Sunday, April 24, 2005

My Cousin

When I was little I thought wars took place within a chain linked fence - that there was a set aside space of woods in the middle of the country and around that wood was a chainlinked fence and all the way around the fence was a sidewalk. The fence was there so no one else got hurt. I used to have dreams of Moms and kids walking on the sidewalk- sticking their fingers between the cold links of the fence on their way to school, but they were untouched, they were protected. I really thought that is what war was.

I have a picture of Billy. He reminds me of the Fonz on Happy Days. Jeans rolled at the bottom with a tight white tshirt- standing barefoot, hair trendy. My cousin. My soldier. You can find his name on a big black wall in D.C. He died in the Tet offensive. I don't remember when my mom first told me- must have been a long time ago because I feel like its deeply imprinted into my memory.

The phone rang. She watched her dad answer it. He was drinking coffee. He pulled back and threw his mug against the wall of the garage. Billy had been killed. He was a little more than ten years older than my mom.

I'd never asked anything more about Billy. Not even when I sat infront of his name on that black wall. I had on an orange shirt. My hair was short and I was sweating. I had just finished the third grade. The crayon was soft from the heat as I etched his name. I could see my reflection in the wall. Someone next to me was crying. I didn't know.

Hi Mom.
Well hello daught-o.
Mom...will you tell me about Billy...your cousin.

Billy loved to surf. He was always surfing. It was always such a treat to get to see him because whenever we were at his house he was alwasy surfing. He was just enough older than me that we didn't really hang out a lot, but I remember always being excited when I got to see him. I remember when he went to college, he didn't like it. His dad came home one day and found him curled up on top of the fridge. He got married to Joey. I remember my dad and Uncle Bob and Bill all sitting around the table trying to talk him out of going. He went.

He would be 58 this year my Grandfather told me yesterday. He was drafted. Left in September, died in January.

I wonder what he experienced. The things he saw. Was he afraid? Did he save someone? Did he cry at the inhumanity? Did he feel lost? Did he see Christ? What was the last thing he thought? Was he angry? Did he find peace?

I have this strong desire to carry his picture with me when I go to Vietnam in less than three weeks. My GOsh! - I'm going to Vietnam, to that land. There was no fence. War has no fences.

I don't know where I fit in. I wasn't even alive and yet I have this internal struggle and longing to understand, to find out where I fit in. Somehow I know that somehow I fit in. I'm seeking peace for a battle that was not my own. Or is it mine? Is it all of ours? I'm profoundly impacted.


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