Language Warning…Language Warning…Language Warning
When you begin to feel mortal, your philosophy of life starts to change.
Every one of the thousands of decisions you make each day is never as cut and dried as it may appear. Each moment in life has a right turn and a left turn. Let’s say for example, you reach over and hit the snooze button one more time. Then maybe you’re ten minutes late for that important meeting and because of that decision you get canned from your job. That’s bad luck for you. But good luck for the guy who’s now playing with your old rubber band collection and watching your young assistant’s perky boobs bounce beneath her white cotton blouse as she walks into your old office. We’ll call that ‘left turn’.
On the other hand maybe you hit that snooze button one more time and now you’re running ten minutes late. You get to the intersection of Main and Montana just after that teenager, tuning his radio and not noticing the red light, ran it and hit the Ford pickup at forty-five miles an hour. Now that’s pretty good luck for you, but bad luck for that guy in the pickup truck who’s now laying in a hospital bed with tubes stuck into several orifices of his body. We’ll call that ‘right turn’.
Perhaps it’s nothing more than simple destiny? Was it even your decision to hit the snooze button one more time? It could have been some prearranged event planned before you were even a gleam in your father’s eye. Whatever it is, hope, luck or destiny…sometime it just sucks.
I once asked this question to one of those drugged out guru people. You know the ones that supposedly were in touch with their inner peace and have all knowing wisdom.
“Is it luck or destiny?” I asked him.
“The answer is known only by the man who has the answer,” he replied.
What the hell? I guess, maybe the only thing we can do is what we think is right and we’ll just have to suffer the consequences of it later.
Crazy Dave made the decision to raise his hand and turn his head the second he knew the kid was ready to shoot. As if he could stop a 7.6mm round fired from an AK47 at 25 feet with his bare hand. He didn’t decide to jump, run, fall down, cry out or crap his pants. He simply raised his right hand and turned his head away. The eight gram shell slammed into his high school class ring and shattered. Taking with it the two middle fingers of his right hand. A small fragment splintered off and cut a gash along his cheekbone just below his right eye.
That mindless decision to wear his ring into the bush even though he knew he shouldn’t, saved his stupid ass life. That was it. His ticket back to the world. If he would’ve known it was going to be that easy he might’ve done it to himself a long time ago. Somehow though he’d always thought it would hurt a whole lot more. Unknown to him the real hurt wouldn’t come until much later and it wouldn’t be his hand that would hurt the most.
At the time he thought how lucky he was that the kid couldn’t shoot straight. Was it really good luck that he averted death in a place that held so much death? Or was it bad luck that he survived, but without feelings or emotions?
They had told him he was one of the elite…Semper Fi. They trained him well, dropped him off in a shit hole halfway around the world and said. “You’re a good kid, hope you make it.” His education though was far from over and he continued his training. They taught him to hate. “Fucking Gooks, Goddamned slant eyed Bastards.”
They taught him to distrust anyone in authority. “What the hell do the Pogue know anyway, setting in their comfortable little chairs, pushing a line across some map? They don’t give a rat’s ass about me or anybody else.” They taught him how to escape from the reality of it all, even if it was only for a few hours. “Hey man, pass it on, don’t Bogart that shit.”
They gave him a weapon and showed him the way he was supposed to kill. He learned their lessons well and understood that in order to survive, you fired at anything that wasn’t wearing OD green. He learned how to burn old men, still holed up in their hooch’s, because they wouldn’t come out. “Hell, maybe they didn’t even understand what I wanted. I mean…shit; I couldn’t even speak their language.”
They taught him how to be afraid of anything that moved, because behind every shadow was the enemy. Maybe some of them weren’t the enemy, but he couldn’t take that chance. “Just shoot first and let God sort them out.” That’s another thing that they were kind enough to teach him.
They taught him a lot of things. But some things, like pain, despair, fear, and hopelessness, he learned on his own. No one had to teach him those things…they came naturally. Yea, they taught him many things except the one thing he needed to know…how was he supposed to deal with it now that it’s over? Where were they now with their lessons? When the screams invaded his every dream. When he woke up soaked in sweat, fear coursing through every fiber. When a simple act of life like a baby crying could send him into an emotional tailspin and the only thing that would help him forget was a bottle of Jack. Where were they when the shit got to be too much and the only way to chase away the ghosts was to drink until he passed completely into darkness.
“Fuck you man, you’re on your own.” That’s where they were. “We’re finished with your ass, now that you can’t help us. So go away, back to your tiny town in the middle of Bumfuck whatever, where no one will ever understand you. Leave us alone though, we want to forget about you as quickly as possible, because we have thousands of other kids we can cripple, or kill. Now hurry along before anybody starts asking questions. Get on with your life and forget about all this nonsense.”
How could he forget, there were too many ghosts and too many regrets. Even if he could forget, every time he looked in the mirror or tied his shoes, it reminded him. They took two fingers from his right hand and a piece of his face. They said, “Thank you very much for your contribution. Here, have this Heart. Look, we tied a pretty ribbon to a bright, shiny hunk of metal for you. Ooh, see how nice we are.”
“By the way, if you’re having any difficulty adjusting, go to the VA hospital, stand in the line for ten hours with the rest of the people we don’t give a shit about. See the doctor who flunked medical school three times and he’ll write you a nice prescription to help you forget your name.”
They had yanked away from him, more than his fingers. They had snatched the youth from his eyes and left him with a cold, angry stare. They took away his ambition and gave him depression and anxiety. They took his soul and replaced it with…nothing. They left him with a deep hole, as if he was missing his center, and the leftover pieces would fly apart any time now.
Everybody you meet in life leaves you with some kind of impression. Even that guy at the grocery store. You know the one. He cuts in line, is impatient with the clerk, nearly runs over you with his cart. You think to yourself what an ass, and in your mind every short, middle-aged, bald man in a wrinkled white shirt and crooked tie, red faced from too many hamburgers…must be a rude, obnoxious jerk.
We set those kinds of stereotypes every day. We can’t help it; we have to group people into these little niches because our brains can’t process all the individual things we deal with in a single day. Therefore we end up with sweet little old ladies, cantankerous old coots, fiery redheads, bimbo blondes…Baby Killers. He could see it in their faces when he walked down the street. Women looked at him like he was going to rape them or eat their babies. He saw the looks in the eyes of the people who claimed they were his friends. Sure, they would wave or nod their head, but he could tell, they were hoping like Hell, he didn’t cross the street to talk to them.
They had told him; try to get on with your life. But what life is there for him to get on with? It had only been one lousy year, 8760 hours, 525600 minutes…less time than it takes them to build a new Wal-Mart. But enough time for him to change beyond their ability to comprehend. Change into someone that didn’t fit in here or perhaps, anywhere. They only remembered him as the boy that was the valedictorian of his class and had a college scholarship. They still saw the kid that could have been something. He was the person they wanted back…not this man.
“That boy is going to go places, someday,” they all said. “He has the whole world ahead of him.”
Just why in the hell didn’t someone tell him it was going to be halfway around the world huddled in a patch of elephant grass at the gates of hell? The skin on his feet rotting from the never-ending rain. So scared he couldn’t stop his body from shaking. At least the water from the rain hid his tears. The explosions covered his cries.
It was that David from before that they all wanted back. The one who loved his country…because he learned that from his parents and grandparents. It was that David however who made the decision to go to Vietnam and it was that David who never made it back. They didn’t want to hear about the Dave that is now. The boy who gave up everything he had or would ever have for a vacation to hell and they had the nerve to say, “What good did it do? We had no business being there in the first place.”
Well they can kiss his ass too, those little pricks.
Dave looked young; Hell, he could have still been the captain of the high school football team. He was too young for the cold, darkness that was in his eyes. He didn’t feel young inside and he didn’t think young. From his left side, he still looked like a kid. His friends all thought they were so grown up. Some had gone on to the college just a few miles away where they still ran home to mommy whenever they needed their ass wiped. Most of them stayed home working at some minimum wage job that they were so proud to have and talked about until he wanted to puke. They had the same girlfriends, the same cars, and most of them lived in the same house. Nothing had changed for them…they still had their same safe little life.
He had nothing but the ghosts of the past to keep him awake at night. Only 19 and he’d already seen too much of what life had to offer, short of death, and sometimes he wondered if maybe that might not be a bad thing either.
He could still smell them in his dreams; the stench of burning flesh, the rotting decay, and that heavy, musty smell of wet everything. He could still hear them too. As they screamed in agony, screamed for their mothers, their wives, their children, screamed for mercy, screamed for God to take them.
At work, he could still hear them, even over the sound of jackhammers and cement trucks. He heard them in leaky valves, teapots steaming, children playing on a rusty swing in the playground and the squeaky brakes on a car as it stopped at a traffic light. Sometimes they came slowly and he could quickly see that they were just, a bearing needing greased. Other times they caught him off guard, startled him for just an instant. In those times, his mind would race. “Where are you…that you Jimmy…Hang on, I’m coming buddy.”
He had worked several jobs since his return to the world. He kept to himself and worked harder than anyone else and never made trouble. Except when he drank, and that was more and more often. He drank to forget but more than that, he drank to get the courage to fight back against the demons. He drank to remember a time before when he was young and free. Maybe if he drank enough he could get rid of the voices and be free again.
He never talked about it to his friends. What was the use? They couldn’t come close to understanding the way he saw it. The time he spent in country was all there was in his life. Everything he’d done before was washed away by that one single year.
“How was it really?” they asked, “Was it as horrible as they show on the news? Do they really kill babies? “
“Well kiss my ass you fucking punk. What do you think it was like? It skins you alive and makes you watch while they rape your soul of all its innocence…stupid, Mother Fuckers. Shit, you really don’t want to know anyway, so just shut your goddamn mouth.” That’s, what he wanted to tell them; that’s what he should have told them…but what would be the point?
“It wasn’t that bad,” he’d reply. “It was pretty boring most of the time.”
He had seen the kid was going to fire; he ducked and only lost two fingers. Good luck for him. The kid didn’t fare so well. He lay in a puddle of blood with eighteen M16 rounds through pretty much every vital organ of his body. Bad luck for the kid. He was probably dead before he could even think about his mother. Because that’s what they all do you know, there in the end. When each breath is harder and harder to get to stick in your lungs. Just as they realize they’re not going to make it. They would always want you to “Tell my wife, I love her”, or they would cry for their mothers.
He had felt a bond to those of them who were together in the beginning. King Henry V in Shakespeare’s words called it, ‘we few, we happy few, we band of brothers’. It was more than even the bond of brothers though; it was something akin to lovers. Not in a sexual way of course, but in the intimacy and the closeness they shared. He was bound to them in a way that he had never felt with any of his family.
With every death of those comrades another piece ripped away from him and eventually there wasn’t anything left to give. He had nothing for those that came as replacements. When they died and screamed their last plea. He thought, “I don’t even know who in hell your wife is and I really don’t give a shit about your mother.”
“I will, I promise.” He told each one of them. Because no man should die alone and without peace. Even though he didn’t know them; their deaths still haunted him.
By the time he came back to the world there was nothing left but ghosts, memories and the only feeling he could have towards anything or anyone was anger. At least he didn’t come home in a glad bag…Was that good luck or bad luck?
Maybe it was just his destiny.
originally published in Incoherant Rambling of an Old Man