by Glenn Miscikowski
Accepting the invitation to go deer hunting in Northern Wisconsin with Mr. B and his sons on their farm became a no brainer. The first deer hunt after leaving Nam six months earlier. Arriving at 3:00 PM, Mr. B opened the car door and hugged me. “Glad you made it.”
The trips became an annual ritual of friendship. These trips renewed friendships, talking about past experiences and new challenges, sitting by the fireplace with a Budweiser. The bellowing laughs commenced after anecdotes of the latest blunders, old girl friends or a new car. Everyone shared one crazy event with the group, no exceptions.
The talks left me disconnected for an essential element was missing. Nothing changed between us yet everything changed around me. Did they feel the void as well?
The fourteen-point buck roaming the woods became the topic of conversation at breakfast. Deer stands were selected based on buck sightings over the last week. Mr. B placed salt blocks and bushels of apples at several sites.
I located a comfortable deer stand for the first day of the hunt; the deer are following their normal patterns, not spooked. My deer stand provided stealth, visibility and comfort. With a bit of luck, a buck may cross my path. Mr. B walked pushing the deer through the area; arthritis affected him while sitting.
The temperature opening day dipped below freezing coupled with a mesmeric, gentle falling snow. The large snowflakes blocked visibility to a degree. I cuddled up to a couple of large toppled maple tree stumps. My back and head rested comfortably on the stumps.
The lack of sleep and comfortable surroundings produced the sedative, out like a light. I sprang up hearing my name. Mr. B stood not ten yards from me.
“Did you see him?”
“I was trailing the big buck for the last three hours. The swamp swallowed his tracks. I got a glimpse of him; he’s magnificent.” He knew I dozed off. I looked like a snowman. He looked at me, then proceeded to backtrack trying to pick up the tracks.
I brushed the snow off my jacket and pants, became vigilant of the surroundings. The snow dropped a beautiful white carpet quieting the woods. A couple of grey squirrels chased each other through the trees. They showed off their agility. Slivers of sun flashed through the woods causing momentary blindness ricocheting off the snow.
The squirrels stopped chasing. I heard the audible muffled clump, clump. An animal moved stealthily through the woods towards me. My body became rigid. Breathing became difficult to control. The ambushes in Nam triggered the identical response. My hands squeezed hard on the stock. The inside of the gloves felt damp. Come-on, clear your head, get back to the world. What the hell is wrong with you?
God almighty, the buck walked right out in the open not twenty yards from me. This magnificent creature sported an enormous rack. He stood broadside. He dared me to pull the trigger. The black eyes remained fixed on me. I raised my weapon and depressed the safety. My finger applied pressure to the trigger with the scope cross hairs on the beast. This buck is mine.
The trigger wouldn’t depress. There must be something wrong with the gun. What the hell is wrong with me? Shoot him, Shoot him. Looking through the scope I took two deep breaths and tried to relax.
The buck remained motionless for ten seconds, snorted at me and dipped its head, returning in the direction of the swamp.
Two minutes passed, Bang, Bang, Bang.
I heard Mr. B yelling. The magnificent creature never had a chance.
The black eyes stared at me seeing him on the white carpet. I wanted to look away but wouldn’t. The innocence in those eyes haunted me. One of God’s creatures deserved a better fate.
My eyes watered looking at the beast. Mr. B cocked his head giving me an odd stare. I shouldn’t care what others think. I earned the right to express my feelings. In Nam, emotion demonstrated a sign of weakness even when one of my men went down. For me to show an outward show of emotion became rare, but for this creature.
This buck earned my respect; he deserved to roam the woods managing a harem of does.
The local bar celebration became loud and joyous continuing into the wee hours of the morning. Mr. B gave willing hunters detailed explanations how he bagged the beast. The stories changed as the bottles stacked up. He became the county hero for a season.
Mr. B looked disappointed after telling him my decision to head home a day early. My child being sick became the excuse. I knew after today’s hunt something is wrong with me.
Mr. B hugged me. “Take care of yourself.”
The drive home became a personal reflection.
Two friends part knowing one of you will not return. Mr. B witnessed my change in demeanor. I wished we talked about what happened. No one, not even my wife, initiated a conversation about the past.
The creature’s eyes staring at me transported me back to another time, another world. Sgt. N smiled at me as he crossed the stream climbing up the hill onto a wide trail. He was the third soldier in his column. I heard the haunting blast. The chilling reminder that shit happens. Sgt. N stepped on a 155 or anti-tank mine.
I still remember screaming, running to the disaster, “Why Lord, Why?”
Descending the conical hole, Sgt. N’s eyes were vacant, staring out into the nothingness. I closed the eye lids of my fallen comrade. The medic and I put half a soldier in a poncho. I never cried after carrying and gently setting him in the chopper.
Concentrating on Sgt. N’s eyes and not the mutilation of his body kept my sanity in check. If I let my emotions surface no telling the outcome.
My recurring dreams continue to haunt me seeing Sgt. N’s eyes staring at me. The hollow stare rivets my psyche. Why him, and not me, on the chopper.
Strange, I would die for my men but never cried for a fallen soldier. My eyes watered for the beast. The enemy never received my dignity. Seeing bodies after a firefight or baking in the sun on a trail, they became an inanimate doll. A doll never possesses a soul. I didn’t hate the enemy. Survival became the only objective for my men and myself; bring my men home. If the Vietnamese invaded our space with weapons, we retaliated.
Not pulling the trigger on the beast went against all of my past experiences. The beast lived for another two minutes. In the scheme of life, my action made no difference. Somehow, those two minutes meant a world of satisfaction to me.
I’m trying to understand the mask I wear. If I pulled the mask off my face, would I still be who I think I am? I feel a numbness and coolness to life. Deep emotion eludes me. I couldn’t cry holding my son for the first time returning from Nam, but for the beast I cried.
The suffering and death are in the past. I’m trying to get to a better place. I hope this is the first step in feeling life.