Hue of Color

Prologue: Behind the Eyes

February 1998

Now 30 years later, I can still feel the pain. The gritty, mind-blowing, teeth-clenching pain of hot, burning bullets burning burying themselves in my soft, sensitive flesh. Or the dull ache in my chest as I held a dying friend in my arms.

The pain still grabs me. It grabs me in its fearful clutches and holds me down as I'm gasping for breath. It's like drowning all over again and again. It doesn't matter where I am; pain doesn't care. In a supermarket, at home, in a movie theater.

Sometimes I just collapse into my wife's arms, onto the floor. Then I start to shake. I can't control it. The shaking takes me over like it did when the fever started back in 'Nam.

Most of the times I just keep it bottled up inside of me till I feel like bursting from the pressure. My ears buzz, my eyes well up, saliva builds up in my mouth until it drips down my chin. And my mind travels back to the dark jungles, the burning, devastated cities, the rivers of blood running off of dead soldiers and women and children.

My psychiatrist called it the Vietnam Syndrome.

I guess that could be it. All I know is that I hate it and love it, hating it for the pain it causes me, loving it as the only memoir I have of my fallen comrades. I can hear their voices so vividly, feel their playful arms slung around my neck, hear the ribbing and the berating I got for being a virgin soldier.

They'd set me up with a prostitute after a particularly bad day I'd had, gotten me drunk and snuck her into my room. Don't even remember what she looked like. I never told Audrey about that.

Audrey is my wife and I will love her forever. She and I grew up together. We'd been best friends since I'd saved her from the playground bully in 1st grade. Up until the war, I'd always be the hero, saving her, looking out for her, helping her. She didn't have a great family life and she'd often consider my family as her own. But after the war…

The war broke me. I was left the bitter, broken shell of the innocent boy I used to be. I remember the day I showed up on her doorstep after I got home. I had a cane since my wounded leg hadn't completely healed and as she opened her door and I was able to look at her beautiful face again, I just started to cry. She grabbed me in her arms and held me for the longest time. It was then that I knew that she was my soul mate. We were married two years later.

But even on my wedding day, the happiest day of my life, my thoughts would travel back to Vietnam. Mostly, I'd think of Hue, the devastation, the death, the destruction, Davy… The four D's. All of them horrible.

Davy was the guy that got me that prostitute. He was the guy that everyone liked. He was the guy that everyone was dying to be. Witty, smart, tough, fair… He had a great girlfriend at home from what we heard and he was just a great guy.

When we were over there, he was my favorite guy. He was abrasive and crude and sometimes animalistic, but he was my best friend over there.

Every now and then I find myself drifting back and I can see his face with those brown eyes and black hair and uneven grin that just made me trust the guy.

Davy was killed was a Viet Cong sniper in the ruins of Hue.

As was Grapevine and Winecellar and Shrink.

That was a sad, sad day. It's the day that haunts me. I've talked about it only thrice before: twice to Audrey, once to Davy's kid. That poor kid never got to know him.

Hold on a sec - gotta take my pills.

Ok, that's better. I have to take these pills twice a day to keep me up. I was diagnosed with depression last fifteen years ago and it pops up every now and again. I have to take the antidepressants for a while then I wean myself off of them. It's the shits, I know, but it makes me better.

I'm sure you're asking me what the point of this is. I'm not actually sure. I just want to get it out of me. I want to write down everything. The good, the bad, the vomit inducing horrible. Everything. Audrey said she would too. She'd do anything to cure me of this. Maybe writing about Hue, about the guys, about everything before and leading up to it… Maybe it'd make me feel better.

So here I am, writing this, contemplating everything. I'm trying to think whether I should write down everything, or just the important parts. I'm trying to think of where I should start. Should I start yesterday? Or should I start forty-three years ago in 1955 when Audrey and I first met? It's a cute story; maybe not the most gripping, but it's a good insight to our relationship.

I'm not ready to write about Hue. That will come later. Hue still makes me stop in my tracks as I think of the screaming men, crying out in their anguished as they are bombarded by bullets from the VC's AK-47s, or blown apart by mortars or dying in a burst of suicidal curiosity as they unknowingly blew themselves up with a booby-trap.

But then I could write about the feeling of going to bed at night knowing that you've survived another day. That you're one day closer to going home. Or the feeling when you gaze at the picture of your family or your girl back home and think how with each day you're getting closer to seeing them, to touching them, to being with them.

I think I'll start in 1955, when I was the only seven-year-old in the first grade. I remember a sunny day in October, when the air was just starting to chill. That was when I met Audrey.