It didn’t matter to a three-year boy. Only one thing mattered. Only one thing affected him. His mind hadn’t developed enough to realize that his father Luke was different from everyone else’s dad. The boy only knew that he loved the man and that something violent had wrecked his father’s body leaving him in agony.
In that little section of the world in the deep south surrounded by bayous and swamps, living on the silt plain precipice of a muddy bay named Vermillion, he could not realize his status as less than a chessboard pawn. The political world reserved that monicker for his father contorting in agony on the floor before him, phantom pains of legless nubs gnawing him like salt on a worm.
Without detail, chess, Chinese checkers, and Twister might define American involvement in Vietnam. Throw in some convoluted unknown French children’s game for accuracy, maybe cricket – a search isn’t worth it to identify. Unbeknownst to the boy, his station in the world placed him as nothing more than metal shavings drowned in a glut of waste transmission oil from a failing machine.
Machine doesn’t work.
The world will grind the poor till they break. The rich go out and buy another car, discarding their remnants to the rust of time and inconsequence.
By May 1970, the gears had been failing from years of grinding, grinding, grinding. The system needed oil but got fed only meat. It needed oil in ’68; but the powers that be, shy as they were, ignored the warnings, instead, heeding a used car salesman on the 5 O’clock news.
Walter Cronkite could give a fuck less about the boy in Louisiana, moreover the shell of a man twisting on the floor, his body extruding slivers of shrapnel through fresh skin grafts, big angry pimples, red ones that popped and bled.
The puss smelled.
The boy remembers.
Shit rolls downhill. It always has, it always will. One’s really never more than the cogs in the machine.
You see, Luke wasn’t supposed to go to Vietnam because Luke he broke both legs pole vaulting at NISH.
Classified 4F. How the fuck did Luke wind up writhing in pain before a three-year-old, one leg rotting in a jungle, another buried in a trash heap in Texas?
Years later, in the recesses of an Agent Orange mind trying to cope with the fate handed him, the question. How did you end up on the floor sir?
When Tet went down in ’68, America’s anchorman, like a used car salesman, sold America a lemon. War isn’t the place for the opinions of an uninitiated.
Fuck you, Walter Cronkite.
By ’69, public opinion tanked and Nixon wanted out of Vietnam. The machine ate all fed into it, whites, blacks, the poor of every color, their fates in some cases made by money.
Good money buys the kind with a good transmission, the type that won’t leave you stranded on a sand road in the middle of a swamp during a hurricane, the waves lap, lap, lapping the foothold away.
Luke studied at the University of Southwest Louisiana in Lafayette, college deferment. Safe, although he’d registered for the draft by law.
New Iberia’s draft officer, Sarah Bonin echoing Oz’s wicked witch told him, “I’m going to get you, Luke Lucas. I’m going to get you.”
The grinder needed meat. The rich paid to drive nicer cars to the headlands and a forever summer with their love to watch a moon rising from behind tree lined swamps while the poor slugged it out with invisible Charlie in a Vietnam jungle.
Her oblation to the gods of money came as a child.
The Wicked Witch Catches Luke for the Crystal Ball
Luke needed a job; went to her father for summer work. When he reported he’d be out of school for the summer, back in the fall — she had him for the grinder. Taking kickbacks from city rich like the Haik’s, Schwing’s and God knows who else.
Don’t matter, it is what it is and who’ll give a damn about the tertiary effect of some writer mentioning a name fifty years later.
The witch had him.
Sarah Bonin crystal ball’d the paperwork.
He could’ve run.
Maybe he should’ve. Could he have lived as a coward? Whole, but yellow? Some can live with half a heart and no conscious, but is it better to live as a coward than suffer as a shell?
Luke knew he couldn’t beat the low draft number so he tried beating the odds and join to have a choice. The road gets muddy there, the boy don’t know much – conflicting information, but all paths led to Vietnam with the 173d Airborne to the central highlands of Vietnam in May 1970.
The boy was a year old.
“I was tired,” he said.
“I wasn’t paying attention,” he said.
The cadged 155mm shell was paying attention when he tripped it. The explosion took off a leg outright, the other one mangled and rotting with gangrene got hacked off in San Antonio.
He carried an iron skillet in his Alice pack. Saved his life.
Was that a good thing?
Given how life’s turned out, the boy wondered, “was it a bad thing?
A Narrative of Me
Today the boy carries a piece of shrapnel in his hand, the spent harbinger of a sinister fate. So fucking ominous; it’s weight. Holding it, it’s nauseating knowing it sliced and diced his father, knowing someone placed it there, that him or her could reach even him, just a kid in diapers sitting on the green carpet floor of a house on Erath Street watching his father writhe.
“I wanted to die in the hospital,” he told the boy once. “You gave me a reason to live.” He wept some then. We were sitting in his tan-brown El Camino by the graveyard of St. Marcella’s Catholic Church on the Avery Island Road.
That was a long time ago.
A long time before the boy found himself in Laos while chasing his father’s ghost into Vietnam the night he learned via Facebook his father had died.
Long road this one, more to tell.