This was a long, long time ago – before Daughter, and she’s 22. I was working in a custom photo lab in Richfield. I was standing at the lightbox near the front office when the office lady comes back with this guy, a little older than me. He’s got a bunch of negatives, from when he was in Viet Nam. He says he doesn’t care, but his wife wants them printed, so he’s just trying to keep her happy. The negs are b&w, and 110, and I tell him we really don’t do that kind of work at the lab, but I can do them for him at home, and give him a price and get his phone number.

I suppose it was when I still wanted to work independently that I snatched up the work. Maybe it was because I’m nice. I don’t know. I printed up maybe thirty images up to 4×5 over at Kurt’s house, and a couple of days later I took them over to his house. We sat at the kitchen table, while his wife stood by, behind him? To one side? Stood back and watched, and listened.

I don’t remember much. Grainy images. Guys smoking cigarettes. Helmets and fatigues. The usual. Then some Vietnamese women. I don’t remember what they were doing – hanging up laundry? Cooking? He said hey, that’s — she was Charlie’s maid. Everybody had them. They were cheap. It’s how they got by in the war. He started saying names I don’t remember, not telling stories, just looking.

I was just going to drop off the pictures, and get my money and go, had a date with some people I know, but it seemed wrong, once he started looking. Rude.

I remember the silence around him, in that kitchen. When somebody goes that far away, you got to respect it.

I wonder about his wife. I think she really loved him, to want to open that up. I hope it worked.

And my brother’s friend, Dale. He went into the Coast Guard, figuring it would be safe, he wouldn’t have to go. He was wrong.

He never talked about it either, except for one night. I don’t know what got him started, and Kurt’s dead, so I can’t ask him, and I’ve lost Dale to time, but he started talking about the gunners on the boats, and how you didn’t want some dummy to be shooting the cannons because the shells would hit the trees and bounce right back. Dale was a photographer then, too, and he told us about some ceremonial dinner with somebody, and the soup had eyes in it, and how glad he was to eat k-rations that night. It was the same thing, that same silence, with Kurt and I sitting there, not moving, listening to him talk.

I think it’s time to stop putting the people we know into places where when they come back, they can’t talk about it, except maybe for a few minutes, when everything goes quiet.

And if anybody knows Dale Swenson from back in Minneapolis, tell him I said hi.

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