I came back from Vietnam on a gurney, flown
in on one of those planes they called Starlifters at the time.
The gurney followed the plastic sack they had put me in
aboard the aircraft. Those of us in that fuselage were all
then pinned up to the walls and the center divider.
Now. Phoenix, Arizona. The airport here. 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, staring passengers on the black
faux-leather seats near the gate.
I don't have PTSD, even though I go to group every
week at the VA. I am not suicidal, and they know that.
No, I don't really want to be alive anymore, but that is
different. I'm here. And I'm okay. I don't think
about Vietnam much now, or my lost boys, or
the other people who died because I was there. But I am
hyper-vigilant the psychologist says. I notice things.
I notice a lot of things. The license plate of the car
driving behind mine. My mind converts the backward
image automatically. The people around me. Whether
they have noticed me. Whether I have seen them before.
What they are wearing. What they are buying.
It never stops. I don't want to be afraid of them, so I want
to have never seen any of them before. I had great
courage once. People think I do now. But I don't.
I don't share my fear. When I shake a little, I move,
like Michael Fox with his problem. You don't shake
if you move around, just a bit. He knows that.
My small table is outside the facility but inside a
short metal fence. My back is against the wall.
That's automatic. I toy with my bad Buffalo wings, but
really watch what is going on around me.
Then I am surprised.
A GI comes through the outside door. He's dressed out
in full Iraq mufti. The new desert stuff, with the
cool buff boots and velcro patches. I don't notice
what's on the patches because I was a Marine. I
don't care. He's Army. He's okay, but he's Army.
He sits down. He has nothing with him. Not even a ditty bag. Nothing.
Unusual. I note that. He sits at the next table. His back is against the wall too.
He watches the people, like me, but does not look at me, or I at him. I just
take him in from the side. He orders. The waiter goes away. Then he starts.
"Daisy, daisy, ....all for the love of you....I'm half crazy...." his voice is soft
in the singing. Very soft. And it is spaced out, the words coming out one at a time.
Then I remember where I heard the song. 2001 A Space Odyssey. Kubrick. The GI is
singing just like in the movie where Keir Dullea gets back inside the space ship and is
seen slowly removing the brain parts to Hal, the computer gone bad. The more parts he removes
the slower the computer sings the song. Like the GI. I don't turn, but I am struck hard.
Then, as he sings, his knees start a rapid drumming up and down. He takes both hands
and pushes them back down, but continues to sing.
I take out a twenty form my money-clip and put it on my table. I get up
and wheel my roller back into the main bar area and then out the side
to the spoke, where people mill. I move directly tward the restroom
and into a stall. I sit on the john with my clothes on.
"What am I going to do," I whisper. I hold my face with both hands.
I breathe deeply inward. Then I get up and leave.
The GI is gone. His food is on the table. The waiter is standing looking
around. I walk back on the outside of the metal fence. I take out another twenty
and motion to him. He frowns, looks at the uneaten food, but takes the twenty.
I get on my flight. I never see the GI again.
Every once and awhile, I notice someone looking at me, back here, where I live.
Then I realize that I am very quietly singing Daisy, and thinking of the GI.
I stop singing immediately, then start moving. Just a little.