The journey from the bedroom to
the bathroom, especially on this moonless night, was thankfully a
short one. But for John Delano, who never liked the dark anyway,
it would be a trip full of trials and tribulations. The anxiety
and fear that had startled him awake steadily built and built
until he stood barefoot at the bathroom door, short of breath,
sweaty palmed, and feeling close to passing out. On recent trips
he had made it to the door without even opening his eyes.
John reached for the handle,
drew a deep breath to steady his nerve, and opened the door,
quickly stepping inside to close it, all in one motion. Eyes
closed, breathing deep and slow, he flicked on the light. An
explosion of yellowish light battered against his shuttered
eyelids. Only then did he slowly open his eyes, accepting some of
the pain from the bright light, which provided welcome relief
against the built up tension. Forehead sweaty, breathing shallow,
slowly he turned to confront the reflection in the mirror.
"Fuck you!" hissed the
The face staring back at him was
far younger than his own. But it appeared no less strained, no
less tired, no less frightened. The eyes looking back at him were
bloodshot from lack of sleep and dark rings had formed below
them. The face, as well as the hair, looked slightly disheveled.
The green fatigues that the reflection was wearing also looked
unwashed. Dark sweatbands formed around the armpits of the green
military vest and across the flat of his stomach.
"You look rough, trouble
sleeping?" John asked, ignoring the abuse. He was used to it. He
himself now cussed much less since leaving the army.
"Trouble sleeping, trouble
fucking sleeping? Jesus H Christ, what fucking planet are you
living on Johnny?" The
reflection sneered back at him. "In Vietnam no fucker sleeps,
don't you know that? Jesus you're acting like a Fucking New Guy
here, when you sleep Johnny the gooks come and blow your shit
"You're going to die if you
don't get any sleep," John replied, a little concerned by the
sullen appearance of the reflection.
"I'm going to die anyway.
Quick or slow, soft or hard, death is for everyone
Johnny." The reflection
replied. "And man... you don't look so hot yourself. Little
lady giving you trouble man? The World grinding you down? Need a
little rock'n'roll, a little smoke? Do you want some little
yellow chick, a two buck whore, to tell you 'you is the best, you
is number one Johnny,' do you man?"
"No." John lied trying to keep
his voice low afraid of waking his wife. "Everything is cool, I
have my shit together, and nothing is taking me down."
"Fuck you! Everything is
cool. If it's all so cool what the hell are you doing here
man?" The reflection
laughed. "Come to shoot the breeze hey? Come to see how we are
"Something like that." John said
as he turned on the tap and sprinkled some cold water on his
"You look like shit
man." The reflection
"I feel like shit." John said
"Still having the
nightmares?" The reflection asked, a little softness creeping
into his voice.
"Yeah." John said unable now to
hide the tears in his eyes.
"Man don't let that shit get
you down, don't let those motherfuckers mess with your head.
Johnny those fuckers were Viet Cong we found in those tunnels,
man, they deserved to die. It was them or us Johnny. And we all
knew those yellow-skinned slit eyed motherfuckers were
responsible for poor Tommy dying the way he did. You remember
Tommy don't you Johnny?" The reflection asked
"Yeah I remember poor Tommy,"
Johnny said, choking back more tears.
"You remember how we found
poor Tommy's body, stripped and naked, shot through the head his
body all cut up. You remember that Johnny don't you?"
"Of course I remember that!"
John cried out. Quickly realizing his error he looked at the
door, listening for movement from his wife, but none came,
turning back to the mirror he whispered. "How the hell am I
supposed to forget that? Jesus... Tommy was my best buddy, we
grew up together on the streets, and we were like brothers.
Jesus... there isn't a day go by that I don't remember
"Those villagers were asking
for it too man. They did Tommy and we did them man! Johnny don't
let those slit eyed motherfuckers mess with your head now.
Remember, Tommy man, Tommy was nineteen man, same age as me, and
look what those gooks did to him man."
"Why are you still in uniform?"
John asked brushing a tear away. "Why are you still holding that
"Because in your head you've
never taken me out of here man, you've kept me here in Vietnam,
every night I sit alone in the dark waiting for you Johnny. And
man sometimes I get so fucking scared when you don't come. That's
why I can't sleep. If I close my eyes then I know I'm gone
Johnny, I close my eyes and its all over."
The reflection turned away,
brushing the tears from his eyes.
"We have to put this behind us."
John said looking hard at the reflection. "We have to put it
behind us and get on with our lives. That's what I'm gonna do."
John straightened and smiled. He turned to leave the bathroom,
determined to change, like he had done so many times since he had
returned from the horrors of Southeast Asia. He was about to turn
out the light once and for all on his past when his younger
"Don't turn out the light
Johnny... I don't want to die alone in the dark man, please don't
turn out the light."
John paused, his hand almost
touching the handle of the door; the temptation to run away was
just to enormous.
When John finally climbed back
into bed, and lay down beside his wife, a light flickered beneath
the door of the bathroom. Beside him on his bedside cabinet was a
framed poem, together with his Purple Heart medal, and it
They ask me where I've
And what I've done and
But what can I
Who know it wasn't
But someone just like
Who went across the
And with my head and
Killed men in foreign lands
Though I must bear the
Because he bore my
Written by Wilfred Gibson
( 1914-18 War.)