War Story

One of 11 children from a poor Irish slum in Philadelphia, he was young, scrubbed, and ready for a fight. His enthusiasm lasted all of a day, when upon arrival he saw children with guns, guns pointed at him.

I exist because of the Vietnam War.

My father, Patrick, was an infantryman, sent across the sea in 1967. One of 11 children from a poor Irish slum in Philadelphia, he was young, scrubbed, and ready for a fight. His enthusiasm lasted all of a day, when upon arrival he saw children with guns, guns pointed at him. So he used his humor to survive. And in so doing, he met a very funny man named David. They became buddies. Best friends.

David got a lot of mail from his family; Patrick got nothing. In one of his letters home, David told his sister about his new Irish mate with no mail, so she wrote Patrick a letter herself. He replied. A correspondence was born. Six months after Patrick and David wended their way back to the states, Patrick and Barbara got married. A year-and-a-half later, the day the Mets won the World Series in ‘69, I was born.

As these things happen, the marriage didn’t last. But the notion of turning death into life, hopelessness into hope, dark into light? That stuck.

A few years ago, my father and I reconnected after a lifetime of figurative distance. At one point I asked if he had any pictures of me from when I was young (this kind of evidence hadn’t survived my family’s fracture). I knew he’d been into photography and cinema – while other kids saw “Bambi,” I got to see “Dr. Strangelove,” “The Godfather,” “Annie Hall” – so I thought perhaps there was a box somewhere, dusty and tucked away in the back of someone’s closet.

That Christmas, there was indeed a box under the tree, an album he and my stepmother had put together of pictures from my childhood.

When I turned the page and went from me in a dress on a Sears-studio bench to this candid shot circa 1972, I started to cry.

There I was.
Here I am.

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