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.
“Morning,” John whispered.
“Fuck you!” hissed the reflection.
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 away man!”
“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 doing man?”
“Something like that.” John said as he turned on the tap and sprinkled some cold water on his face.
“You look like shit man.” The reflection said.
“I feel like shit.” John said truthfully.
“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
“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 M16?”
“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 reflection begged.
“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 read.
They ask me where I’ve been,
And what I’ve done and seen.
But what can I reply
Who know it wasn’t I,
But someone just like me,
Who went across the sea
And with my head and hands
Killed men in foreign lands …
Though I must bear the blame,
Because he bore my name.
Written by Wilfred Gibson
( 1914-18 War.)
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