Thursday, August 22, 2013

Vietnam, My Father, A Lot of Vodka & Regret

I started digging into my past four days ago. Those days have forced old ghosts on me, hard memories, and tears that seem to come out of nowhere, stinging my face and making it hard to breathe. Tonight I sit here with a bottle of vodka, determined to keep digging, even if it finally breaks me. I have completely lost any ego I might have had left.

I was an infant without much physical contact, due to the body cast cocoon I lived in for the first years of my life from a severe disability. There were several dark incidents that came later that I don't care to mention here, making me even more distant towards people and society. And so, I made my way into my teens as an emotionally unavailable, distrusting and stubborn kid. I clashed with my father, a man drafted into Vietnam as a kid himself, and sent back home in 1968 a very different person. We had strife in common, but it wasn't a bonding attribute. He died two weeks before Christmas, five years ago.

I've spent this week trying to find my old surgical records. That probably doesn't sound like it had anything to do with my father, but it eventually did. That's another, more personal matter, though. Now apparently, some hospitals destroy records that have been untouched well before 1980. These records would prove I've been disabled since birth. You see, I'm on record for being disabled since 1996- after I'd already started to run my weak body into the ground by leaving home a lot earlier than I should have and taking physical labor jobs. I had no idea I wasn't supposed to.. my condition was never thoroughly explained to me by doctors. So I worked until I collapsed at age 24, and only then did I find out I could have been receiving disability help my whole life. But things happen, and time moves us on..

As I was searching for medical records, I came across a situation that required me to look into my father's military history. And as I dug through more and more material, I began to realize what shaped this man.. for the first time. I learned he drove a truck that picked up the bodies of dead soldiers, and that he had to take the M60 away from the gunman in his passenger seat once and use it to shoot back at incoming sniper fire while speeding to catch up with his convoy.. his gunman froze in fear that day. I also know he came back home in the summer of 1968 and married my mother one year later.

I know he was a gorgeous man. Women loved him, and he loved taking that opportunity every time it presented itself. He was usually busy with either that, or making money. Eventually, he married a gold digger who got everything he ever worked for. I don't think he thought about it much. He was distant. These things, plus some more pretty questionable experiences I won't mention here are all I know about him. And the more I dig, the more I regret. It feels like a million graveyard insects rapidly eating away at me. The atmosphere starts to pull me into what feels like a dream as I read about the late 1960s and listen to what he was listening to on the radio. The whole room seems to get smaller and the air feels heavy and just sits there, bearing down on me like someone's here. And then there are the strange memories of my childhood and elaborate, experimental surgeries I went through. It has brought up a very strange memory I had when I had apparently been drugged and was about "to go under" right before a surgery. I smell a sterile, cold room and I'm lying on a metal table. I can't feel my legs. I see my mother on the other side of the door with a diamond shaped window, looking like she's crying and trying to get back in. There's a doctor pushing her away.

There's an old photo of the hospital in 1974 when I first went in.. it's completely reconstructed now and has become a "trauma center". I have been informed they may not be able to find my records at this point. It seems like these very real things have just been swept away like dust and turned into an illusion that only lives inside my own mind now.

But they are real. I can feel them every time I bend or move, and I can feel a lump in my throat every time I think of my father's young face and the adrenaline that must have been shooting through him while speeding down the dirt road that day, trying to stay alive. Guns can be fucking scary. I've had one in my face before. Your bones freeze and your blood runs hot at the same time. You think you can't handle it, but you're still there.. breathing.. eyes wide open and all sorts of crazy shit running through your brain like you're on some kind of speed. You either let yourself shut down or you start thinking more efficiently than you ever have in your life. And after it's over, thinking about it almost makes you excited.. because you realize you've just won a game against Death.

I didn't go to war. I had my own battles on the East coast of home. But I feel like if he'd just stuck around a little longer, we'd have learned we have a lot in common. I'm sitting here with his death certificate. I had to use it to request his military records today. I can't put it away. I keep looking at the details.. time of death.. who signed the paper.. place of injury.. "home".. "coded in ER"..

Vodka kills pain. It warms you up while you read through things that are tough to read. I've been drinking and watching real footage of Vietnam soldiers in 1967 with no audio. I've been doing it for hours.. and I'm starting to feel a strange kind of calm. It's not nice or happy. It's just calm.

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