A Hillsborough Community College Student Publication since 1978.
By Jeanine Ash
When I was little, I only knew a few things about my father. I knew that I was Cherokee because of him and that Cherokee meant Indian. I knew he was in Vietnam, but I did not know what Vietnam meant.
We took rides on the motorcycle to the fishermen’s cabins on the other side of the lake after dinner. The bike flew down the long, intersecting country roads. It was my Indian horse, a horse with wings.
“Alright, 101st Airborne. Let’s see what you are made of! Off the plane and into the commie jungle…flyboys! Fly!” His knees buckled, but it was too late. He leaned forward and began plummeting towards the dark green jungle. Aim for the clearing. One one thousand, two one thousand, three one thousand…he could not wait any longer. He pulled the straps, and the parachute sprung into life above him. Down below, the other boys looked like clouds. No one was shooting yet. This was his quietest moment in the army yet. He held onto it as long as he could.
Sometimes Uncle Paul was at the fishermen’s cabins. If it wasn’t too late, he and my dad would shimmy the canoe down into the soft sand at the edge of the water. I would sit in the middle of the boat, in between them, and wish for my own paddle. Sometimes, we were just Indians fishing. Other times, we were on our way to a pow-wow. They smoked “Camel no filters” when the boat was back on the shore, tore them up, and buried them in the ground.
They crossed the river on a night black with cloud cover. They held their packs above their heads and waded into the water. If anyone had seen them that night, the observer would have seen giant turtles plodding their way across and nothing more. On the other side, they bellycrawled into the jungle. They all had leeches, but they could not risk a match or a lighter to burn the parasites off. Instead, they left the leeches on until the fell off, engorged with blood. Hours later, when the men finally stopped, Wilson offered him a cigarette. He did not smoke but he took one. Long inhales down to the butt end. Tear up the butt and bury it in the ground. Leave no sign for the VC.
On the way home, if there was still light, Dad would turn the motorcycle down Airport Road, and we would sit and watch the planes come and go. I sat in front of him on the bike, warmth underneath me, warmth behind me, flushed with the pride of sitting with him, a fistful of the sparkly plastic bait the fishermen left behind. We would watch the sunset and then head home.
“Hey, Rainer. What’s at home for you? You got a foxy girl?” “Wife” “Well, alright. She got nice legs?” “She’s having a baby. My son.” “Oh, alright man. Hey Wilson! Tell me about your girl.”
mom and I were in the kitchen. We lived in the Governor’s old summer house. Governor was kind of like an Indian Chief. An airplane flew low over the house. The windows shook, and mom grabbed a picture of my father that almost fell off the wall. Dad was in the workshop out back building me a bed. mom looked worried. She grabbed my hand, and hers had sugar on it. She pulled me across the lawn, and my arm hurt. I started to cry. She kept pulling me. She let go of me to open the side door to the workshop. We stepped into the semi-gloom.
“Oh shit!” “Incoming” “Milton! Get communications up!” “How do these fuckers always find us?” “Take cover!” “Get those people out of here!” He ran into the first building he saw. It was not a building. It was a hut made of sticks and leaves and mud. Birdshot could have forced the structure to collapse. Its only occupants were huddled under a rough table: a young woman and her child, a boy with dark, serious eyes who knew when to be quiet. She cried silently, clutching him to her breast. The soldier gestured to the door. They had to leave, and the jungle was the only cover. He grabbed for her, and she shrank back from him. He heard the planes come in again, lower, closer. He ran.
Dad had turned all the lights off. The tools were all silent. The radio was silent. I heard a choking noise and turned to my left. He was huddled under the workbench, clutching his rifle. My mother had not seen him yet. I walked towards him, and he looked at me with wild eyes. He grabbed me and held me next to his gun, rocking us both back and forth. my mother spotted us and gasped. “James…” She pleads with my father, but he would not let us go. Her eyes filled with sadness. I saw that she did not recognize my father, this flashback man. He held us tighter, crushing the gun against my ribcage, and then I knew what Vietnam meant.