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A Psychopath's Vacation

by Steve Newton (4/3, 11th LIB, Americal Div. 11Bravo, Alpha company, Third Platoon, Second Squad, 1969-1970)

It wasn't the flight back to the states itself I remember, although the feeling of immense relief was overpowering. I do recall a rocket attack as we took off, and the deafening silence, and then a wildly exuberant cheer that exploded, when our World Airlines freedom bird was safely airborne.

I don't think I said much during the trip. They say when you die, your life passes before your eyes, and as good as it felt to be alive, I think something important in all of us died over there in those dangerous jungles, rice paddies and impenetrable mountains.

All the pictures of everything that happened over there those past fifteen months kept flashing across my eyes like slides of a psychopath's vacation, and the show never seemed to end. It wasn't a bad thing, just ghostly and surreal. I knew I was alive and was happy about that, but I also felt a perverse sense of longing and regret for something I'd missed and could never get back: As if something had been stolen from me that could never be replaced. Youth, innocence, a sense of safety? I don't know. I knew I was going home but I was no longer certain where that home was exactly.

In order to maintain my sanity during the last year, I'd made a new home inside myself that I was now being asked to vacate, and to return to a place that had forever changed and could never be the same. But I didn't know that then. I was homesick for something I'd left behind, but why, I had no idea.

Homesick for what? The merciless monsoons, the vicious, unrelenting mosquitoes, the exhaustive boredom, and the bloody ambushes that seemed to erupt out of the deathly rain itself? It made no sense. But I was going home and I knew that's what should matter.

I missed my family and friends, and I missed the girl I'd left behind. But would they understand that I was coming home a different person? Everybody changes, but, some of us seemed to have changed into completely different people, and by then, I'd already begun to wonder who I was and who I'd become.

What we did to survive over there was to become whoever it took to do whatever we had to do in order to get ourselves and our buddies home, where ever home was. I was going home, yet, I felt lost, unmoored, and set adrift in deep uncharted waters. Relieved, elated even, but subdued too, knowing that the ghosts of Vietnam would forever haunt even my waking dreams.

Although the rest of the trip home was a blur, I do remember the eerie feeling I got when we arrived in Seattle. It was as if the people I met there thought I was an alien who'd come from a place so dark and mysterious they wanted to know nothing about it, and they wanted to know even less about what ever it was they thought I'd done over there.

I may as well have been speaking a foreign language because they seemed incapable of understanding a word I said about anything. I recall dumping my uniform into a waste bin in the airport rest room and then buying hippie-looking clothes so I'd fit in, but it didn't help. So I walked off into a world I no longer seemed to belong in and never looked back. And I went home, walking point, with no one to watch my back. A stranger in my own home town.

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