All By Myselfbyleapyearguy©
"We're born alone, we live alone, we die alone. Only through our love and friendship can we create the illusion for the moment that we're not alone." Orson Welles
You can become accustomed to the stark reality of loneliness. You wake each day, no other to placate. There are no expectations to bind your actions. Only chaos rules the day, start to finish the path is ever darker. But still you amble along mindlessly, trusting to luck that you can some day find your way.
At eighteen I had the world by the ass, I had just graduated high school and got a job. I was making more money than my father had ever seen. Full of hope and expectation, I had it made. There was no chance that my life would go sour like my mom and dads'."
I probably should explain that, my parents loved me. But hell times were tough. I had enough to eat, but they had no money for the extras. At the time I resented being the poor kid, I had no idea what poor was yet. My goal was to give my kids a better life, so I guess that's how you repay your own parents for all they had given you. You have to do a little better for your children. Each generation tries for the next rung of the ladder.
On my own, I felt reborn. I bought a brand new car, had my own place and money in my pocket. The world was my oyster, I only had to pry it open and enjoy life. And enjoy I did, life was one giant party in 1965. Girls came and went, there was no way I wanted to be tied down at my age. The triple F rule was how I liked it, find em, fuck em and forget em.
With the simple act of opening a letter, my life changed. A letter of greetings from President Johnson sent my happy little world careening out of orbit. I was ordered to report for armed forces induction. It was a hard kick in the balls by a size 12 combat boot. After eight weeks of BCT (basic combat training) and ten weeks of AIT (advanced infantry training), Spec 4 Brian T. Dinson emerged.
With two weeks to kill before my escorted tour of beautiful Southeast Asia. My choices were few, stay on the West Coast or return home for two weeks. It would take a good week's travel to return to my hometown and back. While I made my choice, I had my first beer in almost four months.
There was a little cocktail lounge near the bus depot. Ah god, a cold beer in a smelly dark bar. I hadn't felt this good since the last time I got laid. The bar was crowded, I could smell the stale beer mixed with cigarette smoke and sweat. This was a slice of heaven after the last few months.
A few beers later, the band began to play. It was like any other cover band I'd heard in the past, until the girl began to sing. I twirled on my stool and knew in an instant that I was witness to an event that would remain forever in my mind. The song wasn't important, it was the singer. She was a gem to be polished, pure raw talent. From where I sat, this angel had it all. I'm not sure I took a breath for the next two hours.
She had done a number on my head that's for sure. I can't tell you why I followed her out the door. I wasn't thinking about even trying to talk to her. I just wanted to look, maybe it was the beer. She stepped out the door and I went with her.
Standing in front of the bar watching her walk away into the night, fate stepped in. She disappeared into an alley way. A few seconds passed before I realized she had been pulled into the passage. I didn't hesitate, I was down the block like a shot. A huge man had her by the arm and she was struggling to get free from his grip.
"LET HER GO!" I heard myself yell.
"Get lost boy scout."
I bet you think I'm going to tell you how I became her knight in shinning armor and vanquished the man with one blow. Nope, He pushed her aside and kicked my ass. The only thing good that came of it was to give her enough time to run. By the time the beating was over she was long gone, and I was lying on the street bleeding.
Well, it would seem she didn't run away, she ran for help. By the time she returned with the bouncers from the club, he was gone and I was trying to remember the license number of the bus that hit me. The girl helped me to my feet and insisted I come home with her.
Home was actually her parent's house. Her mother tended to my cuts and bruises at the kitchen table as Cheryl explained to her dad what a brave man I was. Stupid was more like it, I just jumped in with both feet without thinking. When I was patched up, they all insisted that I stay the night. I tried to refuse, but I lost the argument in the end.
I won't bore you with details at this point. Let's just say I decided not to go back home. Cheryl's mom treated me like a son she had never had. Her dad was a little less trusting, he was just trying to protect his daughter and I respected that. I didn't think of her like the other girls I'd been with, she was special and deserved more. Once her father and I had talked about my intention toward Cheryl, I promised him that no matter what else I did in my life, I would never hurt her.
Cheryl and I got to know each other over the next two weeks. I was falling in love, and that bothered me. My mortality was in question for the first time. I knew I was going to war and the thought of dying had never entered my head until now. Did I have something to return to? Hell, would I return? Men were dying in Viet Nam every day. I was scared to go now, two weeks ago it didn't even occur to me. Shit, two years ago I had never even heard of the place.
When it came time to go, Cheryl was crying. Goddamn it, this had become so difficult. Her mom was holding my arm, trying to smile with tears running down her cheek. Her dad shook my hand and told me to be careful over there. Cheryl gave me a picture and kissed me before she said, "You come home to me, I love you.".
I managed to keep a stiff upper lip until the plane was off the ground. Then I cried like a baby. How did I get so involved in so short a time. I thought of little else the whole flight, but I would not think past tomorrow. It's hard to plan for a future that is so unsure, I wanted Cheryl but would I end up causing her pain.
Viet fucking Nam, it's hot and humid. There is no where to run from it. Like boot camp, you try to listen to the thing s that might save your ass. It's a day to day world over there don't try to plan for anything, just take it as it comes. Keep your head down, dry socks, shut the fuck up and listen, I heard these words ten times a day.
Cheryl wrote often, she had plans to marry me when I got back to the world. It scared the shit out of me, every day I worried more and more that I would end up breaking my promise to her father. Days turned into months and the feeling never left me. It ate at me from the center of my being. I would get someone killed acting like this.
It happened, my buddy James was right next to me when the round hit him in the chest. All I could think of was "keep your fuckin head down." , I hit the trail hard. I should have went to James and pulled him from danger. I didn't, I couldn't get the picture of Cheryl crying out of my head. James didn't make it, I don't know if I could have helped him but I should have tried.
I wasn't helping anyone like this. I felt like a coward, my head was so fucked up that I couldn't sleep. James was dead, was it my fault? And Cheryl, what right did I have to keep her from leading a real life instead of one based on hopes and dreams. I had to let her go, it wasn't going to be easy.
Letter to Cheryl---
My Darling Cher
I think of you constantly. I want you to know how much I care for you. Writing this letter is the hardest thing I have ever done. Please understand, you must carry on with your life.
Cheryl you are a special woman, you have so much to give to somebody that is there for you. Please Baby, Find somebody to love you and move on.
Things have happened over here that I can't explain to you. But you must believe me that it is better if you forget me. I will always cherish the short time we spent together.
I won't drag this on. Please don't try to write back, it will only make it harder on us both of us. Say hi to your mom and dad for me and thank them for everything.
Love always Brian
Things didn't improve much for a while. Cheryl kept writing, she pressured me to know why. I didn't return her letters, it would never end if I wrote back. She had to except reality and let me go. I had seen so much over here that I didn't think I was the same any more. War can change a man into something nobody recognizes. The shear brutality will harden even the most caring soul.
I was surviving, the killing continued but I was lucky. I was getting short, only thirty nine day left in my tour. I thought about home less each day. Cheryl's letters had finally stopped and given me a little peace. The days moved at a snails pace but the war was escalating. Guys came and went, new replaced the worn out and broken, like parts of a huge machine. Some returned home in bags to the homes and loved ones they had left.
Day fifteen, my last patrol, it was going to be a long day. A little after noon we took a break. The first sign that we were in trouble never came. It all happened out of the clear blue sky, we took heavy fire from three sides. There was no place to run, so we would have to fight our way out. When the shit finally cleared, we had ten standing. There were forty two when the firefight began.
I unfortunately was not among them. I had been hit four times, twice in the chest, once in the thigh and another in the foot. When the morphine took hold I felt like I was watching the whole scene as a spectator. They got me to a medevac chopper and the medic was pounding on my chest, "Don't you fuckin' die on me, man." That's the last I remember of that day.
Some nine months later I was released from the hospital and the Army. Every day I thought of Cheryl. Every day I thought of James. Every day I thought of those faces in my gun-sights. There was no relief from my thoughts that were haunting me from sunup to sundown. The pressure of reality had taken charge when the Army let go.
I returned home for a while to see my folks. While they were happy to see me again, I could feel the trepidation. We all walked on eggshells around each other. I knew things were different but how did they know it? I saw my friends from time to time but they had changed too. I found it hard to relate to them now, it just wasn't the same.
As I packed my duffel to leave, I came across the picture Cheryl had given me the last time I saw her. Staring at the worn photograph, I knew what was wrong with everybody. It was me, I wasn't Brian any more, I was a stranger in his body. Brian had left here two years ago as a nineteen-year old boy ready to conquer the world. I was merely a mutant amalgamation of his memories and past.
For two more years I ran from Brian, afraid to let another living soul see him for what he truly was. Town to town, one bar to the next, but Brian was smarter than I. He always caught up sooner or later. It was time to make peace with him but I didn't know how. Brian was still young and full of dreams, while inside I had aged beyond all reason.
I started the healing process, by revisiting my emotional wounds. I entered college to give my life purpose. I needed order and structure and a reason to rise in the morning. I would spend my free time at the veteran's hospital. These young men needed my help as much as I needed theirs.
As the days slipped by the faces of the men I had killed became anonymous more of a blurry image than a face. James visited regularly, but we talked about the good times we'd had. I no longer saw him lying dead on the road. Cheryl remained with me always, the hurt that I had caused her never went away.
Brian had taken a long time to return from his exile. The time away had allowed me to come to terms with the callous veneer. The wounded soldiers gave me more support emotionally than they would know.
The end of my formal education completed my self-imposed eviction from the human race. It had been a long and lonely road to follow, I had needed the hospital to remind me where I had been and the university to keep me focused on where I was headed. I would use my knowledge and compassion to the help the wounded veterans back into society.
I had faced all of my demons except one. It would be the hardest by far, even harder than the letter to Cheryl. I owed it to her to explain why I had flushed our relationship. She had every right to hate me now, but I prayed that would not happen. I still thought of her every day. We had only been with each other for a short time, where would I start, and how do you apologize after eight years? The old Brian would have run away, but this was mine to do.
George is Cheryl's dad. I had promised him I would never hurt her. He had to understand that I tried my best to do the right thing at the time. Hopefully he would lead me to see Cher so I could talk to her. I called him at his office, if he chose to tell me off it may be less embarrassing for both of us if his wife, Ellen, wasn't there.
"Brian, my god, is it really you?"
"Yes, it's so good to hear your voice again, Sir."
"Goddamn Son, we thought you were dead. What happened...were you... why didn't..."
I cut him off and told him all the details. It took a long time and I was pretty emotional.
"Brian, if you want my opinion. I'd have to say you really fucked up, what you did to Cheryl was wrong. Son, I understand what you were thinking, but you should have trusted her. She's a much stronger woman than you gave her credit for. She loved you boy, and you broke her heart."
"George, that is exactly why I pushed her away. I did it for her."
"No, you didn't. you did it for you. It was a selfish cowardly thing to do. You told me you learned a lot about life in the past few years. You learned to serve yourself, you learned absolutely nothing about the love of a good woman. Admit it boy, you bailed out."
George had told me the truth I had never seen. He gave it to me with both barrels. He was so on target I was at a loss for words.
"George, I'm so sorry. Where the hell did you get so smart? I tried for years to learn what you told me in ten seconds."
"Brian, a good woman taught me that."
"Yep, and if you don't fuck it up again you might still have a chance."
"You mean... she's not married?"
"No Brian, she became a doctor. She says she hasn't had time for men."
I had never even hoped to find Cher available. Damn, this shook me to the core. I resolved myself to see her as soon as possible. However it turned out, I had to talk to her. I owed it to her, but I was still having doubts about how I could approach her.
I had an appointment the next morning before I was to fly out to see Cher. Davy was a twenty five-year-old Marine sergeant that had lost his leg when he stepped on a land mine. He'd been awarded medals for bravery during his two tours in country. I wasn't really sure why they had assigned him to me, Davy seemed to take everything in stride. He had started taking classes at the university and was having no apparent problems adjusting to his handicap.
Davy and I had a different relationship than most of the vets that I saw. For the most part, they were all angry. Angry for the position they were forced into, being disabled for reasons they couldn't explain. Fighting a war they weren't allowed to win, for a country that wasn't grateful for their sacrifice. It was my job to help them move on, they had been given a big shit sandwich, and I had to help them learn to eat it.
I think Davy had been raised to accept life as it came, never looking to the past. I had none of the usual problems with him. He never asked why things had turned out the way they were, he just wanted to know what was next. We were more like buddies than anything. The truth is, he kept scheduling his appointments just to talk.
"Hey man, I didn't think you'd make it today. I figured they'd try to pawn me off on some other looser."
"Nah Davy, you're stuck with me today."
"So, you still cryin over that chick? A... what's her name a... Cheryl, right?"
"Yeah, well maybe not for to much longer. I'm going to see her later today. I fly out in three hours."
"Look Bri, that's why I came to talk today. I know what you're going through. When you told me about all that shit that went down with you two, well, you gotta let go of that lone ranger crap."
"That's easy for you to say."
"Hey fuck you Bri, you think you're the only grunt that got fucked up over there? You should realize it better than anyone, you see this shit everyday. The only difference between you and me is that I left my leg over there and you left your fuckin' head."
"Davy, I'm scared to talk to her. What if she won't listen to me? If I could take it back, oh god I wish I could take it back. Davy, I spent all those years trying to get to this point. What if she tells me to fuck off?"
"Look you asshole, there are no guarantees. If you don't want to see her, then don't. But quit whining about it. Take my advice Bri, get it over with and start living your life. It's about time you wised up about yourself."
"What the fuck are you talking about?"
"Just how long do you think you would have survived in the bush without your brothers? Everybody needs help Bri, they just don't want to admit it. Ask her, tell her what you feel. Fuck man, just tell her how much you love her. Quit living in the past, its over. Let her in and quit pushing her away."
"Davy, why do you still come to see me? You obviously don't need my help."
"Hey, I'm trying to get your job. I hear it pays pretty good."
"I'll tell you this, they won't ever pay you what you're worth. You are ten times better at this than me."
"Bri, I figure it has to pay better than sittin' in a mud hole with bullets flying over my head."
"Get out of here jarhead, I've got a plane to catch."
"Semper fi." He said, as he flipped me the bird walking out the door.
On the six-hour flight, I thought about all that George and Davy had tried to tell me. I had fucked up terribly, the way I had treated Cher. And I realized I had never left the jungle behind me, I had just gotten used to it. In fact in some ways more of me was still there than here.
It was late evening as I took a cab to the hospital where Cher worked. I soon found where she would be and rode the elevator to the third floor. There she was, leaning over the nurse's station talking to one of the duty nurses.
She turned to see who was getting off the elevator at this time of night. If she recognized me she didn't show it. I walk up to her trying to keep my emotions in check. SMACK! I hadn't been hit like that since the day I tried to cop a feel from one of my high school teachers. She slapped me, this was sure not the reception I had anticipated.
"You goddamned asshole!"
All I could do is stare at her, she was a younger version of her mother and an older version of the girl I had left so many years ago. My ears were still ringing from the slap, but I had no problem taking in her beauty. Her words soon brought me back into the now.
"You took your sweet time coming home to me, Brian. I was beginning to think you didn't love me any more. I want you to know that I would have only given you another ten or fifteen years before I would have started looking for a new man." She said as she took me in her arms and hugged me.
"Cher, oh god how I love you, I have so much to explain. I'm so so..." she held her finger to my lips.
"We have the rest of our lives for that. Just shut up and kiss me, I've been waiting so long for this."
We kissed with the passion only true love can bring. I don't know I fully ever explained to her my actions or reasons. It just wasn't that important any more. Now after thirty years of marriage, she still kisses me with the same intensity and these days she sings only for me. With every passing day I love Cheryl more than the last but not nearly as much as the next.