Hi Dad! Camp is neat!
"Waiting and Wondering." Charlie spoke as if those were two ominous gods of doom and dread. These eyeless and earless overlords neither saw nor heard an ounce of the human misery they engendered. They crushed humanity as to their unfeeling wont, taking no prisoners, taking no mind as to who lived or who died. Once under their thumb all else goes out the window: sheer survival is the name of the game.
Battles in 1972 Vietnam were "hell" Charlie explained. But it was the between times that roasted him alive. I've never seen a movie that adequately portrays the crushing pressure of the waiting time. In WWII flicks they're all cracking dark humored jokes but you don't really see the knife going in and twisting their guts in unrelenting agony. The picture Charlie painted for me was of a "hell's hell", where he couldn't stop his racing mind from perpetually focusing on "The Worst Possible Thing Happening".
Charlie wasn't alone in this, not by a long shot. But his reserves for stomaching the looming horror were far less than most. The army, of course, made no exceptions on account of this. If it broke you, it broke you. Replacements would be found. As long as you call something "war" breaking people is deemed OK. The War god is the most foul of the worldly gods and its disciples Waiting and Wondering only amplify the molestation. Like sonic waves slowly intensifying Charlie got to the point he could hear nothing else.
There's something ironic in being named Charlie as a U.S. soldier in the Vietnam war. God knows the amount of lame jokes he heard. But pile that on top of his condition and the world collapsed under his feet. He was naturally resented for not being able to "take it" by other bitter soldiers who feared themselves in Charlie's demise. These de facto demons of the War god encircled him until he had nowhere else left to go but a Section 8 discharge (mentally unfit for service).
In reality, every human is mentally unfit for military service. It goes against everything for which we are designed. In war, there are only losers. But God help anyone who can't keep up the lie of "victory". Charlie got exposed - in more ways than one. He turned into a chronic masturbator in the Vietnam jungles, constantly trying to drain the stress out of him until the solution became as bad as the problem. Charlie told me if he could have had anything at the time it would have been to make it to the end of his term before he got exposed.
But if you ask me - and at some point Charlie too - that exposure is exactly what kept him alive afterwards. Charlie was scared and wanted to be able to cling to the Soldier's Lie with all its tangible and intangible benefits. Fools who believe in "noble" battles, women desperate for the male myth, and purposeless souls needing a cause just or unjust all stand applauding those who "serve their country." Who applauds Section 8 masturbators? The answer to that is the real answer as to who supports the military. (Hint: you won't find any generals applauding)
"If you really want to serve your country, don't join up." That was the statement that first drew me to Charlie. I died laughing inside not only at the veracity of the remark but at its incendiary nature. He'd drop that bomb on rare occasion (even with getting less political over time) and also on occasion it would ruffle the feathers of a vet whose entire esteem depended on the Soldier's Lie. I'd then watch as two men with Hidden Wounds argued as to who was "better". Alas, another losing war.
Charlie would drop his cover for me when the burdens got too heavy. His words were still in disguise but the tone was different, more subdued. "You know, Harry, if I put a bullet in you right now they'd call it murder. If I did it with a uniform on you'd be collateral damage or even an enemy if they needed to lie bad enough. If I put on some meaningless black robes and ordered you dead they'd call it justice like I was speaking for God." It was easy to see he'd been deeply thinking about this. Then he lost it, gripping his beer bottle and losing eye contact in tears. "So how do you know it isn't murder every time? How am I supposed to live with that?"
Charlie never thought much of himself but I was deeply honored by his trust. Why did he have to die before I thought it important for him to know that? I took for granted he did as we were on the same wavelength on so many things. I asked him once: "What does a dishonest world call an honest man?" I paused to smile and look him in the eye. "A terrorist." Charlie instinctively giggled, thought about it, then laughed even harder. It is a very dear and cherished memory to me he later said he "carried that thought around in his pocket."
So we had a few laughs - even if sometimes mirthless in our woes. Yet we always kept our distance as dictated by our wounds. Charlie held onto his defiance till the end. I'm right damn proud of that and God bless the living world if I had even the tiniest part in that. Charlie also stayed damaged to the end, never managing to achieve the relationship he needed so badly in order to heal. With that, no one could help him.
"How am I to contribute to the world where all I've got is me?" And so in the final month of the Year Of Our Lord 2013, Charlie had seen enough of this world and passed in the night. Nobody knows he died a hero.