Yesterday I drove 50 miles to offer a reading at a Ventura book store. The commitment was requested of me back in October – pick a Saturday during our festival on veteran literature and support our effort. So at random I chose March 22nd. Yesterday I arrived, entered the book store and confronted an elderly man described yesterday, who will be 100 in July. He was seated at a table and two chairs in the front of the shop. I realized, this is where I was intended to speak.
3 to 5 PM, that was the understanding. Two hours of me putting out energy and focus but I welcome any opportunity to speak about PTSD. There was no one there…only the manager who’d booked me. And I thought, Are you kidding me? You asked of my time for this?
I learned that their library was also being used for these readings and they were well attended. I wondered why I was scheduled here. I felt…embarrassed. I felt poorly treated. I felt resentment for his presumption. I felt disrespected. I sat with All of that…and considered just how I had allowed this to happen. And a man entered. He offered his hand, introduced himself and told me how much he was looking forward to this.
I learned that his younger brother had been killed in Vietnam, in a chopper shot down by RPG in the late ’60s. In Cu Chi, an area maybe 100 klicks north of me. You’ve probably heard mention of the tunnels of Cu Chi…and the tunnel rats. His brother hadn’t been a tunnel rat, he’d been an infantry staff sergeant. We agreed neither of us could have handled such an assignment, both too large and not nearly insane enough to crawl into tunnels with a flashlight and a 45. Inside were snakes and punji stakes and booby traps and sometimes, VC.
As we spoke I sensed a profound needing in him. 44 years later, he wanted to know everything about his younger brother. He had map coordinates, he’d spoken to some of the men that served with his brother. I told him Google maps would allow him to see with great precision that area. That in fact, he could fly to Vietnam and walk the very ground on which his brother served. I gave him the names of books that would reveal to him some of that he yearned to know – what his brother had endured. Even as we spoke, a mental window running in my background was noting how very important this meeting was – to both of us.
He’d intended to buy my book, he chose instead my audio book, which he can load onto his iPod. I gave him my card, told him I’d provide the names of the couple that arranged my return to Vietnam in 2004. We shook hands and I packed up. It was about 3:45. I’d left 10 books there on consignment back in October, five had been sold. They owe me about $65.
I was there for a reason yesterday. And I think that may often be the case for some of us in life…but we don’t always recognize it. I’m grateful that I recognized it.