Things went wrong when I tried to post this yesterday. I had three or four paragraphs written, then did the cut-and-paste thing. OOPS! I had two copies of the text, taken from my manuscript for “Swamis,” and, when I tried several ways to speed up the deletion of the unwanted second version; errrrrrr, I eliminated the other stuff.
Anyway, this particular chapter is, in my work of fiction, written by 22 year old Jumper Hayes, freshly back from and severely wounded as a Marine in Vietnam. It’s 1969, and he asks the fictional Jody, just turning 18 and a fellow student in a Creative Writing class at Palomar Junior College, to type up what he had written.
What is very important to me is that anyone reading “Swamis” be certain that the writer was there; that it is accurate and has the feel of the place at the time. Since I wasn’t in Vietnam, I asked Trisha’s brother, my brother-in-law, James L. Scott, who was an officer in the Marines in Vietnam, to provide some feedback.
And he did. He said it read like it was written by someone who wasn’t there. He particularly pointed out the lack of swearing.
SO, here’s my solution. Jim said it was ‘better.’ I’m thinking he’s giving it a C+, maybe more like, hopefully, a B-. Check it out.
Wait, here’s what I was doing while Jim was in Vietnam. That’s a board, the “Sunshine Super Seed” with me, a board Scott Sutton made, sold to Trish. Her mother thought Scott ripped Trish off, so I bought it. Very thick. I could, at the time, knee paddle it.
CHAPTER TWENTY-ONE- WEDNESDAY SEPTEMBER 17, 1969
This is the piece Jumper submitted in Creative Writing class:
There weren’t enough claymores; or someone had set them off too soon; or there were just too many of them. VC. Local irregulars. Them.
It wasn’t a firefight. We were doing most of the shooting. Our position wouldn’t hold. We would be overrun. Too many of them, running, charging, pushing others forward; leaping over branches and bodies. Almost all of them were yelling, screaming; their screams mixed with ours, with the screams and moaning of pain, the constant-but-irregular beat of gunfire.
We couldn’t kill enough of them fast enough.
“Fall back!” the LT yelled, just before he fell back, dead; two soldiers over from me. A couple Marines ran. Others backed away, automatic weapons fanning the clearing.
I stood up, firing blindly; left to right, right to left. Screaming.
I felt the first bullet. Heat, then numbness, my left arm suddenly useless. I saw the expressions on the faces; fear and anger and determination, then surprise, as I dropped two of the three charlies coming at me. Closer. So close.
The second one fell forward. His momentum versus a bullet. My rifle was jammed against his chest. I kept firing. As I was falling backwards, the third soldier struck me in the side of my head; and kept running.
This is battle. Fear and anger and determination and confusion. Falling back and falling down.
I was never unconscious. Time had become nothing; time was blood in my eyes.
I was lying next to Sammy, PFC, smartass fucker from Houston; dead, wet, and cold; cold by Vietnam standards. Vietnam, that steaming, sweating, triple-canopy jungle, rice fields that smelled like shit, scared yet smiling villagers; Viet-fucking-by-god-Nam.
The two gooks; kids, really, more like conscripted villagers, rice farmers with guns; the two I had just shot, were on top of me, all of us in an awkward pile; their blood mixing with mine. Pressure on my other wound. The bad one. I was behind a tree blown down by one of the previous air strikes. I was squirming under the bodies and as close to the trunk as I could get. More than a dozen feet stepped on us; running, charging, now chasing rather than attacking.
There is a tradition, as old as man, as old as war: Once a position is secured, others make sure each one of the enemy fighters; the vanquished, the defeated, the overrun; is dead. Weapons and clothes and some measure of revenge are the spoils; souvenirs; guns, clothes, ears.
Almost instantly, flies and crawling insects attacked. They know death. They know the difference, they don’t fucking care. The flying and buzzing and crawling.
At the Little Bighorn, I thought, and I’m not sure why; I was trying so hard just to be quiet; women from the tribe smashed the heads of each one of the dead enemy soldiers; with the exception of, it’s said, General Custer. Out of respect. Respect?
That was more legend than history. The history of man is the history of war. You don’t have to know history to know the truth of this.
I was just trying not to move, to be still, quiet, alive; when I felt movement, heard moaning. Low, close. It was the kid, on top of me; not dead, getting louder. I couldn’t allow this.
Maybe his moaning had been a prayer. So sorry.
The noise, the gunfire and the yelling, which had been getting farther away, maybe an hour or so after the initial attack, was now coming back toward me. Marines, motherfuckers; don’t like losing. Reinforcements. And we had the firepower. An airstrike might be called in; cannons or mortars or planes or helicopter gunships, fifty caliber machine guns; followed by fresh troops.
At least, if I was in the targeted grid, it would be quick.
Some of the same shoes, jungle tennies, that ran over me before; ran over me again. Retreating. I clung to consciousness. Eventually I heard calmer voices, mopping up. “Here’s one,” a voice said. “You alive, pal?”
“I think so,” I said.
The next thing I remember was the sound of a helicopter. V-woop, woop, woop.
“We killed the fuck out of them slopes, Gunny,” the Marine at the landing site, said. “Good to hear,” I said. He said, “You’re walking. You’ll have to wait for the next one.”
I wasn’t walking. I was standing. The next evacuation would be mostly bodies. “Don’t think so, Corporal,” I said, lifting my empty rifle with the arm that still worked.
CHAPTER TWENTY-TWO- SUNDAY, SEPTEMBER 14, 1969
I’m dropping back a few days. Jumper Hayes and I were in the formal dining room at his parents house, his chair moved to one of the corners of the table, mine at what I guessed was his father’s spot, my typewriter case open in front of me.
“Overrun” was Jumper’s story. Surprisingly shocked by his original, hand-written version; I was equally surprised when he asked me to type it for him; and more surprised when he seemed so casual, even detached, as I read my third draft out loud, then handed it to him as if it was done. Complete. Ready to hand in.
“Sounds good. Mostly. Different than I’d of thought.”
“It’s your words. Mostly.”
“Semi-colons,” he asked, “they’re, um, useful?”
“They’re like, um; somewhere between comas and periods,” I said.
“It’s, it’s like, when someone reads it, out loud; it’s the rhythm.”
“Rhythm. Yeah; I heard that, like a, um, cadence. Semi-colons.”
“It’s like surfing; smooth flow…” There were hand gestures here. “Take off, drop, turn, set up, swoop… flow. Didn’t you ever think surfing is like…”
Jumper pointed to my free hand. “A little jerky on your set up there, Jody.”
I dropped both hands. “I’m not changing anything; maybe just, uh, rearranging.”
“I only asked you to type it up, man.”
“Yeah; well; editing; it’s a, uh, collaborative… process. Some stuff has to be… cut.”
“Oh? Collaborative… editing process? Well, Jody, seems like you cut out a lot of fucking, cocksucking, motherfucking, shit-stomping, goddamn swearing, there; makes it sound like it was written by some draft-dodging, tit-sucking, flag-burning, mom’s boy, queer-bait, pussy, shit-bird, asshole, cocksucker who wasn’t fuckin’ there.” When I seemed adequately shocked, he added, in a bit of a whisper, with a bit of a smile, “I was… there.”
“Okay, Jumper,” I said, pointing to the second page, “I did leave in the ‘motherfuckers’ in the, um, ‘Marines, motherfuckers, don’t like losing’ sentence.”
Jumper laughed. “So, uh, no; Jody; you have to own the words. If you read it right, like you’ve ever fuckin’ sworn before; maybe, in your life, it’d be, like…” He rose from his chair. “‘Marines, mo-ther-fuck’-ers…’ like… hey; here’s something, Jody: Our LT… his name was… it wasn’t his name; we called him Berkeley; it’s where he was from. Or, at least, he went there. Anyway… fucking Berkeley. He was a gung ho motherfucker.” Jumper looked at me when he said ‘motherfucker;’ we both nodded- good flow. “He was ‘God Bless America! Fuck everyone else!’ Yeah. Really. A couple of months in country, though; he changed. Hey; I was the second whitest guy in the platoon. Want to know how he died?”
“Who? Berkeley? Not really.”
“Okay.” Jumper sat back down, looked at my corrections and editing on his story, looked at the portable Smith-Corona typewriter, sitting in its open case, and taking up one-eighth of the available space on the oversized, family table, almost more like a picnic table with a shine and doilies. Most of the surface was covered in stacks, neat stacks of newspapers, invoices, order forms, bills and correspondence. Again, neatly stacked, properly dusted.
Jumper looked at the new piece of paper spooling around on my typewriter. “I should have taken a typing class, Jody. Valuable.”
“Yeah. A whole year. Eighth grade.” Jumper sat back down. “Glad I did.” I sat down in front of the typewriter. “Would you feel better if you told me?”
“Double space is appropriate,” I said, nodding at the page. “I mean, about Berkeley. Would talking about him, what happened, would it make you feel… better?”
“Okay.” I started typing, looking at the page on the table. “Maybe another time.” I pulled a piece of twice-used masking tape from the inside of the case, hung the previous typed draft onto the leading edge of the open case. Rather like a curtain. “Or never. I’m putting some fucking, ass-licking… um, just tell me where to put in the swearing. Where it’s… appropriate.”
I heard a door open and close. I heard voices. “Use your best fucking judgment,” Jumper whispered, his eyes going between the hanging pages and my face; “oh, and I wasn’t calling you a… an asshole. Didn’t mean you.”
“Sure.” I set my fingers on the proper keys, eyes on the last draft, and started typing, whispering, “draft-dodging, tit-sucking, flag-burning, mom’s boy, queer-bait, pussy, shit-bird, asshole, cocksucker.” By the time I got to “who wasn’t fuckin’ there” it was less than a whisper.
“My parents,” Jumper said; “Sunday. Mass, shopping, baseball. Or football, depending.”
In time I converted the Jumper swear to “Draft-dodging, flag-burning cocksucker; tit-sucking, mom’s boy, queer-bait, pussy asshole.” Better flow, I thought. I cut out ‘shit-bird,’ I owned the words.
This is the version of Jumper’s piece I kept; “Overrun,” written by a twenty-two-year old, edited by an eighteen-year old. Just turned eighteen-year old. His submission included more swearing and was, again, shockingly well received by the students, highly praised by the professor. My own first submission to the Creative Writing class is long gone, long and purposefully forgotten. No, not completely. “Rivulets, streams in the sand, saline flows, returning to Mother…”