On December 2, 1967 Franklin Patterson was called to jury duty. He remembers the date because the following day he was called upon to serve his country in the Vietnam war. Franklin was ambivalent about the war. He had friends who'd gone, and didn't want to speak of it, and knew a few fellas from his home town who'd died. He didn't necessarily agree with the protestors who didn't want to fulfill their duty in the draft, but he was young and certainly didn't want to die in a jungle either for some rather vague enemy of "communism". From what he'd studied in school, communism as an ideal didn't seem that bad, but with McCarthy about to declare his run for the Presidency you were either with the anti-war movement or you weren't. There wasn't much room in the middle for wafflers like Franklin.
Franklin preferred to read, to write. Franklin was an observer of people. He stayed warm and cozy in his safe cocoon rather than getting involved in the messy affairs of life. He was interested in the war and had some stirring in the pit of his stomach of vague patriotism for the land in which he grew up, but he also held deep empathy for the hippies and their anti-war movement.
A couple of his friends had run away to Canada to avoid the draft. Franklin, who'd rather be curled up with a good book in a hammock than fighting VietCong in the wet jungle, weighed his options. Then the jury duty call came. He called up the courthouse to see what he should do, and talked to a very sympathetic woman who asked him when his call date was, and he told her Dec 3rd. She laughed and said, "Well I guess this is your lucky day! You can be exempted for jury duty on a major case such as this one." He was being called to jury duty for a nasty homicide. He breathed a sigh of relief, happy to serve but to do it from the confines of a courtroom rather than halfway around the world.
The trial started and he was selected to be on the jury. The first day he slid into the narrow bench where he was to spend the next four months, he had to pass by a woman who was sitting primly, her narrow hands folded neatly in her lap. As he brushed by her, he heard her skirt make a soft protest against her thigh and he paused, mesmerized. The woman blushed and moved her body away further, closing in on itself as if for security.
Franklin pushed on through, the image of the outline of her leg against the flimsy material of her skirt burning in his mind. The first day he had a hard time maintaining focus on the information being presented for his eyes kept wandering to the side to look at the girl with the soft hair who had a habit of pressing her fingertips against her cheeks when thinking.
“He wrote imaginary love letters to his muse, whose name he had found out was Ilsa.”
The trial was important of course, a man's fate was on the line, so Franklin willed himself to concentrate. Her force next to him seemed as though it had a low hum to it, a comforting lulling sound that made him sit up straighter, pay more attention and dig deep inside himself to find the best in there.
He memorized her profile, the way she would sit with her hands folded and ankles crossed, her fingers always moving. He noticed that she clenched her fists when having to listen to something particularly gory, but she never grimaced and always listened intently. He admired the way her hair curled around her jaw line, the way her nose dipped into her cheeks and the way she held her eyelashes half open when she was thinking.
For four months he studied her from his perch next to her. He heard her breathing, found himself mimicking her steady intake of air and sighs when they were forced to listen to horrifying details of the crime.
Franklin kept copious notes. In his quest to ignore the beauty at his side, he had to force himself to take detailed notes of the trial so he could review them in the quiet of his room later that evening.
The crime was a gruesome one and to relieve the stress of listening to the trail every day, he began to write. He wrote imaginary love letters to his muse, whose name he had found out was Ilsa. He wrote about life, love, his fears, his hopes. He wrote poetry, sonnets, lyrics to songs. All dedicated to her. The writings took on a life of their own, and he filled volumes of spiral bound notebooks with thoughts and imagery all dedicated to this woman to whom he'd never spoken more than a few words to, but felt he had known his entire life.
The trial was beginning to wind down, and suddenly Franklin realized that this soothing presence who had sat next to him would soon no longer be. Alone in his room again, he considered his options. He could talk to her, but something in the observatory nature of himself made this seem like the worst choice. He could drop hints and see if she picked up the initiative. This was more palpable. He even considered telling her about how jury duty saved him from certain combat in south Asia.
Franklin's inexperience and nervousness at talking to this imagined love of his life kept him too petrified to do anything, and the trial came to a close. He was flustered, and wondering how to approach her before she slipped out of his life for good. He couldn't stand the excitement and nerves and figured if she wasn't going to say anything to him then it wasn't meant to me. He did manage a nervous smile to her as he gathered up his voluminous notes and sped out the door, prepared to go back to his solitary life.
As he left the building, tossing one last wistful look over his shoulder and the lovely four months he had sat next to Ilsa, he was surprised to see her running after him.
"Franklin! Franklin!" she hurried up behind him. He blushed as he watched her small legs again straining against the filmy skirts she preferred. She caught up to him and held out a box. "You forgot these. I thought you might like to keep them."
He gasped. "Oh, uh, thank you Ilsa." Ilsa. The name rolled off his tongue as if it belonged there.
He looked down. The box was full of his writings to her! He started blushing like mad and she put her small hand on his forearm, nodding, and he watched in fascination as her aquiline nose dipped up and down. "I read them, Franklin. Did you really write ALL those to me?" Her voice was filled with wonder, and he could barely breathe for the feather light touch of her hands he was afraid to shake free.
Suddenly he found he couldn't keep quiet any longer. It was as if he had to relive the entirety of his life since the first breath, and wanted to hear every minute of her life. They were talking, and as Franklin likes to say, they haven't stopped talking for almost forty years.
Ilsa still has the box of writings - those and many more he has sent her over the years.
Thank you, Franklin, for sharing your Story with us.
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© 2008 by Kristen Kuhns and Story of My Life®