At age twelve I was fond of telling stories about my father’s service in Vietnam, even though he, my father, never talked about it. The briefest windows I got into this past were when he’d glaze over and mouth the words to Billy Joel’s “Goodnight Saigon” while driving my little sisters and me to school. Turning up the stereo in our 1985 Ford Tempo… And it was dark…so dark as ni-ni-ni-night!…he’d stare straight ahead, stone silent. My dad didn’t smoke, but deep in those trances a cigarette looked like a good idea.
That year (1988) my dad worked nights as a computer programmer at the IRS. Our our-mile trek through Atlanta’s morning traffic was often the only time we saw him in daylight. Riding shotgun, I watched him sink into Joel’s lament and disappear completely. His thick forearms and dark stubble shadow made it easy to imagine him a younger man, deep in the jungle with leeches sucking his shoulders as he cradled the heads of his dying buddies in the rain. And we would all go down together. We said we’d all go down together.
While my dad didn’t talk about Vietnam, I couldn’t stop.