My very first poem was written while sitting in a storage closet. I was trying to escape the all-seeing eyes of Commander Shedrack, our Director of Nursing at Quonset Point Rhode Island, my first duty station after boot camp. I had been a Professional Psychiatric Nurse before enlisting in the Navy but suddenly found a mop and broom in my hands again and orders to make spotless an old unused dining area of the small base hospital. The previous day I had made the mistake of emptying a single ashtray onto the floor of the unoccupied waiting room because I didn’t want to get the already cleaned trashcan dirty again. I planned to just sweep it away with the rest of the dirt but as the butts hit the floor I suddenly heard my name.
“Matthysse! That is not the proper way of emptying an ashtray!”
“Yes Ma’am! I know that.” I replied sheepishly, as my face turned beet red.
“So why did we do it then?”
“I guess I was lazy, Ma’am.”
“Well, see that it doesn’t happen again.”
“It won’t Ma’am,” I responded.
And that is how I got the assignment to clean the dining room. I had made pretty good progress in the first couple of hours but was really feeling lonely and was beginning to think I had made the biggest mistake of my life by enlisting in the Navy. The storage cabinet was the perfect hiding place. The doors opened in the back and out of sight of the hallway. I stepped in and closed the doors behind me and suddenly there was complete darkness and silence. These words came to me almost immediately and they have been with me ever since. It is simple but for me, it gave me a sense of accomplishment at a time when I was feeling quite worthless.
In the darkness, I can see,
The thing that light has hidden from me.
In the stillness, I can hear,
The things that noise doth obscure.
Alone with God, I can find,
New hope for Life and peace of mind.
It felt like a great weight was lifted from me and I knew I was going to make it from that point on. I could face any obstacle, overcome any hardship, defeat any enemy. There was nothing that I couldn’t do…,
“MATTHYSSE?” I heard as the door swung open and the bright light filled the tiny compartment as if GOD Himself were standing out there. “How do we explain this behavior?”
“With much difficulty, Ma’am,” I replied.
I thought I saw a smile as she motioned with her eyes that it was time to get back to work.
“Yes Ma’am!” I replied to her voiceless command.
A couple of years later, after being wounded in Vietnam, I would literally run into her again on a crowded stairway of Bethesda Naval Hospital. It took only a moment for her to recall the Corpsman in the closet and we had a good laugh about it… but than our conversation turned to those whom we knew, that didn’t make it back from Vietnam and I saw the soft side of her that few people ever knew. Several months later she would come to my aid once again with a beautifully written statement of support and plea for leniency in my court-martial hearing.