From the AnthologyVeterans’ Voices
Life feels like I lived “Star Wars: A New Hope” with my friends, then had a completely different life while they all lived “The Empire Strikes Back,” and now I’m back and it’s supposed to be “Return of the Jedi,” but I don’t feel like I belong to their rebellion anymore.
All my friends had their experiences, and I was halfway around the world having mine. “Yeah, Jimmy, but at least it wasn’t like that night at the Slippery Weasel,” Scotty would shout, and everyone would laugh. Everyone except me. I don’t know what happened at the Slippery Weasel. I’m not in on the joke. Sure, we can all get together and have a good time, and things are fine on the surface, but there’s an uninterrupted bond they all share that I don’t have.
I’m not mad at them. They’re trying to welcome me back in. Welcome me home. Make me feel like it’s back to the old normal. There are cracks in that paintjob, though. I don’t know about the Slippery Weasel, so I just keep quiet. I wasn’t there. Instead, should I tell them about the crippling anxiety I felt when I was invited to eat with a local dignitary over there? The terror I felt? The fear of making a mistake and causing terrible offense? How I, like a respectful guest, politely ate food that my hosts were so proud of even though I wasn’t ready for the taste and had to fight down my will to gag and wretch? Do I tell them about the 12 hours I spent in the latrine afterwards because of my body’s inability to handle and process that dinner? I can still feel the clammy sweat of exhaustion and dehydration from all the uncontrollable vomiting and diarrhea.
Is that a funny story? Will they laugh like they do at Jimmy? Is that dinner my Slippery Weasel? Or is it another example of just how wide apart our paths are? Are we really on this road together again, or am I on the other side of the median, staring over at my friends from a different vehicle?