A guy walks into a bar…

cosmo
…with a chunk of asphalt under one arm. He says to the Bartender, “A beer, please, and one for the road.”

I’m sorry.

I’m so sorry.

I tried for years to save you; to save you from your drinking, from your guilt, from yourself.  I must not have tried hard enough or I wasn’t strong enough.  Perhaps I didn’t persist long enough…  or maybe, you just didn’t want to be saved.

I was only 14 when you returned home from that God awful place.  We had, for almost two years, watched that war unfold every night, on prime time TV, while eating dinner.  Walter Cronkite would show us images and explain the math; how many of “them” were killed versus how many of “us” were killed.  I was never sure who was winning, but I’d watch with intensity, hoping to catch just a glimpse of you.

What does a 12-13 year old girl know about war?  ( …even if she does watch Walter Cronkite) What did I know about witnessing gruesome deaths, day after day… living with overwhelming fear and never-ending guilt; watching your best friends die, not to mention coping with a new friend, named addiction.

You were home and that was all that mattered.  In my mind, it was over. 

In reality, your nightmare had just begun.

How does one simply emerge back into a “normal” existence, when he has seen the absolute worst that humanity has to offer?  When he has seen things and done things that are so unspeakable, horrific and unforgivable?

You pretend.  You pose.  You mimic the behaviour of others; the ones who fit in and make it look so easy.  You get a job, get a girl, go through the motions…  but all the while there’s a napalm bomb inside of your chest, just waiting to explode.

It starts out pretty low-key… a bar fight, an altercation at work, a yelling match with Dad, that ends in blows.  Maybe one or two minor arrests for speeding or the one too many beers you had before getting behind the wheel of that 1963, Cherry Red, Chevy Impala SS!

…but it was all good.  You were cool.  You were in control… or at least they thought you were.

Only I heard the screams.

Weeks turned into months, months into years and years into decades.  You were a good poser.  There were good times and bad times, ups and downs, laughter and more anger  than there ever should have been.

What we never had, was a dialog.  We never talked.  You NEVER spoke about your 18+ months in South East Asia.  And I was too afraid to ask. We both pretended it never happened.

You never confessed your sins (or that I know of) asked for forgiveness.  You never thought you were worthy of forgiveness.  I never thought you needed ask for it.

We all pretended you were fine, although we all, knew otherwise…  we just didn’t know what to do or how to help you, so we closed our eyes and prayed.

You and me?  We struggled.  We were caught in a love/hate continuum.  Loving and needing each other, as brothers and sisters do; but needing desperately to break free from the pain, guilt and embarrassment that we caused each other.  Your existence reminding me that you were an unfixable man and my existence reminding you that you, that you had failed your little sister.

We were both wrong.

I never understood why you believed yourself to be so unworthy?  Why, couldn’t you just forgive yourself?

Your guilt ate at you (and like the cancer, that tried to kill you) it ate away at you, slowly, from the inside out.  Devouring you piece by piece…  your health, your marriage, your friends, your relationships and in the end your mind.

I dreamt about you tonight…  you were in a bar.  You were being loud and belligerent.  I was outside, but could hear you and knew what was coming.  I walked in, picked your beer up off the table and I smashed it against the corner of a piano, shouting loudly,  “We are NOT going to do this.”   …and then, I woke up.

I miss you brother. I miss the mess that was you.  I miss the man who you were and the  man who you should have been.

I just plain miss you.

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8 Comments

  1. Tommy was always the quiet one but always there when you needed him and he was my buddy at the Wexford along with Charlie, Pete Zompetti and all the rest of our “Dear Cory Boys”. I grew up with all of them and loved each one of them as if they were my own Uncles (which we did call them Uncle until each passed away) I was young in awe of all them especially Tommy because of Nam! We loss many and those that returned were damaged but we loved them all and did what we could. Tommy was a very special guy and so kind and giving – when his demons did come out like your dream I would pull him out and take him home and the next day a call would come from Uncle Tommy saying “Thanks Chec you always have my back”! Yes Tommy was “broken” but not from anything we did/or didn’t do to help him. Love ya

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    1. Thank you. Thank you for that… I need Tommy to be validated by people who “knew” him. Thank you for having his back and loving him for who he was… a broken and jaded shadow of the man he could have been. Thank you for sharing…. xxxxx

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      1. If he was anything like you Melissa, he must have been a nice guy, I am sitting here with tears rolling down my hamster cheeks. Sending hugs. Xxx

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      2. Ohhhhh, than you, that was so sweet of you to say!!! I have to tell you, you made me laugh at the fact that tears are rolling down your “HAMSTER” face. Sorry I made you cry, but even that was a lovely compliment!

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  2. As always, Melissa, your powerful words jumped off the page and grabbed me. I too watched as the 6 o’clock nightly news lay bear the harsh realities of the Vietnam war. My young mind unable to process the images— it made me scared— I had nightmares. However, unlike your brother, my older brother got lucky, his draft number wasn’t picked. A horrific toll was paid by many. I’m sorry your brother had to bear the unimaginable and pay part of that toll. My mother used to say, “I never met a Tom I didn’t like.” I have found this to be surprisingly true. (My son is Tom, and I my second husband is Tom.) I have to believe that your brother Tom had a goodness about him. Be well.

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    1. Ahhhhh, thank you! Thank you so much! He was filled with goodness and light… he just didn’t believe it, because he was fooled by the darkness and evil that surrounded him for over 50 years. I miss him terribly. Thank you for reading and validating his life! PS – My Dad and Granddad were both Toms too.

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