You Can’t Go Back
By Garland Davis
Some things you can’t go back to
Some things need left alone
Don’t mess with the memories
Of a life passed on
All the time I made reservations
At the heart of my mistakes
Oh, some things you can’t go back to
‘Cause you left them slip away
Or can you?
Joe’s journey began in Denver. The first destination was Honolulu where he would spend a pair of days to relive a stop there in 1965. The next part of his journey would take him to Manila and a special taxi or jeepney to the old U.S. Navy base at Subic Bay where he had arranged for a room at a hotel that had once been the base BOQ. Robert Frost had said one cannot go back but Joe thought that maybe he could.
Joe had thought of making this trip for years. The biggest regret of a regret-filled life was leaving the Navy in 1967. He had planned to re-enlist but decided to get out for a couple of months for a vacation and then go to the recruiter. That way he would get a break and still keep his Second Class crow when he went back. The poet said, “The best-laid plans of mice and men often go awry.”
Fifty-three years later, three wives and three children, one who was brainwashed by his first wife to hate him, and twin girls who were clothes horses and as vacuous as his second wife. His third wife had passed on ten years earlier.
Looking back on seventy-four years, four years in the Navy, almost forty-two years as an over the road trucker, Joe thought that the only time he was really happy was during the brief period he spent as a sailor. He regretted more than ever not shipping over.
Joe left the BOQ, walking slowly, using a cane to help maintain his equilibrium, he started for the gate area and the famed Shit River Bridge. As he walked slowly, he watched the Filipinos moving along walks and streets that had once teemed with white uniforms.
Joe reached the bridge. There were no guards or Marines. There was no wooden box to throw your extra cigarettes into. Joe was pretty sure that an extra pack of cigarettes wouldn’t wreck the Philippine economy, but the Marines didn’t take any chances.
He moved onto the bridge. It was all strange. The water in Shit River was clean and there was a floating fountain shooting a cascade of water into the air. But, the most noticeable thing was the lack of the famous Shit River odor.
Joe looked out over the bridge to town. What had once been seedy bars and hotels now presented itself as modern stores and businesses. Most remarkable, the street that had once been either a dry dusty thoroughfare or a stream of mud was paved and clean. He began to move across to see how much of the old Olongapo still existed.
As Joe reached the mid-point of the bridge, he felt a momentary dizziness. There he seemed to be facing a shimmering mirror. He was looking at a white image that seemed to be waving him forward. Joe took a step and encountered the shimmer.
Suddenly Joe was overwhelmed by the stench of the putrid stream and the clamor of the boys in the water yelling, “Hey Joe, throw me Peso.” He looked down at himself, he was dressed in whites with a GM2 crow on his left arm. Bewildered, thinking this is right, Joe moved on.
Joe walked off the bridge onto the dirt of a street that would later be pretentiously named Gordon Avenue. There was the Hole in the Wall and the Chop House. He stopped into the Hole and drank a beer. He couldn’t remember a beer as cold or as good.
He wandered down Magsaysay, stopping into a Shitkicking bar for a beer. The girls were prettier than he remembered. He hit a couple of Rock and Roll joints. The bands were of a quality that rivaled any on the Billboard charts. He stopped at Pauline’s and bought a duck for a Peso for the crocodile who just lay there, probably already sated or no longer cared for duck. As he walked away, he saw the boy rescue the duck. He would probably sell it a dozen more times. He stopped around the corner at Mama’s and had a couple of Tacos with the special hot sauce and San Miguel, of course. They were as good as he remembered.
After eating, joe walked into the club next door. Gloria was there. She smiled and said, “Hello Joe, I have been waiting for you.” She took him by the hand and said, “Come, I have a new house,” and led him out the door and down the alley. Joe walked along beside the beautiful girl, smiling.
The two policemen were directing foot traffic around the covered body that lay in the middle of the bridge. Finally, the ambulance with the doctor came and pronounced him dead. Tha ambulance attendants loaded the body into the ambulance. As they drove into traffic, one attendant said, “I believe he is in paradise.”
“Why would you say that?” asked the driver.
“Did you see the smile on his face?”