The Heart of Love

Prayers, Poetry, Divine Inspiration by Gail Swanson


The Last Dance


When I was seventeen my heart was broken.  The Vietnam war took our Billy out of our idyllic world. The boys had been leaving one by one to different branches of the armed services. The Vietnam war was raging and it was on the news every night. My mother told me later she was deeply worried about children seeing the horrors of that war on television.

And then Billy was drafted. Billy had to go to war. This sweet, kind, funny, handsome boy that everyone loved left his mother, his father, his sisters and brother and all of us who loved him and went to war. He was 19. And he never came back.

The night before Billy left we were together. We sat on the sofa in my living room and listened to records and talked. Billy was full of joy, always laughing. He was tall and handsome and very kind. I always wished I had a brother and he was like the brother I never had. We liked each other so much that we even dated for a while. He was very protective and you could count on him for anything. He also had a real wild side so we had a lot of really hilarious adventures.

That night we sat on the sofa and felt the weight of what was coming. We talked about many things. Then Billy turned to me took my hand and said “Come on dance with me.” I wish I could remember the song we danced to but I can’t but I remember everything else. We both felt like we were in another world, like this couldn’t be happening, any of it.

And then very softly he said “Wouldn’t it be something if we got married?” I can’t to this day explain what that was all about but it was as if he had to look into the future and imagine what it would be like.   And whatever the reason he said that to me on that night I hold it in my heart as a most precious and loving memory.

Billy did not want to go to war. Billy belonged with us in his hometown doing everything a 19 year old boy does. No one should have to go to war.

I’ve carried your smiling face
in my heart
all these years
I wasn’t quite aware
just how close you’ve been
until I saw your picture

a visit to your sister, Pat
an old album
with a psychedelic cover
snippets of memories inside
long hair
bell bottoms

as I turned the page
and we were laughing
I was stunned
back into reality
at the sight of your sweet face
smiling up at me
from that old yellowing book

how shocking to see
your smile again
the same exact one
that remains in my heart
to this day
my tears flowed
and the pain was as fresh as it was
on the day we were told
we would see that smile no more

time does not
heal all wounds
we just remain wounded
and carry on
as if we’re not
until something
a word
or a picture
jolts us back
back to that original place
of grieving
for what is lost

what really gets us through
is the shining smile
that can never die
the smile of a boy
we called Billy