But in 1966, the year Frank was drafted to go to Vietnam, Jesse Mott ran off to California. He did everything he could to convince Frank to go with him. They would slip out of town in the middle of the snowy midnight, escape from the backwater where they’d never belonged in the first place; even their mother had known that in the months before their birth when she tried to return to Hartford. To Jesse’s surprise, Frank wouldn’t go. He was more stubborn than people might guess. He wasn’t the sort to run away from his responsibilities, even if that meant fighting a war he didn’t believe in or even understand. There was a big blowup between the two brothers at the Jack Straw Bar and Grill. Both men were hammered; they swung wildly and slugged each other. They called each other names, then wound up crying together in the parking lot in the snow.
It took a lot to get Frank Mott to cry, but if anyone could manage to bring him to tears, it was his brother. Some people joked that they were two halves of the same person: the quiet, dependable one, and the one who was willing to do just about anything on a dare. On the night of their fight, Frank held his head in his hands as he sat between two parked pickup trucks. His jaw was throbbing from a good left hook, but that was the least of his problems. His whole world was coming apart. His parents planned to drive him down to New Jersey the next day for his induction. He wished someone would run him over in the parking lot, just mow him down and be done with it.
“We’ll just get out of this fucking town,” Jesse kept saying. He had a bruise rising around one eye and his knuckles were raw, but he sat down beside Frank and threw an arm around his shoulders. “It will be you and me against the world. Come on, brother. Don’t you get it? I’m doing this for you. You’re the one who’s being drafted.”
As for Jesse, he was the one with all the luck. He was a wild man, well known throughout the Berkshires because of the time he’d jumped off a cliff on Hightop Mountain. His friends had turned away after he leapt, too frightened to watch as he careened to earth with no safety net other than his leather jacket, which he held over his head like a parachute. Anyone else would have surely broken his neck in such a fall. Jessie had let out a joyous shout and wound up with a shattered leg.
“Just give me drink,” he’d said when his friends raced to find him in a heap. They took him to the hospital with Frank driving, muttering curses as he broke the speed limit. The girls had gone even more crazy for Jesse after that; his limp added to his mystique. He had half the girls in town in bed before Frank had his first sexual encounter with René Jacob. Frank had felt trapped into remaining in a tortured relationship with René for the rest of high school while Jesse did as he pleased, getting stoned every day, screwing every girl who came his way, making the varsity basketball team despite his limp, even though Frank was the one who had coached him and taught him his jump shot.
On the night when Jesse took off, both brothers were too drunk to drive. Not that that had stopped Jesse before—but this time they actually couldn’t remember where they’d parked their car. Jesse rose from the snowy curb, then reached out and pulled Frank to his feet.
“Last chance. I’m leaving right now. I’m not waiting to be inducted into their war. Come with me.”
Frank shook his head. He was dizzy as hell. He was going to fight in a war that had nothing to do with him; but he knew how his parents would feel if they woke up in the morning to discover both their sons gone.
Jesse walked off into the snow. One minute he was there, railing at Frank, telling him he was an idiot who would miss out on all those beautiful California girls, and the next he had disappeared into the swirl of snowflakes. Frank sat there for a while, in the quiet of the falling snow. He was the one who’d been drafted, but Jesse was taking the opportunity to go AWOL. Frank’s blood was pounding. He could feel his aloneness deep inside. All at once he realized his mistake. He had to get out of Blackwell and out of the army and out of his life. He took off after his brother down Route 17, but Jesse was nowhere to be seen. Frank shouted out Jesse’s name as he loped along, then blinked in the lights of an oncoming car. A drunk driver headed to the Mass Pike skidded out and knocked Frank Mott for a loop. When he woke up in the Blackwell Hospital two weeks later, his memory was gone.
FRANK’S PARENTS SAT by his bedside each day. The nurses spent hours reminding him what year it was and who was president. It was all a blur to him. Friends patiently listed the names of their teachers back in high school, trying to conjure his previous life outside the hospital. René Jacob, now René Link, having married Brian Link, one of their classmates who had been sent to serve in Vietnam, visited the very first week even though they hadn’t spoken in ages. She had a baby girl she’d named Allegra. She pulled up a chair next to Frank’s hospital bed and took his hand in hers as her baby slept in a stroller. In the hopes of jogging his memory, René told him everything about the first time they’d had sex in the back of his father’s car. She described it in such detail, Frank felt himself wanting her. His sudden desire shocked him. Then René bitterly reminded him that he’d broken up with her in their senior year.