Mom and dad led me into the living room. It was unchanged in appearance except for the new furniture they had bought. I sat in the middle of the couch; dad sat in his recliner. Momma sat next to me.
“What do you mean you couldn’t hack it,” My dad asked.
“The doctor said I have severe PTSD and other mental challenges. In essence, I was burnt out. They feared I would snap and commit some unmentionable atrocities if I deployed again.”
Momma teared up at the news. She dabbed at her eyes with her dirty apron. When she finished her eye dabbing, she went into the kitchen and put on a pot of coffee. “Good thing too,” I thought, “I could use a cup of coffee.
“I couldn’t keep it together, dad. I was frazzled, burnt out. The doctor said I would never overcome the mental challenges. They retired me.” Momma came in with coffee. We all sipped it. Our silence grew.
“Well,” Momma said, “I’ve had about enough of this talk. I’m glad you’re home, Davy. What do you have planned?”
“I don’t, Momma. I stopped by and asked Mr. McCall if he was hiring. He gave me a job.”
“Where are you going to stay,” dad asked. I shrugged and sipped my coffee.
“I don’t know, I got into town today. The way I figured it; I would look for an apartment tomorrow. Could I spend the night? I’ll be out in the morning.”
My dad walked over and put his hand on my shoulder, Momma patted my arm.
“You are our son. Stay as long as you need to.”
It was nice to be home. Momma and Dad fed me and took good care of me. Everything was fine until night fell. My demons would come out and play in my dreams. I tossed and turned. Sometimes, I would wake up coughing up blood. Many times, I woke up to Momma sitting on my bed praying for me.
One particularly bad night, I was bent over the bathroom sink coughing up bloody phlegm. I felt movement behind me. A boy from ‘the war’ stood in the corner. He held his brains in his hands and shoved them at me. “Why,” he asked.
“You know why,” I shouted. “You shouldn’t have had a weapon on the school grounds! You pointed it at me. How was I supposed to know it was a toy,” I yelled. All the emotions I kept bottled up came out at that moment. I punched the wall until my hand broke. I collapsed to the floor a sobbing mass of failure.
My Momma sat on the floor with me and cradled my head. I cried like the little boy I was once when he was told his grandfather passed away.
“It’s okay, son.”
“It ain’t okay, Momma. I killed that boy.”
My tears angered me. It wasn’t the first hallucination I saw; it wouldn’t be the last. The phantoms of my past sins came more frequently. The boy would show up at my job. My mind created new things for me to witness. Some nights I saw victims of horrendous actions. For example, my interpreter’s family would visit me.
I better explain that part. Over there in the war, the locals had a month-long religious holiday. It was a dangerous time to be an outsider. Some of our local friends would assist us in speaking with other locals. One day, our interpreter didn’t show up. We called them terps. Anyway, one day turned into one week, a week bled into two. At the beginning of week three, our terp’s head showed up outside of the gate to our base. The enemy also brought 14 other heads. They had massacred the whole family; rabid dogs had chewed on many of the faces.
Mr. McCall paged me to the office on a Friday. He sat behind the desk, his pipe in mouth. I walked to the desk and waited.
“What are you doing this evening,” he asked me. I shrugged.
“Nothing, sir. Momma has put on Cowboy stew. I thought I would eat dinner with my folks.”
“Sounds like a plan. After you’re done with your dinner, I want you to ride off with me for a bit.”
“Okay, then. I’ll pick you up at nine, that should give you plenty of time to catch up with your folks.”
As is typical of military folks, Mr. McCall showed up ten minutes before nine. The rattle of his rust bucket truck could be heard in the yard. I bid my parents a good night and walked out to the truck. We rode in silence until we pulled up to the lake.
“Come on,” Mr. McCall said.
He led the way to the small cabin that stood on the edge of the lake. I walked down to the pier while Mr. McCall unlocked the door. The moon was full that night, its beams danced on the water. The beauty of that night was not lost upon me. Words floated through my mind, for once, my brain didn’t dart from one subject to the next unchecked.
Mr. McCall stood at the kitchen window and watched me. I didn’t know it at the time, but he knew I was ‘off.’ After I finished soaking in the night air and the beauty of the moonbeams dancing, I went into the cabin.
“Take a load off,” Mr. McCall said. I looked around the cabin. It was small but somehow spacious. I sat on the couch.
“This is a nice place,” I sad. Mr. McCall smiled and nodded.
“It was my father’s hidey hole. If he and mom had a bad day, they came out here. Everything seemed better, heck, life was better when they were here.”
“Thanks for bringing me out here.”
“You’re welcome. I know that getting adjusted is tough. When I returned home from war, America had turned its back on us. I felt betrayed. I’m sure it’s the same way with you now.”
I said nothing. There was not anything that I could say about what I felt.