by George Beavis
I had navigated customs. They had confiscated all my pictures.
I had navigated the protesters at the airport, even though I had lost all my pride when I knocked that little old lady down.
I had arrived at my mother’s house with no one home.
I hadn’t ever lived at this house and didn’t know who all was living there now.
Two days later I reported to the Balboa Naval Hospital in San Diego. I was assigned to a barracks and to the Pyschiactric Master at Arms Force.
I couldn’t force myself to go to the chow hall in San Diego, it was way too crowded and huge. It made me feel lost and alone. I ate out of the candy machines by myself.
I didn’t go out on liberty. I went straight to my rack and read. Every night.
Somewhere along the line the Psych patients and the corpsmen I worked with found out I didn’t leave the base on liberty. I didn’t go to the chow hall, I didn’t go drinking or to the movies, I didn’t go anywhere.
I did go to my mother’s home once, but it wasn’t ever my home. It felt more like entering a stranger’s house.
When I made that trip to my mom’s house, I rode the Greyhound bus up to Orange County. I think I was reading a Steinbeck book that I was hoping would help me get in the swing of California life.
But I fell asleep! I woke with a restrained start. I didn’t move a muscle or open my eyes. Every muscle in my body was clamped in ready to fight mode.
What the fuck did this asshole want and was there even ONE good reason not to kill him.
“Tarjeta verde!” someone yelled. I kept my eyes closed and rolled away from the noise towards the bus windows.
That was passive-aggressive enough even this prick should be able to figure out I did not want to talk to him!!! I lay there feigning sleep for about 5 or 10 minutes until he touched me.
I jerked upright with my eyes locked directly on his. I knew I was radiating, “I am going to kill you.” And he got it because while I was thinking about crushing his hyoid bone with a blow, he backed up.
“You have not earned the right to touch me, much less wake me up, ass wipe!” I yelled at the guy, and the whole bus. He was dressed in some sort of uniform I didn’t recognize. “What do you want?” I yelled.
“Tarjeta verde,” he said with a softer tone. “Don’t pretend you don’t know what I am talking about.”
“Well, I don’t know or care!” and rolled over into my “do not disturb I’m sleeping position.” My back squarely facing him. My mind was racing through all the pigeon Vietnamese, Guamanian, an’ Tagalog I knew looking for help with “Tarjeta verde.” As I zeroed in on Verde=green from my childhood, he seemed to regain his courage and said “Yah know, green card!”
It flashed in that minute what was going on. Because I had spent almost 4 years out in the sun, I was as dark as a light-skinned black dude (we compared arms and laughed about it), my black hair was down over ears (obviously non-regulation), my mustache was a Pancho Villa style thing I cultivated with pride, and I was riding Greyhound so I must be an illegal alien!!! I could be a legal alien. I’m not sure.
My I want to kill adreneline-fired blood had simmered down to full-on asshole passive-aggressive behavior as I reach into my pocket and fished out my green military ID. I flipped it with a crisp sound so that the red “medic” stamp, a thing of great pride to those issued one, was face up before I handed it to him.
He was at least smart enough to understand what I was telling him with that move. I would have and could have killed him for startling me awake, sure I would have been punished, but I would not be a surviving medic if I really cared about that.
He suddenly became polite, but I thought it was too late, he had already shown me who he was.
After I returned from my adventure off base and back from my mom’s house, I knew I needed to see the shrink.
I was supposed to organize recreational field trips like trips to the ocean, a BBQ, horseback riding trips; all kinds of stuff like that, yet I couldn’t organize my way out of a paper bag.
I had a bunch of the patients down at the basketball courts. They were playing basketball, and I was just standing off to the side, staring across the arroyo. The patients tried to draw me into playing a game. I kept saying I didn’t feel like it until some of the patients started yelling at me that I was sicker than they were.
I hadn’t made any friends amongst my work mates at all. But one day, this red-haired guy with more freckles than anyone I ever seen, came up to me and says, “I just got orders to the 3rd Marines.”
“Sorry’, I says.
“I hear they are up north.”
After a long period of silence, the corpsman with all the freckles locks eyes with me, something I can hardly ever do. Eyes still locked, he asked, “Is it as bad as all the guys say”?
I looked at him a long time. With all those freckles, he reminded me of a Norman Rockwell painting I saw on Life magazine cover or somewhere.
I was so tired of lying, I just said “Yes” and walked away so I didn’t have to look at him.
“Where you from, marine?” “What’s your name?” “No your eye is toast you’ll never see anything out of it again.”
About a week later, he came up to me and asked why I never went to the chow hall and asked if I would like to go out to dinner with he and his wife at a local Denny’s. The meal was the best I had had in months: hashbrowns, eggs, toast!! I felt bad for telling him the truth.
If you go to put a cigarette out on your skin, it is much better to do it directly coming, coming in hard and like you mean it with no let-up. I think the body’s juices come up quicker to quench what wasn’t smashed out in the initial go of it. Of course, you have to detach your mind when you do it. I find that thinking about really awful stuff in the past helps.
The red-haired freckled guy was on the Master at Arms force also and I learned his name was Stu. Stu took me off base a few more times to run errands he had to do. He introduced me to some fellow corpsman that had an apartment they used for parties and to meet up with various girls, but I was always odd man out.
The more I ventured out of my safety zone, the more I knew I needed to talk to someone. Up until the time I answered Stu’s question, “Is it as bad as the patients say?” with my “Yes,” I had never spoken out loud about what it was like or what I saw or felt. No one talked out loud, but sometimes the voices in my head were shouting so badly that I had to look at people to make sure I wasn’t actually saying what I was thinking.
I went to Chapel asking to talk to a Chaplain, but he told me to talk to one of the shrinks.
I searched out some of the guys that I went through corps school with. I found Calvin.
After we got through comparing notes about our corps school class and who didn’t make it, I asked him how it had gone in Vietnam for him. After he answered, I felt ashamed of my own paltry experiences. He had done so much more than me.
I walked into the Chief of Service’s office and asked to speak to one of the shrinks. He said I could talk to him. He was indeed the head shrink.
This was in about January of 1970. Combat Fatigue had been removed from the list of diagnoses that could be assigned to a person, and PTSD didn’t exist yet. So, speaking professionally with the shrink was a risky proposition. I saw him twice a week and the head nurse, a full commander, started checking on me and giving me dating advice (another story).
It was hard sitting there for an hour each session. I didn’t know where to begin. I was mostly silent other than to say it seemed a shame. He wrote about 100 times more than I talked.
I think I went twice a week, but I didn’t know how I filled the time. I just said it was a shame and thought about some of the shit that went down. Just like stealing frozen strawberries during an unrep, I had to get near a closet and when the memory of almost getting killed with a knife to my throat came by, I would shove the memory into the closet with the strawberries. But never out load,
Because I was on the Master at Arms Force I had the keys to open the file cabinet that contained the psych doctor’s notes about the corpsman that worked at Balboa. I locked it up at the end of the day as part of my duty, but I took a peek at my file a couple of times to see if he had assigned me a diagnosis. I never saw that he had.
Several months later, I was getting an early out to go back to college. I had gone through all of the stops, getting sign-offs saying I didn’t have any recreational equipment out that I didn’t even know existed. I had to sign that I wasn’t smuggling that cute corpswave/corpsman home. She had put a hammer through my VW bug windshield the previous night. I guess we weren’t friends anymore. The psych paperwork on her said she was passive-aggressive. That shrink sure had that wrong. She was just aggressive.
When I got to the last signoff spot they told me there was a medical hold on my getting out.
When I asked what was wrong with me, the chief said it was probably a lab test for an STD or something.
I didn’t know that they had a group “W” bench when you were leaving the military, but they did. I sat on it and waited for them to tell me what I had to do.
It is so much easier when you give yourself the penicillin shot before you go out on liberty than afterwards.
When it was getting about closing time the chief came over and said they had a bunch of papers that were keeping me from re-entering the civilian world because they would have to admit me for treatment or send me to the VA…………
…..unless I agreed to let the doctor I had been seeing destroy all his notes from my visits with him.
All those silent thought-out words of wisdom I had quietly composed and not said, combined with all the doctor’s astute observations about those unspoken words, were put through the shredder and I was released from the military.
I was truly an alien now.