I didn’t want to go, but I couldn’t not go. While I had no desire to see my dear friend Terry lying in his coffin, I felt that I owed him at least one more visit. One last chance to say goodbye and to apologize for dropping the ball. I hadn’t seen him in six months or so, hadn’t even called him. That is the thought that dominates my drive to the funeral home. I’m so sorry Terry. Guess I dropped the fucking ball on this one.
The only comfort I can find from my own guilt is that Terry, of all people, would have understood my neglect. Of all of the people in my life, this old man knew me the best.
His daughter saw me come in and came to stand in front of the coffin with me. She rubbed my back, comforting me when I should have been comforting her.
“You know, he loved you so much.” She told me, and all I could do was nod. As hard as I tried to hold them back, tears fell anyway. I looked at him in the coffin; so yellow, so much thinner than the last time I had seen him.
Of course, I don’t blame anyone but Terry for his death. The man drank Jack Daniel’s like it was water. He was the definition of an alcoholic, and we all knew it. I contributed to his alcoholism, going so far as to bring him pints of Jack when he was out of money. Why? Because Terry was in a stage of alcoholism that necessitated drinking. Plain and simple, if he had stopped cold turkey he would have died. I have seen it happen.
I stared at the pictures of him in his youth and wondered, behind those smiles, was he as tortured as he was when I knew him? They had put a picture of him and I on the board, from my wedding. I remembered how he had agonized over what gift to buy us. I looked at the Purple Heart medal and the flag draping the coffin, and I wondered if his family knew of his demons. I am wondering, right now, if I should send the letters that he had written to me from jail to his family. Would he have wanted them to know about the things that he did, that he saw? In this day and age, his family surely knows that he suffered from PTSD. But do they know why?
People were all full of concern and advise when Art was in Iraq. Many of them kept assuring me that he was going to be okay, that he would be home soon. All that did was remind me that he was gone; that there was a fairly decent chance that he wasn’t going to be okay.
All Terry had to say was, “You hear from that Marine, Krissy?” I would answer, and that would be the end of the conversation. Because Terry knew that I had a hard time processing anything deeper. It helped me more than any amount of reassurances from everyone else.
And when Art came home, Terry was in jail. So we wrote to each other. I tried to remain upbeat, but there was a mountain of shit at home that I couldn’t deal with alone. So I wrote to Terry about all of the problems, doubts and anger between Art and I.
I couldn’t relate to Art, couldn’t understand where he was in his mind. And though Art and Terry rarely spoke, Terry could understand.
Terry wrote of his own demons, the times that he withdrew. He warned me that this sort of depression may be seasonal, and to pay attention to the time of year that Art withdrew from the world. He said that his own depression was at it’s worst during April and May. He told me that Art may need to seek professional help, or he may be okay on his own. He urged me to stay patient – to a point.
In one letter Terry explains to me, “I once killed a kid with an entrenching tool.(A kind of small shovel.) I see that kid’s face all of the time.” He went on to explain that he pretended that it didn’t bother him for a long time, because he didn’t want to seem weak. In Vietnam, he explained, it happened all of the time. So, he never spoke of it, because while it was big deal, he felt that it shouldn’t have been.
There are more horrific scenes that filled his mind when all was quiet, so he drank to still them. He drank to sleep. He drank to function. And he made no attempt to deny the fact that he was an alcoholic.
Terry made it home from Vietnam, when so many of the Marines that he served with did not. But his mind and his soul though, never came all of the way home. More often than not, I suspect, his mind was still there. Replaying moments that he regretted, and also ones that he didn’t regret, but couldn’t forget.
Am I sorry that he is gone now? Not entirely. I will miss him, and I love him. But I find comfort in the fact that finally, all of him has made it home. In death, this man can find the peace that eluded him so often in life.
Silently, I take a moment to thank Terry for saving my marriage, for being my friend, and for knowing instinctively exactly what I needed to hear from him, all the time. I also apologize for not calling when I should have, for not making the time to come and see him. Before I leave, I wish him peace, and tell him I love him.And in the car, I find myself wishing that I had told him, while he was alive, just how much he meant to me, and how much he did for us. For that regret, there is no comfort.