May 31, 2016
ALWAYS A SOLDIER
By Joy Ross Davis
When I married in 1985, my husband was still fighting the war in Vietnam, although it had been over for years. In his mind, though, the war raged on, year after bloody year. As a civilian, he was an attorney, but as a young enlisted man of 19, he was a member of the elite Green Berets.
He’d left an unhappy home and enlisted when he was 18. He took to the military life and within a short time, he gained the respect of many of his fellow enlisted men. He became an expert target shooter, won several awards, and because of his skills with a weapon, was eventually called into the Green Berets. It was his crowning glory.
And this is where his story stops. Dead still.
His memories would become clouded, he said. Dates, times, and places lost all of their continuity, but not all of their power over him. He was enlisted in the Green Berets to be a “cleaner.” It was his job to advance into areas to make sure that they were clean….devoid of any living soul. It was his job, he said, to clean up. He couldn’t remember anything else.
There were nights when he screamed in his sleep, nights when he woke enraged, terrified, fighting back an enemy. Even though he loved me, at night in his dreams, I became that enemy he tried to choke, beat, and strangle…the enemy that must be crushed. When he was in that killer mind, there was nothing I could do. It didn’t happen every night, not even once a week, but when it did happen, I’d be caught unawares, terrified and defenseless. And he would be exactly the same….caught unaware, memories flooding his mind of terrified screams and pleas for life.
He was a big man, my Jack, tall and broad shouldered with powerfully muscular arms. They were arms that could hold and comfort and arms that could break a neck or crush a windpipe. He was a good man with a generous heart, but at night in those horrible dreams, he became the hunted, the soldier defending his life, striking out at anyone in his path.
By day, he was a successful lawyer winning every case that came his way. But by night—no matter how much medicine he took–he became again a member of the Green Berets, that young man whose job it was to “clean” every area.
Our marriage was not a successful one, but by some miracle, our love for each other stayed strong. When he passed away in 1993, I was at his bedside, listening with tears in my eyes as he breathed his last words, “Joy. Joy.”
The author is a student of the lore and magic of the back hills of Tennessee. She writes imaginative fiction featuring unusual angels as main characters. She has lived and worked in Alabama for most of her life. She has a Ph.D. in Creative Writing, and for many years, taught English at a local community college. She retired to become a caregiver for her mother who suffered from dementia. For several months in 2007, she lived in Ireland and worked as a travel writer and photographer. She lives in Alabama with her son and three rescue dogs.