This I Believe

Jamie - Ann Arbor, Michigan
Entered on July 10, 2006
Age Group: 30 - 50

Conversations Can Heal

The black flies were thick from May to September and

they liked to hang out in our kitchen window seat. My dad

joked that they wore little helmets, tapping the

ceiling above our dinner table, frolicking in buzzing

spasms in the afternoon heat. Occasionally, one weary

fly would spiral downward toward the butter dish or

near the garlic bread and someone would always say,

“incoming.”

It was that kind of day when I asked my dad if he

killed anyone in the war. We were having beef

stroganoff and carrot cake for dessert. My older

brother fired arrows across the table from his

blue-eyed arsenal. Forks clinked against Blue Willow

stoneware. My eyes never left the egg noodles and the

only thing I could hear was the tumble-flop of clothes

in the dryer. Not one fly buzzed near the table.

My dad had served in Vietnam for nearly 10 months when

he was hit by a rocket-propelled grenade. Two days

before Christmas, 1967. It severed his right leg

below the knee and damaged his left hand, leaving only

three partially-functioning fingers. Growing up, I had

seen what the war did to him physically. He would

play with us at the lake even though people stared at

how awkwardly he hopped from his towel to the water. We’d take turns playing “shark” until I shivered. But on that particular

afternoon, I needed to know more.

His response to my question shaped who I am today. He

let me know in those following moments that I could

ask him anything about the war, anything about life.

That the only way to learn about the reality of war is

to bear each scar for its truth. And he did.

I believe that conversations can define our existence.

In the years following, my dad began sharing his

photos from the war with me. His archive led us to

uncover stories of Crazy Charlie pinning hippie

posters on the latrine, listening to Bob Dylan with

the nurses in Ward 4B and the Wisconsin boy he carried out of that mucky cane field.

My dad talked about combat and what it does to the

human spirit. He remembered guys over there who had wives and college degrees and guitars. Guys who smoked Dutchmaster cigars with him and played pranks on the Lieutenant. I listened and saw the way he ruminated over each crinkled photograph. We sat on

the couch and put them in an album together. I wanted

his stories to become a part of mine.

I believe that conversations can heal.