The Voyage – Part Six Disclosure Time – Brian’s Turn Bruce McCorkill
The welcome dinner has been an absolute disaster, with Brian behaving badly.
Carol is mortified with Brian’s behaviour and threatens to end the marriage
Rashid and Samira conclude that Brian is a deeply troubled man and want to help him.
Brian woke with a start. His back was aching from the uncomfortable sofa, his head sounded hollow and hung over, his belly was churning nauseously, and he felt like throwing up. He wondered what had happened last night, something had gone wrong somewhere. Why was he on the sofa? Had he upset Carol? Then with a sickening jolt the events of the evening burst into his fuzzy brain. His mind unwillingly replayed them like flashing cards. His appalling behaviour to Rashid and Samira, his crass jokes and racism, Carol becoming more distressed as the evening lurched into disaster as he became increasingly out of control. He groaned in dismay at his behaviour.
He painfully recalled Carol’s attack before bed. Normally when Carol was angry, she would give him a big strong verbal blast but then it was over. Last night was different. She spoke almost in a terse whisper, her voice not raised, not the normal explosive outburst, but the quiet words came out in a venomous flow. It seemed as if she was deliberately selecting words to attack his mind. Almost to fatally wound him. The words she used, he never knew she even knew them. She even accused him of being a lousy lover, that was a first, which really struck home. Her threat to end the marriage caused him to shrink back under the blanket and shudder.
Brian realised that after decades of crawling around in his mind, scratching at his brain, the demons had won. Last night he had gone over the edge. He realised that if he wanted to keep Carol, drastic action had to be taken. He had to finally tell her the truth, his sorry story, hidden from her for decades. Forlornly he wondered would she understand; even maybe forgive him. In some ways Brian was relieved that the demons were finally out in the open, he could now confront them in a fair fight. That’s what he hated most about Vietnam; you never really knew where the enemy was. But first he needed to talk to his special mate Lenny. Special because Lenny was beside him when it happened. He understood. He could give him advice.
As he was brewing a strong coffee to clear his mind Carol came into the kitchen. Seeing him, she made to walk out, but Brian blocked her way. It was now or never.
‘Carol, we need to talk, I have to tell you something. I need to apologise for last night and explain why I acted the way I did. It’s really important that you know.’
‘Brian, just shut your mouth and get out of my way. I’m going out for coffee with Jan. I need her help and some advice. Right now I can’t talk to you; I can’t stand to be near you, I’m too hurt and angry. In fact totally pissed off with you. We’ll talk later; a good chat with Jan may calm me down. She may give me some insight into what may be in that thick head of yours.’
‘Carol, I really am sorry.’
‘Will you stop saying that you pathetic bastard, let me out of here, I need to talk to Jan.’’
Brian realised he was in deep strife. Carol had never been this angry before. He called Lenny and arranged to meet urgently at the club.
They sat down over a beer. Over the years Lenny had gone through this a number of times. He just had to listen to Brian talk out his problems. Then he was fine for a while. Lenny also had his own demons and his own way of handling them. He knew exactly what his mate was going through.
‘How did it go last night mate? Are they all settled in?
‘Bloody awful. I went over the edge Lenny. It finally happened. After all those years of keeping control I totally lost it. I’m ashamed of myself. I’ve never seen Carol so upset and angry, I’m pretty sure she’s going to leave me. I’m up that well known creek, and there ain’t a paddle in sight.’
Lenny looked at his mate. When this had happened before, he could generally calm Brian down, but this time was different. Brian had sounded frantic on the phone, and now he looked haggard and distressed.
‘I thought you had it sorted out. We talked about this a while ago.’
‘I thought I had too. You remember when we spoke and I told you I was worried about the demons coming back, after my job loss. I had too much time to think crazy thoughts and the buggers realised this and started to attack.’’
‘Sure I do. You reckoned that helping these people would be good for you, keep the mad critters at bay. Keep you busy and keep Carol happy. I just told you to do your best to make them welcome and show them what a great country we have. And remember mate, don’t forget that the thing we did in Vietnam wasn’t our fault. It was a long time ago, you have to get it out of your mind. I sure as hell won’t be blabbing about it.’
Brian looked reflectively at his mate. After their Platoon arrived home, they all went their own way. Occasionally Brian saw some of his army comrades at marches, and made small talk, but with members of his former Patrol he avoided them. After the “event”, as it was officially called, no one really wanted to yarn about the good old army days. But Lenny was different. He came from the neighbourhood and they had grown up together. After the army they had stayed close mates, had learned to listen to the other and help with their own war on demons. And Lenny was beside Brian when it happened.
‘Lenny, how do you cope? We mainly talk about my problems. How about yours?’
‘I’ve got my certain tricks. I haven’t got a wife or family like you. Could never seem to keep a good woman. If I got close to someone I froze up, couldn’t let go, kept too much of myself to myself as they all said. You remember I had a wife for a while, just after I got home. We were young, I got her knocked up, but once I started beating her up, she was gone, taking the kid with her. Sometimes I wonder where she is and what my son would look like now, but I’ll never know. So how do I cope? Like lots of the guys, booze, drugs and ponies. Go to work, do what they tell me to do, stop at the club for a few beers, go home and drink and smoke pot and watch porn. Gamble it all away at the pokies or the ponies, wake up most nights screaming with the sweats, go to work the next day and the whole mess starts again. It’s a shit way to live, but it’s all I can manage.’
Lenny paused and looked at Brian.
‘I know I’m in a bad space mate, but I cope somehow. Talking to you seems to help. I mostly listen to your problems, but this seems to calm me down. After all, you fired the first shot, but don’t forget I was right behind you urging you to shoot. If you hadn’t fired I would have. Sometimes I think we need counselling. They say us Vietnam vets are suffering this post traumatic stress. When I think of it, lots of the blokes at the club are fruit cakes. They all stand around drinking and talking and joking, but get ‘em by themselves and all their problems start to come out. The government bullshits on about counselling, but I’m stuffed if I know how some fancy young shrink can help us.’
He took a long swig, and thought for a while.
‘The trouble is I don’t where it comes from. It’s not like a bullet wound that you can patch up; it suddenly surges up from my guts, this despair and rage and hopelessness. You just want to strike out at anything. Trouble is also, they told us we were doing the right thing, but we found out we weren’t. Then I see them doing the same thing in other mad wars and it brings it all back. Sometimes I just want to jump in front of a train to stop my crazy thoughts. But as I said just now, I’m finding lately more of the guys are starting to talk to me about their experiences and it’s all the same, they’re all having troubles coping. I wonder how many vets are floating around, looking normal but all stuffed up inside. But tell me more about last night, what caused you to crack?’
Brian looked closely at Lenny. He realised that in his own misery, he hadn’t thought about his mate, but Lenny’s situation sounded like his own. Like his mate, he wondered how many of the blokes at the club were going through the same mental torture. He should listen to Lenny more. But he continued the story.
‘When they arrived, I was surprised. The bloke had a firm handshake and looked me in the eye. I knew he had been in the army, and he looked like he could handle himself in a blue. He liked all my tools in the shed, wanted to help me fix things around the house. He didn’t seem like a bloke who wanted to blow anybody up. So I realised we had a few things in common and that if we cooperated we could make this arrangement work and keep Carol happy. Even changed my mind about letting him loose on tuning the Ford.’
With the girl, I don’t know what I was expecting. Maybe someone like the ones we see around the streets, wearing shapeless black gowns with only their eyes showing. But instead, she was a good looking chick, just wearing some dark slacks and a white blouse. She only had a scarf on her head. Carol had warned me that Samira was a “modern enlightened educated Muslim woman”, but I didn’t quite know what she had meant. Now I had some idea. Funny thing, Lenny, when she came in the door and smiled, something flickered in my mind, some memory flash, she reminded me of someone somewhere, a long time ago.’
At this point Lenny had an inkling of who this might be, but he kept quiet as Brian continued.
‘We showed them around the house and they liked the place. The girl liked my veggie garden and wanted to help me. Then out of the blue, she starts talking about footie. What’s this I thought? Turns out there was some Aussie sergeant in her home town who taught them to play footie, and he even arranged for replays to be televised. And what’s more, she even took a liking to the Pies. How good is that I thought, we really have something in common. So all in all, I was feeling pretty good about the whole thing.’
‘OK mate, it seemed to go well, what the hell happened to stuff it up?’
Brian closed his eyes for a second and relived the painful moment, the exact time.
‘Just as we sat down to eat. She sat opposite to me and smiled and put out her hand and said she hoped we could be friends. And it happened. Just like that, no warning. I realised who she reminded me of, and the memory of the other girl crashed into my mind. The bastard demons ran around my brain, they knew they had finally won. Snuck through my defences built up over thirty five years. And I just went crazy and started saying those mad things. No way could I stop, even seeing Carol going to pieces. I was into the black hole, just doing what the demons demanded I do.’
Lenny quickly burst in.
‘But mate, that was a long time ago, in a different place, that one was a Vietnamese girl, this one’s from Afghanistan. It’s way different. Don’t forget I was there. I can still remember the little mud hut and the girl putting out her hand to you.’
‘I know it’s different, but it was just the way she put her hand out and smiled, just like the girl in the hut put her hand out and asked us not to hurt her as she was our friend. It was the same look in her eyes, a type of trusting hopeful expression. It just turned on the detonator, and set me off. I can’t explain why.’
Brian paused and Lenny sadly finished the story.
‘And mate, one second later, that girl lay slumped on the floor, with her blood and brains trickling down the dirty wall. Dead from a 45 mm bullet fired from a M16 army rifle, the one still smoking in your hands.’
They both looked down and the silence grew between them, until Lenny said.
‘Mate, I’m telling you again; it wasn’t your fault, if you hadn’t fired I would have. Don’t ever forget, the Incident Review Tribunal found in your favour, you weren’t to blame, they totally cleared you.’
But then Brian looked his mate in the eye and said.
‘Lenny, you’ve heard this story a few times. You’re the only one I’ve told. But there’s another part I’ve never even told you. It’s the part that really gives me grief and has been doing my head in since it happened. It’s what makes me wake up screaming. Last night made me realise I have to face up to this thing. It’s time for you to know the full story, then I have to tell Carol. I just hope she’ll still stay my wife and you’ll still stay my mate.’
He took a deep breath and finished the sad, sorry story.
And after he finished, all Lenny could do was to take his mate in his arms and try to console him as Brian started to softly weep.
Issues for the fixer to sort out.
What is this sad secret of Brian?
Will they still remain mates afterwards?
To be continued.