"I was so tired of living in a war zone," she says. "I really thought my father ruined my life."
As a girl, she had taken a razor from her mother's sewing kit and sliced her skin open. She cut herself with an ink pen and stapled her hands.
Hurting herself was a way to be close to her dad. He was in such pain, she thought, that she would be, too.
In college, she mixed anti-depressants with rum and tequila and drank alone. She wanted to numb herself like PTSD sufferers do.
She had her father's eyes -- and his behavior. Severe mood swings. Anxiety. She was hypersensitive to sounds. She stood back and skimmed the crowd in a room, looking for the quickest exit. She was private, reserved. She didn't trust people.
She told Delmer she hated him.
She went through boyfriend after boyfriend, craving a man's touch, looking for the affection her father had never shown.
She dreaded driving back home for Thanksgiving or Christmas. As she approached winding John Douglas Wayside in Abingdon and began her climb up the Virginia mountains, she had flashbacks.
She saw herself as a child wrapped tightly around Delmer's legs, trying to prevent him from going down to the river to kill himself. Or lying on her bed, curled into a fetal ball.
In college, she saw a therapist regularly and didn't speak to her father, except peripherally, for 13 years. In that time, she came to understand that her troubles were related to his.
"My father got that way from being in Vietnam," Christal says. "I got it from being around him."
After college and teaching jobs and a brief marriage, Christal settled in Atlanta. But she ventured in several directions in search of an inner peace: to holy sites in the Indian Himalayas, to the halls of academia, where she earned a doctorate in education.
Always, she came up empty.
She'd begun writing as a way to understand herself, and work through her problems. One day, her coach in a writing group challenged her to take on the subject she feared most. Her father.
She decided to ask Delmer if he would participate in a series of conversations about Vietnam. Just in case things became unbearable, she set a time limit for her project: 30 days. She could stand anything as long as an end was in sight.
She was sure Delmer would refuse. Why would he speak about it now when he had kept it to himself for almost four decades?
When Delmer said yes, Christal was taken aback. She had been so certain he would not participate that she didn't even know how to begin.
The first few conversations were strained. Delmer sounded suspicious.
But by Day Four, he was telling her how he got a draft letter just before his 19th birthday.
"It was after the Tet Offensive, the worst time to be drafted," Delmer said. The surprise North Vietnamese military campaign is considered the turning point of the war.
"America saw right then that this wasn't going to be a fast war," he said. "The American people went berserk, turned against their own. They stopped supporting the war, hated us soldiers like devils."
Christal was humbled by her father's words. And appalled to learn of the public scorn. Such a thing would never happen today, she thought.
The conversations continued day by day, through the end of 2009.
Delmer talked about Agent Orange, the defoliant that rained down on the jungle from U.S. planes. He blames it for a tumor he developed in his right lung and cysts on his fingers.
He told her he placed men he knew in body bags for their final journey home. She asked whether he was in My Lai when U.S. soldiers were ordered to wipe out the village -- unarmed civilians, including women and children. Delmer told her he was not but that he was ordered to pull guard the day Pentagon authorities went in to investigate.
Christal had read about My Lai. She told her father that 500 bodies were found. "You are wrong about that," Delmer said. "There were 504."
Christal had not known her father's anguish until then -- the moments he relived, the guilt he felt for surviving.
With two months left in Vietnam, Delmer welcomed another young soldier to his platoon. The commanders made Delmer trade places with the newbie, who was placed at the front of the line in their battlefield maneuvers.
The soldier stepped on a booby trap.
Delmer never came to terms with the soldier's death. He knew the young man had a newborn daughter he had never seen. Delmer lay awake at night thinking: "It should have been me."
When her father shared that story, Christal was silent on the phone. She'd thought of her dad as a guy pointing a gun -- not as someone who suffered.
The most important review
Days after sending a copy of her book to her father, Christal met a woman who wanted to write about her project for a blog called Family Of A Vet. They talked over lunch at Tin Lizzy's restaurant near downtown Atlanta.
The woman's husband did three tours of Iraq and is disabled by PTSD and traumatic brain injury. She takes care of him and her three young children.
Daughter Caitlin, 9, had come along. Christal was talking about her 30-day project when Caitlin piped up.
"Christal," she said. "My mommy says your daddy was in a war, too."
"Yes, a long time ago, my daddy was in a war called Vietnam," Christal told her. "Miss Christal," said Caitlin. "Were you scared of your daddy like I am scared of mine? My daddy yells a lot and I go into my room and hide."
"Caitlin," said Christal. "Sometimes when someone comes back from war, they can't help themselves. Like a baby who cries."
Christal had always thought her father was distant and detached because he didn't love her. She always thought it was her fault.