Friendly Casualties (4)

The saddest story in Friendly Casualties is “Jolly, Jolly Sixpence.” It tells of Riley, a man wracked by Post-Traumatic Stress Injury (PTSI) from his time in combat in Vietnam. His wife has divorced him, and his young son, Joey, shies away from him. When Riley discovers that his son is enjoying the company of his ex-wife’s new boyfriend, he decides that for revenge, he will cut down the cherry tree he planted to celebrate Joey’s birth.

I wrote the story as the result of my own struggle with PTSI. But it also came from watching other men trying to cope with their untameable memories. I was lucky. I learned early on that I had to face down the inescapable scenes in my head and find ways to cope with them. The character of Riley is typical of so many men I knew who tried to bury their memories only to have them come back in flashbacks, nightmares, panic attacks, and irrational rages. Riley is slowly being destroyed by the disease. Although the story ends before Riley’s final collapse, I know that he, like so many victims of PTSI, eventually finds living unbearable and takes his own life.

Riley offers to teach Joey the song, “I’ve Got Sixpence” at the beginning of the story, but Joey isn’t interested. Fragments of the song reappear in Riley’s consciousness as the story unfolds. The last two lines of the story are the last two lines of the song: Happy as the day when we line up for our pay, as we go rolling, rolling home.

The title of the story comes from the second line of the song. I learned it in Vietnam from Aussies there fighting by our side. I’ve never been able to establish the origin of the song, but my guess is that it was British and probably dates back at least to World War I. The words, as I learned them, are as follows:

I’ve got sixpence,
Jolly, jolly sixpence,
I’ve got sixpence to last me all my life.
I’ve got tuppence to spend,
And tuppence to lend,
And tuppence to send home to my wife, poor wife.

No cares have I to grieve me,
No pretty little girls to deceive me.
I’m happy as a lark, believe me,
As we go rolling, rolling home.
Rolling home, rolling home,
By the light of the silvery moo-oo-on—
Happy as the day when we line up for our pay,
As we go rolling, rolling home.

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