had to take to get out – we called it “contemptible history” not because we were impressed by the horror of the cold war or even because we were listening, but just that we were thinking of how we’d rather be driving along the cracked and graveled country roads, maybe smoking cigarettes, maybe forging notes from doctors explaining that we absolutely could not be in physics class today, deepest apologies, and I’m quite certain that I took notes on history in the margins of my journal, between counting the minutes until the bell rang, the days until my life began. Maybe that’s why I didn’t understand that your war was fought by babyfaced boys– the same kids who fell out of appletrees and broke arms in your backyard, the same awkward confidence I so fancied in the captain of the cross country team. I didn’t read the paragraph in the history book that said those young soldiers were no older, Molly, than your own date to prom, the very same shysweet boy who dropped his books walking you home from third grade to protect you from the neighbor’s big dog. History, in high school, is a word that means boring. Though I was raised on lullabies from protest marches, I did not realize when you sang If I Had A Hammer it was anything but a campfire song, quaint, like the old days when there was war. When you had causes. I didn’t see that the stars you gave me became yours first when there might be enemy planes in the cool Illinois sky. Until now. Now, each night at moonrise I can see you lying on your back under a cold war sky, searching for spy planes over Peoria. You are twelve, maybe, a member of the Junior Air Patrol. Or you are my age, college age, lying on your back in a hammock, memorizing a sky full of stars and fire across the world from your sisters and friends, too young to think one day I’ll have a daughter, and I will share this sky because who really believes they’ll have children when they have only just gained the legal right to vote? I have grown up singing about how many roads a man must walk, but now I see you were all just as lost and full of dreams as these kids who sit in my classes and say “what were they thinking?” And “we’ll never make the same mistakes they did.” All of this idealism, all of this aching for what the news now calls our lost innocence, the instant soundbites and terrible flames will be summed up in an hour long lecture, maybe a video even, on “America at the Turn of the Millennium.” One day I’ll have a daughter, and she will share this sky– She will doodle in the margins of my life, and what now occupies my morning paper will be another way for her to say boring. And she will be the center of her own world, a baby like you were, babies all, so fragile in our confidence. She will have a grandfather who went to Vietnam, a generation of parents who promised it would be better this time, and it will not be that we have broken our promises, really, but that she believed them in the first place.
10 October 2001