April 30th, 1972
I came home. It wasn’t the warm welcome that I had expected. What I expected was the abundance of romance and cheering that my father had told me about after he returned home from Germany at the end of World War II. When I was a kid, I could sit for hours and listen to his stories. The type of war stories that a kid can hear and be all agog. The stories of war that you live, that I lived, are much different. My father never told me that I would see my friends, my brothers die. He never told me that the only happiness I would feel in the world of war would be at the bottom of a bottle of whiskey.
As the plane landed at Rickenbacker, I peered out the window. I was ready to see red, white, and blue. People cheering and kissing. Instead, I saw signs. Not welcoming signs, but signs telling me and my brothers that we were baby killers and murderers. Before we stepped off of the plane, many of us took our uniforms off. We stuffed anything that could give the impression we were soldiers into our duffel bags and some even left their uniforms on the plane. We were told that if we wore them in town we would be harassed. A tear rolled down my cheek as I stepped off the plane in my civilian clothing. I felt hatred and betrayal from the people that I had risked my life for, and so many others had given theirs for.
Once we walked past the protestors, our families gave us a warm welcome. I hugged my dad and kissed my mom and Emily. We went home and had dinner as a family, but I couldn’t feel happy to be home. Regardless of how happy my parents and fiancé were to see me, I wanted to leave. I didn’t know where I would go, but I wanted to leave. For the next week I woke up with a tight chest. Although I was next to Emily, I felt misplaced.
Everything felt different being back in the simplicity of Ohio. I didn’t miss Vietnam, or being shot at every day, but home didn’t feel the same as it did before. It was last year that Emily and I had gotten engaged, and what was I supposed to do now? Marry her and pretend that I didn’t do what I did? Was everything supposed to fall back in to place and be the way it was before I left? That’s what everyone around me seemed to think, but I wasn’t convinced it was that easy. I couldn’t find the man I was before the war and I wonder if Emily knew. I wonder if she could tell that I had changed, had seen things, had done things that God can’t forgive.
The next morning, I told my family nothing. I just left. It wasn’t that I wanted it to be that way, I just couldn’t look at them and tell them I was leaving. Primarily because they would ask where I was going, and I didn’t know. It wasn’t that I didn’t love Emily, because I know I loved her. It wasn’t that I didn’t love my mom and dad, because I loved them too. It was the war. The war had taken something from me-a part of me. I wonder why it didn’t take it from some of the others that had returned and transitioned back into civilian life. It made me jealous at the time, but I’m over that now.
There were many times that I cursed America after the war. I hated the things they had made me see and made me do. I didn’t want to fight. I wanted to stay home with Emily and get a good job and start a family. Instead, I was drafted and forced to leave. The draft made all the difference, and It made me hate myself.
It’s been a year since I left Ohio without notice. I called home from a pay phone about a month ago. I left a message, but in the message, I didn’t say a word. I didn’t know what to say, and I still don’t. Nobody but me knows where I am, and nobody including myself knows where I’m going. I’ve spent the last year traveling the country like a fugitive running from the law. Like a fugitive I am running, but not from something, rather to find something. I am searching for the man that I knew before, the man that Emily fell in love with so many years ago. I will not be at peace until I find myself, and oftentimes I wonder if I ever will.
Tanner Cremeans is a writer and law student residing in Columbus, Ohio. His fiction has also been published in Night Picnic.