Far off through some long forgotten fog; words trapped inside my skull, I hear Cronkite’s voice over a staticky tube radio. I hear the boom and recoil of very old guns. I hear Pete’s voice.
Pete spent his entire tour of duty in Vietnam tripping on acid. He turned to heroin when he came back home to Venice, Florida. Heroin kept the screams at bay. He said the acid saved him; without it he’d have blown his brains all over some enthusiastic lieutenant’s uniform.
He tells me that option is still always on the table. It’s been day to day for Pete since 1970.
We stood on the beach as the sun fell into the big water and he threw his medals into the Gulf of Mexico. As the shiny bronze and ribbons plopped into the sea he said he tries everyday to forget that moment; baffled why anyone would call him a hero for what he did. He says he can still smell that day and all the sensations that pass though a man when he’s gone killing.
As boys, Pete and me, we’d sneak into a massive stone monetary nestled deep in the woods and listen to the Gregorian chants of the monks echo off the great stone walls. The sounds used to bounce around inside those chambers for a long time after the singing stopped.
My grandma said that was the sound the angels made. Pete said that was the sound you heard as you walked into Hell. He said he heard those hollow chants every single day he was in Vietnam.
On the beach, our backs to the wind, hunkered together we lit a joint. The warm Gulf water lapped at our feet and he told me he killed a man and he had no idea why. Then he killed a pretty Vietnamese girl too and he sees her face everywhere, and heroin helps some.
She was a young and pretty girl with small tits and big smile, and he watched the noise and chaos and carnage of that moment, then he saw her smile twist into agony, then death, then silence.
Pete is a hero, ask anyone in Venice, Florida, even today. But, don’t ask Pete.
I’m thinking about him today. I bet he’s watching this new war unfold on that little TV set on the wall of his bait shop in Nokomis Beach. He sells bait and cold beer and potato chips to fat men with big boats. Pete is a friendly enough guy, he just don’t say much. The heroin phase has passed. He’ll still smoke a joint and drink some, but he says it don’t help much.
I wish every boy riding the great swell of nationalistic pride in this new war would aim at thier guns square at their generals and away from citizens with wine bottles full of gasoline and oil and linen wicks, and go the fuck home. So does Pete.
They won’t, they’ll march on the general’s word, and die in the snow, cold and wet and bleeding, thier faces turned to horror and death. But Pete says that may be better than coming home.
Don’t matter what machine wants this war, those boys will be forever dead. Even the boys who don’t ride home in a box.
Someone should tell them the heroin helps, some, but not a lot.
That’s what Pete said…