My father is a Vietnam War veteran. He had some pretty harsh things happen to him. While in the service, he made some pretty nice friends within his platoon. With a distant look in his eye, he would tell me stories of his buddy Rochester teasing an enemy sniper who apparently had shitty aim. Or Lenny who would talk for hours about all the girls he had back home waiting for him.
One day my father's platoon came under North Vietnamese fire and two of his friends were killed in the attack. A deep rage must have possessed my father at that point because he grabbed both of his friends' assault rifles along with his own and marched up a hill into North Vietnamese fire. He quickly fired off God knows how many shots at the Vietnamese that looked ready to fire and surprisingly dropped most of the troop that lay at the top of that hill. Eventually he was clipped near the heart by a North Vietnamese guerrilla fighter and tumbled down the hill.
Remarkably, he survived. Thanks to my father's courage, the rest of his platoon marched up that hill and claimed it. During the celebration that ensued that night, their base was bombarded by an enemy artillery squad. I don't know much of what happened after that, as whenever my father recalls the memory he goes into hysterics. All I know is the rest of his platoon was killed in the explosion and he somehow survived because he was away when the attack happened.
During last year's Fourth of July celebration we were having a normal family cookout as we do every year. Earlier that year, we had some new neighbors move into the house next to us. We live in a very small town and our neighbors were never big on fireworks. I think sparklers were about as far as they went.
But this new family was crazy about fireworks.
My father never showed signs of disliking fireworks, but as blast after blast went off that night he was clearly becoming increasingly pained; mentally and maybe even physically. We were in our living room watching some TV so my mom became concerned and asked him if he was feeling alright. He said "I'm fine, just... I just need to lay down I think."
A few hours later, I decided I should get some sleep since it was pretty late in the night. Suddenly, I was awoken by the sounds of screaming. Not just any screams though. Those were my mother's screams. I bolted out of bed but quickly remembered to be sneaky (if there was an armed killer in the house I didn't want to be dead along with the rest of my family). I peered downstairs and what I saw will scar me forever.
There stood my father, with bloodstains on his clothes, stuffing my mother into the roaring flames of our fireplace. My father's expression was not bloodthirsty or anything of the sort, more of a frightened expression.
He saw me and let out a guttural roar and charged at me with a pocket knife I hadn't seen before. I ran upstairs to my room and locked the door, but I knew this was only a temporary solution. I jumped out of my window trying to land on my feet just as my dad broke down the door. As I ran from the house, still trying to register just what happened, I could hear my father shouting curses at me that made it hard to believe it was my father speaking.
This wasn't my father. This was an animal.
I ran until it felt like my lungs were about to burst and still it seemed as though my father wasn't letting up. It was as if he had the same rage in his heart that burned when his friends were killed on that hill so many years ago. I hid behind a tall patch of grass, but that was pointless.
My father was a farmer so he knows his way around the field. He quickly noticed me standing in the grass and charged at me with a kind of hate in his eyes that seemed to burn from the devil himself. It seemed to dawn on me just what was going on; he was having some sort of PTSD meltdown and thought I was some North Vietnamese guerrilla fighter that shot his friends. I remembered he had a plow in his barn so I made a dash for the barn, despite the fire in my body.
As I reached the barn I could still see him catching up to me, so I mustered up whatever other energy I had in me. I hid on top of the plow and to my relief my father didn't spot me. He dragged his knife along the base of the plow making an ear-piercing screech. As he made his way to the front of the plow he looked up.
And that's when he saw me.
In an instant I activated the plow, not even knowing which lever to pull or which button to push. The blades of the plow caught my father's hands and he dropped his knife and held his hand in pain. I leaped down and grabbed the knife before he had the chance to get it again.
My father then tackled me to the ground. I have to admit, for a 50-something-year-old man he hits hard. We kept wrestling for the blade until I suddenly felt his resistance fade until completely vanishing.
During our struggle I had inadvertently stabbed him. Right near the heart. This time, there was no survival. I knew he was dead the second he let go of the knife.
After that, I woke up. A dream. That's all it was. It was just a dream. The relief that filled my heart was indescribable. Then I felt something in my hand and looked down at it.
In my hand was a kitchen knife that I had plunged into my father's heart. His dead eyes looking past me, with their signature distant look. My father was in bed, and my mother was nowhere to be seen.
I later found my mom in the fireplace, which would explain the traces of soot on my hands.