War is Really Never Over
C. D. Peterson b. 1937
Today we call it PTSD, back then we called it ‘shell shock.’
I looked forward to visiting my cousins in town. I especially liked it when we scrounged around the neighborhood and made fairly workable guns out of blocks of wood, clothespins, and strips of inner tube. One day, while we were wandering around the streets and alleys playing war and searching for anything we could break, a wild-eyed man jumped out at us, screaming and waving his arms. I recognized him: He was a distant cousin, Guisto. He jumped toward my cousin Dick, then toward me. My cousin John, the calmest of us, stepped in between.
“Guisto!” John barked. Patting himself on the chest and pointing to the rest of us he said, “Cugini, cousins.”
Guisto calmed down, lolling his arms around his sides, twisting, moaning. John approached him a ways and called out to us over his shoulder, “He just wants to go home.”
I knew the story; Guisto was wounded early in the war and spent years in Army hospitals. While he was away, his family moved two streets over. When he came home from the hospital, he could not accept that his old house was no longer his home.
He would stand in front of his old house and cry for hours on end, demanding that the new owners give it back. All our family efforts to get him to stop, to convince him of the new situation, did not work. Kids got hustled away when he came out because he could be frightening. Then one day Guisto was gone. No one would say where he went. The sight of his tortured face and the sound of his anguished cries remain vivid to me.
(Excerpt from “A Memoir from the Home Front 1941-1955” by C. D. Peterson © All Rights Reserved)