In a 1977 squad bay on Okinawa, marine sergeant John Jamison woke up screaming. Cpl David Kuligowski jumped down from the rack just above.
“Sgt Jamison? You all right?”
Jamison’s eyes opened, he looked around, as if in panic, and then sighed, realizing where he was.
“Shit, man” said Kuligowski, “That’s the third time this month! I’m tired of having to change my skivies in the middle of the night”.
Jamison rose to a sitting position and rubbed his jaw. “Sorry. I wish I could stop it”.
“What the hell makes you dream like that? Something in ‘Nam?”
“No, I don’t think it has anything to do with the war. I just can’t remember, but i know it;s the same thing. I just…can’t remember what it is”.
“You need some help. Have you talked to anybody?”
“You mean like a doctor?”
“I mean like a shrink. Somebody needs to get in that pea brain of yours and find out what’s going on. I’m tired of this happening.”
Jamison fumbled with the keys around his neck, reached for his footlocker, and fished out a bottle of scotch whiskey. He turned the bottle up and drank deeply, then offered it to Kuligowski.
“Don’t mind if I do” said Kuligowski. “I need something to settle my nerves. You screamed like all hell was breakin’ loose and the flames were burnin’ your skin”.
“I don’t even remember screaming” said Jamison. “I just wake up, and it feels like I’ve never been here before, and then I realize where I am”.
Jamison took another swig of the scotch.
“You wanna share that?” said Kuligowski, “My nerves still need settling”.
Kugligowski turned the bottle up and wiped a dribble from his chin, which he then carefully sucked from his hand. “Good stuff. Don’t wanna waste it. Don’t you have any idea what you’re dreamin’ about?”
“Not sure. It’s like I’m in the dream, but I’m somebody else. Weird.”
Kuligowski returned the bottle after another long swallow.
“I’m hittin’ the rack, man. I hope you don;t do that again tonight”.
“Me too”. Jamison carefully hid the bottle in his footlocker again, locked it, and lay back in his rack. What the hell was it? Something…a girl, someone he knew….
Then he remembered a girl, a girl he knew in another life, another world, before the war, before he became some kind of killing machine, when all he lived for was time with her…Lisa, the girl next door. “Lisa” said Jamison dreamily as his scotch soaked brain slipped into sleep.
It seemed like only seconds, and he heard the voice, as if coming from a mile away. “Time to get up”.
Jamison groaned. “Shit! reveille already? Damn! Seems like I just closed my eyes”.
“What kind of language is that, young man?”
“Fuck!” said Jamison, not wanting to open his eyes. He knew that voice, and that voice shouldn’t be talking to him. He slowly, cautiously opened one eye. “Mom?”
“Who else would be waking you up for school?”
“Sh–, I mean, sorry. I must be dreaming, I mean, I must have been dreaming”.
“You know better than to use language like that”.
“I’m sorry. Like I said, I must have been dreaming”.
“Get out of that bed. You’ll be late for school”.
School? That was ten years ago. The last time he had been to school was graduation, 1969.
“Mom, can I ask a silly question? What year is this?”.
His mother smiled and then looked startled. “You’re not joking, are you? What’s wrong? ”
I’m just…groggy, I guess. Sorry. I know what year it is”.
The calendar, just across the room. John had seen it. February, 1968, a few months before he would sing up for the marines, graduate, and never see this place again.
“Mom, would you mind stepping out? I need to get my pants on”.
“I’ve seen you in your underwear before. When did you get so modest?”
“I guess I’m growing up”.
“Yes, you are”.
She stepped out of the room, and John grabbed a pair of jeans from the closet. There was a full mirror on the door, and John saw the same teen-age face he had seen so many years ago. H eopned his mouth and surveyed his mouth on the right side.
“Still there” he said. He had lost a tooth in a fight in a bar in Australia. It wasn’t a front tooth, so he hadn’t bothered to replace it. Now it was back, along with the forgotten vitality of his youth.
“Eighteen again. Damn.”
he looked out his bedroom window. There, just a few hundred yards away, across a small stream, stood Lisa’s house. She had rode with him to school that last year. He had always assumed he would spend time in the marines, get out and use his educational benefits to go to college, and then he would marry her. Then, somewhere in the middle of Vietnam, a place whose name he couldn’t even remember, he got the letter. She met someone else.
Only months later, John was told his mother had died in a car crash. He came home for the last time, to her funeral. Lisa was there, along with husband and a child. Jamison knew instantly, looking a the child, that Lisa hadn’t waited very long after Jamison entered the marines. Over the pain of losing his mother, he looked at her and hated her for having the gall to even show her face.
He only nodded to her with a face set in stone. She had tried to hug him, but he shrugged her off and walked away. After his mother’s funeral, he never returned. The marines became his life, and women became faceless, nameless, merely ways for Jamison to pleasure himself.
Jamison unconsciously reached for a leather jacket that had been his. He slipped his arms into it and headed for the door.
“I have breakfast” said his mom.
Jamison had not wanted to look at his mother. Seeing her there, after all this time. It brought both pain and joy, so severe he thought he couldn’t bear even getting close. He was afraid if he came too close, she would disappear, this dream would disappear, and he would find himself back on Okinawa.
“Mom” he looked at her and then looked away, because he felt tears of joy at seeing her again. “I need to pick up Lisa. I’ll see you after school, and we can talk”.
He wanted to see Lisa again. Wanted to smell the perfumed closeness of her body again, wanted that intimacy and innocence he once knew, he wanted it all back again.
Jamison jumped in the car, his car. A 1955 Chevy that he rebuilt and painted. Not worth so much in 1968, but when he sold it, it was quite valuable. His car, once sold, now back again, ready to drive and pick up Lisa.
he listened with pleasure to the half forgotten rumble of twin exhausts, pulling up to Lisa’s house. Her father answered the door.
“Good morning, Mr. Lewis. Is Lisa ready?”
“Sure” he smiled. Jamison had already declared his intentions and his long term plans with Lisa, so Mr Lewis grudgingly accepted what all young men and women must ultimately do. “I’ll get her”.
“No need, daddy. I’m here”.
Jamison gulped and looked away. She stood there in teen-age innocence and beautiful as he remembered, before…
he forced himself to look back at her and smile. “Ready to go?”
“Of course! Bye, daddy!”.
She walked to the car with the grace Jamison remembered, and for just a second, he forgot what had happened, or, what was going to happen…or what might never happen. Maybe he had a real chance to change his own history. Maybe his whole life could be different. Suddenly John Jamison felt very good as he held the door for Lisa, jumped into the driver’s seat, and drove away.
Jamison felt like singing. He felt like shouting. A new life, a new chance.
“I’m not going to join the marines.”
“What? But that’s what you wanted. Why not?”
“No point. I can get a job here, save my money, and pay for my own education. I don’t have to leave you.”
“Johnny, are you sure? You’ve been talking about joining the marines for a long time. I thought that’s what you wanted.”
“Changed my mind. I can work here, save my money, and still go to college. It won’t be a big college, but I can go to the community college nearby.”
“That’s wonderful, Johnny. I don’t want you to leave, but…”
“You told daddy…”
“I know. I’ll talk to him again. I’ll show him why this is better. Right now, I don’t want to go anywhere, I don;t want to change anything. I just want you”.
His hand trailed up her dress, fueled by desires he would never have even acted on as a teen-ager, but hell, this whole damn dream might end any minute.
“I want you, Lisa, right now, today, forever. I want you”.
She pushed his hand away. “Johnny, no! Not like that! You know we planned to wait!”
“You don’t understand, Lisa. You just…don’t know. Maybe my future is all about you. Maybe if I make love to you here, today, now, maybe that changes everything”.
He pulled her toward him and she pushed him away. “No!”
In that instant, his hand twisted the steering wheel across the yellow line, and his whole world went blank as the car smashed head-on into an oncoming truck.
John Jamison woke up screaming.
“Oh, God!” said Jamison.
“What? Do you remember what you’ were dreaming”.
Jamison opened his eyes to look at Lisa, now pregnant with their third child. Little Johnny Jamison scrambled into the bedroom.
“Daddy? What’s the matter?”
Jamison held his boy close. “Nothing, son, just another bad dream.”
He placed his son in the bed between him and Lisa. She kissed the boy’s forehead and looked worriedly at Jamison.
“Can you remember?”
“It…it’s gone” said Jamison. “For a second, I remembered, and then…nothing. I just know I felt this terror, and then I was here.”
” Go back to sleep. You can see the doctor in the morning. We’ll go together and get this thing straightened out.”
“Yes….in the morning. ”
Jamison smiled at Lisa and settled back in bed. Buried in bills, he thought to himself. Work every day, struggle to just get by, and maybe he could just hope to have enough money to die. At least there was mom. She could help with these damn doctor bills and those strange dreams.
I should have joined the damn marines, Jamison thought to himself as he slowly drifted back to sleep.