“No, really, I believe you,” I tell the old man.
We’re parked in front of his home. He occupied the ride here with a hostile soliloquy about what a huge asshole he is, how he’s been barred from dozens of bars, and that he’s an asshole because he drinks, and he drinks because he wants to forget all the people he killed in Korea. Then came a series of proclamations about his toughness, the number of medals he’d won, the laziness of my generation, etc.
He’s just paid me and said that I don’t believe him, and I’ve told him that in fact I do. He seems to be having trouble processing that information, so I say, “You must’ve been at Chosin, right?”
Speaking the name of a battle has a visible impact, and he begins to start a number of stories, but is unable to finish any of them before jumping on to the next. He’ll start to talk about Marine legend Chesty Puller, or the time he gave all of his men BARs, or about the Australians, and then he’ll trail off.
He goes on for 20 minutes. I’m not worried about the orders sitting on the board. I can only think about how much it must’ve fucked with his head to kill that many people. And to kill them not because he had any natural inclination to kill, but because he was a poor Indian orphan, and the Marines seemed like a good deal.
I stifle an urge to scream as I drive away.