Saturday, September 29, 2007
There he stood at the Delta Airlines gate, fatigues wrinkled and the polish waning on his combat boots from the 26 hour plane ride. Amazing how long a plane ride is on top of the planet when you could hook a string on them and pull them through the planet so much more quickly.
He's still beautiful! Almond shaped green eyes, head full of thick brown hair, broad shoulders. Mom always told me he was a spit for the old heartthrob actor Stewart Granger. Whatever. My Bobby's back home from the war.
He dropped his duffel bag and carry-on and ran for me. We were all over each other in 3 seconds flat. Yep. Absence does make the heart grow fonder. And the panties drift to the floor. After our long reunion weekend, we went out visiting old friends, my parents, the little tropical secluded park with clear springs and orchids where we used to go spooning. We made love on the hill and then discovered my butt had covered the copper headstone of the old park ranger buried there. Hope he enjoyed the worm's eye view. We certainly did try to wake the dead. I wanted to make my soldier happy.
And he was happy, but reserved those days. I often caught him looking at nothing, seeing nothing, and yet acutely aware of every fly buzz and door slam and change of temperature. If I spoke to him then, he would startle and spin on me wildly, arms up in an awkward pose as if holding something out in front of him. Then he would settle. Lord knows how many quarts of adrenaline coursed around that body then!!
Can't remember the exact occasion and why we were playing lawn tennis on the hill next to the park, but there we were with friends. Beautiful Fall weather with just a hint of chill in the air. Someone handed Bobby their new baby chihuahua puppy to admire while he waited for a serve. A bit of the haunted look left his eyes as he marveled being able to hold the entirety of the little brown thing in the palm of one hand. One of the guys yelled, 'Heads up! Incoming!', an unfortunate phrasing and meant as a joke.
Bobby reacted by dropping the puppy and volleying the ball back with a double-fisted volley so hard that it landed across the parking lot, the look of wonder replaced by grim panic and clenched jaw. This all happened before the pup hit the ground because, you see, a soldier is ingrained with this action/reaction thing. It gets in their cells after being a warrior. If they shave those cells off, new ones grow back with their beards.
The puppy yelped and Bobby gently picked it up as we all ran over. One of the tiny little back legs was obviously broken, twisted at an odd angle and already beginning to swell. The little thing just whimpered and shook in Bobby's hands. The woman who owned the new pup started screaming and yelling. "You broke it, you bought it!!", she rails at him. He looked absolutely stricken.
Everyone is discussing where to take the dog for care and someone suggests a close by emergency vet clinic. The dog gets there, is treated, sedated heavily and goes home with us. He's nervous and never really the same trusting being. I'm talking about the dog here but it applies to my guy, too. Bobby disappears shortly afterward.
When next I see him, he's wearing my dad's old 1950s sports coat. I still have it, moth holes and all. Cream colored wool with navy blue and red specks sprinkled over it like nonpareils on an Uncle Sam cupcake. The wide lapels and heavily padded shoulders date the coat and make him look even more broad shouldered than he is.
"Where have you been?", I ask. He looks calmer now, but distant. The edginess is gone replaced with something else I can't quite put my finger on.
"I could have killed that puppy", he looks at me and turns to walk away. He's escaping me, the injured dog, and himself.
"Robert Allen Wujick", I yell in my best authoritative voice. "It was an accident, a reaction. It's to be expected. You just got back from a place where split seconds mean the difference between coming home or not. It's just not your fault and the dog will be fine."
He turns, smiles that smile that lets you know that it's not a smile and shakes his head. "Doesn't matter. None of us will ever be the same. That's what they do to you. And you know, it don't mean shit. It's for absolutely nothing. It's money. Just about money. Absolutely nothing.", and he walks away. This time, I don't see him again. Ever. Now. On to reality.
You see, Bobby brought his coping mechanism home with him like lots of vets do. He self treated his raging case of PTSD with injectable cocaine between his toes so he could keep it to himself. I was so naive that I didn't know until the cops showed up at our door on Crenshaw Avenue to get back the stuff he stole from the stockroom of his job to fence for drugs. I learned about the cocaine and it's hiding place when he tried to flush the kit and it's contents down the toilet while I was talking to the cops in the living room. He showed me how the soldiers took apart a Burma Shave can and stashed their drugs inside with paper towels around them so the needles and spoon didn't rattle.
He then took to private enterprise selling marijuana from our front porch hidden in plain site in jars between my begonia plants and African violets. Still naive, I let him water the plants as he insisted on doing.
I found out about the marijuana market when a high school friend ended up being the telephone repairman come to fix the beeping and outages on the phone. He came back in the house and showed me a wiry little gadget taken from the big telephone box across the street. "This is your problem," Whitey said. "It's a tapping device to listen in on your calls."
The man in the black suit and hat reading a paper in the green Ford Fairlane on our side street reading the newspaper during the hottest of Florida days suddenly made sense. The driveby's of police cruisers that I applauded as just keeping our dicey neighborhood safe with extra patrols also got real clear for me. I quit waving and smiling at the cops. I was being watched. And tapped. Don't let anyone tell you that the spying on Americans is just a latter day anomaly, it's modernity in the Patriot Act.
I confronted Bobby on both of these drug related issues. We eventually temporarily separated over the drugs, the heartache of a miscarriage, and his inability to sleep because of night terrors and hold a job. Then I really never did see him again. He was beheaded when his van left the highway along Alligator Alley and went straight into a tree. He was coming back to Tampa with a load of recreational drugs and fell asleep at the wheel.
I still carry a spot of him on my left thigh. A 2" X 4" bit of jungle rot he gave me brought back from the war. It itches a lot. It's brown. I dutifully put antifungal's, steroids, melaleuca alternifolia on it. Nothing can kill it. It stays there right on my thigh. After all this time 40 years later. Right on the place he used to like to put his hand. 'The perfect armrest,' he said.
Bobby said they used to pass the time between patrols and skirmishes playing poker. Life is kinda like that. It really is a poker game with bluffs, steely eyed determination and the luck of the draw. So.
I'll see you, Bobby. And raise you one Chihuahua.
(Note: This is a cautionary tale. History repeats itself if we do not learn from it. Part of the above is my dream from last night. My current spate of standing on street corners holding anti-war signs and activism probably brought it on. You figure out which part. The rest is a recounting of life after he returned from Viet Nam in November of 1967. There are no good wars. Vietnam killed Bobby just as sure as a bullet, only slower and much more painfully. I had a good old cry. I guess you never do get over grieving. Or maybe I haven't done enough of it. )