Who is This Man Just Back From the War?
Tears of gladness, even sobs escape from too many nights alone. You’ve sent my husband back to me, his duty finally done. His child, an infant when you drafted him is now a toddler who has only known her father through the letters I read to her and pictures I showed her, pointing – “Daddy? Do you see this man? He is your Daddy. Can you say DaDa … Da Da, come on you can say it.”
Weeks go by and I find myself confused at the feelings, or maybe it’s a lack of feeling that my husband is displaying. Where is that easy laugh and that funny, crooked grin of the man-child who went to do a job you said he should be proud to do? Why do I wake to an empty bed, only to find him pacing the floor with his new companion, the bottle of whiskey? It’s never far from his reach and he chooses it over my homemade waffles in the morning and even a steak dinner with all of the trimmings in the evening?
This kind, gentle man that I married struck me across the face yesterday when he found me looking at his scrapbook of Nam, where I searched for answers that could help me bring him back.
“NEVER TOUCH MY THINGS - NEVER!!! DO YOU UNDERSTAND?”
I held my breath and my tears, sensing any sign of weakness would only fuel his anger and cried only after he stormed from the house and laid rubber for half a block on his way, no doubt, to the tavern again. These bitter tears sting even more than the millions I shed while he was gone.
What have you done with my husband? Who is this imposter that you’ve sent? My husband, my high school sweetheart, does not laugh at cruelty he sees on television. That sweet boy would be down on the floor, playing with his daughter. This man barely acknowledges me or the baby. It’s as if you’ve sent home his body, but kept his mind…
and his very soul.
WARNING - VERY GRAPHIC - WARNING
The stereo blares all hours of the day and night and he sings along at the top of his voice, sometimes screaming the lyrics and pounding the table or furniture. He has made contact with a buddy who was in Viet Nam at the same times he was. They were not stationed together but he seems to be closer than a brother and definitely closer than we are. I’ve overheard some of what they speak of from another room. I am not welcomed into their company unless they are out of food or drink. Besides, this buddy brings over pot and they smoke it right in our living room. My husband never did drugs before he went off to war. What I have over heard does not make any sense to me and is peppered with words that are foreign. Some they whisper and then laugh, spitting beer or whiskey and beat each other on the back or punch each others arms. Many nights, more than not, I find the two of them passed out on the floor or in chairs. My husband leaves our bed as empty as it was when he was in Viet Nam, doing that job you said he was privileged to do.
What am I to do? I tried talking to a couple of my girlfriends and they said I should be grateful. So many women lost their husbands over there. So many came home missing arms or legs, forever scarred by the war.
Forty years later
We buried you ten years ago this coming May. Cancer, though it started as an ocular Cancer that the surgeon who removed your eye said he has only seen six times in his life, all in Vets who had been exposed to Agent Orange. Your chances were fair if you’d give up your eye. But as Cancer does so well, it hid and spread silently and insidiously until nearly every organ in your body was being consumed.
Many years ago you sent our daughter and I home from Fort Hood, on a bus, to my Mother’s home and then you disappeared until our daughter was in her early twenties. We found you and the two of you reunited for seven years. She had her dream of having her father walk her down the aisle. Between Hospice, my husband now of twenty-six years and our daughter, when she could overcome the feelings that were tearing her apart, we took care of you and granted your wish to die at home.
I was with you the night you died. It was not a peaceful death to say the least. For seven of these ten years I have fought my own PTSD not understanding that an aorta must have burst the reason there was so much blood and why you fought and screamed for me to stand you up, “Get me UP!!! Help me STAND” Those words play over and over in my head as does the scene of the two of us slipping on the blood covered bathroom floor as I tried in vain to keep your frail body upright. It was like trying to save a drowning victim, and indeed, you were, drowning in your own blood. Finally you stopped struggling and I held your head in my lap turning it to the side, still thinking the blood could flow more easily and you would be able to breath. It continued to flow, but the same hollow look that I saw in your eyes, so many, years before when you came home from Nam was creeping in and I fairly shouted. “God loves you! We love you. I love you, old man. Don’t be afraid, you can rest now, rest now. You are going home.”
And I believe that you did that night. You went home for the first time. You never had all of those years before. The best part of you was left in the jungles of Viet Nam, on board the Huey, in your hooch, with your buddies and with every life you took and every dead body you carried in your arms. Even the United States Army couldn’t keep you from home that night in May.
Terry Michael Hart
April 19, 1945 – May 10th, 2002
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