I'm up at 6:30 to tend to my dogs, Arthur and Duma. Dad and Mom are awake, and I ask Dad if he'll come to my book signing today. He still will not commit. He hands me two copies of my book to sign--- one for a friend and one for Mamaw Presley, my mother's mother.
I go back to the guest room and lock myself up for awhile to write. Alone is still where I'm most comfortable. The whole house is overstimulating to me. There is too much furniture, way too many knickknacks, too many pictures, too many porcelain dolls, too many deer heads mounted on the walls.
I leave my room when Mom says she wants to show me a comment on Amazon about my book. "Look what this girl in Australia wrote," she says. "She says your book makes her feel normal -- and that all daughters of Vietnam veterans should read it."
I smile and feel connected to my mother for an instant. Then the feeling goes away. I put my feet flat on the floor like my therapist has taught me and try to imagine myself connected to the earth. Little Duma jumps into my lap. I practice my breathing exercises as I pet him.
I find myself pacing the house. It's hard to sit still. Dad is playing the guitar upstairs -- I can hear it everywhere I go -- and Mom wants me to look at her scrapbook. I want so desperately to want to look at her scrapbook, but I'd rather not. I force myself to look.
I'm relieved to see it's not a scrapbook of me. It's of my mother's two young nephews during Halloween. While I look at the scrapbook, Duma jumps into my mother's lap, lies down and closes his eyes. My mother begins to sing:
"Go to sleep little baby. Go to sleep and do not cry. Lay your head on Mommy's shoulder and close your pretty eyes."
In an instant, I am transformed into a scared little girl, confused by my father's ever-changing moods and my mother's inability to help him. My mother used to sing this song to me as a child to try to comfort me. It never worked. And what she doesn't realize now is that it brings back the war for me. I see myself in the trailer where we used to live, locked inside my bedroom closet.
"Do you remember this song," she wants to know.
"Yes," I say.
I desperately want her to stop singing, but I don't have the heart to say so.
"Come upstairs and let me show you what I've done with your book," she says, finally. She has created several shadow boxes containing pictures from my book and the book jacket. The boxes hang next to similar shrines holding my father's Army boots and medals from Vietnam.
I cannot get away from this house fast enough.
I tell my mother that Evelio and I have to leave to do some interviews. I've promised myself I'll revisit some familiar sites from my childhood and see how they make me feel. I want to visit three places: the river where my Dad and I used to go fishing (and to which he fled when he felt suicidal), the trailer where I grew up (when my parents sold it, it was moved three miles down the road to another trailer park) and my old high school.
I can tell Mom and Dad want to go with us. In fact, they've missed church because they want to spend time with me. But I know I can sort through my emotions better on my own.
The same river, but a different view
I feel weepy driving down the curvy mountain road to the river. I haven't seen this place in almost 20 years. My father's been back here, and he assures me the old brick silo is still here. I hold my breath as it comes into view.
I don't remember the mountains, the river or the rolling pastures being so picturesque. They were just a normal part of my daily life back then. I also never realized I could look in any direction here and not see a single house.
There's a fence around the pasture now; the cattle can no longer just make their way at leisure from one side of the road to the other. I crawl over a bridge guardrail and walk into the pasture. I remember the exact spot where my father and I used to fish. I think about the day he saved the life of a fish I caught. I was trying to free the fish but couldn't get the hook out of its mouth. It began to die in my hands, blood flowing from its gills. My father quickly cut the line, assuring me the hook would dissolve in the fish's mouth in time. He held the fish underneath a waterfall (so it could get more oxygen, he said) until it was jumping with life again. Then he released it into the water.
It's nice to be here again, to look at the waterfall and the silo in the distance and remember this place in a positive light. I can still see my father and me back then. I'm 7, and he is a young man in his late 30s, just a few years older than I am today. This place feels so peaceful. For so many years, the only thing I associated it with was my father, his gun and fears we would never see him again.