When I think of Vietnam or see it referenced in a movie or a script, the first image that comes to mind is my father in his field uniform, fighting in that jungle. As an older man, when I've been faced with challenges, I remember that at seventeen my father went to fight a war on the other side of the world. I look at my girlfriend, Taneisha, whose brother was sent to fight in Iraq. He left home at eighteen. I wonder what he was thinking about as he flew over there. I wonder if his experience was similar to my dad's.
Taneisha told me that her brother slept as much as he could on his way to war. He didn't want to think about it. He tried to avoid it by sleeping, but he couldn't hide from it: On one of his first days there he saw a baby who had been shot in the head lying on the side of the road. Her brother is back home, thank God, but that is the kind of stuff that he can never forget. He had a hard time readjusting, but he got through it. He goes to church five days a week now.
When I was a kid I'd wake up at night and find my dad walking around the house, patrolling. I'd be on my way to the bathroom and I'd ask him, "Dad, are you all right?" And he'd just stare at me. I don't even know if he knew I was there. He was just in his head, still patrolling, still in Vietnam. He couldn't shake it. I used to break down crying about that, even as a young kid, because I knew at those moments that I'd never have my dad. I could never have my father in his entirety because a huge part of him was never going to be there.