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Finding Home

Vietnam veteran, after many years, finds that he is loved and welcomed home.

Hell, we were friends. We had always been friends. My back door looked across the alley to her backdoor. My family moved in when I was four. I would stand with my hands clutched to the chain link fence and watch her. Shortly after we moved in, my mother and her mother became friends. They decided that we should play together. My mother tells me that at first I was a little shy, afraid of her. Apparently, Jennifer accepted me before I accepted her.

We started high school together but were not always in the same classes. This was the first time that I would not be able to sit by her all day. We were both smart but in different ways. While she excelled in language arts and history, it was math and science for me. We helped each other with our homework. I got her through algebra, which kept her GPA almost at a 4.0. She got me through American History and English Literature. I, with my typical male laziness, I barely graduated in 1964. She was up there with all the honor students while I was very near the end. She earned a full-ride college scholarship. My family did not have the money to pay for college and the USAF offered me electronics training. I joined the USAF.

We both turned 16 during our tenth-grade year. Those days, 16 was a magical number that meant finally being able to date and drive - the first major dream come true for most adolescents. We were never boyfriend/girlfriend, but if we needed a date, we would date each other. We were the best of friends. The summer after graduation was magical. Our relationship was like that Bob Seger song, "Night Moves." Yeah, we practiced on each other every chance that was available. It was a summer full of fun times.

As I said, she went to college and I enlisted. We only saw each other a few times after high school but we stayed in touch with occasional postcards or mail - no personal electronics in those days. I even arranged a Christmas leave just to see her. Her engagement did not stop a few more practice sessions.

In 1967, I found myself at DaNang Air Base, South Vietnam. My whole world began to disintegrate. While we endured combat and the Tet Offensive, a revolution took place back home. There was a picture of a beautiful young woman in a very short miniskirt on the cover of almost every copy of the Armed Forces newspaper, "Stars & Stripes." Very nice, but none of us actually believed that such pictures portrayed our hometown. There was the hippie movement, two political assassinations, and an escalating anti-war movement. Most disheartening were the reports of increasing numbers of protests and riots.

For us there was the war. Rather we were volunteers or draftees; we did what was required of us. We did our job. My specialty was airborne electronics. Simply stated, I made sure that the pilots would know where they were and could find their way home. Moreover, that is all I wanted to do, find my way home. When I returned stateside, finding home is no longer an option. As a combat veteran, I found little welcome anywhere.

I completed my enlistment upon my returned from Vietnam. They handed me a bunch of greenbacks, and a welcome out the door. Since home was 2000 miles away, I found myself an inexpensive motel and attempted to begin my next 50 years or so. One of the first things I did was call my best friend from high school to see if we could get together. His response was, "You’re still alive? Too bad." Click. What the hell was that all about? I was never very good at writing letters so figured that he was upset that I did not stay in contact. A few more phone calls like that and I realized that I no longer had a home. Some of my high school friends wanted to know if I killed anybody while others asked how I could do something like that. One actually asked me, "How could you be involved in that and still call yourself a Christian?"

After realizing that I had become an outcast from my own society, from my own peers, simply because I had done my assigned duty, I decided that my home was no more. I wandered around California for a while trying to find a job. I lucked out with a small electronics company in Silicon Valley. The Air Force apparently had kept their promise of a good education in electronics. I was one of the lucky ones to have found work.

I settled down, met a girl, and married in less than six months. To this day, I don't really understand why she married me - or why I married her. That lasted about six years. When she left me, I kind of fell apart, lost my job, and then moved out of state. My old job gave me a good recommendation, and I was able to find a new job before my meager money ran out. Within the year, I was married again, this time in less than three months. While this marriage did last longer, it ended the same way as the first. Then things really began to slide downhill. My rapid decline to street person was predictable. I just didn't fit in anywhere. I would pick up an odd job here and there. I became one of those people who moved north in the summer and south the winter. This is how I live for the next 20 or so years. Homeless shelter to street, street to shelter. I would do anything that would give me some money, but no job lasted very long. I had a problem with alcohol for a while. Thankfully, I was too smart to continue down that path. Food and shelter were more important. I never asked for handouts so hunger became yet another enemy.

Occasionally I would run into another lost warrior. Those encounters seemed to be slowly increasing the longer I was on the street. We knew that we were both looking for the same thing - home. We would hang together for a few days and share what supplies we had. We would talk, best places to go, easiest shelters to find, but we never talked about what we had done over there. It was as if we both had a big secret that we knew each other knew but could not talk about. We would part, again looking for what we did not know how to find. As the years rolled on, there were more and more lost warriors on the street. I began to realize a lot were younger, not of my war. Still the same thing though, none of us knew where we belonged. None of us had a home. Most of us felt guilty that we were alive. I can't count the number of times that I wished that that Vietcong sniper had received better training. You can't come home if you have no home. Best to not even try.

About four years ago, my Warrior Angel caught up with me. I was looking for a ride south when a big rig truck driver picked me up. He was definitely 20 or so years younger than I was. Once again, that connection of a brother-in-arms was immediately apparent. My war was jungle, his was sand. His route passed close to my hometown. I just figured, why not? I will see what the old place looks like after 40 years.

I was sitting on a park bench on a warm autumn day with the maples all blaze. I had almost fallen asleep when I heard someone call my name, "David; David is that you? Where the hell, have you been? I've been looking for you for almost 40 years! David, speak to me!"

My ears did not recognize her voice but somewhere deep inside me I did. I looked up and said, "Jenny."

Standing before me was a woman my age that had the same smile, one which would always set my heart on fire, the woman who still danced in my dreams. We were both older and she was rounder in the way that makes a woman look soft and warm.

I turned my eyes down to the ground and quietly said, "Hi, Jenny."

With the voice both sweet and angry, her entire body spoke, "David Jacob Everett where the hell have you been? It took two damn years for the DOD to tell me that you are not a POW or MIA. David, damn you, they told me you were discharged in San Diego. You never came home. I was already and waiting for you, just waiting for your phone call telling me when you'd be home. I had "Welcome Home" decorations that I had planned to put up. I even purchased one of those silly little sundresses you always liked. I waited, I waited, and I waited. None of your relatives had heard from you. No one knew where you were."

"Why?"

"Because, David Jacob Everett, you are the only man I ever truly loved. You stink, when did you last have a shower?"

"Last time it rained."

"When did you last eat? You're thinner now than you were the last time I saw you. Come on. Get off that bench David and come on. Is that old duffel all you have?"

"Where?"

"I am taking you to my home. You need a shower, clean clothes, and food."

I slowly stood up as she grabbed my duffel. As I followed her to her car, I became more and more confused. She said that she loved me, and those words seemed to validate all of my dreams, well the good ones anyway. Why was she looking for me? She married that college guy shortly after I left for Vietnam. What would her husband say when he saw the street rat she had drugged home?

Once we got in her car, and she had opened all the windows, I knew that I had to ask a couple questions. So, I gathered up a little courage I had.

"Sorry about the smell. You don't have to do this, Jenny. What will your husband say? Besides, I don't like handouts or people feeling sorry for me. I make my own way."

"Shut up, David. We can talk after you have had a shower. I'm not even sure that I'll be able to talk to you then. Maybe I’ll wait until after I give you a haircut. I don't know if I'm angry, happy, or what. Oh, and I'm not married, David."

More confusion. She's angry with me and I understand that. Anger and I are good friends. After 40 years, why would she be happy? What happened to her husband? I wonder if she still is a good cook. How was I going to get back on the road again? I never should have come to this place, this place that was once my home. I moved as far away from her as I could get in the car, very much aware of how foul I smelt. I just said, "Yes ma'am." The look she gave me could have burned my beard off my face. Jenny didn't speak another word to me.

When we got her house, she hauled me out the car, pushed me in the front door, and pointed me towards the bathroom.

"David, get in there, hand me that filth you're wearing, and take a shower. I want you to be as clean as a surgeon. There is a spare toothbrush in the top drawer. Use it! You're smaller than I am. I'll find something for you to wear. I am going to wash this trash, probably twice. Damn, I'm even going to have to wash your duffel."

Jenny waited outside the door while I undressed. As I handed her what was truly filth, I heard her softly say, "Welcome home, my David." I quickly got in the shower and turned on the water to hide the tears that had begun running down my face.

When I got out of the shower, there was a pair of gray workout pants and a pink T-shirt with a rose right in the middle. Well, they were clean, and since I had no pride left, I wasn't bothered by the pink. I opened the bathroom door and the marvelous smell of home cooked food overwhelmed me. I had to fight back tears again. As I entered hesitantly into the kitchen, Jenny was putting food on the table. She turned and looked at me up and down for a minute and then giggled.

"My, don't we look cute. Sit down. Food is almost ready."

I sat down at the table and watched the woman who had haunted my dreams from the day that I left for Vietnam. The child with whom I had grown, my friend and my companion all through high school, was serving me supper made with her own hands. She apologized for leftovers and promised that she would make me a real meal tomorrow. Tomorrow? I will be here tomorrow? She sat down across from me and watched me as I began to eat. I took a couple of bites and tears began again. I could not understand what was happening to me. Why the hell I was crying? I quickly got up from the table and went to the living room.

"David, David Honey, what is wrong?" She had followed me into the living room. I was standing there unable to move, tears running down my face. Jenny took my arm and gently set me on the couch. There, she hugged me as a mother hugs her child. As I buried my head into her hair, I began to sob. Jenny didn't say anything; she just slowly rocked me as she hummed a lullaby. I did not know why I was crying, but I cried for what seemed forever. I finally pulled myself together and apologized to Jenny.

"David, my David," she whispered as she softly wiped my tears, "It's okay. I finally have you home."

"Jenny, I can't stay here."

"David Jacob Everett, you are never going to leave this house again without me on your arm. Listen, David, shortly after I married that asshole I realized that I had made a big mistake, that I had married the wrong man. He treated me as if I was his live-in housekeeper, prostitute, and trophy wife. I was divorced a month before you were discharged. I realized then that the only man I loved, truly loved, was you. Then, you son of a bitch, you disappeared. Now that I have you back, I am not ever going to let you go. You may not disappear on me again."

"Jenny, I'm not the same man that you knew when we were growing up. I can't stay. Everything that I was is still in Vietnam. I don't know what I am. I'm no good for you; I'm no good for myself."

"Well, I'm not the same little girl who you used to stare at through your fence. I changed a lot over the years, but I never stopped looking for you, never stopped loving you. I saw the riots. I saw how you brave warriors were treated when you came home. A couple months after you vanished, I realized what was happening to you. I waited and I waited. No one knew anything about you. Finally, your mother, God rest her soul, and I got the DOD to reveal that you were discharged in California. I hired a detective and gave him your Social Security number. He was able to trace you in California and then in Montana. God, David, why Montana? He also found that you had been married and divorced twice. That was all he could give me. In the '80s, PTSD began making headlines. Stories of destroyed families and homeless veterans began appearing in all sorts of media. That is when I began to truly understand why you had not come home. I never stop looking for you David. Never. I have loved you all my life and I am not about to stop now. Look at me David, tell me that you don't love me, and you can walkout that door right now."

Tears were in her eyes and in mine. I look in her eyes and all I saw was love. Love for this broken down, worn-out, and helpless old veteran. All I could say was,"Oh, Jenny." She fell into my arms and all the world disappeared.

"David, tomorrow you and I are making appointment with the VA. There is lot of help there. The VA is now has world-renowned experts in combat related PTSD. Although you did not hear it back then, we love and are proud of our warriors, all warriors. Right now, I'm going to get some food in that empty stomach of yours. Then you and I are going to bed. There are many things I want to do with you and to you, but that is for other nights. I have a whole hell of a lot of fantasies that only you can fulfill. Tonight, I just want to hold you while you sleep. I want to wake up in the morning with my hero beside me. Welcome home, my warrior; you have been at warfar too long. I do love you so."

Jenny, my personal and private Warrior Angel, had found me and brought me home. That night, as I lay in bed awake with her arms wrapped tightly around me, I kept thinking of all the rest of us who had returned to the States, yet who remain at war. I said a prayer that my sisters and brothers-in-arms would soon be found by their Warrior Angel and finally come home.
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