You never remember your dreams anymore.
Sidney, the dear man, would probably call that a big of lingering psychosis, but since there's a nice post-war psychologist taking care of you at fifty dollars an hour, paid for by the U.S. Army, you're not going to discuss it. Every week a man named Roger sits you down on a sofa, dark green, and you talk about your dad, and your new practise, and Roger listens and smiles at you.
He doesn't take notes, which is why you still go. The other guy took a lot of notes, and coughed at random intervals.
"So," your father says, every Wednesday. "Time to see Roger again."
You nod, and go down the road in the car, and sees Roger for an hour, and don't mention the war at all. Don't mention the way you wake up in the middle of the night and look around your room as if you don't know where you are, except you do. You know you're home. And that you can't remember what you're dreaming about because it was Korea.
Not remembering has a way of catching up to you. A knock on the front door, an hour and ten minutes after your usual session, scares you out of your wits.
Your father says, "For you," and you go to behold BJ at your front door.
Pause. Rewind. Pause. Stare.
You blink. "Oh, good, for a minute I thought I was going crazy again."
He's sitting on your front porch, and instead of inviting him into your home, you come out into the summer night and join him. For three months you've been home, and seeing Roger, and talking to people sporadically on the phone. For three months, and now he's sitting here on your porch and you can almost smell the dust and jeep exhaust from the 4077.
You both sit on the railing, and scuffle your shoe. "Look--" he starts.
"Oh no. Don't start that with me." You grin at him, hollow. "Let's start as we intend to finish."
"Okay. Then how are you doing?"
"Good, good." Pause. "At least that's what my chart says."
It's late afternoon, maybe closer to evening. "You're still seeing someone?"
"Yeah," you reply, a little defensively.
He tells you quietly, "I started last month. Peg made me."
"How is she?" and when you ask, you don't mean it in a mean sense. There's a way your father looks at you lately, that says he's worried. A wife and small child must be ten times worse.
BJ hangs his head. "We're going to a marriage counsellor. She says I've gotten, repressed."
"Years of army toilet paper will do that to a guy." Pause. Pause. Glance up at him, and he's still the same guy you said goodbye to and expected never to see again. That was a final goodbye, you said, because you had to. You don't dream anymore. You say, "Why're you here?"
There are a lot of things he could say, in this moment. You expect a flip answer, or maybe a cool answer, as if you don't get the right to ask that question. He says, "I had to," as if there wasn't a question, and you realize there wasn't. He had to come, and you have to see him, and you think that Roger hasn't helped.
"I, I can't." You and Roger have talked a lot about being honest, because if you can't be honest with your patients you're not going to continue to be a good doctor. "I mean, I don't have enough jokes for this reunion."
"Try it without the jokes." BJ's hands are still calloused, still nail-bitten. Probably still soft anyway.
You inhale dust. It smells the same, no matter what country you're in, and that's what really surprises you, still -- that things like dust and things like rain can smell the same, here and there, and if you close your eyes you can't tell the difference when or where. You say, "I, I can't, Beej." Stand up and start to pace; face him. "This once a year. I can't. You said, and I can't."
He doesn't look at you. "You never called."
"Because it was that or go crazy!" Your voice is rising a little, but still has that tremble in it. "Out of the war and still crazy. Y'know that's ironic."
"Oh, no. Don't start that." Your feet are bare. The wood of the porch is cool on the pads of your feet. If you had invited him inside, then he could have touched -- face it, would have touched -- the inside of your life. Now only the porch will have traces.
He rubs his face. "How are things going? Your practise?"
"It's good. Great in fact. I have patients. They live. Yesterday a little girl came in with a viral infection and a stuffed teddy bear and I could tell her parents that she was in no danger of dying, at all. Neither was the bear." You sniff, loudly, and then stop pacing, sit back down beside him.
It's not a question. "And you remembered Radar."
"Am I sick?" That is a question, one you want answered. "Am I. I mean, I love it here. I love every tree, every house. And." You turn to face him. "Am I sick?"
"No." As if he was convincing himself. "You're just, we're." There is no answer, and you both know it.
"What does Peg say?"
"She thinks," and this is bitter, "that if I don't say something, it means twice as much as if I do. We fight about it a lot."
"It's not what I thought it'd be."
"I love it here." You're thoughtful. You put a hand around his shoulders, those shoulders that're shaking with tension, as if simply meeting would put you both in camo again.
"You love Maine."
"You say that like it's my fault!" The arm falls to your side. "You're the one with the family and Peg in San Francisco."
Two words. "Trial separation."
The whole scene, so far, is like some bizarre dream, some surreal experience where everyone has a cue and no one's following them. Your cue is to play friend, comrade. By now you're supposed to be telling stories and drinking already. Instead you're angry with BJ just for showing up, for coming out to the play, and he's, he's leaning against you, and the dust smells like Korea. Nightmare.
"Well." He doesn't move. You notice, maybe a second or two too late, that he's wearing army issue boots on his feet. His ankles are crossed, sitting down beside you, and you're looking at his feet and those ugly, uncomfortable boots are still knotted onto the end of his legs. He adds, "It's not the way I pictured it."
"Ain't that the truth." It comes out of your mouth before you realize it, but it's true. Roger always says, run with the lines that count, so you add, "I mean, it's all the way I remember it."
BJ un-crosses his ankles, leans against you even more. "No it's not."
No, it's not. "I think," you say with an air of announcement, "that we should go out tonight. Because if we keep pretending that nothing's going on, I'm going to have to go and lie to Roger next week."
"He's no Sydney," you say, standing up, "but he'll do. C'mon. Buy you a drink, soldier."
BJ stands up and you're eye to eye, and yet he hesitates. "No. I gotta do something first."
"Oh?" This time you're suspicious. "What? Cause if you want that twenty bucks I owe you, it'll have to wait until tomorrow. The bank's closed until--"
Lips on yours. His. Chapped, bitten. Tongue, warm. Wet. His. Kissing. Surreal.
Kissing, maybe, is something you've done a fair bit of, since you've come back, and before you came back too. None of it, not while you were in Korea, helped you forget where you were. And none of it, now that you're back in Crabapple Cove, helped you remember that you were home.
Kissing. Your eyes closed, your front porch. BJ's hands, one gripping your shoulder, one on your cheek, holding your face so that you won't pull away from him.
He pulls away, finally, and immediately looks over your shoulder, towards the road. You blink again. "Got a list?"
"What?" He looks at you, forehead wrinkled.
"For later." You grin at him, smile, full of teeth. Try to put as much warmth as you can into your face, because there's no way you want him to misunderstand this. "Got a list for later?"
"I." He shakes his head.
You grab his hand and pull him off the porch, into the house, over the doorstop so your feet are warmer and so you can sit down in the middle of your new life and talk about your old one. "If you don't," you say to him, with another smile and a wink, "I may be able to come up with something."
BJ follows you, of course. "Good to know." You go into the kitchen, and pour some beers, and hand him one. He takes off his boots by the door.