Old Ventures 2, Ch. 6

Six, Joe, Canton, Ohio

“I can’t,” Jack said. “Believe me, I’ve tried. But every time I thought of coming here, I… I couldn’t. Because I’d think about every time I wasn’t there, every time you needed me that…”

“Jack,” Joey said. “You’re here now. I don’t blame you, not for any part of it, not getting molested, not getting kicked out of the Army, not for getting sick. I lived my life as I chose to. Sure, there might have been times when I could have used your help, or different help than what you tried to give. But you’re a person, just like me, bouncing around and off of a tumult of events neither of us could hope to completely understand, let alone control. All we can do is cope. Sometimes, that means taking you as you are at that time, accepting you for how you can support me, not hating you for the ways you couldn’t.”

“I know,” Jack said, his voice frail. “And maybe if I’d only failed you…”

“What, mom? Or is this about the election? Because I got strong words for you if it’s that. You didn’t fail America, dad. America failed you. And not even the people, really. They rejected fascism by a pretty healthy margin. But a party hell-bent on control and not too fond of actual democracy enabled fascists to seize power, anyway. I mean, I take your point, in that way too many people gave a thumbs up to fascism, way too many eagerly greeted all of the nastiness. But you? This isn’t on you. Great a man as you can be, you can’t save people from themselves.

“But let me remind you how fucking good of a man you can be. Do you remember what you told me, when you saved me in Germany?” A wistful, almost impish smile crossed Jack’s lips, before fading just as quickly. “I know, that doesn’t narrow it down, smart ass, because you saved me at least a dozen times in Germany. But you know the time I mean.

“I was a dumb kid, and ran off to help you fight Nazis, not realizing… I actually believed your dopey, make-believe radio show kid sidekick could actually fight Nazis.” He laughed, and there was bitterness in it, but also real amusement. “And when one caught me… that rat bastard raped me. And that might have been my whole fate, just being abused, humiliated and tortured by the Nazis. But you stormed that camp, alone, and broke me out. But I was still a kid, what was I? Twelve?”

“You just turned thirteen,” Jack said.

“Right. But I was still waiting for my growth spurt. Anyway, it was all basically cops and robbers to me, to that point. I didn’t, I mean, I couldn’t fathom that kind of evil, the kind of monsters who would do that to a child, and then laugh about it. Something inside me had broken, and I was catatonic. Even after you rescued me… I felt like we’d never get way, that the Nazis would capture us both and then they’d do to both of us what they did to me and… that would have been worse. And I couldn’t move on my own, but there you were, risking life and limb, getting me food, medicine, a blanket; I can’t tell you how much the blanket meant to me. Food, water, you need those, can’t survive without them. But the blanket… you weren’t just trying to save me to soothe your conscience. You cared about me, you cared if I was shivering, and scared. I kept it. Through the war. Through a few points in my life when what I owned didn’t fill a backpack.

“Anyway, the thing you told me, and it stuck with me more than anything else, you said me that ‘Defying tyranny isn’t about punching Nazis. It’s about vigilance. It’s easy, to lace up your boots on the days when your buddies are all alive, when your people aren’t being rounded up. But those days when you’ve taken that punch, not the one that simply makes your head spin, but that makes your whole world feel like it’s teetering off its axis, when you’re bleeding and broken, those are the days when you need to get those boots on tight, figure out what the good fight is, and fight it. Sometimes you’re tired. Sometimes you’re hurt. Sometimes you’re so scared you can’t think straight. And there are days when the weight of even one more step feels like it could shatter you. So you take two. Because evil doesn’t take a day off. And neither can you.’”

“I said that?” Jack asked.


“Was I always full of so much hot air?”

“Since before I met you, yeah,” Joe said with a laugh.

“How-” The thought caught in his throat, “how’m I going to do this without you?”

“You’ll have to take three steps, dad,” he said, and squeezed Jack’s shoulder, “for the one I won’t be there to take.”

“And when I can’t go on?”

“That’s why you’ve got me, handsome,” Rose said from the doorway she was propped against, looking every bit like one of her pin-ups from the war. “To pick up the slack. Though God knows you haven’t left me much over the years to pick up.”

“No man can do it all alone,” Joe started again. “And it’s a fool who thinks otherwise.”

“And we’ve always loved you, foolish though you often are,” Rose teased him, crossing he room and laying her head on his other shoulder. “But it wouldn’t matter. Even if this were the 40s, and you were indefatigable, even in the face of nearly a century’s worth of horror. This is different. You’re up against an idea; a man- there’s no man alive and likely none who ever lived you couldn’t take. But an idea… tearing down an idea is the work of years. Maybe generations. Maybe we’re still fighting the ideas behind Nazism today- maybe this really is the same fight you’ve been engaged in since you were a kid.”

“What can I do?”

You can’t, Jack,” she said, an edge of frustration in her voice. “We’ve been telling you that your whole damned life. But we can. All of us. Together. We can turn back this tide like you helped turn back the Nazis. Like you helped fight off the Reds. You were big in those fights, disproportionately so. But you weren’t alone then, either. And you aren’t alone now. We can get through this. We won’t all live to see it through to the end. And for those of us who fall, you’ll pick up the standard and keep moving. Because I know you. And on days when I’m weak, honey,” Rose paused, softly touching his chest, “I know you’ll be there for me. So let us be here for you. So we can all be there for the people who need us now. And there’s going to be a lot of people who need us, now.”

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