Beaded Curtains

Posted: March 27, 2014 in Sixties, war


(This is a combined account of two men I worked with in 1970. This may be disturbing to read. I know it was when they told their stories to me so many years ago. Not flash fiction but flash reality.) 

He felt tired but entirely fulfilled. Not since the last time in Saigon had he let his desires surface to that extent. The small framed women wore almost child like bodies but carried old in their eyes that revealed years of experience. Their confidence was always disturbing. Their callused hands and poor teeth told nothing of their age. Any type of sex act was available and for 3 French francs all could be performed on a man at the same time by as many women. He thought nothing of following these whores through bead draped doorways into any seedy room that they choose to work. The steaming heat, smell of cooking soy and Yan Woa perfume filled his lungs. Afterwards, a shower, Brazo soap and change of clothes was the only thing that peeled the reminder of the erotic encounter from his body and hands but not his mind.

What a hole to find himself in. How in the hell did, Gerald Watswigger, a 23-year-old Air Force Airman First find himself in such a place? No one at home would even know where or what continent he was on let alone city, even if he could tell them where he was or what he was doing.

Advisors, in the occasional 1962 U.S. newspaper that they would find, the papers called them advisors. But Wag’s crew wore civilian clothes only, no U.S currency and no I.D. could be carried. They would move from hotel to hotel one step ahead of each rumor that they heard of an impending bombing. As they moved out through the outskirts of Saigon, they could see things were heating up. Barbed wire, machine gun nests and unmarked American jeeps were becoming more common. Cratered holes and dirt clods of yellow clay gave evidence of the previous nights clash with the black pajama clad insurgents.

Then a tremendous percussion, a blast that blew him and the jeep into the air. He crashed face first into the mud, ears ringing, his eyes mostly blinded by seeping blood. Right arm twisted behind his back, he was unable to rise. Then the pain and dizzying sensation to puke. The pain, the fucking pain and realization that he had lost his boot and sock. The boot sat upright in the middle of the road and beside it, his leg. Jesus Christ! His leg!

He awoke yelling! Sweat pouring, t-shirt soaked and the sensation that his left foot was being squeezed by the tight tucked sheets. Staring down he remembered there was no foot or leg there. There had been none for almost 10 years. When would those goddamn cold sweat nightmares end? How many times would he relive this?

The sons of bitches!



  1. All wounds, physical and psychological, are like phantom limbs, really. We never truly heal, we just move on, only our nightmares intact. Great (if painful) read.

    I’ve been considering beaded curtains all evening. Not in this context, of course, but, still…


    Liked by 1 person

    • Hi Sandra, missing you! Thanks for stopping by.

      Those curtains have a very distinctive rattle or sound. Hopefully not in the same context, not that there is anything wrong with that, but still ….just makes for a pretty entrance. 🙂

      You are so right, most of us have multiple phantom limbs from our pasts.


      • I have moved back home – looooong story- and am taking the upstairs apartment (Ric moved downstairs when I was away). It is one very large, lofty room and a small bedroom. The clay studio needs to be confined, so my bed will be at the far end of the open space. I thought beaded curtains might be a nice way to define the bedroom area. We’ll see. That’s a lot of beads to make, although I have also been tossing around an idea to make letter or word beads, so I could assemble a poetry curtain…sooo much work, but it could be fun…S


  2. Wow. What vivid powerful images.
    This is an amazing write!
    I’m not sure we can ever totally heal from wounds…emotional, physical, mental…we just (hopefully) figure out how to live with them…how to try to use them and not let them use us. Even the physical wounds leave scars…but then, I find the emotional ones do, too. And besides scars we are often left with painful memories and nightmares…things trigger and attempt to destroy us.
    When I wrote my post recently about “everyone needing someone”…and that often another person’s presence (willingness to just be with us in our pain and struggle) is what is needed more than advice…I was thinking about people like those you write about here. We are all victims in some way…but we try to figure out how to overcome and in doing so, help others.
    My oldest brother was drafted to VietNam when I was a little girl. But, I have memories of his being gone, how my parents did and didn’t handle it, etc. I still have all the letters he wrote me in response to the letters I wrote him. He didn’t even begin talking about his experiences until about 10 years ago…one night he got started telling stories and it was like he couldn’t quit. I just sat and listened. I felt honored that he was sharing that part of his life with me.


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