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The Little Mirror

I cut my teeth writing on Hubpages back in 2009. I've written 17 novels, numerous songs, and short stories since. I love to write love.

A Doubtful Look

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The Trick

She married that wild-eyed Southern boy Paul Calvin Hanmen in a 1966 whirlwind romance. Debbie Sue Norlin had quit Polk Virginia's Hampshire High School less than three months before graduation and took a Greyhound Bus to Killeen Texas where Paul had just finished basic training at Fort Hood. He was sure to go to Vietnam. Debbie was amazed at the beautiful countryside sceneries on her 1,400-mile trip but every wink of her brown eyes sparked a remembered smile of that sweet boy from Memphis Tennessee.

Debbie had met Paul in Virginia Beach the summer before. He'd walked up to her with his hands full of sand. He asked her to hold her hands out and she did. He let the sand pour from his hands to each of hers, spread them out, and asked, "Can you hold that sand longer than my stare?" She gave him a doubtful look, smiled, and answered, "Sure. Try me." Paul stared at her and moved closer and closer. He suddenly kissed her. She dropped the sand, giggled, and said, "That's cheating." He grinned wide and said, "Yes it is. I would cheat again for another kiss."

They pretty much were inseparable from that day forward. When they weren't physically together, they talked on the phone for hours at a time. They spent every possible moment off base as Paul continued his training. It was heartbreaking for both of them when Paul left for California and then for Vietnam. Paul's Army buddies had to pull them apart before he boarded the airplane. Debbie wiped tears and waved with both hands a number of times until the plane disappeared.

A Sad Goodbye

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Letters

By the time she arrived in Polk Virginia, she'd written him ten letters covered in lipstick kisses and perfume. She mailed all ten letters and a few extra notes when she got home. Months went by and even though Debbie wrote Paul three to four times a week, his letters slowed from every week to twice a month. He wrote fewer and fewer words and stopped sending pictures of himself and his fellow soldiers. By the end of 1967, she hadn't heard from him in nearly two months. She contacted the Army and the Red Cross. Both informed her that he wasn't reported missing or deceased.

The day she went to the mailbox and saw that airmail letter from him she walked back to the house and cried all the way. Debbie nervously opened the letter and read, "My Dearest Sweet Debbie, I just got back to base. The chopper I was on was shot down but another one came and took us out. It has been crazy here and I lost four buddies on that trip. Albert and Jimmy ate the candy you sent because they thought none of my platoon was coming back. Had a fighter pilot not seen us, we would still be out there. Lieutenant Bracken didn't make it. He had a wife and three little kids. I hate this damn war. I have seven more months here and the only thing that keeps me sane is looking at your picture and remembering our time together. I miss you and I love you. Paul"

Debbie sat on the porch steps and read the letter over and over. She would only receive three more letters from him in the next seven months. His last letter was as if a stranger had written it. Paul came home from Vietnam in February of 1968. His two years were finished and he stepped off of the bus in Polk Virginia a civilian. Debbie ran to his open arms that day but in a glance, she saw a strange difference in Paul's beautiful blue eyes. His glare gave her a little strike of fear for a moment but the kisses and tears overcame any hesitant feelings.

In Vietnam

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Home

Debbie had moved from her parent's home to a small house she rented in the suburbs. She had been working the past year at the local Pharmacy and part-time at the Polk Movie House. Paul was proud of all she'd done and was very loving but something was really different about him. Before Vietnam, he always talked about dreams of their future. He always loved taking walks, listening to music, laughing at silly human antics, and enjoying a good movie. Paul loved Westerns.

Debbie took him to see the movie Five Card Stud starring Dean Martin. Less than 10 minutes of the movie had played when Paul got up and walked out of the theater. When Debbie asked him what was wrong, he answered, "It's too loud. I never want to hear loud again. Tears formed in his eyes as he repeated, "It's too loud, too big, too loud, too big."

Paul would only watch nature shows on television. Debbie would talk of future plans for vacation and Paul would simply agree to them. He worked for the local electric company as a lineman. Debbie noticed on their occasional walks, Paul would be eerily quiet and often step softly in wooded areas. He stepped on and broke a fallen tree branch once and froze like a statue.

Years later they had saved, retired, and managed to buy a little 40-acre farm. Paul loved the quiet and serenity of living back a long lane. He and Debbie were sitting in their chairs on the porch one spring day. Paul looked at Debbie and said, "I wonder how that kid I left behind in Vietnam is doing?" Debbie looked confounded and asked, "What kid? Did you cheat on me?"

Paul looked straight ahead and said, "That kid named Paul Calvin Hanmen. He was 19 years old the last time I saw him. He was shaving in that ratty tent. I left him in that little round mirror. Lieutenant Bracken was in that mirror once too. He smiled and called Paul a grunt." Debbie looked at Paul and asked with concern, "Paul, are you OK?"

As tears formed in her eyes, he continued, "Private Paul Calvin Henman walked right into the belly of hell and came out without a scratch. A few mosquito bites and a bamboo slap bruise on the left side of his nose was what he got from that war day. Walter, Doug, LaMar, and Lieutenant Bracken went to heaven. Private Hanmen went in the mirror." Debbie reached and put her hand on Paul's hand. She said in a trembling tone, "Paul, I love you." Paul looked at her without expression and said, "I love you too. Can you get me a glass of tea?" Debbie smiled, patted his hand, and answered, "Yes."

The Movie

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The Mirror

Debbe came out on the porch with a glass of tea in her hand. She handed it to Paul and he thanked her. He took a sip of tea and said, "You know a thousand times my love, I wanted to grab the hot and ground wires over the years. I would grab one and when I reached for the other, I'd see your hand. I know it is hard for you to understand but that war broke me in half. Only half of my soul returned home. The mirror I spoke of is the very one I have kept all these years among my military things. I put that boy in there to keep him safe. I don't have the power to release him. Only God can do that." Debbie held Paul as he cried.

A few years later, Paul Calvin Hanmen died from cancer. He was told by his doctors it was more than likely from exposure to Agent Orange. He was given a Military Funeral and he had specified in his will that the 21-gun salute be pointed towards Washington DC.

Debbie went home that day and cried until her eyes were dry. She sat on their bed and looked through old photo albums. She took a small Army green pouch from Paul's dresser, opened it, and pulled out the mirror he'd told her about. She saw the reflection of a woman with beautiful brown eyes. Debbie smiled and said, "You had best get to heaven now Paul Calvin Hanmen, and find you some sand. It won't be long until that 17-year-old Debbie Sue Norlin will be meeting you there with her hands cupped.

Virginia Beach

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© 2022 Tom Cornett

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