It Didn't Matter, Then, If You Were Black Or White...
When I was in Vietnam
there was a black guy in my company
who was a great harmonica player,
and he had a portable chess set
that we played constantly.
He really tried to teach me to play the harmonica,
but I was never able to master it.
I still have the one he gave me, though.
Anyway, we were in the infantry together,
same company, and in the Delta.
We always had each other's back.
That was in the mid 60s.
Back home in the eighties,
I hear a rumor that he lived in town here,
and eventually found out that he did live in town,
and being a mailman, I was able to track him down
and learn where he lived, then knowing that,
I went to his apartment one Saturday and rang his bell.
He was astonished.
He was also "different,"
in that the feeling of great comfort and ease
was not there as it was in-country.
He wanted to know what I wanted,
and I told him that I had heard he was local to me
and I wanted to come by and say hello,
as I missed him from the time we were in Vietnam together.
He was constantly looking around while we talked at his door
and he said to come in
for a while.
I did, and he and I sat down and tried to talk,
but it was strained.
His wife came in from another room
and wanted to know who I was,
and why I was in their home.
He told her, and she was not pleased, by her expression.
I started to feel very uncomfortable –
not at all like I thought it would be.
In Vietnam we were brothers,
beyond blood or anything –
we were just brothers!
We were tight.
Finally, after years, I found him,
and I was so extremely happy,
but I was to learn very quickly that what we had in Vietnam
was no longer with us back home.
After trying to find some common ground to talk about
I gave up and said that I should be going,
and he said he would walk me to my car,
so that no one bothered me (it was a black neighborhood),
and he told me he was sorry,
but that our friendship back in the Army was gone,
and it was not the same now,
as it could never be like that here.
He said he was going to have to try to explain
why a white guy was in his apartment,
and who I was, and that it was okay,
but he would appreciate it if I didn't stop by again,
as things were just not good for us to be seen as friends.
I said that I understood
(but I hated it that I did understand)
and I shook his hand and got in my car and left.
Never did see him again.
For nearly a year we had each other's back
in one of the most dangerous places you could imagine being in,
one of the craziest places, some of the craziest times....
and now it was as if we never knew each other,
because of our skin colors.
That was a few decades ago, and it still hurts today.
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