Before I go, I have something to say

Soldier’s Heart

Soldier’s Heart

a one-act play

Third-Place, 2000 Dubuque International One-Act Play Contest


Characters:      Dana Sullivan, late 30’s — early 40’s

Andy Kenyon, late 30’s — early 40’s


Year:   Early-mid 1990’s.


Setting:  Dana Sullivan’s living room.  Sofa, chair, bookcase, coffee table, stereo, and various things strewn about — book bag, newspapers, piles of books, pop cans, potato chip bag, kids’ stuff (small boy’s bike, toy rifle, etc.).  This is the home of a single mother and her two children, comfortably but not expensively furnished.  There is a ladder propped in the corner, and a big box next to it.


It is late afternoon, summer.  Dana has just arrived home from work.


Dana:  (entering, newspaper and briefcase in hand)  Hello!  I’m home!  (listens, looks around, dropping briefcase onto floor and paper onto the sofa) Carrie? John?  (inspects living room, sorts through book bags, etc.)  Okay. They came home.  (aiming her voice offstage, to the upper story) Hey guys, are you here? (spies note on the coffee table) Oh. They were here, now they’re at (strains to read note) Geez Carrie, didn’t they teach you to write in 5th grade? (reading again) Okay, I got it. Over at the Andersons’.  Of course. The Andersons have a pool.  The Andersons have a dog.  Two dogs. Oh well. (flops down on sofa) Boy, am I tired. Am I glad it’s Friday. (suddenly sits up) Shoot!  That guy’s coming over — Andy. (hears something) Andy?


Andy: (knocking on screen door just offstage) Yes?  Did somebody call my name?


Dana: (startled) OH!  Who — (getting up, walking offstage toward door) Oh, hi! I almost forgot you were coming over tonight! Come in, come in!


Andy:  (a little nervous, coming onstage, holding a toolbox, as Dana escorts him in) Well, hi.  Sorry it took me so long, I had a line of students with burning questions after class.


Dana:  You have a class at 4:00?  I think it’s so neat, that class you teach.  “Life Skills.”  Boy, I could have used a class like that in college. Or high school.


Andy:  Well, I figure most kids who go to a community college like ours need some basic survival skills.  A lot of my friends, people our age, don’t even know how to fix a light switch or change a flat tire.


Dana:  Me included.


Andy:  So, I do what I can.


Dana:  My dad did all that stuff at our house, we never needed to hire anyone.


Andy:  (with feeling) Yeah.


Dana:  I suppose if I’d been a boy, he would have taught me, but the thought never occurred to him. (trying to take his toolbox) Here, let me take that.


Andy: Oh, no, that’s okay. Can I put it here? (motioning to the floor)


Dana: Sure, sure!  It looks heavy.


Andy:  Well, ceiling fans don’t really take that much, but I figured I’d be prepared. You know, in case the ceiling starts to fall down.


Dana:  (looking stricken) Oh, you don’t suppose —


Andy:  No, no, I’m just kidding.  This is really simple.


Dana:  I just want to be sure this is no trouble for you.  I know you’ve done some outside work for my friends in the English department and you did such a great job on their deck-


Andy:  Hey, I enjoy the work.  And it keeps me busy. Keeps me off the streets.


Dana: So do you just teach Life Skills? I mean, that’s really important, I just wondered if —


Andy:  Oh, I usually do two sessions of Survival Math.


Dana:  Survival Math?


Andy:  You know, high school math for the kids who never quite got it.


Dana:  Oh, I always hated math. I don’t know how I made it through college algebra. Even now, I can hardly multiply.


Andy:  Or do long division.


Dana: How did you know that?


Andy: (quickly) Oh, you know, I hear that all the time from my students.  Especially the girls.  So anyway, I’m here to put in your ceiling fan!  And it would be —


Dana:  (going to get the box from the corner) Here it is! Right here! Isn’t it pretty?


Andy:  (smiling, looks at picture on box) Stunning. No, really, this is a good one.  Did you just buy it? (begins to open the box, pulls out instructions)


Dana:  Oh, no, I’ve actually had this for years.  My dad bought it for me.  He was going to put it in himself — he was so good at stuff like that — but then, well . . . .


Andy:  (a little distracted, looking at the instruction booklet, but her statement immediately gets his attention) Yeah?


Dana:  Yes.  But then he died.


Andy:  He did? (genuinely concerned, startled) Dana, I’m so sorry.  I am really sorry to hear that.


Dana:  Well, that’s why I’m so glad I found you!  I’ve been asking everyone I meet if they know how to put in a ceiling fan, and all I hear is either “Are you kidding?” or “Sure, we put one in last year,” only by “we” they mean “my husband,” only he’s too busy to help anybody else out. (beat) Oh. That sounded whiny.


Andy:  No it didn’t.  People should be more helpful.  It must be hard, being on your own.


Dana:  My dad was always helping all the neighbors.  Oh well.


Andy:  (with feeling) Yeah, I know. (takes fan parts out of box, begins sorting them out)


Dana:  Do you need anything? Something to drink? It’s really getting hot out, isn’t it?  I wish I had a —


Andy:  A fan? Maybe a ceiling fan?


Dana:  I can’t believe I said that. Well, how about some Coke? Or ice tea? Lemonade?


Andy:  What, no beer?


Dana:  (suddenly serious) Uh, no.  No beer. Sorry, Andy, I don’t drink.


Andy:  Hey, me neither.  I was just kidding. Anything is fine.  Ice tea. Thanks.


Dana:  Okay. Oh, I’m sorry, I didn’t mean to sound like Miss Goody Two-shoes. (going offstage to kitchen, her voice fading) What does that mean, anyway? “Goody Two Shoes” — what a weird expression. . . .


Andy:  (chuckling) You got me!  (after Dana is gone,  he moves, not abruptly but decisively, to look at the photos on the bookcase.  Smiles.)  Cute kids.  (looks around, interested but not nosy, appreciative) Nice.  (returns to fan) Hey Dana! Have you got a drop cloth? An old sheet or something?


Dana: (still off in another room) Sure!  I’ll get one from the linen closet!


Andy:  Okay, great.  (takes the ladder from the corner, sets it up in center of room. Begins removing light fixture and brings it down the ladder, whistling.  As he descends the ladder, he notices an 8 x 10 portrait on the wall, walks up and inspects it intently, turning away just before Dana enters)

Dana:  (carrying tray with 2 pitchers, two glasses, sets it down on coffee table, looks up) Oh, maybe I shouldn’t set this here.  If it’s going to get messy.


Andy:  (picking up some parts) Oh, it’s going to get messy all right!  Very messy!  You’re going to wish you’d never invited me over!


Dana:  (stricken) Really? It is? Oh, God, maybe we should —


Andy:  (bending down to look her in the eye) Dana. I was kidding.   This is going to be a hugely successful project. I promise.  Not that it won’t be messy, but then it will be fine.  The darkest hour is always just before the storm — I mean the dawn.  I never was good at metaphors; that would be your department. (looks at tray, notices two pitchers)  So, what’s this? Do I have to make a choice?


Dana:  Oh, no, I just brought the tea and the lemonade. I like to mix them together.


Andy:  (familiarly) Oh, yeah, you — (stops abruptly)


Dana:  What?


Andy:  Nothing, nothing. That sounds good, actually.  Why not mix some up for me, too. (as she does so) Thanks. (takes a long drink) This is good! (puts glass down) But now I’ve got to get to work. (looks around) So, did you find that drop cloth?


Dana: (jumping up) Oh! Yes! I must have dropped it (laughs) Ha! I dropped the drop cloth! (goes offstage briefly, returns with large patterned sheet)


Andy:  (Looks around some more, then when she enters, takes the sheet, holds it up for inspection) Geez, Dana, you sure you want me to use this?  I mean it looks new.  New and expensive.


Dana:  Oh, heavens no.  I got rid of that bed years ago. I always thought a king-size bed was ridiculous, I mean even for a married couple. (beat) Or an unmarried couple, for that matter. I mean, it took up the whole room. And the cost of the bedding, boy —


Andy:  Okay. I got it. (starts spreading it under the ladder) I will do my best to get it as dirty as possible. Okay?


Dana: (smiling, bending down to help him) Okay. Thank you.


Andy:  (climbing up the ladder)  So, how long have you lived here?  In this house, I mean?


Dana:  Oh, about — well, we moved here after my husband, ex-husband I mean, lost his job, only when he left town we were still in the apartment — and then my job went full-time, so I started looking at houses, so, let’s see —  (grabs a calculator from the coffee table)


Andy:  A calculator?


Dana:  So we’ve lived here eleven years. I told you, I was not a stellar math student in school.


Andy:  High school?


Dana:  Both college and high school. (beat) Oh, high school.  Boy, that seems like a million miles away.  I guess I don’t think about it any more, except when I’m talking to my new students.  Not that it was so bad, I guess. (beat) I met my husband there. (the telephone rings, offstage.) Oh! I’ll get it.  (she goes offstage)


Andy:  (musing aloud to himself) Yes. You met your husband there.  And then what?


Dana, from offstage:  Oh, hi, honey.  Tonight?  Are you sure they want both of you?  What about dinner?  You already did? Well, I guess it’s okay.  But what about your toothbrushes? Pajamas? (beat) Oh, I see. (beat) No, no, of course. It’s okay. Well, tell them thank you, all right? Offer to wash the dishes or something.  Yes, I know they have a dishwasher. That was just a figure of speech. Okay, sweetheart, I love you too. Is Johnny — oh, all right. Well, give him a hug for me. Okay, okay, a pat on the back. No, I did not say you could slug him, Carrie! All right, I’m hanging up now. Goodbye, I love you, too. (re-enters room)


Andy:  Your kids?


Dana:  Yeah. They’ve been invited to stay over with this family we know.  They are so nice.  They’ve got this great big house and six kids and two dogs and a cat and hamsters and this perfect marriage and —


Andy:  (lightly) Kind of makes you sick?


Dana:  Oh, no, not really. A little jealous, maybe. It’s good to know there are people like that. Marriages like that.  After all, that’s what I wanted.


Andy:  (engaged in his work, but interested) I don’t know if any marriage is as perfect as it looks.


Dana:  Have you ever been married, Andy?

Andy:  Me? No. I lived with someone for about seven years, but she never did want to get married.  Not to me, anyway. So we went our separate ways. Friendly, though — no fireworks.


Dana:  Fireworks are nothing to wish for.


Andy:  (concerned) Oh?


Dana:  Oh. I’m sorry.  I’m sure I have a romanticized view of family life. I always wanted to be the Waltons, you know? With one of those really, really long relationships. I mean, I know quality time is important, but I think you need quantity time, too.  Just being together.  Sharing the bed, the bathroom, watching some dumb TV show together. Boring each other at the dinner table.  Laughing at stupid jokes while your kids roll their eyes. (looks up at him) I’m sorry – sometimes I get carried away.


Andy:  No, I know what you mean. I came from a family like that. So, does your ex-husband live around here?  If you don’t mind me asking.


Dana:  No, thank God. But close enough. (beat) I don’t mind you asking. Somehow I feel like I’ve met you before.


Andy:  (lightly) Oh yeah?  (beat) So, this ex-husband doesn’t do any work on the house for you?


Dana:  Hah. You’re kidding, right?


Andy:  Sorry. (turns his attention to the work at hand) Hmm. Now where did THAT come from?


Dana:  Oh no.  It’s not going to work, is it?


Andy:  (smiles at her, and speaks cheerfully) Oh course it is! I’ve just run into a little . . . challenge.  (stands looking quizzically at the ceiling.)  Hmm.


Dana:  You look like you’re not having a good time.


Andy:  (not sarcastically) Oh, no, I’m having a great time. We’ve just got this lead pipe up here. I have no idea what it’s doing. Maybe it was supporting the original fixture, you know?


Dana:  Oh no, it’s not going to work.  Look, come on down.  You can go home.


Andy:  No, I’m fine!  And this fan is going to be fine.  We just need to get rid of this pipe.  Can you look in my toolbox, see if I brought my hacksaw?

Dana:  (goes to toolbox, then looks up at him) You are amazing.  How can you be so cheerful?  (holds up saw) Is this it?


Andy:  Yep. Hey, your dad must have taught you something. Great.  (notices worried expression on her face) Hey, don’t look so glum! It’s going to be fine!  (looks up at the ceiling) Better hand me those safety glasses, too.


Dana:  It seems like everything we try to do around here, it turns into twice as much work.


Andy:  (working away) Well, Dana, I hate to tell you this, but as soon as I get this pipe hacked off I’ll be putting the frame for the fan in. . . . (a great cloud of dust and drywall comes down to the floor)  Look out below!


Dana:  Are you okay?


Andy:  Never better. But I could use another blade.  This one’s kinda worn.

Dana:  (handing it to him) God, Andy, how can you be so cheerful?


Andy:  Cheerful?  (playfully) You want me to yell?


Dana:  That’s what my husband would do.


Andy:  Kevin yelled?


Dana:  Oh, you know, he’s one of those guys who can’t fix something without drinking a six-pack and yelling and swearing.  He was good at fixing things, I mean that’s what he did for a living, but it was really – Andy.  How did you know his name was Kevin?


Andy:  Didn’t you tell me?


Dana:  Tell you?


Andy:  Earlier?


Dana:  No, I don’t think I did. No.  (looks at him closely)  This is getting weird.  Before, when I was talking about my dad, I felt like you knew him, too.  And what you said about long division, and the tea and lemonade — (beat) Do I know you?


Andy:  (lightly) Well, Dana, I work where you do!  We’ve seen each other at meetings, commencement, the faculty lounge.  Granted, I’ve only been there six months and you’ve been there forever.


Dana:  I know, but that’s not what I mean. I mean before you came here.  Have we met before?


Andy:  [beat] Well, yeah.  Sort of.


Dana:  Sort of?  Where?


Andy:  I think we went to the same high school.  [considers]  Well, no, I mean I know we went to the same high school.


Dana:  We did? You went to West?  What year?


Andy:  The same year as you.  We were in the same class.  You me, and 700 other people.


Dana:  We graduated together?  But – we weren’t in any of the same classes, were we?


Andy:   A few.  Biology, German –


Dana:  I only took German for a  year.

Andy:  I know.  Broke my heart. (beat) Kidding.  Look, it’s no big deal.


Dana:  What’s your last name again?


Andy:  Kenyon. Andrew Kenyon. Look, I don’t expect you to —


Dana:  And you knew Kevin, too?


Andy:  Sure. I ran cross-country with him.


Dana:  You did?  But why don’t I remember you?


Andy:  Oh, I don’t know.  It was a big school.  You know we were the biggest class they ever had there. They built that addition right after we graduated. (dramatic) But I’m terribly, terribly hurt.


Dana:  I just feel awful.  (beat)  Hey!  Maybe I can find you in my yearbook!


Andy:  Oh, please, don’t.  It’s okay.  I can’t believe you still have a yearbook.


Dana:  Well, you know, Kevin was all over it.


Andy:  Oh yes.  Popular guy.


Dana:  Oh, he was a real laugh riot. (beat) So. You knew him, and you knew he and I got married.


Andy:  Well, I just assumed you would.


Dana:  You did. That does it — I’m getting my yearbook out.


Andy:  The yearbook?  I’m probably not even in it.


Dana:  Of course you were! (looks at him more closely)  It just seems like I’d remember you, I mean, you’re so smart and funny and nice looking and —


Andy:  [embarrassed] Oh, please, you’re killing me.  I mean, thank you.  I just wasn’t particularly noticeable in high school.


Dana:  Well, we were all sort of clueless back then, weren’t we.  [jumps up, goes to bookcase]  I hope I can find it!


Andy:  I wasn’t exactly yearbook material.


Dana:  But you ran track!


Andy:  Anybody with shoes could run track.  We weren’t all Kevin Bridges.


Dana:  I hope Kevin wasn’t one of your heroes.


Andy:  He was a popular guy, you have to admit.


Dana:  Oh yeah.  He was that.


Andy:  So did you guys get married right after school?  Or did you wait until after college?  I sort of lost track of people after high school.


Dana:  Me, too.  No, we waited until after college.  We even broke up for about three years in there.


Andy:  Oh, yeah?


Dana:  Yes, smartest thing I ever did.  If only I hadn’t panicked and taken him back.


Andy:  Panicked?


Dana:  I was scared.  I was so scared when I graduated from college and couldn’t figure out any other way to put off going into the so-called Real World. I didn’t know what I really wanted to do, or where I wanted to live, or how I could live all on my own, and my friends were either getting married or going off to perfect jobs in New York or Seattle or wherever, and I felt like such a little idiot because all I ever wanted was to settle down in a house with a white picket fence and all those kids and animals.  [She is near tears, but also angry] And I thought Kevin Bridges could provide that for me.  Could make that little dream come true.


Andy:  [carefully] Hey, Dana.  Are you hungry?  You want to get something with me?  I noticed that sandwich place around the corner.


Dana:  Are you hungry?


Andy:  No, I can wait, but I thought you might be.


Dana:  No, to tell you the truth, when the kids are gone I usually just make popcorn and call it dinner.  But I should feed you.


Andy:  No, really, popcorn would be great.  I don’t expect you to feed me.


Dana:  Are you sure?  I really want you to tell me the truth.


Andy:  I am telling you the truth.


Dana:  And you’re not mad.


Andy:  Why would I be mad?


Dana:  Oh, I don’t know.  Because it’s after 7 and you haven’t had dinner?  Because I don’t have any beer in the house?  Because you need to have a cigarette?  Because this project isn’t going well?  [getting up, moving things around] Because the kids left their stuff all over the place?  Because the sun didn’t shine today?  Because you have to go to work tomorrow?  Because — oh, god.  [looks over at Andy]  Andy.  I am so sorry.  I — look, I’m going to go start the popcorn.  And I’m going to get my yearbook. [exiting] I think it might be in the study.


Andy:  [brushes debris off sheet on sofa, sinks down into it, wipes his face with a red bandanna he pulls from his pocket.  Gets up wearily, looks at 8 x 10 on the wall. Picks up blades for fan and  begins putting them together. Suddenly begins sneezing over and over.]  Achoo! Achoo! Achoo!


Dana:  [from other room] Are you okay?  I hope you don’t have allergies, I mean all that dust in there.


Andy:  No, I’m fine.  [Gets up again, goes to picture.]  This is a very nice picture.


Dana:  [entering, holding high school yearbook]  It’s my college graduation picture.  It’s kind of embarrassing, but my kids like it.  [peers at it]  I look so innocent here.


Andy:  You don’t look all that different from high school there.  Except your hair.


Dana:  Oh, I just feel so bad that I don’t remember you!


Andy:  That’s okay.  Really.  [taking the yearbook from her]  I’ll bet there’s a million people in here I don’t remember.  [Begins thumbing through, laughs at several points.] See, I don’t remember her, and I don’t remember him, and I don’t — well, hey, I do remember him.  He was in our sophomore geometry class. The guy with all the freckles .  [Dana is not looking at the book, just at him, smiling.  Finally, he turns to the senior photos in the back, pauses, his face becoming sober.]


Dana:  What?  What is it?


Andy:  Nothing.


Dana: Who is that?  Is it you?


Andy:  No, just an old friend.


Dana:  Which one?  Show me!  Maybe if I remember what your friends looked like, I’ll remember you!


Andy:  Okay.  Him.  [flips a couple of pages] And him.


Dana:  [looks carefully at one photo, then flips to the other.]  I don’t remember this guy at all, but this one — oh.  Oh no.


Andy:  You knew him?


Dana:  Yeah.  Arthur.  Oh, god.


Andy:  What.


Dana:  Well, you know.  I mean, you must.  He died.


Andy:  Yeah.


Dana:  In Vietnam.  He got drafted right after school.  He never had the grades for college, so the Army got him right away.  [Looks at him quickly]  Well, I guess I don’t need to tell you. [Flips back to the other picture] This guy, this Roger, he didn’t die, did he?


Andy:  No, he didn’t die.  He went, but he didn’t die.


Dana:  Good.  Oh, I can still remember so vividly when they did the first lottery, the draft lottery.  Gail, you remember Gail Wisong, my best friend?  Her boyfriend’s birthday was December fourth, and when they announced the number-one birthday on the news — I’ll never forget, it was November fourth — Gail was so sure it would be his birthday that she heard it wrong and thought they said December fourth, and she just lost it, she was so hysterical it took 15 minutes for her mom to get her to listen.  She was so relieved when she found out it wasn’t December fourth.


Andy:  No, it was November.  November fourth.


Dana:  So, where are you?  Kenyon, right in the middle.  [flipping through]  Oh. Oh my god.  [snaps book shut]


Andy:  Huh.  Very funny.  [takes it back, looks for the page again]  We were very funny back then, weren’t we.  [Finds it, holds it open]  Well, I wasn’t that bad looking was I?


Dana:  Andy, I’m sorry.  I didn’t do that.  It was probably somebody who didn’t even know you.


Andy:  Yeah, but they knew my birthday.

Dana:  It was probably Kevin.  [beat]  Oh, Andy.


Andy:  So, he knew I was born on November fourth?  He knew I was number one?


Dana:  I guess so.  But Andy, I’m sorry!  It’s not my fault!


Andy:  Dana, I didn’t say it was your fault.  [Noticing how distraught she is]  Hey.  It’s okay.  It’s just something somebody wrote under a high school photo fifty years ago [laughs] — where’s that calculator?  It’s okay.  I mean someone who didn’t know might think I was extremely popular.  All it says is “He’s number one!” If you ignore the skull and crossbones, anyway.


Dana:  God.  I remember one time my kids saw this, they asked me what it meant.  I told them it was just a joke.


Andy:  You didn’t explain it?  I mean, about the draft?  And the war?


Dana:  No, they were too young to understand.  I mean I’ve talked about Vietnam with them since they got older, but it’s such ancient history to them.  I showed them — oh, never mind.


Andy:  Showed them what?


Dana:  Nothing.


Andy:  What?  Showed them movies?  “Platoon”? “Saving Private Ryan”?  No, wait – wrong war.


Dana:  No, I won’t let them watch those.  I couldn’t watch them myself.


Andy:  Good idea.


Dana:  I don’t mean they aren’t important movies, I don’t mean I didn’t know what was going on, I mean, I helped organize a strike when they were bombing Cambodia, when I was in college.  [laughs weakly] Oh, boy!  How heroic!


Andy:  [takes her gently by the shoulders]  Dana, I don’t want to do this.  I don’t want you to feel defensive about something you were lucky to avoid.  I’m not bitter.  I wouldn’t wish that on anyone.  Not even my worst enemy.


Dana:  Not even Kevin.


Andy:  I didn’t know Kevin well enough to be his friend, let alone his enemy.  I suppose he got a college deferment.


Dana:  Well, for a year. He dropped out and they tried to draft him, but he had asthma when he was a kid.


Andy:  Lucky him.


Dana:  I knew this guy in college who perpetually starved himself so he’d fail his physicals.  It was pathetic. [pause] Actually, Kevin was extremely upset.  First he was angry that they were trying to draft him, and then he was angry that he failed the physical.  [pause]  Well, I suppose what he really was, was ashamed, but of course with Kevin, most emotions usually came out as anger.


Andy:  I think the popcorn’s done.


Dana:  Just your basic one-emotion guy.  Either happy as in maniacal, or ashamed / sad / hurt / disappointed as in . . . pissed off. [pause]  What?  [getting up] Oh, I’ll get it.  Do you want butter? [exits]


Andy:  Just salt is fine.  Unless you want butter.  Either way.


Dana:  [calling from the other room]  Andy, you’re too nice, you’re starting to make me nervous!


Andy:  [puts the yearbook down, buries his head in his hands briefly, handkerchief to his eyes.  Quickly  stuffs it back in his pocket, walks over to bike and wiggles the seat. As Dana reappears, he is fixing a loose bolt.]  Little wobbly?


Dana:  Oh, yes.  I’ve been meaning to fix that.  I mean see if I could fix it.  My neighbors usually take care of John’s bike, but John tends to put up with broken stuff without telling either of us about it.  He’s kind of the opposite of his father, I guess.  Keeps everything in.  [Places popcorn on table, hands Andy the salt shaker]  I guess I should be grateful.


Andy:  So I take it Kevin wasn’t the best of husbands.


Dana:  You could say that.


Andy:  I don’t mean to pry.


Dana:  No, I don’t mind talking about it.  I mean, to you.  Since you knew him.  Knew us. Boy, we did have a big class, didn’t we.  I remember hardly being able to walk down the halls sometimes between classes, it was so crowded . . . .


Andy:  [takes yearbook, thumbs through it, stops to look]  Ha.  I almost forgot about this one.


Dana:  [peering over at the photo]  What?  Is one of these guys you?  What were you all doing?


Andy:  Cleaning up the back field.  Looks like we’re doing some kind of volunteer project, but actually, Coach Larkin made us stay late and pick up 100 pieces of trash each, for some reason . . . it was 10 below zero that day, as I recall. What a jerk.


Dana:  I had him for social studies.  Larkin.  I remember one day he took this kid, Randy something, and threw him up against the lockers. . . .


Andy:   I remember that.  All the guy did was ask if he could go and get his homework.


Dana:  Yes!  We must have been in the same class. . . .


Andy:  Yeah.  “Mad Dog Larkin,” we called him. What an idiot.


Dana:  Well.  Kevin was that kind of idiot.


Andy:  What do you mean?


Dana:  You heard me.


Andy:  You mean he lost his temper?


Dana:  I mean he lost his temper, he misplaced it, he gave it away.  And he threw things.  [pause, then says almost casually] People.


Andy:  [horrified] Not your kids?


Dana:  No.  Never the kids, oddly enough.  Well, he certainly yelled at them fairly nonstop.  But he never hurt them physically, as far as I know, and I was always there, I mean he never would take care of the kids when I went out or anything.  I suppose I didn’t argue with that too much because I didn’t want to give him the opportunity to be alone with them.


Andy:  Well, then, who did he hurt?


Dana:  Well, Andy, it was just the four of us.  You want my calculator?  [quick pause]  I’m sorry, that wasn’t very nice.  I’m sorry.


Andy:  Dana, would you do something?


Dana:  What?  Do you need more —


Andy:  No I don’t need anything.  I am perfectly fine, and I don’t need anything, and I’m telling the truth.  I just wish – I wish you would stop apologizing to me.


Dana:  [quickly] I’m sorry – oh! [laughs]


Andy:  [laughing too]  Okay, I give up. (beat)  Hey, Dana.  How’s this.  Do you remember Advanced Biology class?  Miss Knopik?


Dana:  Vaguely.


Andy:  [frustrated but still trying]  Okay.  Picture this. Rows of chairs in front of lab tables.  Black counters, sinks, white lab coats on hooks at the back of the room.  Windows overlooking the football field.  A big diagram of the human eye at the front of the room –


Dana:  Uh huh (still not seeing it)


Andy:  Miss Knopick in her tie-dyed purple lab coat –


Dana:  Oh!  Ha!  And her long red hair in that weird pony-tail –


Andy:  Yes!  That’s her!


Dana:  Okay, I got it.  But I still don’t –


Andy:  Okay.   It’s the day of the mouse dissection.  We’re all sitting there, and she brings in this box of mice –


Dana:  Little defenseless white mice.


Andy:  And she tells us that we’re supposed to take this bottle of chloroform and use a big piece of cotton and –


Dana:  Kill them.  [beat] But then – this kid [looks in wonder at Andy] – with big black glasses –


Andy:  And a bad haircut – gets up, goes to the front of the class for the first time in his life, and tells the teacher –


Dana:  That we have no right to kill these little mammals just so we can do the same experiment that’s already been done a zillion times and we can read about in our textbooks –  Oh, Andy, was that you?  Oh, my goodness!


Andy:  I still get nervous just thinking about it.


Dana:  Oh, you were my hero!  You were so great!  The whole class applauded you!


Andy:  No, I wasn’t a hero, I just didn’t want to do it.


Dana:  You didn’t want to hurt the mice!  That was so sweet!


Andy:  It was actually very embarrassing. But I’m glad you remembered me.


Dana:  Kevin never would have done that.  He used to aim his car at squirrels when they ran across the street.  I don’t think he ever hit one but he loved to get me upset.


Andy:  Dana.  What you said before.  I have to ask you.  Did Kevin hurt you?


Dana:  [looks at him for a long moment, looks away and closes her eyes in acknowledgement]


Andy:  Jesus.  [hesitantly, he touches her hair, then gets up and walks a few steps away, looks off]  This is so hard to believe.  [looks back at her quickly]  No, I don’t mean I don’t believe you.  I mean, it’s so hard to hear this.  I mean, you’re so small, and pretty, and funny, and –   [catches himself]  My turn.  To embarrass you.


Dana:  [smiles]  Thank you.  [Presses her hands against her mouth, then looks up again]  Boy.  What a night.


Andy:  Well, five minutes ago I was going to say that I needed to get going.  You know, come back bright and early and get the fan done.


Dana:  Oh, that can wait.  But I wanted to talk to you about, you know.


Andy:  Nam?


Dana:  Yes.


Andy:  Dana, my dear, I would be happy to stay here and put ceiling fans in every room of this house, and talk about anything in the world.  Except (said exaggeratedly) Viet-nam.


Dana:  Well, I’d be happy to talk to you about anything in the world except my marriage.  So there.


Andy:  Yeah, but I need to hear this, I knew Kevin, and I knew you – Sort of anyway, I mean I remember this time your dad was at the school doing some kind of volunteer work for the carnival, and the two of you were drinking tea mixed with lemonade, that’s why I [motions to the tray] – and I need to —


Dana:  But why?  What good will it do?


Andy:  What good will it do for you to hear about some “police action” in some country you’re never going to visit?  [gets up, notices toy rifle propped against bookcase, picks it up gingerly]  Your son’s?


Dana:  Yes.  I never buy him any war toys.  He got it from Kevin for Christmas when he was five.


Andy:  Every little boy has guns. [Not bitter, just matter-of-fact] It’s the American way, isn’t it?


Dana:  I don’t see why my boy has to have one.


Andy:  [looks curiously at the gun, presses trigger, it goes off with a loud pop, he jumps] GEEZ!  MAN! [puts it back against the bookcase, shaken]


Dana:  Are you all right? [looks at him carefully]


Andy:  I’m fine. Fine. [lightly, trying to brush it off] Just a little  – flashback, I guess. [smiles to reassure her]


Dana:  [waving the smoke away] It stinks, too, those caps. He also has a play machine gun, and a play pistol, and water guns that look like the real thing.  Once he was aiming one at cars going by,  just squirting water at them, but I was suddenly so afraid somebody would shoot back at him with a real gun, I made him come inside.  [beat]  I remember when I was a kid, we used to buy those rolls of caps and go out on the back porch and hit them with a hammer.  Bang, bang, bang!  I loved doing that.


Andy:  So you secretly wanted your own gun.


Dana:  No, I just liked making noise.  I didn’t want to point a gun at anyone.  [looks at him suddenly]  You don’t hunt, do you?


Andy:  Me?  No.


Dana:  My dad used to hunt. I suppose you knew that. We were always eating squirrel and rabbit and deer and – you name it, he brought it home and we ate it. But it was more an act of, I don’t know, frugality.  He didn’t act all macho about it. And he always kept his guns locked up.


Andy:  So what if John wants to hunt?


Dana:  Forget it.  Anyway, he doesn’t play hunting, he plays Army.  With his guns.


Andy:  They all do.  It doesn’t mean anything.


Dana:  I’m not so sure.  Even my daughter, Carrie, she talks about joining the military so she can learn how to fly a jet!  I do not remember entertaining any such notions when I was her age.


Andy:  Well, things were different then.


Dana:  I know. We had a real war going on. [looking pointedly at him]  Real people going to war.


Andy:  You might have somebody talk to them.  When they get older.


Dana:  Who?  You mean a vet?


Andy:  Yeah, maybe.  Not me, though.  I used to want to do that but I decided to try to stop thinking about it.


Dana:  I don’t know any vets — I mean, except you.  I mean, somehow the guys I know seem to have gotten around it somehow.  Or maybe they just never mentioned it.  None of them looked like —  Oh. I’m sorry. I didn’t mean to —


Andy:  What?  You can tell by the way a guy looks if he’s a vet?


Dana:  No, not all of them, it just seems like back then, they had this look, you know, still wearing their camouflage jackets and long hair and — Okay, that sounds terrible.


Andy:  [lightly] Just a little.


Dana:  Maybe that’s just what they looked like when they first came back.  I guess they could all be accountants by now.  Three-piece suits and wingtips.  [quick smile at him] College instructors.  It’s just, back then, they all seemed so — angry.  So bitter.  I mean, I know we were awful to them.  The American public, I mean.  No parades, and I heard that people spit on them when they got off the plane.  [beat] Not you, I hope —


Andy:  Dana.  [trying to keep it light] It’s a good thing I like you so much. [picks up the toy rifle again, places it carefully on the floor]  I’ll admit, some of my friends came back that way.  Some of them came back a little — crazy.  Bitter.  Wearing their camouflage.  Not ready to let it go.


Dana:  “Crazy”?  Like on drugs?


Andy:  No. Sure, some of them drank, smoked, shot up, whatever it took to forget a little.  But that wasn’t what I meant. [beat] Have you ever heard of post-traumatic stress syndrome?


Dana:  Sure. [thinking of her own experience]  You bet.


Andy:  Did you know, in World War I they called it “Shell Shock.” [pauses, considering the term] And before that, they called it “Soldier’s Heart.”  This . . . condition. This illness.


Dana:  Really?  That sounds so — sort of — beautiful. “Soldier’s Heart.”


Andy:  I like it.  At least it acknowledges that soldiers have hearts.  [looks at her levelly]  As opposed to being heartless baby killers.


Dana:  I never said that myself.  I was against the war, not the boys fighting it.


Andy:  You were out there waving peace signs?


Dana:  Yeah.  Pretty lame.  [long beat]  Andy.  Please.  Tell me.  Tell me what it was like.


Andy:  I wouldn’t know where to begin.


Dana:  Okay.  [sits down on the end of the coffee table, facing the audience]  Start here:  tell me how you got there.


Andy:  [sighs, looks up at the half-installed ceiling fan, looks at her for a long moment and then sits down on a step of the ladder so he is also facing the audience] Well. Actually, I was a draft dodger.


Dana:  [pulling away from him] You WHAT?  Do you mean to tell me all those things you just told me –


Andy:  No, no, I was telling you the truth.  I just meant that I dodged the draft by —


Dana:  You dodged the draft.


Andy:  [teasingly] Stop interrupting. [beat]  I enlisted.


Dana: [hitting him with pillow] You what?


Andy:  Hey, let’s not get violent here.  I’m a peace-loving person.


Dana:  [serious]  But how could you — I’m sorry, Andy, but —You were a peace-loving person! How could you enlist?


Andy:  I didn’t have much choice.  Remember, I had number one in the lottery.  I didn’t have flat feet or any other convenient medical excuse.  My dad would have died of shame if I’d tried to be a Conscientious Objector. If I didn’t enlist, I’d be drafted.  If you enlisted, you had to serve two more years than if you got drafted, but you had a hell of a lot more choice in what you did.  If you were drafted, you were trained enough to shoot a gun and dig a foxhole, and that was about it.  You ended up in combat for sure.  That’s the advice my dad gave me.  He wanted me to be okay, but he couldn’t send me to Canada, or college, like everybody else’s parents. Really, I don’t blame him.  He thought he was doing the right thing.  He was in World War II and he was so proud of it.  That was a war to be proud of, I guess.


Dana:  Unlike Vietnam.


Andy:  Yeah.


Dana:  Andy?


Andy:  What.


Dana:  Can I ask you what you did over there?


Andy:  Sure.


Dana:  [slowly]  Okay . . .?  Sooo — what did you do over there?


Andy:  I was a medic.


Dana:  A medic.  Like a doctor?


Andy:  No, more like a nurse.  I had delusions of becoming a doctor after I got out.


Dana:  Well, that’s good.  I mean, then you didn’t have to kill anyone.


Andy:  [not sarcastically] Sure.


Dana:  But I guess you still had to carry a gun, a rifle I mean, in case you got in the middle of things.


Andy:  You could say that.


Dana:  That’s why you — [motions toward toy rifle]


Andy:  Umm hmm.


Dana:  But how do they train you?  How do they train you for that?


Andy:  Oh, just your basic first aid.


Dana:  Really?  But — but, Andy, god, it must have been awful!  You must have been surrounded by, by —


Andy:  Dana, we don’t need to talk about this.


Dana:  Okay.  I’m sorry.  I don’t want to upset you.


Andy:  I’m not upset.  I don’t want to upset YOU.


Dana:  I’m not.  I want to know what you went through.


Andy:  I want to know what YOU went through.


Dana:  No you don’t.  It’s not something people want to hear about.


Andy:  Neither is mine.


Dana:  But I want to know! Damn it!


Andy:  Okay.  You tell me, and I’ll tell you.


Dana:  Okay. [there is a very long pause]


Andy:  Well. Like I said, I enlisted so I wouldn’t get drafted. I —


Dana:  [interrupts —  he isn’t expecting her to interject her story, but to wait until he tells the whole thing]  I got married because I was afraid to be alone.


Andy:  [looking at her cautiously]  I went to Fort Leonard Wood for basic training, where I got screamed at day and night by a sadistic sergeant.  He seemed to think it was his duty to toughen us up. [waits for her this time]


Dana:  We went to Florida for our honeymoon.  Kevin criticized the clothes I wore, the way I looked in a swimsuit, the amount of food I ate, and the way I talked to the man at the front desk of our hotel. [looks to him]


Andy:  This sergeant seemed to think I was a spoiled Iowa farm boy.


Dana:  Kevin accused me of flirting with every man we saw. [doesn’t look at Andy. From this point, though each is highly aware of the other, both look toward the audience.]


Andy:  I learned how to shoot a gun and dig a foxhole and bandage a wound.


Dana:  When we got back home from our honeymoon, I learned how to fix a 3-course meal for dinner every night, and how to make a Scotch and water, and how to clean the bathroom the way Kevin’s mother always did.


Andy:  They put me on a plane to Vietnam.  I was “in country” 5 months after I enlisted.


Dana:  I got pregnant one month after we got married.  We weren’t planning to.  Kevin accused me of doing it on purpose.


Andy:  When I got there, they sent me to ­­­­Da Nang.  The Viet Cong had been shelling for days there and they needed more medics.


Dana:  He wanted me to have an abortion.  He made the appointment for me.


Andy:  They didn’t tell me until later that they’d lost two medics the week before.  Killed on the field.


Dana:  I wouldn’t do it.  I told the doctor.  I got all the way to the operating room, and I just could not do it.


Andy:  I found out just how effective first aid is.


Dana:  He was furious as we drove back home.  That was the first time he hit me.


Andy:  I don’t remember all the men I treated.  It’s not humanly possible to remember all of them.  But I remember the first one.


Dana:  I don’t remember all the times he hit me.  I used to wish I had kept track, from day one, so I could know how bad it was.  But I remember the first time.


Andy:  I had just been talking to him the night before.  We had a beer together.  His name was Benton.  He was from Illinois.  Man, I wish I didn’t remember this.


Dana:  He didn’t really hit me.  He took me by the shoulders, and he hit my head against the bedroom wall. [demonstrates on herself, putting her hands to her shoulders and jerking her head back]  It hurt.  I never knew that you really do see stars when you hit your head.  Just like in the comics.  Like Beetle Bailey.


Andy:  Stupid private. He just walked out that morning to look for VC and got his face blown away.  I ran out, I brought all my stuff, my morphine, but there was nothing to save.  I couldn’t do mouth-to-mouth because he didn’t have a mouth.  Jesus fucking Christ.


Dana:  He apologized.  He said, “I’m sorry, Dana.  I’m sorry.  I didn’t mean to hurt you.  You know I love you.   This pregnancy thing just has me upset, you know?”


Andy:  I started crying.  I lost it.  Right there.  Then my sergeant came out and started yelling at me to leave the dead and tend the wounded.  So I got up, I left him.  Benton.  I went to the next guy.  And the next one. I don’t remember their names.


Dana:  I forgave him.  I told him I was sorry.  I don’t know what I was sorry for, but I told him I was sorry.  Maybe for not having the abortion.  That’s what he wanted, after all.


Andy:  It just went on.  Like that.  There isn’t anything more to tell.  It was just the same thing, over and over.


Dana:  He started beating me up all the time.  Well, twice a week, maybe three times.  It just became a routine.  No matter what I did, I knew I would get beat up.


Andy:  I never killed any babies.  I never killed any civilians.  I only killed the enemy.  Only when I had to.


Dana:  He would — if I made the wrong thing for dinner, or if the kids were acting up, or if the car broke down, he would punish me.  Sometimes he would choke me, or he’d pick me up, real high, and throw me down in a chair.  He’d kick me out of bed and make me sleep in the bathroom.


Andy:  Guys were getting killed by children.  By old women with grenades.  I had to take care of all of them.


Dana:  Even when we had company.  Even his parents.  He’d follow me into the bathroom and choke me.  He’d tell me everything I had said to them was stupid.  So he had to teach me a lesson.


Andy:  Fucking Bob Hope.  He came to entertain us.  Fucking jerk.  Like it was World War Two and we were so fucking proud to be serving our country.  He didn’t know the whole fucking audience was stoned.


Dana:  He would swear at me all the time.  In front of the kids.  He’d throw things around.  He’d hit me in the car.  It was like he was out of control, only he knew exactly what he was doing.


Andy:  Then my DEROS came up.  “Date of expected return from overseas.”  Time to go home.  I almost didn’t want to go home.  It was like, But this is my world!  These are my buddies!  How am I supposed to go home and live a normal life?  I’m not a normal person anymore!  Will there be people over there screaming “Medic! Medic!”  How will I know what to do, how to act?


Dana:  He went out of town once.  Just for the day.  I packed everything I could into my friend’s van, and went to her house.  He called me that night.  He knew exactly where I was.  He said, “If you come home tonight, the neighbors will never know.”  So I went home.  I was so afraid the neighbors would find out.


Andy:  I got all these letters from my parents.  They were so proud.  They were so worried about me.  They saw the protests on TV.  They didn’t know what to think.


Dana:  I told my friends, but I couldn’t tell my family.  My dad’s health was failing, I knew it would have killed him.  I didn’t want to get a divorce; I didn’t get married to get a divorce!  Nobody in my family was divorced.


Andy:  I was the third generation in my father’s family to go to war.  I was carrying on this honorable tradition.  My purple heart was supposed to go in a case right next to my father’s purple heart.  Not that he wanted me to get hurt or anything.


Dana:  My parents were so happy when I got married. In my wedding vows I promised to love and honor and cherish.  I tried that, I really did.  It just wasn’t working.  He had promised the same thing, after all!


Andy:  So I went home.  They met me at the airport.  There wasn’t any band, there wasn’t any parade. I guess I’m lucky nobody spit on me.  I changed out of my uniform as soon as I could.


Dana:  I left him on our seventh anniversary.  I took the kids and went to a motel.  Then I moved in with another friend, one he didn’t know.  I found an apartment.  It only had two bedrooms.  And roaches in the kitchen.  But it had a deadbolt on the front door.  I cried every night for weeks, but I was safe.


Andy:  Then I was safe, but I heard those helicopters all the time.  I heard those guys.  I saw their faces, their legs, their arms, blown away.  And now I couldn’t help them.


Dana:  The kids asked me every day where Daddy was.  He started calling me, begging me, bargaining with me, threatening me.  I heard his voice in my head all the time, telling me what an idiot I was, what a bitch, what a whore.


Andy:  People would ask me if I’d killed anyone over there.  How many.  What kind of gun I carried.  Little kids, my nephews.


Dana:  I was so tired all the time.  And angry.  It scared me, how much I yelled at the kids.


Andy:  I hated war so much, I hated killing and war and violence, but I felt like killing anybody who looked at me funny.  I was this seething monster with a peace medallion around my neck.


Dana:  I would tell them, “Daddy and I are not getting back together because he hurt me.”  “Daddy hurt Mommy.”  They knew, they’d seen it.  They’d heard it every night.  Sometimes I yelled it at them.  I didn’t want them to forget


Andy:  I joined VVAW — Vietnam Vets Against the War.  I marched on Washington.  I went to throw my medals away.  Only when I got there, I just couldn’t do it.  I just stood there and cried.  Some guy I didn’t know came up and put his arms around me and we just sobbed like babies.  The hell with it.  I didn’t care.


Dana:  I was in therapy for a year with some other battered women.  I could tell them everything.  Even when I missed him and I wanted to go back to him, I could tell them.  They understood.  Somebody was always crying.


Andy:  I looked into medical school, but I just didn’t have the stomach for it anymore.  Being a family doctor, treating ingrown toenails and headaches, seemed way too tame, and treating vets at the VA hospital was too close to home for me.  I felt like a complete, total failure.  I took a job as a night janitor.  I’d smoke joints and mop floors.  It was actually kind of peaceful.


Dana:  I went to work at the college.  I was just a secretary, but it paid the bills.  I went to school at night and finally got my masters.  They let me teach some classes.  I felt like a fraud some of the time, like he was still screaming in my ear about how stupid and incompetent and ugly I was, but gradually his voice faded a little.


Andy:  I started fixing things that broke down, and they promoted me.  I went to working days, and there were more people to talk to.  I started taking classes.  I wasn’t quite so mad anymore.  I went to Washington again, to look at the wall. I found Benton’s name on it.  I laid my medals down under his name.  I kept the purple heart.  For my dad.


Dana:  [suddenly becoming aware of where she is, what she’s doing. She looks at Andy and puts her hand on his arm]  Your father was a good man.


Andy:  [takes a long moment to come back himself]  Yeah.  He was.


Dana:  You didn’t do anything wrong.


Andy:  I think — I think I did kill some civilians.  This one day —


Dana:  It’s okay.  You didn’t know.  It was insane over there.


Andy:  Yeah.  [pause]  You didn’t do anything wrong, either.


Dana:  It was my idea to get married.  I begged him.  I made him.


Andy:  You didn’t beg him to hit you.  You didn’t make him do that.


Dana:  No.  No, I didn’t.  [Without really being aware of it, they hold hands.]


Andy:  [Looking up] This fan isn’t going to put itself up.


Dana:  Fuck the fan.


Andy:  Excuse me?


Dana:  I’m sorry.  I’m tired.


Andy:  Me too.  [long pause; looks down at their clasped hands and smiles.]  You know — that country, it was so beautiful.  One time, I was out by the football field, you know out on the north end of town? It was one of those hot and humid August days, and the sun was just going down.  The sky was almost purple, and I felt like I was back there.  I could hear the birds, and the soft wind, and I really felt like I was back in Vietnam.  Only it was beautiful.  Not the war, just this beautiful country.  God, what we did to that place —


Dana:  It wasn’t you.  It wasn’t your idea.  It’s okay.  It’s okay.


Andy:  I know.  I know.


Dana:  [another comfortable pause] That apartment I found for the kids and me, it was so awful.  And you could hear everything through the walls.  That’s why I couldn’t wait to buy a house, so I wouldn’t have to hear anybody else’s TV or music or arguments.  The people who lived above us, this family, they would play their stereo so loud sometimes.  [looks up]  It was like they were showing off.


Andy:  Showing off?


Dana:  How happy they were, compared to me.  I mean — well. [pause]  This one time, they had their music on, and it really wasn’t that loud, it was just that this apartment complex was so cheap, you could hear everything.  So, I could hear the music, and then I could also hear this –  this creaking noise. Over and over.  [laughs]  Not from their bedroom! Like when their kids ran around every Saturday morning when I was trying to sleep.  Only this was kind of late at night, I had just gone to bed.  And here was this music, and this squeaking sound, sort of over and over.  And I was getting really annoyed, and really depressed that I had to live in this crackerbox apartment with no privacy, and then I realized. [stops, caught in the memory]


Andy:  What?


Dana:  I realized what it was.  What they were doing.  It was so — I was still so sad and angry, and yet it was so wonderful.


Andy:  What were they doing?


Dana:  They were dancing.  Slow dancing.  Right there in their crummy living room in their crummy apartment just like mine.  [she rises and unselfconsciously begins to dance around by herself, arms out as though embracing a partner.  We hear faint strains of music, Johnny Rivers’ song “Slow Dancing”] Those people had two kids, just like me, roaches in their kitchen, just like me, and there they were, dancing together.  Ohhhh. [stops, but she still seems to be “gone” again]


Andy:  [gets up]  Dana?


Dana:  [coming back] Yes?


Andy:  [takes her hand, walks over to the stereo, picks up a CD from the pile on top, and puts it on — the same song, only real, in this living room]  Would you ?


Dana:  Oh, Andy.  [puts her arms around him, they go into a long and powerful embrace. The music comes up, and they begin dancing.]


Andy:  [holding her at arm’s length] Um, Dana?  There is one thing.


Dana:  [smiling at him] What’s that?


Andy:  In high school, I never did learn to dance.


Dana:  [laughs, draws him back to her]  I know, I know.  I remember that, too.





Leave a Reply