About a Boy (Pt. 2)

Part 2

The Boy
Author in the early 70’s wearing bandages used by his father

Hatred the emotion is of the Devil. Hatred is the taste of blood in your mouth, iron-like but coagulated like warm spoiled milk. Hatred is verdigris on your tongue, that green film one finds on a penny exposed to the elements.

How does it root in the heart of a four-year-old?

The boy remembers it’s rot, feelings of dirt on his soul, animosity at any Asian seen which to him, all were Vietnamese and culprit for his father’s maim.

Youthful ignorance, untaught and uncultivated, conclusions defined in a toddler’s mind, a worldview no farther than the living room floor, in daylight rain coming, his father writhing again in agony as if he were a slug caged in a salt circle poured by war.

On June 2, 2013, Vietnam finished off Luke D. Lucas, the same day marking his son’s 22nd year as a Veteran and another shy of Elizabeth’s birthday, his first wife.

In Southeast Asia, at a bar in Vientiane, the boy got word via Facebook from a friend. He purchased a box of Marlboro, his father’s brand, and having never had a beer with his dad, drew two Bier Lao, lit a cigarette and raised both tall glasses.

In jungle trees level to the second-floor bar, ‘fuck you lizards’ called. A beautiful Laotian girl snapped a picture after Google and pantomime helped her understand the moment. By the time he retreated the bar, despite beer’s dilution of its bite, what lay ahead had already begun to gnaw. The boy rode away on a moped with Davone Lao’s arms around him into the night where he melted with her svelte brown body in a hotel situated along the Mekong River.


There existed a shoebox packed with letters from Vietnam. Torn, yellowed glue around edges in dashed red and blue, the Airmail shared company with jump wings and a jagged piece of steel.

He read.

Page, after page, after page of missing home, his son, his wife, the in-laws, his parents and his siblings. Each letter carried longing as it’s theme and some sprinkled sexual banter within.

War destroyed the man in there.

The movie Platoon released into theaters December 24, 1986. The Daily Iberian ran a story on Luke Lucas’ impression. The article ended, “Luke Lucas is married to Belinda Lucas and they have three daughters.”

Before reading it, the boy saw the film. The score at Platoon’s end, Adagio for Strings trailed the boy fleeing in tears from the theater.

He stumbled upon the article some days later.


Purple Hearts

Father and son earned the same medals in combat — Luke jumped. His son flew. They both carried weapons and backpack radios into combat yet, inches separated the two.

“I was dog tired,” he said, “I should’ve seen the tripwire.”

Two with donkey
Man and boy with donkey in Afghanistan.

Like the movies, from the looks in their eyes. Friendly four hours prior, now they swung wide from the convoy. Leaves stacked on a donkey, the boy with it cast furtive glances at them across a shoulder.

In a river valley in Afghanistan, an RPG signaled Troops in Contact (TIC). Sailing over the boy’s GMV, it exploded quietly on the river rock behind him. Peltor’s muted reality, the moment unfolding like a movie dream.

“RPG! RPG! Swing right 90,” the boy yelled, knife-handing direction of contact.

“Ammo!” the gunner yelled.

The MK 19 spat angry red orbs over the heads of an Aghani family slowly crouching in the river bed at his 2 O’clock. The boy remembers them most, looks on their faces mixtures of surprise and fear. It replays forever in his mind, perpetually squatting below a dotted stream of fire over their heads that never ends.

Between father and son, a 3-inch delta separated them from a Purple Heart each. The insurgent RPG floated high. The AK rounds hit low. Bullets pocked the armor inches below where the boy’s head bobbed marking the burst intended for him.

“Lucas is survived by his wife of 28 years, Belinda Charpentier; his daughters Katie Broussard and her husband, Randall, Alison Charpentier, and her husband, Kris, and Sarah Meche, and her husband, Thadd; his five grandchildren Grace, Hannah and Carson Broussard, Avery Charpentier and Peyton Meche; his mother, Juliette Lucas; his brother and sister-in-law Mark and SueZahn Lucas; his sisters and brothers-in-law, Beverly and Jim Morgan and Catherine and Kent Himel.”

A decorated Naval Officer wore his Service Dress Blues to see his father for what became the last time in October 2002. For the first time, reality forced Luke to reckon with his man.

“You’re going to be a grandfather,” the Lieutenant said.

“I’m already a grandfather,” Luke replied.

And they began to talk—


Bandages

The boy wrapped his arms and legs in Ace bandages his father wore on his stumps to be like his dad. Luke surrendered prosthetics for the chair, which he rode to the end. In the beginning, he propped a little boy on his nubs.

Snow fell on New Iberia in the winter of ’72. Luke made the best fucking snowman in the entire fucking universe by packing 5-gallon jugs. He played football with his son, a superhuman beyond the norm of those untouched by conflict.

Playing Football
Father and son playing tackle circa 1973

The boy shook his fists.

He shook his fists at children.

He shook his fists at women.

The boy shook his fists at grown men.

He couldn’t protect him from fire-lightning in the stumps when rain called or weather turned the heat to abrupt cold as it does in South Louisiana. But he did shield him from the stares with his body, and fists when he could.

Luke and Liz
The author’s parents before well before Luke went to Vietnam.

“We were so young. We were both just 19,“ his first wife said. “We were young and immature—we couldn’t survive his injuries.”

“We were very much in love,” she said, confirming what the boy read in the letters.

So many factors led to the divorce she said, “We did a lot of bad things to each other.”

Truth, he thinks, remembering the black eyes and broken noses.

“War is cruelty, and you cannot refine it. The crueler it is, the sooner it will be over.”     – William Tecumseh Sherman

In late 1984, Luke began seeing a woman, a local keen on braces for her daughters, and Luke for the bill. She told Luke endometriosis prevented further pregnancies.

He phoned the boy’s mother, “We need to talk,” Luke said. “Meet me at the Best Western for coffee.”

And it was there, tears in runnels down his cheeks, admitting he’d planned to end the interlude but pregnancy intervened trapping him. “I wish she’d get rid of it,” he said.

He knew he’d punched a lottery ticket the woman would redeem.

Shortly after, he confessed he’d marry her. Not for love, he explained, and not for the baby, but because “she’ll never do anything to hurt me,” he said.


To a Victor go the Spoils?

A sixteen-year-old in the early 80’s jammed to Aerosmith, Ozzy and fell in love with a Wendy, beautiful redhead with an over-ripened chest for her age who’d hold the key to his virginity and capture his heart’s first love.

When the mother moved north, the boy stayed for her. A repurposed laundry as his room in the back of the house on Evergreen, everything soon got weird.

USS Truman
Onboard the USS Truman, 2001

After Luke saw the boy in the hallway of New Iberia Senior High, a decorated Naval Aviator in dress blues, he followed him to his office. Luke shooed away the woman and they began to talk.

Then, Luke Lucas, licensed counselor to the kids of Sr. High, tried to get in his head.

“You know; you’ll never have a successful relationship until you and I work this out,” he said then delved into irrelevant points.

“Look,” his boy the Lieutenant said. “That’s between you and her. This—” motioning between them, “is between you and I.”

The Lt. carried testicle sized tonsils in the back of his throat until the Navy cut them out in ’99. Until then, they plagued him as an impetus of infection, particularly in November/December 1985. The morning of December 17, 1985 the boy woke up with a severe URI and asked his father to go to the doctor.

“You don’t need to go to the doctor,” Luke said. “don’t be a pussy.”

Sitting in Journalism-first period with a fever coughing black phlegm into a double-folded course brown industrial paper towel from the bathroom he thought, Fuck this,  and called his grandmother to pick him up.

He’d been in trouble recently, charged with not letting his father know he was at his mother’s parents. He phoned to let them know.

When he returned to 501 Evergreen, Luke wheeled the floor in circles as a person with legs would pace. “What they give you,” he said.

Handing him the bottle of Penicillin, “You’re not sick. “You don’t need this shit.” Who do you want to take care of you? Me, or them?” he blurted.

Instantly, the boy considered the facts on the ground. “Them,” he said.

“Fine,” Luke said. “Pack your shit and get the fuck out.”

In the morning, he wheeled into the door of the old laundry room and asked the boy if he’d changed his mind.

“No.”

Then his father tossed his Christmas presents in a black trash bag and wheeled away.

“That’s not how I remember it,” Luke said twenty years later in the NISH counselor’s office.

“Well, then you and I can agree to disagree,”  the Lt. said.

“You made a choice,” Luke said.

“No,” the aviator said. “You were a 35-year-old man. You were supposed to make the right decision.”

The boy told him he didn’t expect to push Luke in his wheelchair off into the sunset towards unicorn farts and sugar-plum rainbows, but they agreed things needed sorting and shook hands–the boy desperately wanted to believe him.

Writing these words, five Alaskan Amber’s down, fingers weaving on a keypad, the look in Luke’s eyes are vivid, photographing the gut feelings the boy wished he could ignore. Weeks later back onboard the USS Truman, word reached his cousin, Alex Patout, his mother the NISH nurse, that Luke cornered her and said, “tell your son to avoid him. He’s crazy and manipulative.”

That was that.

From sixteen to thirty-two, the boy carried this unconscionable weight from December ’85 through an entire life without a single word of approval. Neither of his children ever met their grandfather.


Over Sanguin

Havoc 25, a Louisiana-based B-52 loaded with 24 3000 pound JDAMS checked in through Trinity over Afghanistan. “Havoc 25 contact Jaguar 11 on TAD….”

“Dudes,” the boy said. “Get gear up.” The tone in Trinity’s voice said it all.

“Jaguar 11, Havoc 25…”

“Jaguar 11, Havoc 25…”

Static.

“Jaguar 11, Havoc 25…”

Crew, Havoc 25
Bull (RIP), Jules, 2-Cent, Joe Dirt and Silverback before a flight.

“Havoc, Jaguar,” he replied. “We’re on the move, I’ve got one wounded requesting CASEVAC inbound ASAP standby grid. Receiving SAF, grid…”

Everyone onboard copied the location of the enemy. Within seven minutes, a solution calculated, Havoc began delivering rain into some mud somewhere in the asshole of Afghanistan.

“Shack,” Jaguar said.

“Good hits, shack!”

Jaguar updated enemy position as Havoc continued to deliver until 24,000 pounds of face-melting JDAM had fallen upon the musluman, bombs anointed with an amalgam of pig juice and dipspit mixed in a water bottle, it’s cap pierced with a Gerber. The boy’d anointed each in a ceremony to readings of scripture from his pocket Bible.

Luke Dermont Lucas was born in New Iberia to Juliette Viator Lucas and the late Edward D. Lucas on May 31, 1949. He honorably served his country in the United States Army from 1969 to 1970 during the Vietnam Conflict until being severely injured on May 5, 1970. After being treated in military hospitals for over two years, he returned home. He was honorably discharged and was awarded the Purple Heart, Bronze Star Medal, Army Commendation Medal, Combat Infantry Badge, Vietnam Campaign Medal, Vietnam Service Medal, Parachute Badge, National Defense Service Medal, Good Conduct Medal and the state of Louisiana Veterans Honor Medal.

Mr. Lucas deserves every fiber of respect afforded.

Luke D. Lucas followed his father Edward in death by six months, his memorial not far forward from his father’s on the Pellerin funeral home web page.

And just like that, when locals who’d known of his first life wrote about the boy, one day the memoriam suddenly vanished.

His obituary ends:

Mr. Lucas took the advice a Methodist Minister gave him during his hospital stay which was, “You have two choices here — you can choose to die, or you can choose to live, but if you choose to live—then LIVE” — and LIVE HE DID!

The boy wasn’t with the minister in the San Antonio VA to know the details, but he does know what Luke said out front of St. Marcelas. Nor, does he believe in time machines transporting men ahead through fifteen years of life without hitch or hiccup.

Flags draped his coffin, one each for the family. The woman and three daughters, one a half sister, met to decide whether the boy, treated like a Veteran Cinderella, deserved the honor.

Another combat vet intervened and gave the boy a diamond folded flag in a large manila envelope weeks later when he came home from Vietnam. Sometime in the future, with replacement medals from the VA, his medals will join his father’s and the flag, photos, and the shrapnel in between.

Then on Memorial Day, he’ll lift a beer to a wall of memory and smoke a Marlboro into ashes from a man’s pursed lips, his legs wrapped in bandages shaking a clenched fist at those who denied he ever lived at all.

Epilogue: A very angry 16-year-old kid egged and wrapped the house on Evergreen twice in the Spring of ’86. Between then and 2004, he made multiple efforts to reconcile to no avail. Six month’s before his father’s death, he made it known that he’d be there if asked, but he had done all he could and would beg no more. He tried to explain an analogy to his ex-wife, an alcoholic, that she still has the opportunity to repair the relationship with her son. For her, the stain could be washed, lightened — granted, it would never go away, but it wouldn’t be as dark as the one on his soul. War is hell — and no one can discredit what one person does over another one, sometimes people do what’s required to slog ahead just one more day. The boy always figured, either the old man blamed him for going to Vietnam, or he needed to exist in a world separate from the chaos of war and its secondaries, something the boy just wasn’t to be part of.

He became a marriage and family counselor. As ironic as it is, one can say “the best person to tell you about hell, is someone who’s already been in the heat.” So said, he helped a lot of new veteran’s with PTSD–it’s just unfortunate his own got hung in the wind. 

This one you can’t wash out but it is, as it is. He confessed to the kindly black woman who wheeled him around near the end that he was proud of his son and had unfinished business–if it were true, the end or opposing factors interrupted and he passed with regrets.

The author received no inheritance and makes it a point to tell his son he’s proud of him each day.  

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