"Yeah, because they've seen bad things," Caitlin said.
Christal had spoken with other grown children of Vietnam veterans. But this was the first time she saw herself in a child.
Christal contained herself in front of Caitlin. But when she and her mom drove away after lunch, Christal burst into tears.
It was a week before her book launch. Christal had a calendar chock-full of media interviews. She was confident that veteran communities would welcome her book. She was less sure about her father.
It took him two days to finish reading.
The phone rang, finally, on a Tuesday afternoon.
"It's a good book, Christal," Delmer told her.
"Do you like it?" she asked.
"Yes, I do."
No other review was going to matter.
In his footsteps
Along a living room wall in Christal's home in Atlanta stands a case containing a new Alvarez guitar. Delmer bought it for her three years ago, the first time they spent Christmas together after the 30-day project.
She'd told him she wanted to learn how to play. She knows that without his music, her father might be dead.
It kept him going after he couldn't work anymore. It was like an extra limb. Sometimes he played for eight hours a day. He loves Ricky Skaggs, Ralph Stanley. War songs. Even wrote one himself.
"Having the guitar here makes me feel like a part of my father is here," she says.
He sketched out chords for her on pieces of white paper, but Christal has been so busy finishing her book, she hasn't had time to learn. Soon, she says, she will.
The guitar is not the only talisman in her home tying Christal to her father. Inside a small silver urn is a piece of a sandbag. The color is still a vivid sky blue. Next to it is a piece of asphalt.
She found them in Vietnam.
After the series of talks with her father, Christal felt compelled to go to Vietnam, to Chu Lai, down Route 1, to the place the Americans called LZ (landing zone) Bayonet, to the fire base known as Fat City.
Soldier's Heart, an organization that supports veterans and their families suffering from psychological wounds, made the trip possible.
She climbed the slope of the landing pad where her father had slept. She gazed at a trench overgrown with grass and yellow wildflowers. The mountains behind her must have been where a young Delmer schlepped through thick jungle with a gun in his hand and a radio strapped to his back.
She could still see tank tracks embedded in the asphalt. And boot prints. Christal stepped inside, Vietnam surging through her body.
She felt ashamed she had treated her father the way she had. If only she could go back in time.
Delmer felt the same way.
He told her he locked himself away because he didn't want to hurt her.
"I let her down," he says. "It's my fault. I didn't realize I was hurting anyone."
One time, he was frantic on the phone with Christal. He hadn't burned any villages or killed any people, he told her as though someone were accusing him.
She no longer thought him crazy.
She told him he's the bravest person she knows. She is sorry she couldn't see that earlier.
"I forgive you. I forgive myself," Christal told him.
Delmer says he's happy, at least, that before he hangs up the phone with Christal these days, he can say: "I love you."
There is a temple in Vietnam, lush with ponds and trees with branches hanging low.
Outside, merchants sell birds, turtles and fish. Christal learns that people buy them and set them free in the temple, in accordance with the Eastern belief of the eternal nature of the soul.
She thinks back on a childhood fishing trip with her father. The fish she caught swallowed the hook and worm whole. It bled through the gills and gasped for life. "She's dying," Christal howled, begging Delmer to save it.
Delmer was calm, confident. He cut the line, freed the fish and assured her it would live. It struggled for a few seconds and then dived deep into the water.
Christal thinks now her father is like that fish -- a survivor.
It is the day before she is to leave Vietnam and journey home. She steps forward, peers at the bags of goldfish for sale. One is black, like the fish she had in her aquarium as a little girl. That's the one she chooses.
She walks over to the pond, opens the bag and watches the fish swim away.