A couple of weeks ago, as my partner and I walked down our alley toward home, our neighbor called a hello. He beckoned my partner over to where he sat in his big blue Dodge truck, and invited him to listen to something.
The “something,” it turned out, was a CD our neighbor’s son had made from an old reel to reel tape. The sounds were of incoming light artillery fire, and the tape had been made from the door of a tent. By our neighbor. When he was a twenty-year old kid.
Back in Viet Nam.
And as we all listened to those percussions, random booms, bursts, and bangs, and tried to tell whether the howls and gusts we heard were on the recording or from the spring wind swirling around us at that moment, our neighbor wept. Tears ran down his face, which we are far more accustomed to see smiling.
He’s one of those retired guys who is always outside, always has a project, and is always smiling.
As people do, he apologized for his tears. For the emotions they came from.
None of his unit were hurt or killed that day in Viet Nam so long ago. Just a few weeks later, our neighbor’s tour ended and he came home, carrying the big reel-to-reel recorder and his tapes with him. He carried those tapes everywhere since.
“I didn’t think it would hit me like this,” he said. “I just brought this out to listen, the CD player inside isn’t working, and I thought you might be interested in the history. I didn’t think it would hit me like this.”
My partner said, “Man, we love you. You can cry with us any time.” All I could do was put my hand on my neighbor’s arm, about eye level for me as he wept in the cab of that big blue Dodge.
We stayed and listened, and remembered, young people coming of age in harm’s way, too often in our world’s history.
Finally I found my voice. “We’re so glad you made it back, so we can have you as our neighbor.”