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On Being Frank
By Marc Levy
In early 2017 I mailed a hard copy query to a man in upstate New York:
"Recently I published "How Stevie Nearly Lost the War and Other Postwar Stories." The connecting theme is war and its aftermath. I think we both know a little about PTSD. Would you consider writing a blurb? I look forward to hearing from you."
Weeks passed. Two months went by. One night, around 9:30 pm, the phone rang.
"Hello," I said.
"So, tell me. How's Stevie doing?" a mysterious voice asked.
I had no idea who it was, or what he was talking about.
"Who is this?" I asked.
And we talked. And we talked. Two hours went by. For several months, once or twice or three times a month, Frank called, or I called him. And we talked. And talked. About politics, poets, writers. About things going on, his neck of the woods. Or what had happened to him in the past. Or the present. Or to me in mine. Frank read me his poems. He played music. He told stories. His abiding concern was steadfast honesty, and right action when faced with corruption.
One night I mentioned Peter Kane Dufault. We had met in '97. After travels in Southeast Asia, where I had many adventures, but many flashbacks and crippling anxiety, I spent seven weeks in a PTSD ward in Montrose, NY. Afterward, I couch surfed, a month here, a month there. A friend asked Peter and his wife if the extra room was free. Once or twice a week, for three months, I visited wry, white-bearded, wise and grumpy, well read, still handsome Peter, who lived in a shack in the Hudson Valley woods. We talked poets, books, war, politics. Played chess. From time to time Peter played the guitar, or banjo, or bagpipes. From time to time we walked the conservancy fields or trails. Or I rode his three-speed English bicycle for endless miles on the long country blacktop roads. To Philmont. To Chatham. To the Farm Store. Or we drove in his mud-spattered jeep to a farther town, a three-foot plywood square jammed behind his "pilots back." He'd flown bombers in WWII. The long flights had injured his spine. Peter, an accomplished and respected poet, read my war poems. Trashed all but one.
"Do we need this?" he asked, redlining half the page. "Or this?" Turning the page, "Take this out. Scratch that." Until finally, "This is your voice," he said, clenching the final sheet. "You need to write like this."
"Are you shitting me?" said Frank. "You knew Peter? We were close friends."
In the department of small world, that's as good as it gets. Frank and I stay in touch and plan to meet.
Out of the blue, the other day I had this dream:
I'm with Frank in the jungle so thick it's nearly dark. I say, "Frank, look over there, about 20 yards away, about 20 feet up." Behind tree branches, a kitten, with big eyes, peers at us. Nearby, a crow, or bird of prey. I turn around and say to Frank, "There's something behind you. It's like you have four eyes." The second skull has ocular ridges. The pupils are small and yellow. Frank says, "Well, what do you want me to do?" I say, "You could move slowly, or scare it by moving fast." Whatever it is, it suddenly runs away. Frank and I stand and decide where to go next. Suddenly, the gorilla rushes upon me, biting my fingers, then it scampers away. Moments later the animal reappears and bites my fingers a second time. But we catch it and wrestle it into a large bowling ball bag. I look at my bitten fingers and wonder aloud if I'll need shots. I unzip the bag, look down upon the gorilla, which sits in the dark, and I yell, "Ahhhhhhhh!!" Frank says to stop yelling at the gorilla, which he lets out, or which escapes on its own, and runs through the jungle, to a high dirt hill, where it lifts its head, pounds its chest, and howls.
The next day, January 26, 2018, I read an excellent essay on CounterPunch about Frank, an NYPD cop who was shot in the face and still fighting the good fight.
Marc Levy was an infantry medic with Delta 1-7 First Cavalry in Vietnam and Cambodia 1970. His website is Medic in the Green Time.