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My New Friend
Author's note: I wrote this piece that first started off as just another school assignment but turned out to be more. I hope for readers to find their own meanings behind the text while also trying to understand what I am trying to say.
“If you’re going through hell, keep going.”-
Winston Churchill May 10th, 1940
I don’t think my mother ever approved of my friends. Ever since I was in grade school my mother seemed to act in disgust towards them. Many of them picked up on this vibe and stopped coming over and stopped talking to me in school as if it were my fault. I would spend endless days on the playground alone on the swings watching the other kids play. I hated being alone, and I would have given anything to be with my friends. The only friends, it seemed, were the ones I had when I came home from school. I never told anyone about them especially my mother. I feared that they too would be scared off. When my mother ever asked, “Who are you talking to up in your room?” I would simply reply,
“No one mother. I am playing by myself.”
My mother didn’t question it. She would simply go back to cooking for my father. My friends up in my room were the same age as me. When I entered my room, they would be running across the lawn and climbing up the ladder that I left there for them so they could get through the window. I didn’t understand why they never went to school with me. There were Phil and Ted, both of them seemed to just come up to my room one day when I was crying by myself after a long lonely day at school. I was in the third grade at the time and they came creeping into my room and asking if I wanted to play. Of course I did, and we stayed in my room playing together. Phil had black hair and freckles all over his face, as did Ted, except Ted had red hair, glasses and had a large tummy that would stretch over his belt.
Every day after school I would drop my back pack and run past my mother cooking and my drunken father and head upstairs. But soon I couldn’t keep my friends anymore. One day I was upstairs playing upstairs with my friends and we were louder than usual. My father was drunk and I heard him screaming and cursing at my mother. Then I heard his thunderous feet coming up the stairs. I told Phil and Ted to hide under my bed. My father came into the room roaring with his deafening voice. With his long hair soaked and his beer belly moving through the air, he began to lash out at me. Bellowing out words that were in such rage that they were barely audible, he began beating me. I could feel his oversized fists land every punch and with each one came more pain than the punch before it. I don’t know how long it was but by the end of it, I could barely keep my eyes open. The last thing I heard from my father was, “I don’t want to ever hear you talking to yourself again.”
I was no match to fight back. I was a gaunt skinny kid with glasses. What could I do against him? When I could finally keep my eyes fully opened, I searched for Phil and Ted, but they were nowhere to be found. I looked everywhere for them. I never saw them again, and I lost my best friends. I spent the rest of school including high school all alone. I never had any new friends. I sat at the lunch table alone and even the bullies didn’t come near me. Life at home was terrible. We were poor and my father was constantly drunk and my mother was so busy catering to him that she never bothered to pay any attention towards me. I properly should have run away, but I stayed, hoping my friends Ted and Phil would come back, but they didn’t. I graduated high school in 1968 with no friends and no future.
“The devil is not as black as he is painted.”-
Dante Alighieri, The Divine Comedy, April 11, 1472
When people asked me, “Why would you join a war that many in this country saw as unfit?”
I would reply to them, “To escape hell.”
Yes it is true that I joined the army for little more than the reason that I wanted to escape my home life. My grades at school didn’t warrant me anything better than maybe a janitor, maybe something lower than that. I wouldn’t earn enough money to get my own place for years to come, and I had no intention of staying home for any longer. Vietnam to me looked like a nice change of pace. I could leave and see an exotic place, and, if I died, no one would give a s***. My life was worthless. At that point, what did I have? No friends, no future, and a horrible broken down family. I didn’t fear death at all, so I joined the army and the war as a willing participant in a time where most people feared the draft.
Every day in Vietnam I could hear the gunfire from a distance. I was put right on the frontlines with my unit. Constantly bodies would be dragged through the base, bloody with many of them missing body parts. Some were so mangled and destroyed that if it weren’t for their dog tags, we would have no idea who they were. The air stunk of rotting flesh. I saw death everyday right before my eyes. Someday I thought I would be the one being dragged through.
Life in Vietnam was unfortunately no less lonely than life at home. My personality just didn’t fit with the rest of my unit. My unit was made up of Neanderthal jar heads whose only purpose in life was to build up muscle and have sex with bimbos. I was soft spoken and was an easy target to pick on. There was another man in my unit who was different. His name was Tim Hawkes, but even he was hard to talk to. He was a huge religious fanatic who was drafted into the war. Whenever I would try to talk to him he would only speak of God. I didn’t have much use for religion. It is said that faith is a gift, but I’ve never received it. I tried many times to believe, but it was something that I couldn’t wrap my head around. I had too many problems with it.
One day my unit was out on patrol through the thick marsh of the jungle. We were walking single file when one of the jar heads walked right on a mine. The explosion rocked us all back. I felt myself being flown through the air, and I hit the ground with a thud. I couldn’t move. I struggled to keep myself from blacking out. It reminded me of the constant beatings I would receive from my father. The next thing I knew I woke up in a hospital room. The first site I saw was of a person I had never seen before. His name was Luc D. Fallen.
“The fear of death follows from the fear of life. A man who lives fully is prepared to die at any time.”-
Mark Twain, 1835-1910
He was young, somewhere in his mid-twenties perhaps, clean shaven and taller than me, around six foot, five inches. He told me everything that had just occurred. Only a few of us survived the blast.
When I finally left the hospital I found him again, Luc. I couldn’t believe how easy he was to talk to. I could talk to him about anything even about my tough home life. He was a great listener and gave me the best advice. I had never had a friend like him since I was a kid. He was a little like me, in fact he never talked to anyone, but at the same time he was funny and had an amusing attitude about him. I couldn’t figure out why he didn’t want to talk to anyone else.
I came back from Vietnam in 1974. I was one of the last troops to leave Saigon before it fell. Luc and I went back to my home town. I’m not sure why I went back. I guess it was because I wanted to see if it had changed since I left. It was a small town with mostly dirt roads and country folk. I hated it here and not just because of my family either. When I left, my hair was shaggy, and I was too skinny for my own good. I came back with my hair clean cut my body and more muscular than ever. I wore my uniform back into the town, mostly to boast about my achievements. It was a conservative town and I knew that most of them were overly patriotic and would defiantly praise me for my service. I was liberal but no one knew because, well…I didn’t talk much at all.
Luc didn’t talk much at all when we got back; he wore regular street clothes, a red t shirt with a green jacket, and blue jeans with a black fedora. He just walked beside me and he didn’t really say a word. The sun was beating down on us, not a cloud in the sky.
My house was at the end of the long roadway that was filled with houses on both sides. I’m not sure why I was heading back to see my old folks. What was there to see? They couldn’t have changed that much. But as Dante went through the nine circles of hell, I was about to renter mine. I guess you could say it was a character building thing.
The more and more I walked down the road, the more and more I thought about things.
“By that sin fell the angels.”-
William Shakespeare, Othello, November 1, 1604
“You know Luc?
“What?” he replied.
“You see all these people moving on with their lives? How many of them think about the men that have died, the men that died at the hands of this country? Do they at all? You know when a report comes on and it tells about soldiers losing their lives, they think, oh how sad, but what do people do after that?”
Luc kept listening,
“You know, if it’s not their kid, then do they care? What if I died, and I was plastered all over the news? Do you think people would get upset or care?”
“Probably not,” he replied, “Only the people that come home they think about.”
I looked around and saw this town for what it was and reminded me why I hated it so much. The people were critical and didn’t accept people who were different.
We kept on the same path when a man walked up to me. He was short wearing jeans and white undershirt. He was overly fat and the stench of his odor I could have smelled from Vietnam.
“Sir I jus’ wan’ to say than’ you for defenin’ our freedoms,” the man spoke with a thick country accent, and I couldn’t but help noticing his awful shave.
“Just doing my duty,” I replied. We shook hands and I smiled. He released my hand and walked away and didn’t even look at Luc or thank him.
“What a bad shave.”
I shook my head and ignored Luc’s comment and said, “To defend our freedom. What a funny phrase. What freedom were we defending over there? No one was physically harming us until we went in there and caused trouble. Simple solution would have been to get up and leave,”
I stopped for a second and gathered my thoughts. “I didn’t go over there to fight a war at all. I went over there to escape my own problems. I didn’t feel compelled at all to go there to fight a war. I went there to escape a war in my own house. What was the point of this war? I liked it for selfish reasons and I wasn’t bothered by death at all. But what about everyone else? They didn’t need to go.”
I couldn’t figure out where I was going with this rant. “There are a few different types of war: war for politicians, war for the people, and war for one person. This war was for the politicians, but I fought it like a war for one person.”
“I'm not afraid of death; I just don't want to be there when it happens.”-
We arrived at my home shortly thereafter. I opened the rotting door and stepped inside. The house had not changed. The place was still a mess of both objects and lost childhoods. Luc followed behind me as I looked around. I heard no one. On the kitchen counter were about five empty beer bottles. I picked one up. It felt cold as if it was just taken out of the fridge. Then I heard a familiar thunderous march sound coming down the stairs. There to my horror I saw the beast that was my father. He looked worse than ever, never bothering to shave or cut his hair. He had another beer bottle in his left hand. His roar was the one from my childhood “There you are! Where the hell have you been?”
I stood there frozen with fear. I began to answer but he cut me off, “Well? Huh? No one was here to take care of the house! This place looks like s***!”
I started to back up. I’d had come face to face with death many times during the war, and I had never been as fearful as I was at that moment.
“When you just got up and left, so did your mother! There is nothing here now! You went over to fight in a war and didn’t give a damn about me?” He flung his beer bottle in my direction. I ducked as quickly as I could. The bottle passed through the air just above my head and hit the wall with a loud crash. I lifted my head and put my hands up.
“Dad, just calm down. Don’t do this in front of my friend,” I said as I pointed in Luc’s direction.
My father looked confused and in a daze, “Who? Do you take me for some fool?” He started walking towards me. His voice was getting louder with every syllable he spoke.
“No fath..,” I started to reply.
“Just because I don’t have an education does not mean I am stupid?” He was getting closer to me as I backed into the counter.
“Stop,” I said, but he didn’t seem to hear me.
“I don’t want you to try to fool me again!”
“Luc,” I cried. My father just clenched my left arm. I could feel his incredible muscle clamping down on me.
“What did I say about talking to yourself?” He swung his right arm, landing a punch right through the side of my face. I hit the ground starting to feel myself black out when I saw Luc lunge towards my father and then I was out.
“When you have eliminated the impossible, whatever remains, however improbable, must be the truth.” –
Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, The Sign of Four, 1890
“Is that all?” the man from across the table asked.
“Yes,” replied the patient.
“Thank you for your time,” the man replied.
The man from across the table took the collection of notes and put them in a pile and turned off his tape recorder. He grabbed his suitcase, opened it up and put both things inside. He closed it up and got up to walk out of the room. The room was dark and had one light dangling from the ceiling. The room had concrete walls and floors with a single table in the middle and two chairs on both side on it. The man had on a nice business suit with a beige blazer and red tie. His facial hair was white and his hair was all messy like something out of a mad doctor movie. He also had growing wrinkles all over his face. The patient was in a strait jacket with a clean cut hair cut.
The man had reached the door and the guard opened the oversized institutionalized door. The man stopped just before he walked out and turned back and looked at the patient with a warm smile and said, “Excuse me if I asked this before but I can’t remember if you told me or not, did you ever see your friend again? You know Luc?”
The Patient looked at him with sad eyes and said nothing except for the word, “No.”
The man shook his head and said, “Thank you again.”
He turned and walked out the door into a long narrow hallway. The man kept walking through the hallway which was filled with cells for the mental patients. The lighting was just as bad as in the room and the walls were wet with dripping water. When someone came running up behind him shouting, “Hold up.”
The man stopped and looked back. “Ah, Dr. Crow.”
Dr. Crow finally caught up with him. Dr. Crow had short hair and small glasses and a grayish blazer on with a black tie. “Did you get everything you needed for your story?”
They started walking together again. “Yes I did Dr. Crow. Thank you for giving me access to your patient sir. I have always found schizophrenia interesting”
“Well actually, it developed into paranoid schizophrenia from the war. He had schizophrenia since he was a kid, but the horrors of war caused it to develop into paranoid schizophrenia. Luc was the solution to his problems,” Dr. Crow stopped, “Oh, do you have a title for your story?”
“Yes,” The man turned to him and said, “Yes I think I will call it, “My New Friend.”