Hello, everyone! This is for the Goodnight Saigon challenge over at SKoW. I'll put the requirements at the end. Because this is a rather long short story, I've put it into three chunks.

So you won't be confused, I'm including a small glossary of terms used in this story at the beginning:

Charlie - refers to communist forces, the North Vietnamese and the Vietcong.
Saigon - the capital city of South Vietnam.
Gook - a South Vietnamese ally.
R and R - Rest and Rehabilitation.
Bunny - a pretty but stupid girl. Refers to the Playboy Bunnies.
Flip - a filipino woman.


Goodnight Saigon

I was in love once. Her name was Jennifer, and she was fourteen.

I was twenty at the time and had that whole scruffy, gonna-start-a-ruckus look—the nurses eyed me beadily, but beneath their disapproving gazes were throes of desperate, not-gettin'-any passion. I would know; one named Laura who'd been making sure my comrade Billy pissed in his cup right headed me off on my way to the jon. I told her no thanks; I hadn't seen her wash her hands and Billy had no aim.

I hadn't really had much time to be in love, see. I was young, but I'd never been stupid; all through high school I concentrated on lacrosse scholarships and good grades. I went to one of those fancy-schmancy rich kid schools on scholarship—oh yeah, I was real promising in those days. Girls were objects to rub ya the right way and make ya feel good after exams, or friends to help ya study, if you respected their brains. I guess I was unique in that way—I only liked them if they had a good mind; if not, they were useless, trash for me to use and then crumple like a soggy tissue. I guess I was kind of a bastard, but this story isn't meant to call my morals into question.

There was one girl, Lisa, and man, she was a bunny. Great legs, great tan, great breasts...oh, man, I'm tellin' ya. We had a fling once or twice. She was head cheerleader and I was captain of the lacrosse team. I felt it was my civic duty to uphold school tradition, so I had at it with…what do those Italians call it, gusto? Yeah, what a great word. Gusto. Feels like a punch, or a grunt, or a thrust—skin on skin, a tumble of athletes' legs on the splintered hardwood under the gym bleachers. Funny story—I saw Lisa in a pinup section of Playboymy boys back home sent me on my first tour. Not that any of my comrades would believe I'd scored her five times in school.

Anyway, I'm gettin' off topic here. So the pa my mama claimed was mine died back in the Second Great War, and even though there's a four-year gap between my supposed conception in 1945 and my birthday in 1949, I never asked who my real pa was. I worked really hard to get into a good college and make my mama proud, if only so she'd have some man to speak of without feeling shame. Then, just a week before the "big game," the one where coach was gonna bring some scouts from Stanford with him, I hurt my knee. Twisted it up real bad—had to have surgery. Not only did I lose my scholarship, but we lost the game, and here's the real kicker—I didn't apply anywhere else. I had no idea what college to go to. But, lucky for me, oh, man, lucky for me, my knee healed up like a champ. A real medical miracle, the doc said. It's the good genes, my mama said. Then, two weeks after the day I should have received my college acceptance packet and bought my twin-long sheets in a pale blue, I got the letter in the mail.

A few months later, I was learning how to handle a machine gun, running four miles a day for PT, and enduring cold showers, and Stanford, believe me, was the last thing on my mind.

"Man, what'd you do that for? That chick was, like, so fillet," said Billy back at the hospital, clapping me on the back and watching as Laura hurried down the hall, obviously humiliated. We were both there to get physicals before we were sent to 'Nam—me for my third tour, he for his second.

"What're ya talkin' like that for, man? I mean, seriously, what the fuck is that? 'Fillet?'" I laughed and started walking—Billy followed like a dog, the way I knew he would. I heard his heavy, dark green boots clunk against the clean, white tile as he caught up—probably left tracks of mud that poor Nurse Laura'd have to mop up. I chuckled to myself at the thought. Like I said, I was a bastard.

"I heard somebody say it on Three's Company, lay off. Anyway, you say 'man' all the time, man." Billy was short and squat; he had to hop on every third step just to keep in stride with me. But damn, that kid was strong. He could lift three hundred easy. Come to think of it, I should've had him carry my backpack as well as his. Bogus, the things ya think of when they don't matter anymore…

Luck would have it that I'd get the same nurse Billy did for my physical when they finally announced it was my turn. Laura was pretty bunny—kinda pudgy, but pretty, with pink-tinged cheeks, too much lipstick, and long eyelashes. "I'm sorry about this," she said in what I'm sure she thought was a coquettish way. "I don't like shots, neither."

My plan had been set from the beginning—I'd just have to change it up a bit, I reasoned. Getting paired with Laura had actually worked to my advantage, I told myself. I reached out a hand and stayed the needle from my arm. "I'm not going to be gettin' any shot, ma'am."

"What? Specialist, I'm required to give you this shot for all the malarias—"

"Laura—may I call ya Laura?" I gave the nurse my best smoldering look from under my too-long hair they'd be chopping off any day now. She nodded, looking dazed. Too easy, I thought, and tried my best not to smirk. "Well, see, this is my third tour—and a dude can't be lucky through three tours, not when he has comrades fallin' left and right and he's on the front lines, ya know? I was just wondering…if you'd like to spend some time with me. Like, now, for instance. Before I have to go."

I could tell her resolve was shaken—her voice was weak when she said, "But…Mr. Bridges, I really have to give you this…"

"No," I said, my blue eyes boring into her brown ones like I actually meant what I was saying. "We need to go now. While there's time. Come on, Laura. Please. For me. One last time, being with someone I think I might…" I let a pregnant, torturous pause build up in Laura's eyes as they grew wider and wider with anticipation. "…care about," I finished, still staring at her, only now noticing that her pudgy cheeks were kind of … well, doughy. Christ, I thought. All this so I'll get sick and die.

Laura swallowed. "May I call you Lewis, Mr. Bridges?"

"I wouldn't have it any other way," I whispered in her ear, before I pressed my wide, firm lips to her gunk-covered, squashy ones.


"Fuck, man. The only girls I've ever dated are Rosy Palm and her five sisters," Billy was saying, his hands hanging between his open legs as we both sat in the hospital's reception room, waiting for the bus to pick us up. "And you manage to pick up such fillet girls."

"That's just raunchy, man. No. Just no," I replied, touching my swollen lips. I couldn't believe I'd pulled it off! I mean, what a bunny! Nurse Laura ate it all up, even marked that I'd had my shot on my sheet when that needle hadn't even touched my arm!

"Man, I still don't understand why you didn't just take the damn shot. It wasn't so bad, you know?"

"It wasn't the shot, Billy—it was the principle of the thing. What's the point of getting a shot for some fever when it's the moaning minnies that're gonna kill us the first day, huh?"

Billy put his bottom lip between his teeth and began chewing. In an impeded voice, he mused, "Well, when you put it that way, maybe I shoulda skipped the shot, too." He lifted up the band-aid on the meaty part of his right arm. "Oh, grody. Pus. You know, I reckon you could probably do things with that brain of yours, you know? Like, espionage. Work for the fucking CIA. James Bond all the girls, you know?"

I chuckled, and made my voice deep. "Name's Bridges. Lewis Bridges."

"That's ace, man. You should use it." A light came on in Billy's head—it was like seeing a rat perk up after smelling food. "But you gotta credit me."

"Every time I say my name like James Bond I have to credit you? That's bogus, man. I don't know how I stand being your friend, fool that ya are."

"Shut up," he said like a sulking child, apparently unable to think of anything else.

"Smooth play, Shakespeare." I laughed until it abruptly cut off at the sound of someone saying, "Oh, face, man!" to my left. "Huh?" I whipped around and cricked my neck—ugh, why was Laura so damn short? I was gonna be stiff for hours.

A girl stood there—looked maybe twelve—with long, dishwater blonde hair plaited in a braid that hung over her shoulder. She had a bony face and freckles, with the most painful contraption I'd ever seen fastened to her teeth.

"Ouch, man," said Billy, rubbing his own set of not-so-pearly whites.

"Eh," said the girl. "They don't hurt so bad."

"Ya need somethin'?" I asked, stretching out my legs and putting my arm behind the seat—lounging, perfectly at ease with the world. I hoped the kid would get lost, and fast. I'd always hated children. They were whiny, loud, and stupid.

"Yeah, actually." The girl flipped her braid to her other shoulder. "I wanted to talk with you."

"What about?" asked Billy, leaning around the arm that was tucked comfortably behind my head. Yeah, let her harass Billy, I thought. Get both of them off your back for a while.

The girl looked at Billy for a moment, considering, before turning back to me. "No. Just one of you. You."

"Me?" I grumbled, moving my arms from behind my head to rest on my knees. "Why me?"

"Because, Private, I say so." She turned on her heel and walked a little ways off, swinging her hips, making me recalculate her age by a few years. I raised my eyes at Billy, who shrugged, looking a little putout by the little girl's rejection (what a muff), and followed the kid.

"Specialist," I corrected with a grunt, towering over her five-foot-tiny with my six-foot-huge.

"What number are you on?" the girl asked, plopping down into an identical black chair to the ones me and Billy were sitting on—these were just on the other side of the room. Cautiously, my eyebrows still raised, I sat as well.

"Number? Number of what?"

"Tour, of course. What other number would I care about?"

I had a dirty reply on the tip of my tongue, then remembered I was talking to a bossy little girl, not some bunny. "I don't know," I growled, seriously getting annoyed before I realized she'd technically asked a question—no matter how convoluted a way. "Three."

The girl whistled. "Third tour. Wow. You came here for all your shots and shit?"

"Uh—yeah—right—hey, what're ya even doing here, anyway, talkin' to me? And who said you could say 'shit?'"

"No one said I couldn't, and anyway, I'm almost fourteen. I'm a teenager. We can say shit."

"Right." My two raised eyebrows had reduced to one—but I was sure it would stay cocked up there for this entire peculiar conversation. "So what are ya? A general's kid, or something? The way ya called me 'Private' like that, I'd have to assume ya got some military blood in ya or somethin'—"

"No relative of mine ever served in a war, at least not as his career, or by his choice. I was just wondering—is this your career, or is this your choice?"

"Well—" I started, then stopped my mouth. "Why the hell should I tell you? Who are you?"

"I'm Jennifer Vigneault, and I just want to know, Sir. Please?" In that moment, she couldn't have been more than five years old, what with the look she was giving me.

"Well," I said gruffly, "All right. Just...I dunno, stop staring at me, or somethin'. I didn't come into the Army by choice—I was drafted, after I blew my ride to Stanford—"

Jennifer let out a long, low whistle. "Damn. Stanford. You'd think you'd talk smarter if you were going to somewhere like that."

"Yeah, well, since I never did go, I figured I might as well talk as dumb as possible. Then I'd fit in and be able to keep my head down, ya know? I wouldn't have any friends at all if I talked like I used to. Not even Billy over there." I motioned with my thumb over my shoulder at my pudgy friend, and Jennifer's eyes followed it, quick as a whip. "You're sharp yourself."

"I'm all right," was all she said, before pouncing on another question. "So you're still drafted? On your third tour?"

"No," I said. "Back a few years ago I figured if I was going to have to give up my career to be a military man, I might as well give it my all. For the benefits and everything, ya know? So I did. I stayed in." And it was the worst decision of my short, stupid life, how do you like that, little girl? I thought.

"Huh. And now you're on your third tour."

"Yeah, okay, will ya stop repeating that? It's grating on my nerves."

"You have a lot of pent up anger. How does the war make you feel?"

"What—why—now, how am I supposed to answer that? How do ya think it makes me feel?"

Her eyes bore into mine the same way mine had Laura's, only there was nothing sexual or manipulative in this gaze. "I think you're scared," she said. "And lonely. A little sad, and a whole lot angry. Is your mom at home?"

"Yeah, what's she got to do with anything?"

"Are you worried about her?"

"Naw, she's got her own life."

"Without you? That must be tough."

"What are you, a psychoanalyst or somethin'? What do you want, really?"

"I just want to understand how the war makes you feel. What are your goals, after it's over? Your dreams, aspirations... Do you want a family?"

"A family? Look, kid, I—" I was saved the trouble of answering this touchy question by the Army bus coming to pick up me and my comrades—Thank god, I thought, rolling my eyes and turning away from Jennifer.

"Hey! Specialist!" she called right before I'd reached the hospital entrance.

"Yeah?" I grunted; I didn't turn around, but my hand stalled on the door handle.

"What's your name?" she asked more softly, but I could hear her voice clearly.

"Name's Bridges," I said, a grin forming as my voice got deeper. "Lewis Bridges."

"Talk to you later, Lewis," whispered Jennifer.

No chance in hell, I thought.


"What did the kid want?" Billy asked as he sat down next to me on the bus. I'd tried to spread my leg out a little so it covered more than half the seat, but I didn't really want to deter him from sitting; I just didn't want him to think I wanted him to sit there. Our relationship was a fine one, for sure.

"What kid?"

"The kid you were just talking to, man!"

"Oh, that kid. Uh, I dunno. She was some Flower Power hippie-chick. Wanted me to say I didn't believe in the war effort."

"Not believin' in the war effort—you? Pah! You're the most patriotic dude I know!"

I pivoted in my seat to look at him. "Billy," I said, astonished. "Was that sarcasm?"

Billy smiled proudly and puffed out his chest. "I've been practicin'."

"I've been rubbin' off on ya, huh?"

"No!" he said indignantly, snapping his suspenders against his chest, having just removed his army coat. It waspretty hot on the un-air-conditioned bus; I removed mine as well. "Shut up!"

"Smooth play, Shakespeare," I said for the second time in twenty minutes. "Smooth play."


So I shipped out after my briefing.

The ship is, I swear to god, the same ship I departed on last time—the same exact fucking ship. I can tell because I'm stuck in the same bunk. I wrote my name on it last tour, convinced I wouldn't make it back and wanting to leave a little reminder of my existence, however petty.



Ah, I was a good ol' time back then on my second tour. I wasn't so optimistic as my first time in 'Nam.

On my first tour, when I made that glorious decision, I figured the army was actually a good plan, seeing as I wasn't going to Stanford. Yeah, folks. I actually willingly stayed the fuck in. Third Tour of Duty? You think regular shits with their wits about them say yes when they're asked to go on another tour? Naw, man. They only make you serve one. The rest of them are reserved for the real idiots who get called "baby killer" when they get home to Byrnes Mill, Missouri, and feel like they deserve it. For the guys who left their balls back in Nha Trang and welcome the spit hacked on their boots.

They come back to 'Nam with their guns slung over their backs like they're dragging a dead body along with them. Or, in my case, a shitload of little dead bodies, their little fingernails dragging in the dirt behind me because there just wasn't enough room on my back for them all.

I wasn't as cynical as I was now, either, on my second tour. See, then, the whole "death wish" thing was just a ruse to get respect among my comrades.

This time, it was the real deal. I wasn't going to live through this one, even if I wasn't shot or blown up or diseased. And Nurse Laura had taught me that I could get away with it—I was sure I wasn't special; I saw seventeen-year-old kids get killed left and right, up and down on my second tour. This was after the Tet Offensive, when everyone thought they were gonna be let off easy. You know, they'd come over, get their medals, get to be heroes, but never actually have to fight. I mean, of course the Vietcong blew all their resources after that big show of theirs! All we had to do was sweep in there, clean up the brain guts they left after shooting themselves in the head, and pretend like it was our doing! Sounds like a plan, right?

No go. The plan came shooting down like a moaning minnie on a hot n' humid Saigon day and exploded on half of those suckers' heads as they ran for their cowardly, worthless little American lives with their tails between their legs and their arms over their heads. It wasn't like I had any more idea what Charlie was capable of than they did, I just had no faith in what "everyone was saying," and knew that, over here? Yeah, it can get a hell of a lot worse. I just had to sit and wait.

So the third tour started off as a fuckin' trip. I was having flashbacks all the time—Billy overreacted and said I should talk to Doc Alberts. I told him that it was just all of this déjà vu messing with my head, and what would they do anyway if I complained about it? Send me home and straight to the psyche ward, that's what. I'd be stuck in there with a lot of psychos doped up on Thorazine and I'd be sitting there drooling all over myself just like them. No, I was staying right where I was.

I felt...bored. Not scared, not angry, not impatient for some action—not like all of the other soldiers. I knew what would come, and I also knew how it was going to end—me, bleeding out of my head as consciousness slowly ebbed away, and all I could feel was the wet warmth enveloping me. I hoped I'd be aware enough to die smiling—that'd be a real kicker for whoever carried my body off.

"What's he smiling about? Do you think he's dreaming?" one soldier would say, moving to check my pulse.

"Naw, look, half his head is gone, idiot! He's dead. Musta...musta just been thinking about his girlfriend, or somethin'."

"Yeah..." And then they'd carry me off, my knuckles dragging in the soggy dirt, just like the dead babies on my back, to my awaiting chariot—a shiny, black casket with a specially folded American flag, just for me.

I felt bored, that is, before I received my first letter.


Dear Mr. Bridges,

This is Jennifer Vigneault. I don't know if you remember me—I was the girl who talked to you the day you were getting your shots in the hospital, do you remember? I have long, blonde hair?

I think you remember. Anyway, I asked around and found out what troop number you were in, and I already knew what rank you were from your badge—so here we are.

I'm going to be your pen pal! Your anchor to the real world! I think, in time, you'll find me a valuable and indispensable resource.

You can ask me about my life and tell me about yours - I'll sympathize as best I can, but as a girl, I don't think I'll ever get the chance to experience what you're experiencing first hand. I'm not saying I'm jealous, but, man, I wish I could do something that intense. I'll never be a hero, not like you.

I'm in ninth grade, I'm fourteen, I want to be a pediatric doctor or a fashion designer or maybe one of those girls who waves the flags at NASCAR games (that's what my mom did when she met my dad, and my dad's a good guy—my grandma says I'll be lucky to get a husband as good as my daddy, but then again, I don't have much of a figure yet) but I don't know, really.

I can't wait for your first letter!

Jennifer Vigneault


That little girl actually got up and stalked me? That's all I could think—she looked up what troop number I was in—in Saigon, Vietnam—and wrote me a letter. Asking me to be her pen pal. I crooked my head around and saw Riley writing to his wife and kids back home—"Hey, could I borrow a sheet of that? No, no, just one sheet, thanks."


Dear Miss Vigneault,

I don't remember giving you permission to contact me. Please stop writing—I have plenty of people writing, namely my mother and my GIRLFRIEND, Lisa. I don't need nine-year-olds, too.


Specialist Lewis Bridges


Ha, take that, little girl! No, Lisa wasn't my girlfriend. She was that bunny I'd left behind in high school. But this Jennifer Vigneault didn't know that—she'd probably nursed a little crush on me and now would feel heartbroken and leave me alone, I thought, indulging myself. Yeah, she probably thought I was one slick guy when she first met me, all dapper and tall.

Perhaps, even then, she did think I was slick—but she was never the type to be heartbroken without a fight.


Dear Mr. Bridges,

I called your mom. You don't have a girlfriend, unless you haven't told your mom, in which case, she says, "That boy better call me right now and ship that girl to me in a FedEx box so I can beat her with a branch for making my boy deceive me," so I think you'd better write her soon, assuring her that Lisa DOESN'T EXIST.

She said for you to be nice to me and write because I'm a "sweet little girl who just needs a friend." Honestly, I think it's YOU that needs a friend, Mr. Bridges.

You're not a very good pen pal yet, but I have hope for you. I'll keep you updated, just in case you're just pretending that you don't like me because you're still scared of cooties, or something. (That's really immature, Mr. Bridges.)

School's good right now. I fell down yesterday and spilled my lunch all over the floor—this Negro girl, Martha, helped me up. I like Martha; we're not friends (it just won't happen, because our cliques don't mix, you know?) but she's a nice girl. I accidentally swore, though; I yelled, "Damn!" really loud and a teacher caught me. I have detention tomorrow night; it's my first detention. My parents didn't understand that because I'm a teenager now I get to use dirty words—it's true, what they say about teenagers being so misunderstood. It's like I'm sitting here speaking Cantonese with a sign that says, "I'm a bad person, punish me" around my neck. When you were a teenager, did you get away with saying dirty words? 'Cause I'm nearly grown up, nearly as grown up as you, and I'm getting persecuted left and right. ('Persecuted' sounds like a dirtier word than "damn" to me, doesn't it to you?) I wonder what my parents would do to me if they knew I said "shit" in front of an Army man.

My birthday is in a few months—are you going to send me a present? I think we'll be friends by then. When's your birthday? Well, never mind, I'll just call your mom and ask.

(That wasn't a very cordial letter, by the way—you shouldn't say "cordially" unless you were actually being nice. Otherwise it sounds sarcastic. Or like you're smiling but grinding your teeth at the same time.)

Cordially (because I WAS nice),

Jennifer Vigneault.


Dear Miss Vigneault,

You called my MOM? Are you stalking me?

And you shouldn't swear, that shit's notshoot's not

"Shoot's not"? That doesn't even make sense, what kind of replacement for "shit" is that? Billy's got to be kidding me…no, you know what, kid? Screw being a good mentor. You seem corrupted already, anyway.

Don't contact me again.

Specialist Lewis Bridges


Dear Mr. Bridges,

Today in class there was an Army guy who came in with his uniform on to pick up a younger kid named David, who I guess was his little brother. I guess the big brother, the Army guy, had been drafted recently and that everyone knew about it but me, because my friends (they're anti-war, like me) kept calling him a "baby killer" and I had no idea.

I haven't told them about you. I don't think they'd understand our relationship, to be honest, even though this is a special-circumstance sort of deal. I really like my friends, too, even if they won't let me be friends with Martha, the nice Negro girl who helped me pick up my lunch. They understand me, you know? They're all older than me, fifteen and sixteen and one of the dudes, Guy, is even SEVENTEEN. So even though I'm fourteen and am really old enough, especially on the inside, it's really ace of them to let me join, you know?

I'm not stalking you, Mr. Bridges. I just want to know more about you. You're my insight into the war—it's like espionage, kind of. You just have to work with me.

Cordially (it's like our little inside joke now, isn't it?),

Jennifer Vigneault.


This was the second time Jennifer had used the word "Negro" in relation to her friend Martha. I was a little confused—was Jennifer Vigneault, the anti-war, flower power girl, a racist? I asked my black friend Edgars, a sergeant, "Hey, Edgars—why would a hippie call a Black girl 'Negro?' I thought everybody knew you all were being called 'black' now?"

"Poor guy's behind the times, man," said Edgars, a close-lipped smile shielding his large, crooked teeth. "Not everyone's got such first-hand information."

I nodded, relieved without knowing exactly why.


Miss Vigneault,

If anyone saw the letter you just sent me, they'd arrest me for spying and trading secrets, and I'd probably be dead now.

May that weigh upon your conscience until you finally STOP WRITING and leave me alone.

Your friends are idiots—that guy, the Army dude, is no more a "baby killer" than I am. Do you think I'm a baby killer, Miss Vigneault? If so, it's kind of sick that you're writing me and treating me like I'm a friend.

Although, from the sound of your "friends," I'm more of a friend to you than they are. You're young; you should be hanging out with that nice girl, Martha, and not bastards like those older kids who spit on young guys who were just drafted, just like me, against their will, and don't want to kill anyone any more than they do. Don't let them pressure you into anything, all right?

And never say the "E" word in a letter again! God!

Cordially (for real, this time),

Specialist Lewis Bridges.


Dear Mr. Bridges,

You're a lot smarter in writing than you were in person. How come you talk like you're dumb, huh? From the sound of you, I doubted you even knew what "espionage" meant, unless you learned it in some top-secret, confidential Army training something-or-other. And I bet if you were as dumb as you talked, my last name would scare the pants off of you, 'cause it's so long! That'd be funny.
By the way, your handwriting is atrocious (good word, huh? I learned it today). My fourth grade teacher, Mrs. Kermit, she made us learn cursive because she said we'd need it later in life. No joke! She treated that cursive like it was going to give us food, water, shelter and a baked potato with the works, man.

Now I'm in ninth grade, and that's almost in high school, and my English teacher Mr. Wolman said that in high school, they don't give a damn (yeah, he said it, too!) what you write in, cursive, print, or Klingon, so long as you pass their tests and turn in your homework. He said they didn't even care if you take notes! Why the hell did I suffer through elementary school then, huh? This is such a load of crap!

You know, the other day my dad said he was pissed, and now I think I get what he means! I'm pissed, man!

How was your day today? You didn't kill anyone, did you? Guy says you're probably sticking people's heads on sticks like Vlad the Impaler and drinking their blood, but I don't believe him. I don't.

Cordially (I still giggle every time I write this),

Jennifer Vigneault


Dear Miss Vigneault,

Here, I borrowed some lined paper from my buddy Riley just for you. I must like you to do something like that for you, huh? Hope my writing's legible now, after all that trouble…

Hey, I don't like you assuming everyone in the army is—well, you know what, forget it. My friend Billy probably would be scared of your last name.

Yeah, I remember high school. Some of the teachers don't care about you at all, they just assign work and sit up there and drone—if you're lucky. I remember my geometry teacher handed us a stack of worksheets to complete the width of your entire body and told us our only grade would be our midterm. I doubt that's legal now, and anyway, I went to school in Missouri. Things are different there than in Norfolk, you know. But you'll get about three teachers in your entire high school career that'll really open your eyes. They'll teach you whatever it is—art history, government, hell, maybe it'll be home ec for you—and you'll be inspired to do well on their tests and listen to their lectures. Mine were my chemistry teacher and my lacrosse coach. My chemistry teacher told me that unless I got some sort of hobby to diffuse my energy, he was going to pop a gasket, so I joined lacrosse. My lacrosse coach taught me that I could get the things I wanted with enough determination; I made team captain as a sophomore, which was almost unheard of at Harry S. Truman High. I would have gone to Stanford if it hadn't been for my knee.

Then, since I had no college to go to, the military snapped me up. And here I am, three years later, enlisted as Specialist Nobody.

How was my day today? The same as yesterday and the day before that. In fact, I could compare it to the first day here, only my boots didn't stink so bad as now. We had some action today—if you can call it that. Some villagers—not Charlie, just some Gooks—shot at us from higher up on the hill than we are. Honestly, the camp is the worst, strategically—but they had to get us out of the rice paddies. So I picked up my gun like a good soldier—didn't shoot at anything, not like Billy, who almost shot an American coming out of the woods, the idiot—and let the rest of them do the dirty work.

Story of my life as a patriot.


Specialist Lewis Bridges


That wasn't the turning point in our friendship. I'd finally decided, screw it, if this girl was bitchin' enough to keep balling her way into my life, I'd let her. It felt pretty good, actually, being able to be cynical to someone other than Billy—who just laughed at me, thinking my "sarcasm" was hilarious. I tried to explain to him that sarcasm was saying something the opposite of what you mean—but he didn't catch on. So every time I said, "Oh, I love me a cold shower at five in the morning," he'd agree with me and say, "Yeah, they really get your brain working." But whenever I'd say that I hated this place, that I wished Charlie'd penetrate further in and give us a reason to go out there and become paraplegic and line up to pick up our Purple Hearts along with our Thorazine, he' d laugh his huge, fat ass off.

That was my life for a year. PT training, dealing with my ambivalent friendship with Billy, enduring cold showers at five every day, and feeling a distinct lack of R and R. The first time I brought it up to my superior, I was yelled at for fifteen minutes and then told to get back to my barracks—I complied, even though I was supposed to be on watch. So it was for a year I squandered in the hellhole that was our camp, and Jennifer Vigneault's letters slowly transformed from chains holding me down to little rays of sunshine through the protocol smog.