2.6 Interlude

??/??/?? to  August 14, 1950 2:00pm

Sunday, July 16, 1944

I’m sitting out on deck now. It’s about evening so I’ll have to go in soon when it gets dark. It’s been an uneventful trip so far—in regards to the war. We saw a couple of reconnaissance planes one evening a while back, but no action. We’ve seen lots of our planes, of course. There’s a bunch of them in the sky now, coming in. Wait—they look—different—they—

???

I must write. I can’t think but I must write. I’m in bed—but where is Thea. Thea. Thea. I must have Thea. Come to me Thea.

Later

I can think a little now. I’m in a bed. I think I’m on shore. My left arm and left leg are both bandaged—so is my head. I feel sore and sick. I’ve no idea what time it is. No one else is here. I found this pencil and paper beside the bed. I don’t know where I am or why. And I feel fuzzy. I must sleep.

Later

Some people came today. But I don’t know any more. I don’t know what language they speak, but it’s not Italian. So I’m puzzled. One of them was a doctor. I think my arm is broken, but my leg is just cut and bruised. My head feels funny. Everything seems vague. Sort of like a dream. I can’t remember the ship very clearly. I guess it must have been some time. I vaguely remember some planes. But none of it’s clear. And I’m very weak. I can only write a little at a time.

July 1, ????

I feel quite a bit better today. I was violently sick last night and it seems to have cleared me up. I’m still weak though. And I’m more confused than ever.

I’m on one of the little islands off the Yugoslav coast. They brought a map in and showed me. There’s a middle-aged couple and their children. A boy about my age, a girl about 20, and two younger boys. The father is the doctor.

But the confusing thing is the date. By sign language I got the idea that it was the first day of the seventh month. But when I looked back on my diary and saw that I’d written of an attack on July 16? Maybe they reckon time differently here.

July 2, ????

I’m getting better every day. I’m picking up a word or two of the language, but I still can’t really converse! It’s amazing that I still have my diary. I don’t seem to have anything else. When I got across the idea, the daughter brought me in an old pair of shorts with a corncob pipe in the pocket, a weather-beaten life preserver—and that’s all, besides two other soaked pages of diary labeled 20 and 21. So they don’t know anything about me—nor I about them. I feel well enough now so I’m really curious.

July 5, ????

I got out of bed for the first time yesterday. And promptly collapsed on the floor! But today I walked along the wall a few steps and back. Or limped, I should say, since my left leg isn’t worth much.

July 6, 1950

Yes, that’s the date! And I’m more confused than ever. I saw a newspaper today and the date was all I could make out. That and a picture of Dewey. I asked them if they were kidding but they assured me it was true and laughed at me for asking. They look at me a little queerly now, as though they think I’m crazy. Maybe I am. I’m really not sure of anything except that I must get well. Six years have passed. I wonder what I have to come home to. I must write impersonally now, since I’ve no idea what I have to come home to. But I must find out. Perhaps it would be better not to, but I must at least know—then I shall decide whether to come back or not.

July 8, 1950

Well, I know more than I did. With great ceremony Papa ushered in a distinguished-looking gentleman who spoke French. So we carried on a sort of conversation. And here is what must have happened, as near as I can put the pieces together:

The raid that sank our ship was one of the heaviest ones of the war. Twenty-two ships were sunk and hundreds of men killed. I must have been thrown into the water unconscious. Fortunately I’d jumped for my life jacket when I first suspected the planes, and for some reason I stuffed those 2 pages of diary into my pocket. Four days later I was picked up by a Yugoslav fishing boat, belonging to this same family. I was almost dead, but they took me home and nursed me back to health in about six months.

I remember nothing of this, nor of the 5½ years that followed. The only explanation I can reason is amnesia. Because I certainly didn’t spend all that time in bed, sick!

Although I recovered my body, my mind didn’t, according to the family (the distinguished man was merely an interpreter. He knew nothing of me himself). I never spoke, except once in a while in my sleep when I spoke English. But I learned to understand Yugoslav, and I couldn’t understand English. Now I see why the family thought I was crazy when I started speaking English and not understanding Yugoslav!

Anyhow, I was quite a different person. In fact I was almost a local hero. As soon as I was well I fought with Tito’s Guerrillas and was noted for being a dare-devil. Apparently I just couldn’t be killed and I knew it. I won’t go into the details, because it wasn’t really me. Also, I had quite a way with the women. This was delicately hinted at by the oldest son after the others had left, but he refused to go into any more detail.

The war ending, I became sort of a Robin Hood or something. Apparently I needed my violence. I’m not sure just how much trouble I got into. Then, about two weeks ago I had a very bad fall and it’s that fall that I’m recovering from now.

July 10, 1950

I spent all day yesterday rolled up in a rug in the attic. The police were here looking for me. So it seems that my trouble was considerable. But the family hid me securely. And they soon went away.

I’m afraid the daughter is in love with me. I guess I must have swept her off her feet before. Just how far I went, I wish I knew. But I rather suspect it was too far. There’s something in the way she sits and looks at me. She’s not bad looking, either. And I can tell that whether I actually did or didn’t in the past, she expects me to in the future. But I don’t want to. I must find out more about my two pasts before I dare do anything in the future. I’m pretending I’m sicker than I am to hold her off for the time being.

July 11, 1950

We’re located in quite a seaport. From my window I can see ships entering and leaving the harbour almost every day. Somehow I must get aboard one when I’m well enough. But my leg is still bothering me and my arm is healing slowly. Another two weeks, I hope. And then to get aboard an American ship.

July 22, 1950

The French-speaking gentleman was here again last week, and I’ve been spending the time writing down my history of the last 6 years. But I decided to leave it out of this account. It doesn’t belong in this diary. I shall save it of course—maybe I can sell it to a magazine! But it’s not the story of the “me” that’s writing now.

I’m entirely well except for my arm, now. And I’ve been trying to get in touch with one of the American ships in the harbour. I think I’m getting somewhere. I hope so, because the daughter doesn’t look as though she’ll wait much longer—and my resistance in that direction is weakening.

July 23, 1950

Well! Success beyond my wildest hopes. An American sailor came to call. And he’s a seaman on the SS Oscar Marion, captain Matt Sharpe, who was bosun when I was on the Francis Marion. I can hardly wait until tomorrow when he’s going to bring the captain!

July 24, 1950

I saw Captain Sharpe today, and he was as surprised as I. He and the captain, second mate, and second engineer of the Francis Marion were ashore at the time of the attack and so survived, but until he saw me he hadn’t known of anyone else. Apparently my math instruction was to a good pupil, since he’s been a captain 3 years now.

But there are complications. It seems that I’m pretty well known in Yugoslavia, and in the time since the war it has been notoriety rather than fame. And although a case could be made out based on the fact that I’m no longer the same person, it would drag on for months with the outcome in doubt. That is, if the police ever lay hands on me, which they will if I try to board the ship as a passenger or seaman.

In addition, I’ve lost all my seaman and identification papers so there will be quite a time getting into the states without some sort of OK from the Yugoslav government, which is out of the question.

However, Matt has offered to stow me away. It’s risky, but it seems my only chance. Even if I do get caught I won’t be much worse off. I’m going to take the family into my confidence (I don’t dare do otherwise, and they’ve hidden me at least once) and leave tonight. I don’t know what the effect will be on Zara (the daughter). I’ll just hope for the best. We sail for Baltimore on the 27th, and should be there by August 9th or 10th. I won’t get any chance to write on the ship, but I’ll try and remember anything significant.

August 11, 1950…Washington, D.C.

A very quiet trip. Matt made me comfortable in his room and saw that I was well fed. And he forged a dock pass for me to get off the ship. The goodbye to Zara wasn’t too bad. She thinks I’m coming back, but she’ll get over it if I don’t.

Right now I’m cooling my heels in an office of the war department trying to find out what happened to me officially. I told them I was an errand boy for a law office trying to settle my estate.

Later

It worked. I was reported missing as of July 16, 1944, and officially dead 3 months later. So I’m now a man with nothing. It won’t be too difficult to straighten out if I want to. I’m now on a train to New York to find out about you.

August 12, 1950

This is a ticklish business. I must find out what has happened to you. I hope you’re still waiting for me. I’ve no right to—I should hope you’ve found a new life and happiness. But anyhow, I must know. If you’re still waiting I want to waste no time getting to know you again. But if you’ve found a new life I don’t want to come back. I’ve disappeared once—it would be better to stay dead.

I’m in a hotel room now and the news so far is good. I’ve called Hunter College and they said you graduated in 1946 and went back to the Provost’s office as executive secretary. They’ve heard nothing more from you since. So I called Antioch (Matt had loaned me a good bit of money) and they said that they’d last gotten a check from Thea Hodge in January 1950 for the alumni bulletin. So now I know you were still mine 7 months ago.

Later

Had the real brainstorm just now. That voice you heard just now was your long-lost husband. I called the Provost, hoping he’d be out. And he was. So I asked you some fictitious business questions and getting intelligent answers I asked your name. So now I know you’re still Mrs. Hodge, at business anyhow. I’m hopeful, but still far from sure.

August 13, 1950

Well, I’m going to beard the lion in its den tonight. I just realized that I’m quite a changed person in appearance. I weight close to 190 in spite of my sickness. I have a full beard and longish hair, a limp that’s natural, several scars on my face, half a finger missing. I can add a sling for my arm (which is really healed, by the way) and cover half my face with bandages. My voice is very deep and a little gutteral. So—I shall count on the disguise. With the aid of dark glasses it should work.

I’ve just called the house at Roslyn. We don’t live there anymore, of course, but I found out where we did and called there. Mother was the only one home, so I introduced myself as Bill Pellicone, a shipmate of mine. I was invited out for dinner, but accepted for the evening only. I shall know. Now I must see about my disguise.

August 14, 1950—2 a.m.

I’m in a room upstairs now. You, Mother and Dad, Max, and Jinny, have all gone to bed. And I am happy—so happy…tomorrow I will make myself known. We were all too tired tonight. Here is a digest of the conversation after the formalities. (I’ll call myself Bill, since that’s what I pretended to be):

Bill: I hope you’ll excuse my appearance. I just got out of the hospital. That’s why I couldn’t come any sooner.

Mother: Have you been in ever since the war?

Bill: No, this is from a house fire a few months ago. But I never had a chance to get here before, since I kept on shipping on the west coast.

Thea: You said you had some news from Philip?

Bill: Yes, He and I sailed on the same ship, you know. Shortly after we left Norfolk we traded letters. That is, I gave him a letter to my wife in case he should survive me, and he did the same. I didn’t think I still had the letter after the horrible attack, but just recently I came across it among my other papers. Here it is:

(I had actually written it yesterday and soaked it in the washbowl to make it look old.)

Letter:

Dearest Thea,
You will never read this unless I am unlucky in war. I don’t expect to be. But in the event I am, don’t grieve for me. I have died for a cause. However imperfect, I still feel that my death may contribute to someone else’s happiness. And it was purely a matter of chance that I died for someone else instead of someone else dying for me.
So make what you can out of your life. I hope, if you can find a man good enough, you’ll marry again. You’re too perfect a wife to remain a widow. But whatever you do, I want you to be happy.

(Here the letter was torn off as though to indicate a longer missive.)

You went up to your room when you read it. But I stayed and talked. And Max finally volunteered the information that I’d been so desperately waiting for: That although you went out quite a bit, you had no steady boy—let alone a husband. Mother said they sort of wished you would marry again—that your life seemed incomplete. I was surprised at their confidences. I wonder if subconsciously they recognized me without knowing it?

We sat and talked a long time. I made up quite a tale about my adventures as Bill, and in exchange learned something of my family again. About midnight you came back down. I didn’t want to shock you all too much in the morning, so I dropped a hint that possibly I was still alive. Shortly after we went to bed.

I’m going to take off my bandages and glasses and shave. Then I’ll try and get some sleep. And in the morning, after 6 long years, we can be in our life together again. Think it’ll work, darling? I do!