I was walking twenty yards behind Kick Lackerby when he stepped on the land mine and was blown to kingdom come. I was standing in left field, bent over, hands on my knees waiting for the next pitch. I was walking with Donna Lyles to the picture show. I was sprawled on the floor trying to make heads or tails out of my math homework. I was here, now, at home with my wife watching some dumb goddamned TV show about a baking competition. My mind was jimmy jacking me around and I didn’t seem to have no control over it. That stupid doctor of ours, who must be near 100 years old, had given me some pills to help calm my nerves, but they seemed to have turned me into a goddamned loony. Ruth, my simple minded wife, didn’t seem to notice or care, only concerned like she was with the goddamned TV or where the kids were and what they were doing and keeping the house clean and hearing gossip about our neighbors. Me, I was an after thought. All she cared was did I keep my job at the plant so that a check came ever two weeks and that I kept the house in repair and the lawns, front and back, cut. She needed nothin’ else out of me least of all help with the kids who were like her own goddamned property or something and I was only useful to administer an occasional whippin’ which I didn’t like doin’ in the first place. Goddamn it.
There was a commercial on now so Ruth got up and got herself a soda not asking if I wanted anything because why should she think of me unless it was absolutely necessary. Yeah we still had sex, whenever SHE felt horny. I was just there for my you-know-what. It was not love making like it ustah be when he first got hitched. There was no love to make it was just her gettin' off. Well, I did too but it was just a physical release. What exactly happened to Ruth I can’t tell ya, but to her I’d become functional and not no person with feelings at all. I looked over at her when she sat down with her pop and she noticed and gave me the kind of smile you do when you pass a stranger on the street. Then she focused back on the goddamned TV set, and me, I just kept staring at her, not that she’d notice.
I finally got sick of looking at her jowly old face and looked at the TV too. Not that I gave two shits about what was one — damn baking show — and then my mind did it again and there I was in my 11th grade history class with Old Man Harris rambling on about the Panic of 1893 whatever the hell that was, and I was looking over at Marjorie Buford who was wearing a mini skirt and I was wishing I could get a closer look. Off again. I was back in Nam on patrol scared shitless, it was my first day in the jungle and every sound I heard I reckoned to be a Viet Cong who was about to slit my fucking throat and so I was walking as close behind this black fella, DaJohn Harris, as I could and the sweat was pouring like a river down my face. Then I was at the carnival when I was six the time Paulie Rawlings’ kid brother fell from the ferris wheel and died and there was all that screaming and crying and people talking a mile a minute and somehow at the same time being silent like a church prayer. But then I was at the plant on my first day being showed around by Jerod Lampley who was my supervisor my first few months before he had a heart attack and died at only 41. Now goddamned it I was back in the living room and Ruth was staring at me like I was on fire or somethin'. “What?” I said to her.
“By god Roy you had the strangest expression I ever did see for the longest time. I was afraid. What’s going on with you, hon?”
“I was just thinkin’ is all.”
“Thinkin’? You look like that just to think? What were you thinkin’ of? Seein' a flying saucer?”
“No, just stuff.”
“Maybe you should have a beer.”
“Now Ruth you know that the doctor said no booze of any kind while I’m taking these pills.”
“Why Roy you had one jus’ the other day.”
“Yeah and I fell dead asleep right after and it was the middle of the day.”
“I guess,” Ruth said as her voice faded away. Then she turned her attention back to the TV but said, “well there’s something not right if you sit there looking so damn strange it frightens people. You ought to tell Dr. Harris, is what.”
“I wouldn’t know what to say to him, you’re the one who saw it.”
But Ruth’s attention was back to the baking program and she was silent for several minutes before saying, “will you look at the cake? That’s a beauty. I told you the queer boy was gonna win. They make good pastry chefs.”
I got up and went to bed, not that Ruth would notice or care. I took one of the nerve pills just before getting under the covers. One thing sure, they helped me sleep through the night and my nerves were calmer. I’d been a wreck for months after I gotten the promotion to line supervisor and Pop had died and I had had to untangle his affairs and we’d made an investment in some new condos. It was a lot at once and I’d gotten nervy as hell. Sure I was able to work, but in my off hours I would do nothing but fret, my hands would shake and my stomach would churn as if I’d just had a burrito at Jose’s the one Mexican restaurant in town. Ruth had made me go see the doc and he’d put me on these pills until things slowed down for me. Course now I was having the visions. Well hell they were a lot more than that. I wouldn’t just see moments from my past I’d feel like I was there. I could no more tell the difference between being in that moment from five, ten, fifteen, twenty, thirty, thirty five years ago than I could what I was doing right here and now. Odd thing was that it didn’t scare me none. Not a bit. It was something that just was and I actually kind of enjoyed it. Was a going off my nut? Maybe. But hell, life as a sane man wasn’t working out all that well.
I got a good eight hours of snooze time and got ready for work. At breakfast I was joined by our three darlings: Judy, the youngest was six, Connor the boy in the middle was 11 and Kendall was 13. Course Ruth was busy fixing the eggs and what not so I had some time to jaw with my kids. We always had a few laughs — they loved their daddy — and I got little nuggets of information about school, teachers, playmates and the like. Ruth finally finished the cooking and sat down to join us and, as she always did, she took over the conversation. It was like she was jealous of me talking to my own children. She was gabbing up a storm, I was just finishing my toast when wham! I was getting picked off first base junior year high school and had to walk back to the dugout where coach Duggard was gonna give me an earful. Then I was fishing with Pa day before I was to leave for the army and we was both a little blue about it. Next I was seven and chasing Amy Clough who was my first crush. (I liked that one, and during it had no thought of the fact that 20 years later her husband killed her.) Then it was Nam again and I was laying in mud shit scared as shots were coming from seemed like everywhere. It was so confusing I didn’t know which direction was up let alone where to shoot.
Ruth was hollerin’ at me. "What on earth? You were making that face again and scaring us half to death.”
“Yeah, what’s goin’ on Pop? You looked like a zombie,” Connor said.
“I reckon it’s the medicine got me on. Does somethin’ to my brain every now and again. But don’t worry, it won’t last. I’ll only be taking 'em another week.” It was all lies but seemed to satisfy everyone, even Ruth. Then I got the hell up, kissed everyone and was out the door into my truck and off to work.
A couple a months later my father’s estate had been pretty much settled, it was only left to dot the i’s and cross the t’s. The condo deal had gone through just fine and it looked sure to add to our nest egg. I’d settled in as a line supervisor and the boss told me I’d have a couple extra weeks of vacation coming. I was off the pills. But my departures, as I called 'em, went on. They were always in fours and always with one being in Vietnam. Some were bad times, some were good and some were just ordinary. Somehow, though, I'd stopped havin' them when anyone else was around, so as far as Ruth was concerned I was back to my normal self and she wouldn’t have to worry about me and could devote all her attention to what she wanted to. I was not something she wanted to pay attention to no way unless it was to get me to do something whether it was mowing the lawn or giving her a good screw. I wasn’t the happiest man on earth, but life was okay, especially with my darling children. Then one day….
It was a Saturday afternoon and the kids were all somewhere else. Kendall at the mall, Connor fishing with a friend’s family and Judy on an overnight visit with her cousin Maggie. It was a warm day and I’d not only mowed the lawns but did a lot of weeding so when I came in the house I had a powerful thirst. A cold beer was gonna be just the ticket. I had one and it felt so good that for the first time in I don’t know how long, I had a second. Ruth came into the kitchen and joined me. We each had three and bein’ as how I hadn’t eaten since breakfast they went straight to my head. Ruth was not much of a drinker so she was not exactly feelin’ any pain neither. In such a condition Ruth can get awful randy. So we were soon in the bedroom both naked as jaybirds and going at it like a couple of teenagers. I was on top of her humpin’ away and Ruth was groanin’ and moanin’ with delight. The world felt goddamned good. Then I was in Nam again. I had dead aim on a gook, discharged my weapon and saw the top of his head fly off. I looked down at Ray Ray Lipton whose guts were hanging out while he was screaming. Then I was at Thompson’s hardware store with Pop when I was 13 helping him buy what he needed to fix the shed. Then I was making out with Ruth the day before we got engaged. Then I was in the backyard, a five year old playing with a toy truck. That was four, including the one from Nam. But it didn’t end. I was back in Nam on guard duty trying desperately to stay awake and I zipped from their to bein’ on a chopper, zipped away even quicker to watching a VC being interrogated, slapped in the face, kicked, then I was watchin’ Kick Lackerby get blowed up. This was a re-un, first time I’d ever had one. Now all my Nam visions were repeating. I was dad blasted stuck. An endless loop of Nam.
I fell asleep. Even though I was in Nam I could hear Ruth snoring and I somehow knew we’d finished screwing and that it was dusk and that Kendall would be home soon and I was still naked. Seconds later I slept with no thoughts, no visions, no realizations, no dreams, no nothin'. But when I woke up I was in the jungle, in Nam and by god I didn’t think I’d ever get out. This felt even more damn real, like it was my life and I’d better get on with it the way it was because there were beaucoup VC in the area. What the hell, this was no departure this was my life. I was in Nam all right and stayin'.