“The war made him first from a boy into a man, then from a man into a broken man.” Grandma always looked sad when she said that.
The three years of war never left him. You might have heard about PTSD, but hearing about it is not the same as experiencing it. Even when I was just a child I knew that something was wrong with grandpa.
When I was very young he scared me. He was nice to me, always nice and friendly, but I could hear him scream behind closed doors and stomping up and down the stairs in the middle of the night.
Whenever my dad came home late after his bowling nights I would tell him that he “smelled like grandpa.” That was grandpa’s way to cope and I think he inherited some of it to dad and dad in turn to me. When you grow up with the knowledge that alcohol solves problems and preserves sanity then it is hard to get around that idea.
Grandpa drank to forget; to forget the memories and flashbacks and nightmares. When Kim Il-Sung attacked the South grandpa’s boots were some of the first Western boots on the ground. They drove the North back; then they got too close to the Chinese border.
I still remember grandpa’s cursing when he spoke about the “millions of Chinese” that crossed the border. Their weapons were inferior, their training too. Still, by sheer mass, they drove the UN forces back.
Grandpa was one of thousands that came home with scenes and images etched in their minds. Some lived a normal life; grandpa barely functioned.
As a teenager I read many books about the war; their authors often served in the same battles as grandpa. Others I asked in person.
Still, no one else ever spoke about nightly attacks on the camps and no one else ever called the Koreans “White Devils.”
Grandpa always cursed about them. Ever since the war he stayed up at night and slept during the day, just because of them. He said that he needed to protect his house and family.
I hated it when we stayed over at my grandparents’ place; there sleeping was impossible for me. If grandpa’s cussing didn’t wake me up it was the baseball bat crashing on floors and furniture, and sometimes even gunshots at imaginary enemies.
I never dared to go down to stop him. I never dared to sit down and talk with him. I feel guilty for that now, but as my dad usually points out it was already much too late – no one could get through to him.
All grandpa talked about were his nightly encounters with the white devils. Dad usually cut him off and told him grandpa that he needed to go again to see his therapist. No matter what time of the day – grandpa always answered the same way: by pouring a large glass of liquor.
Twice grandpa tried to talk to me about the white devils. The first time I must have been around 11. I cried when he told me about the shrine he destroyed and that the Koreans, as revenge, killed most of his squad. That was the only war story he ever told that day – else he only talked about the white devils; that they were trying to harm his family and him.
After that I too began to have nightmares, but only whenever I stayed over at grandpa’s place. I saw small white figures behind the window, white-socked feet behind the door, and a few times even figures standing in or walking through my room.
When I told grandpa about my nightmares he made me sleep with the door open. He patrolled the house, the baseball bat in one and a cold glass in the other hand. His presence made me nervous and it was harder for me to fall asleep – but in return the nightmares ended.
The second time grandpa sat me down was when I was 14. I don’t remember the details of our conversation, but I remember the sickening smell of his breath, the way he slurred words and that he kept talking about the white devils.
He said that I was old enough, that I had to help him protect the family because my father refused to do so.
In retrospect it seems obvious that around that time grandpa’s mental health began to deteriorate rapidly. The shouting got more frequent, often furniture was broken in the morning and several times the neighbors called the police because grandpa’s gunshots broke through their wall. Back then I didn’t notice the change, it was too gradual and I think I wasn’t the only one deluding myself that the deterioration was just ‘temporary’ and that grandpa would return to his previous state.
Then he began to speak of “proving it.” A few times others had stayed awake with grandpa to help him hunt his memory ghosts, but no one ever saw anything.
Grandpa was prescribed new, stronger medication, but he never took it. He usually said that he needed “to be awake and alert.
His screams woke me up. Not cussing and cursing about white devils; screams. Grandma too was on the corridor and followed me downstairs.
“Get off me.”
Grandma and I heard the shot from the stairs; just one. Then silence.
I tried to keep grandma out of the garage, but she was too quick. She too saw the open skull, the fleshy mass splattered on the floor, and the red spots on the ceiling.
The gun was still in his mouth.
At the other end of the room, on the floor, was a camera. It was on, but there was no tape.
Grandpa got a funeral with full honors. We were proud of him that day. Grandma cried, and so did dad. For me it was strange to hear grandpa being called “a hero.”
Now I too call him that, and not just for the war. Now I too have a house and a wife that I want to protect; I feel the urge and drive to protect.
My son is now six. This morning he told me that he can’t sleep. He said that there are figures next to his bed; small figures with dark black eyes that stare at him; he said that otherwise the figures are bright white.
This is my story, originally I published it on Reddit.