Chris began to question the wisdom of this trip. Why come back to the States? All he had experienced since he disembarked from his flight were cold stares. It began as soon as he arrived home at the airport, dressed in his newly issued greens and wearing the ribbons that marked him as a veteran of Vietnam, facing vocal advocates chanting for an end to the war. A pretty, young woman, with flowers in her hair, flashing the peace sign, approached him with a huge smile and that vacant look of one who had smoked just a bit too much pot, a look he was very familiar with himself. Coming right up to him he caught the scent of plumeria mixed with that of the marijuana, as she stood there looking into his eyes,
“Go flee to Canada, get away from those who would send you to your death,” Saying this as she pressed a card into his hand.
As she walked away he glanced down at the card that gave a hotline number to some lawyer who helped soldiers to get away. It was too little too late, he had already completed his tour and was now discharged.
Now he was back home, back to those familiar streets of his childhood. Passing old man Johnson’s drug store, where you could still get a real, ice cream soda. Seeing the old cinema, that continued to operate even though folks now went out to the the sprawling, multi screen cineplex by that new mall on Route 9. Yet, even with all of the familiarity, he felt like a stranger. People walked by, heads down not looking at him in the eye, as if he carried some kind of ancient, deadly disease. Even if they did look, it was one of hostility, that by being in uniform he represented all that was wrong or worse, that he was one of those crazed vets, who at any moment would go off like a grenade with a hair trigger.
In his mind all he wanted was to get home, see his parents, his brother and sister and maybe just find some peace. He wanted to shed his uniform like a snake sheds its old skin so that a new one could start to grow, a new life he could begin. Yet, deep down he also knew that just removing the outer clothing was not going to be enough, that war had ground deep within his very being. He had spent a year with other men whom he grew closer to than anyone else, even his old high school buddies. He had faced perils and dangers, flying bullets and long lonely nights, with those guys. They would share everything, their desires and fears. Pictures of girlfriends, wives and families and the stories would be told. He always thought it amazing that when faced with the possibility that the next bullet might have your name on it, how freely one would talk about themselves.
Now he was alone. An orphan of sorts, a victim of a senseless time and it would take more than just a quick change of clothes. Chris grabbed his head, he wanted to just explode, to yell, to tell the all of those who stared and walked by that he was still a person, he didn’t cause this war. All he did was just go, following the example of those great American heroes he grew up admiring, the Davy Crocketts, Daniel Boones, and John Waynes. Those men of integrity, and staunch individualism without whom, without whom what, he thought. They were part of a different time, a different America, and he began to wonder if he even belonged anymore.
Chris flagged down a cab, “Where to buddy?” the cabby asked. “148 Pleasant Street.” Chris replied, “my home.”