Sunday, September 11, 2005

The Forgotten Soldier


statue in a park in reykjavik, iceland, may 2005 - photo by Susan Smith Nash

Captain Harville lovingly wrapped the jade statue in strips of thin cotton fabric he had purchased at the market in Ventienne. The thin hand-dyed batik was being to put a use he had never expected. Before, they were useful curtains, now they were dramatically-hued swaddling cloths for a goddess who glowed with pastel iridescence, even when light faded from the room. The jade was unlike anything he had ever seen, reflected Harville. The hundred or so pebble-sized carvings that illustrated the power of Tara to take away worry, pain, and despair were also of iridescent, multi-colored pastel jade, but they did not have the same intensity of the primary sculpture, a little more than a foot in height, with exquisite intricacy. Simultaneously the Green Tara, with all her gifts of fertility and bounteousness, and the Pale Tara of infinite compassion and protection, this goddess radiated goodness, light, and forgiveness.

The radio in the corner of the bamboo hut on stilts he called his base camp had been quiet for several weeks now. It emitted the occasional crackle, but Harville knew that it was inoperable and that he had no way to communicate with his command unless he openly defied orders and went to Ventienne.

It did not matter. Harville was in no rush to communicate with his command. He knew that by this time he had entered the bureaucratic limbo of officially MIA (Missing In Action), and that it would be annoyingly complicated to get himself off that list. He knew other pilots who had, after miraculously reappearing, been moved off the MIA list and to the Casualty list, rather than back to Active Duty.

With a jolt, images of his buddy Brecker intruded: Brecker, smiling and embracing his wife after graduating from officer candidate school; Brecker, drinking a beer with him in Saigon; Brecker, thin and focused, analyzing flight plans; Brecker, the side of his neck torn off, his ear and pieces of skull missing, still speaking, still entreating Harville to keep going. Harville jabbed the end of the pointed stick he was using in his task into his thigh. The pain would force out the intrusive thoughts.

Mosquitoes whined around the netting that made a pale shrouded cone in the middle of his room. To escape them, he sat under the netting and wrapped each piece of carved jade before putting them carefully in a teak box he had saved.

Harville startled at the piercing cries of a newborn baby. The cries were in the room with him, and he heard a nurse congratulating him while soothing the mother. "He's got some powerful lungs there," resonated a male voice. The cries became more piercing. "Your son, sir. He's beautiful. He has your eyes," said someone in the room with him. Harville felt his eyes fill with tears. Tears from a quiet cloudburst splattered against his hands, then, as suddenly as they had appeared, disappeared.

In his loving hands, Tara's firm, jade flesh became soft, supple, responsive. She inclined herself slowly toward him. Casting shadows on the walls like Bali shadow puppets, Harville saw his Tara come alive on the woven bamboo panels of his hut. Her arms moving gracefully, she beckoned him to come with him, to follow him into the shadow. Suddenly sick with the sweet-pungent scent of burning opium that seemed to come from nowhere and everywhere, Harville doubled over, extending his arm out to touch the shadow of Tara on the wall.

His fingers graced the fringes of the shadow, and as he did so, a sharp shock entered him. Flashes of light exploded in his head, like fireworks in the same iridescent hues of the jade statue. Closing his eyes, he felt his mind go into an unmapped territory, a place of madness and healing, of hurt and succor, of thirst and of eternal, quenching springs.

He was now truly lost.

statue in a park in reykjavik, iceland, may 2005 - photo by Susan Smith Nash

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