Tuesday, September 21, 2010

The Fabled Tom Lawrence

He was the most extraordinary man I ever met. His name was Tom Lawrence, and I am now living in his house. It’s odd how things work out.
I was staying with Raymond and Denise, and although they never expressed negative feelings toward me, I must admit I had become something of a leech. My only excuse is that I was depressed at the time, and I couldn’t bring myself to seek employment.

One night, Raymond invited over an old army buddy, who being a little older, came forward with the most fantastic stories of his vast experience far more detailed than anything Ray ever admitted to. They met in Okinawa and when Tom related tales of his time there, Ray would concur with a nod of his head, but there were other bits that seemed not to fall within the range of Tom’s possible chronology, and though Ray verbalized nothing contrary in his company nor when we were alone, he made it apparent by rolling eyes and silent lip movements that some of Tom’s history was not to be believed.
For instance, Tom went into detail about the time a drum of oil spilled and ran down a hillside where they were camped and several men died after running around engulfed in flames. The way he described the smell of charred flesh, I could envision the scene and sensed the awful odor of pork roasting that was described. A glance at Ray told me that this had indeed happened and he was a witness. “It was the army’s mistake, of course,” Tom said, “Those oil drums should never have been stored so close to where hundreds of men were sleeping.”
However, when Tom claimed he was one of the last Americans to be stationed in Vietnam, and taking into account the small age difference between the two men, I doubted the veracity of his statement, there again Ray made it clear that this part was apocryphal, but we both dutifully listened to his wild and wooly tales, which, to me sounded as if they had been lifted from the script of Platoon and delivered with only the slightest alterations to allow for the waning of the war.
As he was invited over several times after that and I came to know him a little better, I grew to like the man in spite of his enfabulations. At the same time, it became clear to me, that as Tom was looking for a housemate, Ray was all for getting me to consider applying for the role.

A proposition was made one night, and I took him up on it with the stipulation that it might be some time before I could pay my way. Tom was independently wealthy and said that presented no problem.
I moved to Staten Island within the week.

Now, I live alone in this big house because Tom died a month after I moved in.
He drove his motorcycle to a Seven-Eleven early one morning and on returning he swerved to avoid running into two boys with their bicycles. He was thrown over his handlebars and his skull was crushed.

After his funeral, I discovered he’d left me the house. As he had only known me a brief time, I cannot for the life of me figure out why he did so, but I did discover he was only 46 and couldn’t possibly have served in Vietnam as the war was long over by the time he had reached enlistment age. He sure could spin a good yarn, and almost have you believing him. His accounts were that vivid. I miss the man, and Raymond never calls, but I’ve reached my own conclusions on why that is.

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