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You Are Not a Baby Killer
“Không! Không! Xin vui lòng…”
His eyes snap open and he sits up with a jolt. His breathing is heavy and his face is dripping with sweat. For a moment, he expects Lieutenant Johnson to scream a profanity at him followed by an order to get up. And when that doesn’t come, he expects the sound of bullets to fill his ears. But that doesn’t come either. Instead, there’s silence. Blissful, sweet, agonizing silence.
It’s then that he realizes he’s in his own room. A soft mattress beneath him instead of mud, linen pajamas instead of a uniform. And when he looks down next to him, he sees his beautiful Susan sleeping instead of a dead soldier. Everything is as it should be. Forcing his panic to dissipate, he quiets himself so he doesn’t wake up Susan.
Taking a deep and composing breath, he swings his legs over the side of the bed and stands up. Tiptoeing to the kitchen, he pulls out a glass from the cupboard and turns on the sink’s faucet. He dunks the glass under the cool stream of water, letting it fill to the brim before he switches the faucet off. The glass is drained within seconds, and yet he doesn’t feel any better. He turns on the faucet for another glass when he hears the soft patter of feet coming towards him.
“Rob? What’re you doing?” A drowsy voice asks him. He drains his second glass before turning around to face his wife.
“Nothing,” He lies, setting the empty glass aside. “Just had a hard time getting to sleep.”
Susan gives him a sympathetic look. She knows he went to sleep within seconds of going to bed. Staying asleep is the real culprit. “More nightmares?”
He sighs and nods. Susan knows him too well, he doesn’t even know why he tries to hide his restless nights from her. Maybe he just likes to think he’s protecting her by locking away what happens in his head. The idea of protecting anything sounds good after Vietnam…
“What was this one about?” Susan asks as she pulls him into a hug.
For a moment, he doesn’t answer. He just absorbs the moment...inhaling Susan’s sweet perfume, stroking her long brown hair. He’s only been home for three weeks but he still hasn’t gotten used to being able to hold his wife again. Taking a shaky breath, he finally responds.
Susan says nothing. He knows that she doesn’t know what to say. Nobody knows what to say about My Lai. He doesn’t even know what to say. Maybe it was the constant paranoia of the Viet Cong, maybe it was that one time a child wandered into their camp and blew up herself along with five soldiers with a suicide bomb. Whatever the reason, he knew the entire ordeal was a mistake. Most called it a massacre, most were disgusted by what happened. To be honest, he was disgusted as well. But that didn’t explain that sudden urge he had had to kill those women. The ease it took to shoot those children. The way he mercilessly slaughtered an old man who pleaded for him to stop.
Susan slowly pulls away and stares into his deep green eyes. “Are you doing okay? Anything you want to talk about?”
“Nothing that you should hear,” he states blatantly, turning away. He pauses before continuing, asking that question that’s been on his mind. “Susan...I’m not a baby killer, am I?”
Susan’s eyebrows furrow in confusion. “Of course not, Rob. Where would you get an idea like that.”
“It’s what people scream at me when they see my uniform. I can’t so much as board the bus without someone telling me I’m a murderer,” he pauses to blink away a sudden wave of tears. “If everyone says it, it must be true.”
“Oh, Rob,” Susan says, wiping away a stray tear. “You’re not a murderer. You’re not a baby killer. If people had been there, they wouldn’t be saying those things.”
He doesn’t know what to say. He was there and he saw what happened. He did kill children and My Lai really was a massacre. Those nightmares haunted him every night, and they wouldn’t be there if he hadn’t done anything worth regretting.
“Rob...why don’t you come back to bed. You’ll feel better in the morning, I’m sure.”
He doesn’t know if this is true, but he agrees anyway. He allows Susan to lead him by the hand back to their bed. He doesn’t resist as she tells him to lay down. And he lets her draw the covers around both of them.
“Trust me, Rob,” Susan whispers, grasping his hand with hers. A hand that had once killed innocent children. A hand that had comforted a dying soldier. A hand now entwined with a loving wife. “You are not a baby killer.”
A few minutes ago, he would’ve argued against it. But right now, he believes her. And it’s that comforting thought of innocence that pulls him into a dreamless sleep.