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Status: Finished  |  Genre: War and Military  |  House: Veterans
Combat veteran comes home, but something doesn't come back with him...and yet something new does.

Submitted: August 10, 2019

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Submitted: August 10, 2019




He’d came back from Vietnam on a hard white gurney, flown in by one of those planes they called Starlifters at the time. Those wounded inside that fuselage had all been pinned up in plastic sacks to the walls and the center divider, like the drugged and damaged larva of some huge insect phylum.

He brought himself back to the present. Phoenix, Arizona.  The airport.  In one of those little bar kind of restaurants, they have out near the spoke-ends. Nameless.  Marginal food, but a place to sit and not be among all the fidgeting bodies and staring eyes of the passengers who sat uncomfortably close to one another on black faux-leather seats near the gate.

He didn't have Post Traumatic Stress Disorder, even though he went to group every week at the VA.  He wasn’t suicidal, and they know that at the VA. No, he didn’t really want to be alive anymore, but that was an entirely different affair. Suicide is for the weak, and he was anything but weak.  He was here.  And he was okay. He’d made it back when none with him had. That was years ago and didn’t matter anymore.   He didn’t think about Vietnam much anymore, or his lost boys, or the other people who died because he was there.  But he was hyper-vigilant and could not sleep through a night, at least that’s what the psychologists at the VA called it. He patrolled his area of operations from the living room of his small room, constantly sweeping his fields of fire other people called front lawns for anything out of place. That’s what the psychologist said, anyway.  

He noticed things. I noticed a lot of things since getting out of the hospital. License plates of cars driving behind him.  His mind converts the reversed mirror image automatically. He noticed people around.  Whether they noticed him or not.  He observed to know if he’d seen them before. What they were wearing. What they were buying. It never stopped.  He wasn’t afraid of them. He just wanted to be certain he’d not seen them before. There were people he needed to be afraid of.  He’d had great courage once.  People thought, especially because of the decorations, that he had that now.  But he didn’t.Not really.Not anymore.

He didn't share his fear. But there was also a physical manifestation, which he knew was hard to miss.  He shook a little when he was afraid, especially his hands and feet, with they were free. When that happened, he moved. Like Michael J. Fox with his nerve disorder problem. If he started shaking, all he had to do was move around for a little bit. The shakes were gone in seconds, and you can’t shake much anyway when you are on the move.

His small table was outside the eating facility but inside a short metal fence. His back was against the wall. That was an unconscious automatic move, not because he was afraid that someone might get behind him. It was so he could see everything in front of him.  He toyed with bad Buffalo wings but really watched what was going on around him. He was surprised by a new arrival, although he showed nothing.

A GI stood outside the small metal gate of the low railing.  He was dressed out in full Afghan uniform. The new desert kit, with the cool buff boots and Velcro patches.  Smith didn’t notice what was on the patches because he was a Marine himself.  He didn't care.  The G.I. was Army. He was okay, but he was Army.

  The G.I. sat down. The G.I. had nothing with him.  Not even a ditty bag. Unusual.  He noted that. The G.I. looked toogood and had nothing. Smith wondered if he was a phony, just looking to make belief for a while. He’d heard aboutthat happening, although he’d never seen it himself. The man sat at the table next to him.   His back was against thewall too. He watched the people going by. The G.I. didn’t look over at him, and he didn’t look directly back.  They satside by side. The G.I. ordered and then things got strange. The guy started singing out loud. A low whisper, but outloud. 

"Daisy, Daisy…gives me your answer do... I’m half crazy.... all for the love of you...” His voice was soft and ethereal in the singing.  Very soft.  The words came out one at a time, with long spaces in between.

He remembered the song.  2001 A Space Odyssey.  Kubrick. The GI was singing the same song, just like the computer had in the movie. The singing in the movie went on as Keir Dullea gets back inside the space ship and slowly removes the brain parts of Hal, the ship’s computer gone bad.  The more parts the astronaut removed, the slower the computer sang the song.  Like the GI next to him.  Smith didn’t turn but his emotions were hit in some strange place.He stopped eating.

Then, as the uniformed G.I. was singing, he started thumping his boot heel softly against the concrete floor. After a moment he took both hands and pushed down on his knee, stopping the thumping, but still continued to sing. 

The G.I. was real. He’d just come back. Back from over there. Smith felt the reality of the man resonate through his body and mind.

He took out a twenty from his money-clip and put it on the table.  Smith got up and wheeled his roller bag back through the knee-high gates onto the main concourse. He moved directly toward the restroom and into a stall.  He sat on the john, clutching the handle of his bag to his face.

"What am I supposed to do?" he whispered to himself.  He breathed in and out deeply several times before he could summon the strength to get up and leave. He’d talk to the G.I.Try to welcome him home. Try to tell him that everything would be all right.

But the G.I. was gone when he finally got back to the restaurant.  The G.I.’s food lay uneaten on the table.  The waiter stood looking around.  He walked back along the outside of the metal fence with his roller suitcase.  He took out another twenty and motioned to the waiter.  The waiter frowned, looked at the G.I.’s uneaten food, and then pocketed the money.

He wandered slowly toward his gate, uncommonly oblivious of the people he walked among. 

He had a middle seat. After take-off, he suddenly became aware of the people around looking over at him. He realized that he was whispering. He stopped himself by deliberately clamping his mouth shut. The song.Daisy.He’d been singing it. Just like the G.I. he unbelted and clambered over the outer passenger. He knew that if he could just move up and down the aisle without being interrupted or stopped by the crew he’d be okay. He didn’t sing the G.I.’s song as he moved, but the lyrics continued to run through his mind: “Daisy, Daisy give me your answer, do…I’m half crazy…”

© Copyright 2019 James Strauss. All rights reserved.

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