Tony Comes Home From Vietnam

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It was 1970.  Tony was coming home from Vietnam.  He had been wounded – something to do with the helicopter he was in – the details were discussed in hushed voices.  They didn’t think the casualties of war and brutal injuries were appropriate for a girl’s ears. That was odd to me.  The war in Vietnam was for real and not over yet. For my whole life I’d heard talk of the horrors of World War II in Italy from my father.  Why not talk about Vietnam? But Tony was OK and he was coming home.


There was going to be a welcome home party.  May and Joe, Tony’s parents, had never had a party before.  Maybe there hadn’t been anything worth celebrating like the return of a son from Vietnam.


I was 15.  Vietnam was always on the news and yet I knew little about the war.  It had something to do with communism and soldiers were getting killed.  They said we were losing the war. In Mont Alto, we didn’t have any war protesters but boys weren’t anxious to enlist either.


Terry hadn’t gone to Vietnam.  He was Tony’s Irish twin. Terry was younger, but he was also smarter, less brash, less thoughtless, with less bravado than Tony.  Always had been. Even when they were stealing catalpa pods, drying and then smoking them, Tony was the leader and Terry went along.  But Terry didn’t go along to Vietnam.


The party was in May and Joe’s back yard.   There was beer and pop, potato chips, pretzels, and May’s homemade doughnuts that she deep-fried in lard.  May cried. Everyone was slapping Tony on the back and shaking his hand. I realized that Tony getting home alive was a big deal.  It struck me in the gut that Tony could have died in the war. I knew that, but seeing the returning soldier made it real.


I went into the kitchen.  Terry was there – he had been drinking beer, he was red faced and excited.  He said to me with tears in his eyes, “Suzy, I’m so glad he made it back.”


He reached out his arms, pulled me in close, and kissed me deeply on the lips.   I was taken by surprise, absolutely enthralled – awakened. Nothing more ever came of it but I remember that passionate and desperate kiss vividly.


As I look back, I understand.  The specter of death makes us strive to live and love: the unity of eros and thanatos.



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