this is one of my first threads on this forum. the major critique was that it was hard to follow. i want to save the sense of this guys disassociated thinking but not loose the reader. i have worked on it hoping for that end. if you would like to earn a bucketful of gratitude any ideas will be thusly rewarded.
Some strange shit can fill your mind when you’re cornered and there’s no place to run. Scenes were running through my head like a second rate movie full of bad actors. I even checked to see if I was dead and this was my life passing before me. I should be so lucky!
I remember the call was actually a mistake. The only change in my mother’s expression as she listened to the phone was a slight tightening of her lip’s. “Mrs. Pincher, my brother Van fell off the roof and I think he’s hurt real bad.”
Sandy Horvack thought my mother had been a nurse. She wasn’t, but it wouldn’t have made any difference. Van was already dead. Sandy didn’t know that and my father didn’t know when he said to me, “I’d better go see if I can help. Guess you could come along. He’s your friend.”
I was twelve years old and the lingering question has always been the same. Would he have asked me along if he’d know Van was dead, lying in his father's arms? Would he have wanted me to see the flecks of vomit running from Van’s slack lips over his chin to pool like lumpy, yellow pancake batter onto the faded linoleum floor of the Horvack’s kitchen?
Seeing my friend, who had been totally animated the day before, now lying slack jawed and lifeless was an awesome experience. It was so bizarre, I didn’t feel anything, not for me or Van or his sister or father. Not even for my own father who stood beside Mr. Horvack with a hand on his shoulder saying, “Damn Brian, oh damn.”
He should have said something about the death on the way home. He didn’t. We stopped at the barn and threw loose hay to the cows and horses without a word between us.
I was fiddling with that little memory while I was sitting in a hospital gown on a cheap plastic chair in a little room with puke green walls at the Fort Harrison Veterans Hospital waiting for some shrink to appear. The gowns are to make you feel shitty and weak and I didn’t like that and I didn’t like wondering who else’s bare ass had been on the chair.
A dumpy fat guy came in and sat down. He looked at papers on his desk, then at me, then back at the papers. I don’t know if he was looking at me when he spoke.
“Perhaps we can help you solve some of your problems, find your way back into society. You’ll be more comfortable.”
What an asshole. I was polite enough not to point out his premise was all screwed up. The only real problem in my life was that the Park County Sheriff’s deputies picked me up when I went to town for groceries. My kid’s managed to convince some judge that I was a danger to myself. Hell, maybe I walked into my own ambush? I knew I sure didn’t want back into society. I’d already been heaped onto the social reject pile. I just wanted to go back to the Crazy Mountains where I felt safe and the world turned slow enough to make sense.
Mr. Dumpy sat behind a pair of thick framed glasses staring at me like a brain damaged owl. “Do you think we could start by examining some of your combat experiences?”
Yah, right. Do I want to stick my foot in a meat grinder? Hasn’t anyone told this quack that it’s a full time job keeping the ghosts in a box and that I really would be crazy to turn them loose here, in front of a stranger in a red checked bow tie?
I might have answered him before the thing with Mary. With her my life was almost normal and the spooks were at bay. A wife, two kids, a house with mostly paid rent. Not great, but better than a bite on the leg.
I forgot about the fat shrink being there. I was thinking about Mary and I hiking on top of the ridge between Trespass Creek and Campfire Lake. It’s a nice place. High enough to see out across the top of the mountains. We saw what the eagles see when they fly over, their giant wings full of mountain air as they search for juicy marmots hiding in the rocks below.
She wanted to see the old goat trap where the Fish and Game guys captured mountain goat babies and tagged them. It was a steep, tough climb down to the trap along the top of a two hundred foot cliff. On the way I told her about a mule that had gone over the edge with a load of fish destined for Campfire Lake. That didn’t scare her. She laughed and said they must have been flying fish. Her humor was getting to be as macabre as mine.
The dough boy shrink let out a sort of “whuff,” I guess to get my attention. It made me remember that afterwards one night when I was sleeping beside Rock Creek Lake, I woke up smelling a bears bad breath. He must have been sniffing my face to see if I was alive or dead. He was just staring at me like my dog, Tuffy used to. When my mind registered that I was looking at a bear, I thought about the first time Mary and I made love. Weird shit, huh! How were those two things tied together?
Now my head is rolling pictures past, almost faster than I can see them. Six months after I got back from ‘Nam I met Mary. I hadn’t given up on the ranch yet but it was going downhill. My father was dead by then and my desire to accomplish anything was on life support.
Like a fantasy, she came to the ranch one winter day and went with me to feed cattle. The harness on the horses jingled and their breath left little puffs of steam in the cold air. The runners shooshed and squeaked as they slid across fresh snow and Mary’s cheeks were red and her smile was perfect and just then, my life was okay. For the first time the ugly jungle wasn’t following me around. We made love that night and she was real than the war had been.
And then later, that big, foul-breathed bear made me remember those delicious minutes. By then I had become as much a part of the mountains as the damn bear was and he must have made me out as bitter meat because he left me there to shake Mary from my head. I followed the bear. Could you have gone back to sleep? It was a moonlit night and he moved slow, climbing across a big pile of scree, making flat pieces of shale sound like breaking plates. A couple of times he stopped and stood up, warning me not to follow him, hoping I would forget about him stirring memories that were better left alone. Its not like I was going to kick his ass. I just wanted to see where he went after screwing up some one’s night.
My father brought a bear home once on the back of his favorite horse. Not many horses will pack a bear. It was a dark, overcast fall day. Maybe I was nine or ten years old. I was playing out by the haystacks with homemade toys and he came up the road from the creek, the bear slung across the saddle in front of him. I was so excited I was trembling.
I knew my father would tell me a wonderful story about killing that bear; how just in the nick of time he was able to get a shot off and save himself, but all he said was “Hi, son.” Maybe there wasn’t a story.
More weird shit zooming through my mind. I’m thinking It was like that when Packard got killed. He took his squad out, called in an air strike and they dropped napalm on his head. Where’s the story in that? Mary was a story. She was like the beautiful Princess who married the wrong Prince and she didn’t live happily ever after. She was a story when our children were born . I watched and we cried together from sheer joy and both times my tears wanted to keep coming. Mary used to say I had dams of sadness behind my eyes that would burst one day.
We both cried again when we knew the ranch was gone, swallowed by unpaid debt and unpaid karma. Afterward she touched me and said, “It’s okay.”
By then I know that every thing I do makes things worse for somebody. I took a squad out once. Nine guys followed me into an ambush. They were good Marines, tired of war but always ready to do what they were asked. The wet, soupy blackness of a jungle night turned inside out and when the med-evac chopper had finally come and gone it was dawn and I was standing alone, waiting for the sun to turn another day into a steamy oven. I sure made things worse for them.
But Mary, my sweet Mary said in her soft, forgiving voice “We’ll be all right.“ We moved to White Sulfur Springs and I worked at the sawmill. Mary worked in a store and sometimes there was enough money and sometimes there wasn’t.
When Murphy got killed I had enought money to do R and R and I needed to get away from the jungle for a bit. Too much of that stuff and you start getting gungey, you know, a little wierd. I was suppposed to do Singapore and then Lieutenant Edwards had a chance to go to Hawaii to see his wife. He was short of money so I lent him four hundred bucks. I knew he was good for it.
He got back and stood up at the wrong time. Crazy bastard! When you’re pinned down in a rice paddy and the shit is coming down, you don’t ever stand up and say, “Hit the tree line!” Maybe things didn’t go so good with his wife.
I grabbed for his legs and I was holding them when he took four rounds in the chest. It felt like when I tackled Art once during football practice. Art started hopping up and down and almost got away. Maybe Lieutenant Edwards almost got away too but he collapsed in a heap on top of me and I was staring into his eyes when his lights went out.
I started losing it at the sawmill. Seemed like everybody set out just to piss me off. One day, the saws started sounding like screams. I smacked the foreman in the mouth and walked all the way to the top of the Big Belt Mountains.
Mary wasn’t mad when I got home and we moved to Billings. Life was pretty bad and I stood on top of the rim rocks near the airport and tried to make myself jump into oblivian at the bottom and I swear to God, at the very moment I was going to do it, I saw Mary. Not an apparition, but there in the flesh on a street below the cliffs, getting out of her car and walking into a house she was getting paid to clean. I fell in a heap and bawled like a baby.
That crazy Lieutenant used to play poker with us. He was a regular guy, except he didn’t know how to bluff. Once he tried to steal a hundred dollar pot with a pair of sixes. I held three kings and I called him. He actually blushed when he showed that little pair. It was a look like getting caught at something stupid. That’s how he looked when he collapsed on top of me and I’m holding his guts in as he died. His face was right next to mine. He knew he shouldn’t have stood up. Those must have been some sad last thoughts.
“Oops, I shouldn’t have been on the roof. Uh, oh, I shouldn’t have listened to that damn major. Damn! Wish I hadn’t called in this air strike. Oh shit, maybe I shouldn’t have stood up.”
I know the question. What did my Mary think as she was falling through the thin mountain air toward the stones below? “Oops, never travel with a man who’s lost a squad.”
It took me almost an hour to climb down to her. She lay between two boulders, all crumpled and broken like a used up doll. I climbed down off that mountain with her in my arms and not once did I think she was heavy. I thought Murphy was heavy. I carried him and dropped him in the majors lap. The major tried to get me court-martialed.
Poor old Sheriff Bates looked like he might be developing apoplexy staring at Mary when I lay her on his beat up counter. She wasn’t bloody like Murphy, just all bent in places where she shouldn’t have been. Maybe carrying her into the sheriff’s office wasn’t such a good idea. I wish now I’d left her there on the mountain. At the funeral the kids cried a lot. I tried to sit with them but I couldn’t do it. My sister was there, comforting them and I left.
I’m a leaver. I left when they had the stupid memorial service at Camp Carroll too. Bayoneted rifles were standing in the ground with helmets on them. M-14’s, not the new plastic pieces of shit that jammed every other round. I was too worried about how to get one of those good weapons to think about the dead buddies they represented.
Later after Mary’s funeral was over I went to the cemetery. It sits on a hill overlooking the river. The sagebrush is kept outside the perimeter but the grass is still dry and yellow most of the year. Mary was right there among people she didn’t know. She ended up in a yard full of strangers. At least Murphy got shipped home to his mother. Mary was my balm, the salve for my scarred-up soul.
The shrink in front of me got tired of sitting there and cleared his throat with a fat little gag.
“Do you ever have any feelings about hurting yourself or anyone else?” he asked.
It seemed like the first good question to respond to. “You know,” I said to him, “I believe that Van dove off that roof and I think Mary almost flew.”