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Thursday, January 20, 2011

The War is Within Me

The War is Within Me

45 years ago, the United States fought a war in Vietnam. How can
I relate to this war? I hadn't been born yet. I know almost
nothing about that time period.

Now I've read a book about Vietnam. I'm being asked to reflect
on what I read. What can I really say? I still know nothing
about that war. One book doesn't make me an expert.

Then I think about it more carefully. I don't know anything
about Vietnam. But I do understand battle. There's been a war
going on inside my body for years.

Long ago, we were fighting something call Communism. For me, the
enemy is Mitochondrial Myopathy. What big words. How
meaningless they all are.

Vietnam was a little known country in a little known part of the
world. I'm a little known person. So unimportant in the grand
scheme of life.

It started with a draft notice. It began with a diagnosis. No,
you can't deal with it. You can't accept it. You have no
choice. There's no way out.

So they went to Vietnam to fight this war. I wake up each day
and go about my business. It's not because I'm courageous. It's
because I must. These things were decided for me, you know.

They brought their deadly equipment with them. Assault
rifles, machine
guns, grenade
launchers and all
the needed
ammunition. It was
the things they
carried. I have my
equipment, too. Leg
braces, wrist
splints, cochlear
implants and a
forearm crutch.

The sound of gun fire. Flares light up the night sky. There's
smoke everywhere. The battle is on. My cells rebel. Nerves
collapse. Muscles die.

The bullet rips through his eye and I'm blind. The explosion
echoes in his ears and I'm deaf. The landmine blasts away his
legs and I'm paralyzed.

They hide in their foxholes and wonder, oh god, what next? I
hide in my bed and think, oh god, will this ever end?

They pray for survival. I pray for strength.

That boy just drowned in a shit field. My body is a shit field.
My bowels falter and clog. It's the age old joke. I am
literally full of shit.

They are haunted by the ghost of Charlie Cong. I'm haunted by
"what if" and "if only..."

They discover their true allies. The men who risked their lives
together. I find my true friends. The few who will still stand
by me.

Then it's over and they are home. How do they fit back into a
lifestyle that no longer exists? How can I go back to being who
I was when I'm no longer who I am?

What do I know about the Vietnam war? Absolutely nothing.
Absolutely everything. I know fighting and battle. I know pain
and suffering. It happened before I was born. Yet the war is
within me.

(This essay is in response to The Things They Carried by Tim
O'Brien)

Angela C. Orlando
October, 2010

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