I don’t even remember the war, not the important parts anyway. Just flashes here and there; a tide of bombs raking and jolting the earth, my mother’s arms grasped tight around me and my little sister. And even though the whole world was seemingly collapsing in on itself all around us; mom never faltered. Her eyes stayed calm and that kept us calm. Nothing could get to us in that tight embrace, not bombs or bullets, not even the flesh licking fires that crept up from the forest.
During those harrowing nights we would sit cross-legged, faces burrowed in whatever meager portions of rice we could find, bodies jarred from sleep by the quaking mountains. We talked so little at night. The bombs drilled the talk right out of us, I guess.
Sometimes I would sneak out of the house at night when there was a few hours silence and lay in the grass looking up towards the mountains. Dad was there.
When I was 5 a cold breeze came and swept him away on promises of a better life; all he had to do was fight the communists. Then the war ended and others got shipped to the U.S., we got shuffled aside; up the mountain into the bleak forest. We’ve been there ever since.
Dad was proud to have fought, but when it all fell apart he did too. They sucked his soul right out with the last of their planes; the bombs and mines they graciously left. And so he drank. It wasn’t always bad, he still loved us I’m sure, but it was different. He wandered all the time. One night he wandered into the forest and never came back. Mom never cried.
We went on. We made the best of life in our shitty new home. We raised pigs and sowed the fields, enough to feed and furnish ourselves. I plowed the fields and my Mom and sister tended the rice paddies. We did this for years, a cycle running itself out until my sister married; then I married, but we stayed close by. It held together.
We kept the house and Mom worked the fields till she collapsed one day in the fields, dropped dead at 47. She’d been dead on the inside anyway, at least ever since Dad went into the forest that first time to fight the commies. She had told me one night; when the bombs had been quiet. “I don’t think I love your father anymore” she had said, not an ounce of doubt on her weathered face. “It’s not his fault, I just can’t love him anymore”. That broke my heart at 10 years old, it breaks my heart now, well what’s left of it.
And so I pushed on; I had a wife and 3 kids and I loved them all more than I could even put into words. And I was happy. But even though my memories of the bombs had faded, those same bombs still remained, burrowed deep down in the ground; shooting stars that missed the sky. I had found a few churning up the earth, called in the UXO and thought no more about it. “Whatever will be will be and there’s nothing you can do about it” that’s what Dad would always say.
One day I plowed hard, as with any other day, but it was different this time. I heard a sound that rang out, the clang of steel on steel and the whiz of an all too active fuse. A buzz filled up my head, high pitched and angry; a thousand bees raging war with God for their plight. On my back I looked up at the sky and the mountains that had once beckoned me as a kid. My eyes were hazy and numb, but I could still see it all, the beauty of it.
I’m not bitter, that’s not the right word. I don’t know if there is a word for what I feel, it makes more sense without one. I still love my family, of course, but I’ve become a burden to them, a tumor, a weight that strains on already weary backs. Sometimes I can’t even look into their eyes. In them I see myself, the reflection of a man; with both arms and legs working the land, sharing a laugh with my kids, an intimate moment with my wife. Instead I have to look away. And keep my eyes calm.