Special thanks to Snowy
and her late night marathons that helped me to smooth out the edges. And
to Doc, who was the first to see it and for understanding why I need to
stay on track with Myron. And of course to Mel and Lt. Mac for your time
and attentiveness and suggestions. Thanks ladies.
The choppers are coming in, the
roar of the rotors and the rush of the dust and wind sweeps by me, and I
duck away, covering my eyes.
The men, those that somehow
managed to survive, are huddled between Anderson and myself. Like lost
sheep, they are dazed and confused. Anderson silently heads off Taylor
who tries to wander away again. Tries to go back to Matsuda's body.
We had an awful time separating
them. Taylor at first simply despondent. Then the anger and despair
reared up and he shoved Anderson and me back, telling us to go to hell.
He shouted at anyone who dared to come near, challenging, huddling over
the boy's body.
Finally Anderson came up behind
him, and with a silent look to me, grabbed Taylor, pinning the angry
young man's arms to his sides. I moved forward and I remembered
whispering to Taylor, or was it Matsuda? Whispered that I was sorry.
Taylor's rage and despair washed over me, numbing me as I gathered
Matsuda away from him, let the men behind me take the lifeless body.
The first chopper lands in a cloud
of red dust and rotor wash, the turbines roaring. There's a roaring in
my head too, but I can't separate out what belongs to the chopper and
what belongs to me. I'm shaking. I realize this and yet I can't seem to
No one is speaking. I step
backwards, reluctant suddenly to approach the Huey, and I'm confused as
to why. None of this is making sense. I'm cold despite the mid-morning
heat that has me soaked in sweat. The men press against me, confused,
lost, and in varying stages of shock. The damn pilot is screaming at me.
I can see him, there are words being shouted over the noise of the
rotors but I can't hear them over the roar in my head. Someone behind me
is trembling; I can feel the shivering. Maybe it's me. I can't tell
A firm hand on my arm and I'm
looking up. I'm blinking in the sunshine, swallowing, and I'm looking
into those blue eyes. There hasn't been a single word spoken since we
crawled from that destroyed bunker. None is being said now. Yet he is
telling me to get the men on the chopper. That we need to get on that
I step away from him, move to the
other side of what is left of my men. I'm silently nudging Percell
forward. He blinks at me, then stumbles toward the Huey. Anderson is
handing Ruiz and Baker up. Taylor is clinging to Johnson. Maybe it's
Johnson who is clinging to Taylor. The gunner reaches down and gives a
hand up to both.
Horn is on his knees in the dust,
arms wrapped around himself, rocking. I'm on my knee next to him,
pushing the hair off his forehead with one hand; my other is gripping
his shoulder. Blank green eyes look up at me. He's shuddering, shaking
his head. He doesn't want to get on the chopper.
"Hush, hush, hush now, Roger.
It's over. Nice and easy. I promise it's going to be okay."
Anderson is hunkering down on the
other side of the young man. I know that damned chopper jock is yelling
again. Captain Heath is walking up to him now, slowly, deliberately. I
can see him standing there, right at the cockpit window, right in the
pilot's face, and he's saying something. Not shouting it. Simply saying
something. I see the color drain from the pilot's face and he turns
away. Larry leans heavily against the side of the Huey; forehead resting
on one arm that is pressed to the metal bulkhead.
Anderson is gathering Horn to him.
I move away, watch Anderson pick up Horn like he was a child and
silently walk to the chopper. I follow in his wake, numb and exhausted,
my mind is still roaring.
A strong hand wraps around my arm
and I find myself meeting the dark eyes of the gunner. It is only for a
moment, and then I'm kneeling confused in the middle of the shuddering
deck. Someone pushes up behind me and I'm crawling to the other side,
shouldering up to the frayed padding that covers the rear wall of the
Anderson is across from me, Horn
half in his lap with eyes open but not seeing. Baker is wrapped around
Ruiz. There is a defiance there in those eyes. Ruiz is pressed up
against him, between his legs; arms wrapped around one of Baker's, eyes
closed. Percell has his head down on his arms that are folded over the
top of his bent knees. Taylor is clinging to Johnson. I'm still not
sure. Maybe it's the other way around.
I lean back against the quilted
padding, drawing my shaking legs up to my chest. I need a cigarette but
can't find my hands to pat myself down for the pack I know I have
somewhere on me. I can't seem to find myself in my own head. There is
such a roaring still in my ears, in my mind, around my thoughts. It's
louder than the rush of the rotors above me. It's washing over me with a
ceaseless tide of emotions that I'm at a loss to sort out. What is me?
What belongs to those around me? Where do I begin and where do they end?
I should have learned how to deal with this years ago. Damn him for
not letting me figure out how.
It would be so easy for me to just
let go right now. I can do this. I can feel this, the need, this desire
to simply set myself adrift. Numb, distant. This must be what shock
feels like. I'm not sure. I'm not sure of anything anymore at this
moment. Except for an anger. I'm pretty sure this is not me. I don't
have anything left to be angry with. But it burns sullen and contained,
glowing darkly against the edges of my awareness. If I focus on it, it
won't let me drift away. I want to drift and yet that anger, that
smoldering rage is demanding my attention, is telling me not yet.
I'm looking at Anderson. The anger
is burning in those dark blue eyes. He hasnít spoken a word, yet his
fury screams at me. It anchors me, it demands that I stay and not leave.
This I can say is not me. This one thing I can sort from the maelstrom
of my confused and roaring mind. And he demanding that I do. It is a
lifeline, and I'm clinging to that rage, that fury because I'm afraid.
I'm afraid that this time I won't
come back. He knows this. Tells me this in his silent eyes. Tells me not
to leave him behind. Not to leave these kids behind. I don't want the
responsibility. I have no choice in the matter. I still don't want it.
There's a decision to be made here in the tangle of emotions that I
can't sort out, mine from theirs.
He's telling me not to make the
wrong one. He promises silently that I will have the retreat, the
blissful silence from my roaring mind. Not now, kid... later. I
just have to hold onto his fury for a while longer.
I shudder against that smoldering
rage. Will I ever be able to sort out what is me and what is not?
I'm so afraid I'm going to be lost and I won't be able to find my way
The anger in his eyes promises me
that I will be okay. We will be okay. This will be okay.
But how can it? How can any of
this ever be okay again? He has no easy answers for me in those dark
eyes that still hold mine. Disillusioned. He can only offer the anger as
something to cling to. And I have to believe that is enough. At least
I have nothing else left to