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The Shadows From Which We Rise
By rg cantalupo
From a new memoir by rg cantalupo.
Time drifts on an endless dream.
I wanted to be a writer. John Steinbeck. Someone.
I wanted to love Janice forever.
My wormhole filled with want.
With daydreams and dream shards.
With gray images from a past life like cardboard men on a shooting range—two-dimensional, empty of expression, empty of life.
Time before, time after, and time now.
Time in the hospital, one day slipping into another, one week into two, until two and a half months are gone.
When I was lying on the ground after I got wounded, time slowed into a flicker of an eye, a half-step caught mid-air.
I heard each of my heart beats like seconds ticking away on a windup clock—tick, beat, tick—tick, beat, tick.
And as the blood poured out, puddled beneath my back and soaked my head, time stilled to a slug's slow crawl.
As I lay on my back, stars flickered through the smoke, the night so quiet, so quiet except for the dull drone in my ears, my arms and legs heavy as lead pipes floating in the warm pool rising under my body.
Time before, time after, and time now, each moving at relative speeds.
X-ed out, sweat-drenched, mud-born days, days burnt like the pages of a rice paper calendar in a hootch I lit on fire.
Interminable days humping through the bush drifting into endless nights on listening patrols, nights so long I felt like I was falling in a falling dream, falling and falling through the pitch dark until I woke alive in a misted dawn, a dawn so hazy even the bushes danced in the mist like ghosts.
Time in the hospital in Chu Chi—one week there and four in Saigon—weeks punctuated by intense moments of ripping-off bandages, each bandage taped over a new, raw layer of skin, tearing off the old so it bled to prevent infection, day by day, scabs growing over the filament of the war—monsoon nights streaming into the wintry mornings in Japan, mid-March greys sifting into sun-bright April—February's monsoon morphing into March and now April's Spring, April blooming into soon-to-come May.
Today, a Monday in April.
I will be going home soon. That's what I'm told.
The end of May, or early June probably.
Summer in Yokohama.
Summer in LA.
A little over a year now since I'd gone to boot camp, ten months since I'd seen Janice.
She still looked like a cheerleader at Bell High School in the photos she sent: strawberry blond hair, blue, blue eyes, rose-blushed cheeks.
God, how I loved her.
I take out a piece of paper, gaze at the blank page, and then scribble words with my right hand.
I'm sorry I haven't written. I write you over and over in my mind, but when I try to write the words down on paper they're not there.
I want to tell you I am fine, that I am the same person that kissed you at the airport, my face the same, my laughter, my voice—but I cannot say that.
I am not the same.
My wounds are healing. The physical therapy is helping me to move my left arm. Little by little, my strength is coming back.
But something is wrong with me, Janice, and I don't know what it is.
I don't feel right.
I can't remember things.
I can't feel things.
I can't feel this body I live inside.
When I look in the mirror, I see a stranger.
Sometimes I think the doctors took more than shrapnel from my brain.
I think they took some part of my being that made me who I was.
At night, I still feel the war in my bones like monsoon rain, still wake up drenched with sweat, still have the same shakes that shivered through me my last month in the bush.
The war feels more real to me than home.
Fragments of firefights play over and over in my dreams, and I wake up with my fingers clutched tight around an imaginary trigger guard.
I know you don't want to hear this.
I know you don't want to hear about the war.
And then I stop, read the letter over, fold it up, and put it in my pajama pocket.
Maybe I will send it.
I will write a different letter to send.
Or I won't.
rg cantalupo (aka Ross Canton is a poet, playwright, filmmaker, novelist, and director. His work has been published widely in literary journals in the United States, England, and Australia. He served in the 25th Infantry Division as an RTO for an infantry company from 1968-69 and received three purple hearts and a Bronze Star with a Combat V for Valor Under Fire. His books can be purchased through New World Publishers or through the author at email@example.com.