Well, here I am, alone again. To me, this was more preferable, than the hassles of a relationship, even if it did mean steady sex. I lived in a small three room apartment. When I needed money, I would go to work. When I had money, I would quit. In the three years I'd been back, I figured I'd had about fifty jobs.
Things had quieted down around me. It seemed like everyone finally felt, that as long as they didn't piss me off, I would be all right. I don't know why they felt that way.....no, that's a lie. They felt that way, because that's the way I wanted them to feel. It was my way of keeping the people that I didn't want to be around me, not around me. I would let in, who I chose. The rest of the world....well, I just didn't care. Even those who I did let in, never really relaxed around me enough to casually joke with me or something. That was okay with me too. No one would ever feel comfortable enough with me to ever think of ways to hurt me again!
I was even starting to feel a sort of acceptance, a bittersweet acceptance, like this country might actually be beginning to feel a little bit sorry they put us through all this. There were even starting to be some Welcome Home parades, in some towns. I never attended any of these. I just felt that it was too little, too late. And I was becoming aware of something else.
There was a brand new group of "Vets" springing up all over the place. The difference in them was, they had never been to Vietnam. They just said they had. I can't figure this country out! First they wanted nothing to do with us, now, they want to be a part of us!
I had no doubts in my mind, that many of these guys had even been to a protest or two. Either they had a brother, or a cousin, or just a friend, that had been there, and had talked about it enough for them to get a few stories. Then they would become Veterans.
I spotted more than one of them. It wasn't hard. Just telling stories, wasn't enough to convince me. You had to talk Vietnam, and you couldn't do that, unless you had been there. I could almost tell, that they were talking about Vietnam. By choice though, I left them alone. They were just another part of this country, that I wasn't too happy with. And, I figured that they would eventually hang themselves, if given enough rope. Up until this point, they were just annoying.
"When I was in "The Nam!" (cringe) They would start. "I was an Infantry, Airborne, Special Forces, Medic!" It was pretty much the standard opening line. I would say "When I was over seas," and let them ask, if they were interested. Almost all of them, had received the Purple Heart, and many had received the Silver Star, as the Bronze, just didn't seem good enough. Many of them, had their friends blown away, just inches away from them. And every one of them I thought I heard, had killed scores of the enemy.
This was not, how I would talk to people. To me, telling people some of the things I did over there, would be like picking my nose, in public. They did not make me feel brave, and I didn't see how telling other people things like that, would make them think I was brave. I told people things, to try to share an understanding, and only with people I thought cared. And, if I did tell people some of the things that happened to me, it was usually only to one or two people, not groups. How could I? I still didn't trust groups.
Vietnam, was a very humbling experience for me, and I'm sure everyone else, who was really there. I learned, for one thing, just how insignificant one soldier really is, in the middle of it all. At the time, I was just a gunner, on a helicopter, in a combat zone, that might, or might not, make it back. At the time, I was nothing more. Some didn't make it back....many did! What was there in that, to brag about? Now, that was on the outside. On the inside, of combat Vets, there are a million life and death struggles, all tucked away, to be carried with them, till they die!
The key to all of this, for me, was for you to understand, not what I did, but how it made me feel. That is what made the changes in me. I feel that I could be capable of fitting back into society, but I refuse to do so, until I am sure that you know that there is a difference in me. What I do, can look like something everyone else does, but, why I do it, will probably be for a totally different reason.
I do believe these loudmouths did benefit our cause though. The conscience of America, was starting to wake up. They heard them, echo us, and realized that something had to be done. And it was not to be about us, this time, it would be for us.
So, for the most part, I avoided them....except for, this one guy! He was so full of crap, I just couldn't leave him alone!
It was late night, Bar Rush, as it is called in the restaurant trade. I was sitting in a restaurant, I used to work at, which could have been almost any one of them in the county. I was drinking coffee at the counter, when this guy walked in. I turned around, and I noticed his T shirt. It had Navy Seals, printed on it. I smiled and nodded. He looked at me kind of strange, and nodded back. I figured it was because I was out of uniform, and in my flannels and blue jeans. Usually we could identify each other, with glances, and nods, but it didn't work this time. Oh well! He didn't look violent, so I relaxed back down, as he sat down, two stools to my left.
I still had this habit, of classifying everyone around me, as Friend, Enemy, or Questionable, so watch them. What did I expect? I had only been back five years!
"Hi baby doll...What's cookin?" he said to the waitress, as she poured his coffee.
What's cookin? This guy is behind me somewhere! Something didn't feel right, right from the beginning. Maybe he's not a Vet. A lot of guys went through the training, and didn't go over there.
Al, the cook, got caught up with his orders, saw me sitting there, and came out to talk to me.
"How ya doin? Big Al!" the guy almost yelled. Nope, for sure, he was not a Vet.
Al, shot me a "Be with you in a minute" glance, and turned to him.
"Not bad, How are you doing Jack?"
"Tired man...Tired. I just put another eighteen hour day in, at the shop.
Eighteen hours! I thought. If I had just worked eighteen hours, I wouldn't be here! I would be home, sleeping! This guy was beginning to bug me, and I didn't know why. There was something about his attitude, that just got on my nerves. I wasn't going to wait for him to ramble on about anything else.
"Have you seen Keith?" I asked Al, in my usual, low voice. He turned his attention right back to me, like he was waiting for the cue.
"No! I sure haven't. Last I heard, he was working for the Phone Company!"
"Who's this guy Al?" asked Jack, as if I had just intruded on something exclusively his.
"This is a friend of mine, who used to work here, several times, he said with a smile. David, this is Jack. Jack, this is David!"
"How ya doin David!" he said, and stuck out his hand, apparently glad to just be let in. I took it. Now I like a firm hand shake, but there was no reason to squeeze my hand as hard as he did. I squeezed back, as hard as I could, for just a second,
and saw his eyes get a little larger. After all, this was my trigger hand!
"Not bad!" I smiled. Not bad, was an American tradition, that I picked up on early. No matter what the question, about you or your family, not bad, fit. The only difference I ever saw, was in the Dale Carnegie grads. Everything was always "Great" with them.
"Are you working now?" he asked, wanting to make sure he stayed in the conversation.
"Yea, I'm cooking up in Oxford!" I replied, turning back to Al. Maybe if I just ignored him...
"Ever work in the shop?" he continued.
My father, was Senior Special Tester, for Pontiac Motors, and that position did have some pull. He said he never used it, but one day I received a letter from the G.M. Tech Center, asking me to come in for an interview. I never went. There were other times too. I never replied to any of them, and I saw it frustrated Dad. But, I knew deep down inside, that if I took the job, and I didn't last, it would be just one more way I couldn't prove myself to him. Besides, I figured that G.M's interest in me, was more interest in my label, Veteran! There was quite a push on, to hire Vets, and since G.M. already had their quota, of all the other minorities, their attention was now turned on me. I wasn't going to be anyone's token. "Don't forget...Hire the Vet!....Who started that crap anyway?
"No!" I said.
"It's great man! he said. "I could get you in there, if you want. I know all the foreman in there!"
"No thanks man!" I tried to smile. "I like my job (at least this week), and anyway, I believe that the real security, is in a trade!" I turned back to Al. I was getting bored
with this guy. I was just about to say something.
"I believe real security...is in your self man!" I looked at him, and nodded, and turned right back. I was getting out of here. I didn't have the patience for this. I still wasn't into, "shootin the bull"!
"Like the security I felt.....when I was in "The Nam"!
I was instantly disgusted with this guy! It was like he took a dump, right in my lap. Instantly, I knew that he was lying! It was all in one little word. You see, being over there, had very precise results, and sometimes, one little word, was all it took!
I felt no security over there, not even behind Betsy, not even when we joined up with what seemed like hundreds of other helicopters, to fly into Cambodia that time.
Why me? I thought. Why did he have to pick me out?
The restaurant got a little quieter though. Funny, when Vietnam was mentioned, and I don't care by whom, people still stopped what they were doing, and listened.
Top that E.F. Hutton!
Everyone I knew, knew that I was a Vet. And, it suddenly became very important to me, for everyone to know, he wasn't! I didn't know what this guy thought his butt was, but it was mine now, and he just jumped in, way over his head!
"You....You were in Vietnam?" I asked, sounding as awe struck, as I could, all the time, placing emphasis on the word Vietnam.
"Oh...Nam?....Yea....I was there!" he answered, trying to sound like his first statement just slipped out, and he really didn't want to talk about it. "Oh Yea" I thought, as I sat in silence, giving him one more chance to escape, hoping he wouldn't use it. "We'll see!"
"Sixty-Seven....Sixty-Eight.....and Sixty-Nine!" he said, in a lower voice, like, well, if I had to know.
Well!....You had your chance buddy!
"What did you do over there?" I asked, setting the hook.
"I was a Seal, with the Navy!!" he said. He must have figured I was a little hard of hearing, cause he was starting to get a little louder. I figured that I better play dumb, or he might catch on, in which case, I decided I would have to pound him.
"What's a Grunt?" I asked.
He looked at me like "Man, where the Heck have you been all your life"? Be patient man, although I wasn't yet sure how..... your gonna find out!
"It's only the lowest creep on the face of the earth! he said, and he almost found out, right then! I really wanted this guy now, and I wanted him bad!
"Where were you stationed?" I asked, trying to buy some time, so I could think about how to get this guy. I figured that he would say Da Nang. They all pick Da Nang. Probably because it is the easiest to pronounce.
"Da Nang!" he said, and I almost blew it.
I noticed that all of the waitresses, had started doing their cleanup, right around where we were. I was worried that they might ruin this thing, which, when I figured out exactly what it was, would be more satisfying, than just pounding him. But, he must have figured that they were just interested in him, and he got louder.
"It was a rough time! I'm tellin ya!" he said. "I'm lucky to be alive right now!"
Yes you are! I thought. You are lucky you picked me! I have become a pacifist, by nature. Some of my associates, who are not, might have given you more than the pounding, that you still might get, if I can't figure anything else to do to you.
"Did you kill anybody?" I asked. I hated the question, but I figured he might like it.
"What do you think we were over there for? he replied. "Crap!"
You know, in the seven years, that Vietnam has been a personal part of me, I still don't have a clue, why, we were really there. Maybe this guy can tell me.
"Like...ah...how many? Do ya know?" I asked, copying my little brother. I looked down to where Al was. He was whispering something to the other cook, and they were both looking at Jack, and smiling. Then Al walked back over to the counter. Jack didn't even acknowledge him. He had his audience now.
"I stopped counting.....at forty!"
Al, who was standing on the other side of him, just shook his head. That was too unbelievable, for even someone, who had never been there!
I could see that everyone was expecting me to do something. I found out later, that he came here, quite often, and everyone was tired of his crap. They wanted him silenced, and because of the nature of his crap, I seemed to be the only one qualified.
I noticed that a lot of other customers, had stopped talking, and were listening to him. This didn't seem to bother him. In fact, I think that is what he had been expecting.
I was quiet for a moment. I thought of all I went through to get only where I was, and here was this guy, who wanted to sit down at the dinner table, and go straight to the dessert! I knew that this could no longer be a simple affair. I wanted to brand this dude, for life! Besides, everyone was counting on me, and I liked that feeling. It couldn't be just a one liner. I had to get this idiot, to admit it himself, either by words, or actions.
Then it came to me. I knew this would get him, but I had to leave for a while. I stood up, and reached into my pocket for some change.
"I got your coffee man!" he said. Why not? I thought.
"Thanks man. Listen are you going to be here for a little longer?" I figured I had to bait him. "I have to leave for a minute, but I'd like to hear more, if you wouldn't mind talking about it!"
"Yea....I'll probably still be here." I knew he wouldn't budge, till I came back.
Then, as I walked out, I afforded him the one courtesy, he was ever going to get from me.
"I'm glad you made it back!" I said.
"Not as glad as I am!" he yelled over my shoulder. I cringed. Just sit tight creep! I'll be right back!
Ten minutes later, I was standing in the hallway of my little apartment, looking at the mirror on the door. My fingers were playing with the zipper of my flight shirt. I looked at my unit patch. I was proud of that patch. I had earned it too! There was a U.S. Army patch, above one pocket, and above the other, was the proof. Turner....my last name! Then I thought that I really didn't want to do this! I could just stay home, and forget about it. I thought about him sitting there wallowing in his self made glory, and I thought, If it had been any other story, any other reason to brag, I maybe would have let him go. But, not this....I just couldn't.....not this! I zipped up my shirt, and went out, after Black Bart.
I pulled back into the same parking place, that I left a few minutes before. I could see through the window that he was still sitting there. No one was standing around him, and I figured that he had run out of stories, or everyone just ran out of patience with him. I got out of the truck, and calmly walked into the restaurant.
Jack had his back to me. I looked around. Most of the people that were there when I left, were still there. I could see smiles coming from all over the place, as people first recognized my shirt, then me. They now knew what I was about to do, and their smiles told me, they thought it was worth the wait. I felt like I was almost a hero, and for just a second, it felt good! I grabbed the same seat, that I had before, two to Jacks right!
It got real quiet, as he reached for a cigarette. The whole place, was waiting for him to see me. He lit it, blew out the match, and reached for his coffee cup. You could have heard a pin drop, as he started looking around. He was the only one in the place, that didn't know exactly what was going on. For another moment, I felt kind of special, like I had a job to do. I was doing it, and someone appreciated it. The same thing I had been looking for, all along. I was getting impatient. I was about to say something......When he turned around. For a second, as he recognized me, his eyes lit up.
"Well! Your back!" he started, and his face took on that "old soldier" look, that he had obviously practiced a lot.
Then, he recognized what I was wearing! It was like his eyes were glued to my shirt, but, he couldn't find the finger hole in his cup. I stared into his eyes, and the feeling I felt, must have been like a lion, who was about to devour a baby deer. When he couldn't meet my stare, I knew I had the real look, and I now understood, the feeling behind it. He looked at my patches....my flight wings, and my name!
Then he looked back at all the other customers in the restaurant, hoping that no one else knew what was going on. But, they did, and they were all staring right
back at him. A few actually started laughing out loud. Now it all came clear to him, what was happening. He looked back at me. I guess he was hoping that I would say or do something, that might help him out. The only thing I wanted to do, was pound him. But I couldn't do that. He was completely unarmed now, and no longer a threat, and to pound him, wouldn't be right. But there were no rules, about rubbing it in!
"I got your coffee!.......Man! I said, as loudly as he did before.
That was enough! Without a word, he got up, and walked out. When he did, he turned to look at me. I didn't feel sorry for him. Not one bit! As a matter of fact, the more I thought about things, the madder I got!
"Hey.....Jack!" I said. I wasn't finished with him.
"What!" he asked. His whipped tone of voice told me that the wind was out of his sails. Still, I didn't care! I pointed at him, and shook my finger, for effect!
"Don't you ever get within arms reach of me, after the sun, rises again!"
People were laughing out loud, and I'm sure that he could see Al patting me on the back, through the window. I wasn't laughing though. Something wasn't there! Sure, I got him, but where was the satisfaction? Instead of joy, I started feeling a sadness, I couldn't explain. It wasn't for Jack though. He deserved everything he got!
I soon left. There was no more reason to stay. I wasn't feeling like being anyone’s hero, anymore that night. I looked at my imaginary watch.
"I'm running late!" I said. and left.
As I was walking out to my car, I thought about something, I hadn't consciously thought about, in too long.
It's such a shame that Bob, and Allen had to die.
As I fumbled with the keys, a tear drop landed on my hand.