Postcards from the Jungle

We were in a pasture, and Tim was burning his draft card. The wind was strong.

"It's a fucking slaughter, Hank" he spat. "I'm not carrying no fucking gun." I was watching the paper curl. I didn't feel good doing it.

"They've got no right forcing us to go," I agreed. I nudged the dry dirt beneath me with my foot. The earth coughed dust on my shoes. I thought about the jungle and getting my legs blown off by something hidden underground. I thought about five years of my youth and a thousand dollars. Tim and I watched the flame as it ate the last of his paper. The ashes scattered in the wind and I couldn't tell them from the earth.

Tim handed me the matches and I took them. I don't think I wanted to but I struck one. Tim was smiling. I think I did it because Tim has been such a good friend to me. I touched the fire to the corner of my own sheet and it took.

I had no problem with going to war, myself. I didn't want Tim to go, but I had nothing going on. I could have gone, I guess.

I dropped the burning card on the ground. The fire ate my name. Maybe Tim didn't want me to go like I didn't want him to go. Or maybe he just invited me to do this with him because that's what he does. I tried not to think about it too much. The last thing that burned was the date they registered me. My ashes blew off in the wind. Tim smiled and I think I did, too.

"We're free men, Hank," he said. He patted me on the back. That made me really smile, because he was so incredible. He seemed so sure.

..

Tim had a girlfriend whose name was Anne. She was nice, I guess, in a boring way. But he said he liked her, so I knew there had to be something good about her.

She was really happy to hear he wouldn't get sent to the jungle. She hugged him and I thought maybe I did want to go to the jungle after all. I thought about keeping cigarettes in my helmet and listening to birds I didn't have a name for.

"I'm happy, I'm so happy," she sobbed. Tim hugged her back and said "me too" so sincerely it hurt. I thought about Tim and me hiding from a monsoon under a leaf as big as an elephant's ear. But I tried not to think about it too much.

..

At home I had my two parents and my sister, who was little. I loved them all but we didn't talk about much. Sometimes they asked me about this girl Mary Beth who I took out a couple times. Otherwise we mostly talked about President Johnson and whether or not The Beatles were an okay thing. My mom and dad decided that they weren't, for the record.

My dad came into my room to tell me how important it was to help the war effort. He said he would be proud to have a son in uniform. We sat on my bed and he told me what he thought patriotism was and asked me what I thought it was. I said I thought the same thing he did. I don't know if I really meant it. I had a couple issues of Young Physique magazine under my bed.

..

Sometimes after school Tim and I would go play basketball in his driveway. He was much better at it than I was. He was on the school team. I could play most sports pretty well, but I was never good at basketball. But Tim loved it and we'd play for a long time, so long that our shirts would stick to us with sweat. Sometimes the sun would go down on us, which would make the sweating stop. Playing basketball made him so happy and flushed his face with such hot blood that I would get something like scared, and I would want to run away. The way Tim felt about basketball I only felt about a few things. But I tried not to think about them.

..

I never ended up in the jungle but I did think about it. It would be me and my army buddies with our guns pointed at the Viet Cong in the trees. In our tents they would hang pin ups and letters from home. I would maybe have a few letters to hang, too, and I think I would read them often. Sometimes I would write letters home. To my mom, my dad, my sister, and to Tim. I could draw them pictures of the way strange trees rose up around me and way a zoo animal looks at you when its wild. They could send me postcards with pictures of diners and muscle cars on them.

And when the rain came down thirty days at a time and the roads turned into muddy rivers my buddies and me would all walk them together in a line, and we would gripe to each other, and we would eat our rations under the shelter of wide leaves. We would reminisce about our moms and the people we left behind, and I would learn inside and out the way missing someone colors a voice. I knew it would be better.

Even though I burned the card I knew there were other ways they could have drafted me. I asked around, and I heard about it happening to other people. But it never happened to me, even though the hidden parts of me hoped it would. But they say it's hard to get what you want in life and I guess it's harder when you don't even know what it is that you want in the first place.