“If he’s dead then they send two men in a car to your house, but if he’s only injured they just send one.”
I was seven years old when I rushed home to tell my mother this important news I’d learned on the playground at school that day. It seemed like good information to have since my father was over in Viet Nam and he could be dead at any moment. I knew that well enough from the Nightly News with Walter Cronkite.
Forever after my mother remembered this story as one of the darkest moments of her life. I suppose it is painful to know that your seven year old’s innocence is lost and there’s nothing you can do about it. I hadn’t told her so she’d worry over my lost innocence. I’d told her because I thought it would reassure both of us that my daddy couldn’t possibly be dead because no men had come.
No men ever came, but as far as I’m concerned my father did die in that war. Sure, another man wearing my daddy’s body came home to my mother and me, but I knew it wasn’t my real daddy. This other man kept fooling me since he looked so much like my daddy, but he wasn’t anything like him. Nothing like him at all. I’ve always felt bad for my brothers and sister because they never knew our real daddy since they were too young when he left to remember him. They didn’t know, but I knew that this other man was just pretending to be our daddy. My daddy would never have done the things this other man did while I was growing up. My daddy would have protected me. My daddy loved me.
But my daddy didn’t come home from Viet Nam and, even worse, I often shamefully wished that this other man hadn’t either.
My chest hurts. My heart feels like it is breaking out of my chest. I want to cry, but I’m afraid to start. How do you begin to cry out 44-year old tears? I’m afraid of what these 44-year old tears will taste like. But no tears come and now I’m afraid my old tears have dried up somehow. These tears feel caught, sharp and jagged shards tearing into my heart, but they won’t come out. I didn’t cry them when I should have and now they won’t ever come out. I will have to live with these old jagged-sharp dry tears stuck in my heart forever.
I want to throw up. I want to scream and cry and throw up. But I won’t do any of that. Maybe I’ll take a Xanax instead.
I took myself to see American Sniper tonight. I went all by myself. I can only remember taking myself to one other movie before in my life and that was Groundhog Day. American Sniper is nothing like Groundhog Day.
In 1969, after the impostor came home, he took us to Barstow, California where we lived for 18 months. While we were there the man who wore my daddy’s clothes and had his same brown eyes that weren’t the same at all told me that war would not be in the jungle anymore but would start in the desert and that’s why all the tanks were having desert camouflage painted on them. He told me that all the higher-ups in the military knew that the next war would be in the Middle East. I was studying the Middle East in school, so I knew all about it only we called it Mesopotamia. I had learned that Mesopotamia, where the Tigris and the Euphrates Rivers were, was the birthplace of civilization.
(Don’t tell the Chinese that American 4th graders in 1969 were being taught that the Middle East was the birthplace of civilization! We never really did study the Chinese. I guess the teachers didn’t see any reason to study China because what was there to study about a bunch of people riding bikes and eating rice? Of course I say this facetiously now. But in 1969 nobody knew that one day America would owe $1.3 trillion to China. At least nobody that taught the 4th grade knew.)
So I took myself to see American Sniper tonight and began to wonder whatever happened to my daddy. When did he die? What happened that made him relinquish his soul over to the other man who came home in his place?
Right at this moment I don’t know whether my daddy’s impostor is living or dead. We’re estranged. Even though he’s now an old man, and I could probably outrun him, I’m still afraid of him.
I just went to Google to find out if my father is still alive and instead found my grandfather’s records from Waverly Hills Sanitorium in Louisville, Kentucky where he died of TB in 1942 when my daddy was only 18 months old.
How in the hell did my grandfather’s 73-year old death records from a now-defunct TB Sanitorium end up googleable?
Oh shit. I went to look again and found my mother on some other people-search site. Only they still have her living in Tennessee and she’s 71 years old. I wish that was true. I wish I could call her on the phone and talk to her about American Sniper and that time I came home when I was 7 with the great news about how we were going to know if my daddy was dead or just injured. I wish this pain in my chest would go away. I wish I could cry for my daddy. I’ve never cried for him. I’m afraid that if I start now I’ll never be able to stop.