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,
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.
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