April 30th, 1982
It’s the same dream every other night.
I could feel the darkness envelop my soul.
The horrifying screams echoed into nothingness.
Out of sight, but always engraved in my mind are those I’ve killed. Even if the blood is washed off me, my soul remains drenched. Even before I signed up for this post, the dream only grew more vivid, blurring what was real and what wasn’t. And whenever I woke up, that same sorrow lingered.
Something was missing, like an indescribable void within.
No matter what I did, it always remained.
For as long as I served, I came to realize that war was intimate. It’s hard to explain, it’s—Still a form of human interaction.
Replace love and acceptance with hate and vitriol… See how far it takes you.
We’ve occupied their lands for decades, we’ve raped their women to pass the time, we’ve poisoned their soil with all these chemical weapons… All to add to the suffering of a nation damned to history. Several tours…Yet the conflict grows more tedious even after we’ve pushed back those Viet Cong into Laos and Cambodia.
They’re still a hassle, though.
How many more of my boys do I have to lose in this shithole?
I wondered as I laid with some nameless, beautiful prostitute. By the way, she was looking, she wasn’t enthused by her job. I wonder which village it was we bombed to force her into this trade. She seemed to be barely 18, but what do ethics and virtue mean when the world is crumbling? By the time she wakes, I won’t care to know her name. On second thought, I wondered whether she was trying to support her family or was feeding information to the Viet Cong.
No—I don’t care anymore.
Her presence could only ever satisfy my craving for intimacy. It didn’t matter who the person was; After all, I was a stranger in a foreign land. There was no sense in getting close to anyone here. I just needed that one moment where I didn’t feel so empty.
I was quite particular with the prostitutes I slept with. In one way or another, they reminded me of my fiancé back home. It was painful without her. Part of me always had a sense of longing, and I always tried to fulfill that through my carnal desires. These women of the night were there just to fill that insatiable void in her absence. But their touch was familiar and their mind so foreign.
Like a child, I sought pieces that reminded me of her.
Like a child, my mind would always want something more.
But often, what I would find were nothing more than hollow imitations.
Saigon had always been the same, even after the city burned to the ground in 1975. Seven years later, there was no end in sight.
This wasn’t the war of my father.
No…It was a thankless conflict of agendas.
There was no right or wrong.
There was cruelty in the place of honor.
I was always told growing that America would overcome its struggles. Then why am I here in some rat-infested hotel with a woman I met last night? Why is it that this is the only for me to cope with the war within?
Being away from her for so long…That void expanded, deepened.
For all the nameless women I slept with and the lived experiences, why did it feel so empty? I was losing touch with what it was to feel.
Death… Destruction… Rape… Despair…
Yeah, one can become so detached from all of it.
All that hate becomes some fucked up motivation because there ain’t an ounce of goddamn respite in this godless country. American or Commie…There ain’t any good guys out here.
I could remember the lingering scent of burned flesh waft into the air. The weather was muggy, unforgiving in an already unbearable environment. That chemical smell of napalm filled the air while the surroundings were scorched. You could still hear the engines of the F4s in the distance.
But instead of dead Viet Cong—Hell.
There were just people just trying to survive in their condemned country. The charred bodies of children lined along the edge of the burning village. I couldn’t get over the cries of the mothers as our jeeps plowed through. No, there was no counterinsurgency here. For some of those villagers, their lives had changed forever. But to us, it was business as usual. All in the name of collateral damage, nothing else mattered if the higher-ups felt like they were winning.
Another classic case of bad intel.
It was always the most impoverished part of Nam that suffered the most. And the scene always replayed itself, over and over.
They held their dead, trying to resuscitate them, even when flesh was hanging from their bones. These were just peasants condemned to a never-ending cycle of misery and violence. So many lost everything they worked for in minutes.
Through the eyes of those who watched us pass, you could see sorrow, helplessness, and that burning hatred slowly corrupting every fiber of their soul. Seeing that one kid when he glared at us—Remembering that never failed to send a chill down my spine.
Yeah…Monsters were made.
How was peace supposed to be achieved again?
Oh, death from above…
We were like grim reapers, watching life slip away.
All in the name of freedom, I suppose.
War is the closest thing we have to contact these people. But, war in all its turbulence, a dead body was a dead body. Death was universal means to an end.
And time always passes, whether or not someone picks up the pieces.
A sudden knock on my door broke my recollections. The nature of the knocking was oddly familiar. As loud as that knock was, the prostitute was still in a deep sleep. Carefully, I slowly got up, even as the person behind the door kept knocking. I knocked over a few scattered beer bottles along the way. I know he heard the ruckus, but the son of a bitch was impatient.
The scent of alcohol and cigarettes wafted throughout the small unit as I quickly put on my fatigues. I saw that my gun was still holstered; At least I knew the prostitute wasn’t with the Viet Cong.
This bastard was still knocking.
It was bothersome, but the closer I got to the door, the more ominous everything felt. The dream was still very much ingrained in my mind at this point. Lighting up a cigarette to relax my nerves, I reached for the door handle.
What an uneasy feeling…Like it was an extension of that dream.
I know I’m losing it, but…
“What the hell is it? I swung the door with agitation.
In front of me was a decorated general of sorts, who came bearing a smug ass smile. His medals weren’t ones I’d ever seen before.
Shit, I thought.
Without much concern for my displeasure, he walked into the heart of my trashy room. He was just a few inches taller than me. His hair was slicked back, peppered with black and gray. His stern eyes betrayed his youthful physique, as they were cold and lifeless. But his smile was warm and inviting. The polished look and uniform certainly matched the look of someone from Arlington, but… I honestly didn’t have a clue on who I was dealing with.
God, I was jittery as hell.
“You with the Pentagon or something?” I asked after closing the door.
“Now, is that any way to treat a superior?” The official smirked, speaking in a monotonous southern accent. “Wow, we must really send anyone out here these days?”
“I’ve served 5 tours so far,” I grimaced, but he seemed amused by my reaction. “Who are you?”
Ignoring me and looking around for a little longer, the woman slowly began to awaken.
“Let’s just say,” the man spoke, choosing his words carefully. “I’m a powerful man with even more powerful desires.”
How he said it was unnerving, even with that damned smile. He looked over at the now-awaken prostitute, who looked at each of us in a frightened. He continued:
“I think you and I could relate to that to some degree.”
“Am I going to get a name or not?” I reluctantly asked.
“My, so persistent! If this breaks the ice, then my name is Abraham, and that’s all you need to know. And I’m not here for small talk. I need something more from you.”
“Hey, I’m on leave. Doctor’s—"
This asshole came prepared.
Abraham pulled out a small white envelope from his suit jacket. He went out of his way to do this, but why? I don’t care if he was from the higher brass. All of this felt so nefarious. To confirm my suspicion, he brandished the letter signed by the doctor. Setting it by the nearby table, he continued:
“Tell me, Private Miller…Do you love your country?”
“Is this a joke?” I winced.
Abraham waited for an answer.
“Fine, it depends on the time of day.”
“There we go! Honesty! That feeling is rare these days. But your average person would take things for face value! Conflict…is never static, though, since it’s dynamic by its very nature. Most think would believe this Cold War is purely ideological, and to an extent, it is. These proxies we’ve fought aren’t just about security or supremacy.”
My thoughts stumbled for a moment, intrigued by his eccentric remarks. This was a fight against communism and spreading democracy to those that didn’t have it. That’s what we were told growing up, anyway.
“What do you think about truth?”
“I couldn't care less as long as I get by.”
“Such a shame, really. There is more to life than the pleasures set before us.”
He looked over at the prostitute, who was frozen in place as she covered herself up. With disgust, Abraham spoke to her in Vietnamese, somewhat fluent, it seemed. She understood right away she had to get the hell out. I pointed out the payment by the nightstand as she grabbed her belongings in a hurry. Abraham and I watched her exit with silent indifference. His eyes trailed away from the door, expressing equal disgust by what I had done.
“She hardly seems of age,” Abraham noted.
“Don’t give me some bullshit speech about morality,” I countered. “Look around you, there isn’t any place for it.”
“No war is ever without its atrocities, I suppose. We’ve been in conflict since the Kennedy Administration sent advisors. I don’t think anyone would have imagined the scope of this conflict.”
“I’ve seen all we’ve done… It’s difficult to imagine. But we carry out our orders for truth.”
“The hell is that supposed to mean?”
“A prostitute is no different from any other nation,” Abraham spoke, keeping control of the conversation. “We will always sell ourselves short to survive. There is no pride in what we do, we just do it.”
“Are you here to lecture me, or are you going to fill me in?”
“This war, like many others, is nothing more than a farce. All these protests about civility… None have an inkling of the truth. Meanwhile, you’re sleeping with a prostitute, directly impacting her livelihood. The effects are more personal—Ah, I’m rambling… There is much to look at in the matter of human nature.”
Abraham collected himself; He had the uniform of a general, but the heart of a philosopher. He looked away onto the busy streets of Saigon.
“We need soldiers willing to understand our mission. Peace and security are mere constructs that hold us back from progress.”
“So? That’s it?” I began growing impatient with Abraham.
“We need you to do what you do best.”
I’m a soldier. I was taught to follow orders and kill shit. Ain’t much to it. Why is he asking me to do more of the same?
“That would be pretty much killing then,” I answered.
“That isn’t the case. Where one destroys, another creates.”
I wasn’t sure how to respond, wincing as he continued:
“There was a tunnel discovered near the village you were at before you went on leave. This suggests that there was, in fact, a Viet Cong presence in that area. However, that’s but a suspicion.”
I was met with his introspective silence as he peeked through the blinds by the bedside. The trashiness of the scenery below must’ve been distracting for him. The smog grew thick in the basking sunlight from above. The scent of cigarette smoke and sex wafted through the city streets. Abraham turned toward me again, effortlessly moving past the prior conversation, he asked:
“You have a wife back home, don’t you?”
“We’re expecting our first child in a few months,”
“So, why is it that you sleep with a nameless prostitute in a foreign country, a country in shambles at that?”
“I beg your pardon.”
Talk about straight out of the left field.
“Don’t think I’m here to judge you on your transgressions. Considering that you’re soon to be a father, I find it unusual is all.”
“I just needed to satisfy a need.”
“A need? A craving? A void?”
His question bothered me.
“What are you getting at?”
“It’s a natural need for intimacy, whether it be spiritual or physical. Some people maintain that need.”
“You a psychologist or something?”
“Well, I have a minor in that.”
“That’s sort of impressive.”
“This is all the time I have for. Report by 12:00 tomorrow.”
Why so soon? I thought as he walked toward the exit. With a rather smug expression on my face, I concluded:
“Shouldn’t that be the day of rest?”
“As you see, God isn’t here anymore,” Abraham turned, giving his last say before stepping out. His voice remained its tone through and through. There was an unshakeable essence about him, perhaps far more important of a man he claimed to be.
But why me?
How the hell did I get his attention?
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