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Better This Way

Updated: Jan 18, 2020

As you walk through the jungle, trying to move as quietly as possible, you hear each footstep like a clap of thunder, cringing every time a twig snaps beneath your foot because you know you’re on Charlie’s side of the river now. Something tells you he would know an American’s footstep from a Viet Cong. You feel the point of the bayonet in the small of your back. You don’t hear a single thing from that moment forward. At least that’s the way you’ll remember it. Not a sound. The only thing you’ll be able to remember is the point of that blade pressing against your back. You don’t really think about how your life is about to change. If you stop to think that you’ll be spending the next two years of your life in a bamboo cage with water up to your chest, you’ll lose your mind. But who knows, maybe that would be the better way to go. That way you wouldn't have to wake up in the middle of the night some twenty years later in a pool of sweat. Maybe you would just be sitting in some nut farm outside of Salem, looking forward to Wednesdays, when your family would come to visit. You wouldn’t really know who they were, but it would be comforting to have them there. You would think you were at Fenway, taking in a ball game with your pals, catching a foul ball, drinking a cold beer and watching for pretty girls. You can almost smell the hot dogs, the popcorn, the fresh-roasted peanuts, the stale cigar the old man next to you has been sucking on for the last hour and a half. Maybe it’s better this way. Sitting in your rocking chair and thinking about the game like it’s happening all over again, just like it does every day. Just like it did twenty years ago. Just like it did the day before you hopped on that airplane that took you half-way around the world and dropped you in the middle of the jungle with a rifle in your hands. The day before you were told to shoot anything that moved and try not to get killed. The people that call themselves your family put a pillow behind your head and ask you if you’re comfortable. Maybe it’s better this way. This way you never have to go back to that place ever again. This way it can always be yesterday.

© 2004 John Ethier, all rights reserved

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