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  • Writer's pictureMeghan St. Clair


Updated: Sep 11, 2021

As I stood in the immigration line in Tokyo, the man in front of me was a little twitchy. Just a bit more friendly than you would expect from a weary traveler. A bit more friendly than I was ready to deal with after a twenty hour journey. He was excited and antsy. Nervous-ish. I watched him chitter chattering and then he locked his focus on me. I might as well just come out and say this. I have a way of attracting certain people I’m not alltogether comfortable with, into my comfort zone. I believe it has something to do with all those years of people telling me to make eye contact. To look up, not down. Smile. Say hello. There are some folks who shy away from those teachings.  But me. Not so much. My friends roll their eyes. And I dig right in. I meet interesting people, wherever I go. It’s just something you should know about me.

He was clean cut, high and tight if you will. Camouflage. Baby face. Blue eyes. And talked like a wide open book. He had just finished his deployment in Afghanistan and would be spending the next year on base in Japan. Which he loved. Japan, the place he hoped to move someday. He was born in New Mexico, and that made him feel better about Afghanistan because he thought they were similar. Before he went back to New Mexico, he wanted to be a vagabond and grow long dreads. He was really excited for Udon noodles. But more excited to drive past the base and get drunk before having to check in. His job in the military was the only secret he kept. Americans had just been killed by Afghanis. He told me you don’t understand what I’ve seen.

What he said. The way he said it. It was so hard to hear. Everything in me told me to shut it down. To close off and end the conversation. More out of self-preservation than anything. His body language and quick words scared me. His willingness to put it all out there in the immigration line was uncomfortable. Instead I looked at him. I made eye contact. I said you are totally right. I cannot begin to understand the sacrifice you have made. But I am so glad you told me. I said, I am so sorry for the things you have been through, but so thankful that you are here. Silence. And then he was gone. Passport in hand he waved and said have a great trip!

My dad served in Vietnam. Once when I was playing an army game on the Nintendo {yes, this totally dates me} my dad interrupted me to say that his palms were sweating and that he wanted to take over for me and show me which weapon to use and be done with it. That was probably the one and only thing he ever said to me about how Vietnam made him feel. Watching Sarge’s Army Heroes took him back to that place. Who could have imagined? Sometimes I prodded him to open up, but the conversation never got far because I wasn’t there and wouldn’t understand. It was the only glimpse I ever had at PTSD.

Until Tokyo. And what a strange place to find a man who just needed to get it out. Who just needed someone to see and hear him. I am thankful to have been in his sights that day so he could say what he needed to say. Not everything, but enough that the pain inside of him didn’t get lost in the immigration line.

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