Your father came home handcuffed to a black briefcase. In it were papers regarding the Cuban Missile Crisis. He was a colonel, so bizarre things like this were normal to you. He’d come home late in the evenings after dinner tired and worn: the same look you had when you realized you wouldn’t be here forever.
Your father raised you to be resilient and self-reliant: that the only person who could help you was yourself. You took matters into your own hands when someone gave you problems; at one of your highschools the military police had to board the bus on a daily basis to check everyone for knives; another time you were wrongly blamed to have slashed the hood of a teacher’s car. You learned to put up with things no normal kid would have been able to.
It was not all that bad though. You said the 1960’s were great because of the music and the fact that you were still a kid. You got to visit all your cousins spread out all over the Midwest before they grew up and went on with their own lives—one of them becoming a senator of Missouri.
Of course, you grew up too.
On the day of your graduation, your father wordlessly tossed an empty suitcase unto your bed. His stern gaze told you to leave.
You joined the army.
You said you, like everyone else, were brainwashed. The sergeants who screamed at you on a daily basis came out of the Second World War mentally scathed, and they were preparing the next generation for Vietnam. They said you were going to fight for your country, and you believed them.
You were in the top three of your army recruiting class, and the three of you chose to stay behind for additional training to become a paratrooper instead of going straight to the jungle.
You liked parachuting out of B-17 bombers. You and your fellow paratroopers would jump into the sky, being met with the sight of the Earth below. The sunrise projected rays of red, orange and yellow across the quiet atmosphere. All of you could enjoy the silence. From up there, you couldn’t see walls, borders, or colors of skin. You couldn’t see the conflict on the ground.
In the end, rare and beautiful moments like that had to come to a close, and you were transferred to another base for more training.
The base you were transferred to was integrated. Integration should have been the beginning of the end of racism, but it wasn’t. Your experience at this base should have propelled your career to new heights. Instead, your life in the army was near its end. The soldiers there were undisciplined and violent. They came at each other with killing knives if they were even slightly irritated.
You also saw some interactions that made you feel sick. Your family raised you to believe that everyone was equal, but not everyone had the same beliefs as you. Once you passed by someone’s tent and heard screaming. You knew what was going on, but you continued walking while maintaining an expression of indifference.
Later, you looked in a mirror and piddled with one of the pins on your uniform. Did you really want all this? Did you even want to go to Vietnam? Many of the ones who came back were missing limbs, and their eyes were devoid of life. You remembered what that man had looked like: his face mutilated to the point of not looking human.
And all for what?
You resigned with an honorable discharge and even turned down a chance to work at the Whitehouse. You wanted to leave that life behind you, but I think you never did. Sometimes you would have a grim expression on your face whenever we watched something like “Full Metal Jacket” or “Windtalkers.” The small hint of emotion behind your eyes proved that your past life never left you.
Your father was in the hospital, and you decided to visit him to see how he was despite your rough relationship with him. You stood in the doorway, waiting to get his attention, and you regretted it. “What the hell are you doing here?” He had said to you. You left quietly and refrained from visiting him for a long time.
In 1995 you married someone who didn’t have the same skin color as you. One day you waved to your neighbors with your spouse at your side, and they didn’t wave back. They also didn’t speak to the gay couple living next door, but you did. You talked to everyone—not caring if they were strange or not. You found that strange people tend to have more interesting lives than others.
You had two kids. One is now in college, and the other is still in highschool. You think about them in your hospice bed. You would have preferred your death to be quick, but at least you had enough time to think of your family. You had the time to go over every detail of your life before you shut your eyes completely.
You’ve been through and seen some crazy things—too much to list. You hid most of them from me because you did not want me to become like you.
But I am.
See you in the next life, dad.