Army nurse Anna Maria O’Shea must make choices–about the kind of man she dates, about the strength of her commitment to her work as a healing on the front in Vietnam, and on how to honor her commitment to family, friends, and country.
Pittsburgh, May 7, 1970
“Hell no, we won’t go! Hell no, we won’t go!” They kept chanting the phrase, repeating it with more ferocity and fist pumping at each shout. Anna Maria snaked her way through the crowd of angry college students, some of whom were standing on the sidewalk. Most were standing and sitting in the middle of Fifth Avenue, blocking traffic. She ducked into the Pitt bookstore just as two mounted policemen rode down to the edge of the crowd and maneuvered their horses to try to move the students out of the street. Even though she had seen a student swipe at a patrolman who was monitoring the crowd on foot, no one seemed willing to possibly hurt a horse and so the crowd began to roll back onto the sidewalk like an ebbing tide.
Anna Maria watched it all for a few minutes through the plate glass windows of the bookstore. Then she sighed and ran down the stairs to the lower level where the nursing books were kept. She had heard that a paperback copy of her favorite nursing reference was now available and wanted to take that lighter version with her to Vietnam, thereby shaving a few ounces of weight from her already overstuffed and heavy suitcase.
When she had descended the steps she looked around for someone to help her find the book. Signs for various disciplines and studies were absent from their usual places at the end of each stack of shelves. “Probably took them for the demonstration,” Anna Maria mumbled to herself. She sat down on a stepstool by the first set of shelves.
She decided to rest there for a few moments while she collected herself. Reflecting on the previous week, Anna Maria sank deeper into her thoughts. What a strange and busy week it had been, she mused. Michael had decided to avoid Vietnam by defecting to Canada. Meanwhile, she was studying for finals in the program that would take her to Vietnam as a nurse. The program that, that WILL take me to Vietnam as a nurse, she corrected herself. I can’t let Michael’s decision affect me that way.
A salesgirl walked by. She didn’t speak to Anna Maria although she frowned at her as she glanced her way. So, she noticed me, Anna Maria thought, as the girl walked around the corner of another stack of books, but did not call out to her. She probably thinks I’m crazy or maybe she thinks I’m just resting here to get away from the demonstrations outside. Maybe I am. After all, I could’ve bought that book at any time.
Anna Maria looked at her watch. It was only an hour until she was supposed to meet Michael to discuss his plans. She wondered if he would be on time or not. She imagined that he was in the thick of the demonstration and had either burned his draft card already or was running to meet the mounted policemen. Michael was always in the midst of the trouble. Anna Maria smiled ruefully to herself. No, she corrected herself. Michael is always the one instigating the trouble. She had to admit that it was nearly impossible to correct Michael. Even his professors had a hard time denying him. His sparkling blue eyes, coal black curly hair, and lop-sided grin were hard to refuse. That grin of straight, even teeth illuminated the room around him and acted as a magnet, pulling everyone deep into his soul and definitely into his orbit.
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Joan Leotta has been writing and performing since childhood. Her “motto” is “encouraging words through pen and performance.” Her award-winning poetry, short stories, books and articles have been published in many journals, magazines and newspapers.
She performs folklore shows and one-woman shows on historic figures at venues up and down the east coast. She lives in Calabash, NC with husband Joe. You can learn more about her at www.joanleotta.wordpress.com.