Little was written on the postcard, almost none of it good.
Richard Edward Duffy’s mother received the brief message just before Christmas 1970 from his girlfriend months after he had taken off to a Corrales commune to find himself, or perhaps lose himself, in the psychedelic, utopian world of hippies, hash and hedonism.
His younger brother, Dan Duffy, was there the day the postcard came. He remembers Rich, the eldest of five children raised by their hardworking waitress mother, as the high school dropout who became something of a hellion, more out of boredom than badness, growing up on the Jersey Shore. Rich, Duffy says, was 18 in 1965 when he joined the Marines as a way to atone for his past delinquencies.
A year later, he married. A year after that, he was shipped off to Vietnam as a forward observer, scouting for enemy targets and reporting to his platoon on where to direct mortar fire.
He returned from combat in 1968 to find that his wife had left him and that life, as he had known it, had left him, too.
“He had gone into the war as a Marine one way and came out another,” Dan Duffy said from his home in Rockport, Mass. “He came back a nervous wreck. His hands shook. Nothing was the same. I could see there was nothing that he had once known that was of any importance to him, that the past did not seem to matter anymore. So he created a new lifestyle.”
Rich, he said, began imbibing alcohol, hallucinogens and marijuana. He grew his hair out. He cut a hole in the center of an old Army blanket big enough to fit his head through, belted it around his waist with a measure of rope, tossed away his combat boots for sandals.
In early 1970, he headed west for Corrales.
Duffy called him a “flower child/Jesus freak.”
Then came that postcard.
“Rich and I went to the Rio Grande River, took LSD, and when I woke up he was gone,” it read.
Duffy’s mother tried to look at the card in a positive way. Maybe, she thought, Rich had finally gotten wise and decided to walk away from those dirty hippies.
For years, Duffy said, that’s the way he tried to look at it, too. At least it was better than imagining his elder brother drowning in muddy water or being killed in some other fashion or living off the grid for so long that he no longer wanted or knew how to reconnect.
In 1975, Duffy and his mother took a stab at searching for Rich, sending out hundreds of letters to addresses that a Richard Duffy had once been connected to.
Nothing came back.
It all seemed to end there.
“We didn’t talk about a whole lot of stuff,” he said. “We just didn’t.”
Decades later, Duffy could not shake the hope that his brother was still out there. But if he could not find his brother, he needed to find answers as to what had happened during and after that acid trip.
Duffy, a retired educator, began writing down thoughts about his brother, about their hardscrabble childhood, about fate unknown. He became involved with a writing workshop in Gloucester, Mass., and with the group’s encouragement began writing a memoir of his brother, combining facts as he knew them with fiction to fill in what he didn’t know.
In 2016, his book, “Brother Brother” was published.
It was, he said, a way not only to continue to search for his brother but to try to understand the path his brother had chosen so far afield from his own.
What he has found is more mission than man. Duffy is forming a national support group for other families in search of loved ones who returned from war scarred and detached and lost in the ether. You can find more about that on his Facebook page, MIA: Missing in America – Vietnam Vet’s.
“More than a million soldiers went to Vietnam, and I’m convinced there are others like me who have lost someone like I lost my brother,” Duffy said.
He also continues to search for his brother. He’s located some of the former commune dwellers, including Dee, the girlfriend who had written the postcard.
This fall, he traveled to New Mexico and searched for the three houses his brother is believed to have lived in with as many as eight like-minded folks – the so-called Corrales commune.
He walked along a bluff in North Beach, a small, sandy expanse along the Rio Grande at the northern edge of Corrales where his brother may have taken that fateful hit of LSD.
And as he stood there, he wondered what the area might have looked like 47 years ago when a brother in search of something elusive walked here and disappeared somewhere far more elusive.
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