January 8th, 2015


LJ Idol Season Nine: "In Enemy Territory"

In Enemy Territory
idol season nine | week 32, #1 | 1064 words
Captcha the flag


It's Spring in 1968 when my number comes up. I knew my luck would run out someday, but the damn war's been going on for years now. Thought maybe there was a chance it'd finally end, or at least our part in it, but that hasn't happened yet. The draft's still legal and I'm still screwed.

After eight week of basic training—drills and conditioning and "Sir, yes sir" until you breathe it—we ship out to Vietnam. We're the grunts of the operation, the regular Army Infantry. Our brothers are already knee-deep in the Mekong Delta keeping the Viet Cong at bay. Our unit joins them.

The country is beautiful but treacherous. Thick jungles hide snares and enemy combatants, and the open areas leave you exposed. The native people could be working for either side of this war, or just trying to survive it, but the thing is, you don't know. You can't trust them too much, but if they're allies, you need them. They know the secret tunnels where the enemy hides, and they recognize Viet Cong sympathizers better than outsiders like us ever will.

There is no down-time in this war while you're on the front. A couple of minutes—even seconds—of inattention and you might get yourself or the men in your unit killed. The army tried to prepare us, but it was clear from day one that we didn't know shit about being soldiers. The reality of it, the danger in every step you take and three-sixty on the perimeter, just doesn't sink in until you're living it.

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LJ Idol Season Nine: "On The Periphery"

On The Periphery
idol season nine | week 32, #2 | 1437 words
The bystander effect


I was visually handicapped for the first eight years of my life, and no one knew it.

My mother suspected, but couldn't be sure. I was the toddler who always got hit in the face with a ball instead of catching it, and who always hid when new people or unexpected visitors came to the house. I was certain all that talk of there being a mountain at the end of the pasture was a prank, and my parents thought I simply misunderstood what mountains were, or that I was looking at the wrong thing.

When we were in the car, my mother sometimes asked if I could see a particular thing, and I eventually always did. But there was always a lag between the question and the answer.

The reason for all this dancing around is analogous to trying to prove a negative: if you have poor vision from a very early age, how can you possibly know that your version of the world isn't the same as what other people see? It's like asking someone born with chronic pain whether something hurts. They have no reference point for what "not hurting" feels like.

As a child, I just assumed there was some sort of trick I hadn't figured out. We would go to the eye doctor, and he'd ask me to read the letters on the wall. From what I could see, there were no letters anywhere in the entire room! I always hung back until my younger sister went first, and I would memorize the sequence of letters as she said them and then repeat them back when it was my turn. If I picked the wrong line to recite, the doctor just thought it was an honest mistake.

That was how I made it to the third grade with an arsenal of coping mechanisms that kept my problem from being discovered. They finally caught me when the school eye exams started using the multi-directional "E" charts, where you were supposed to show the orientation of a randomly-selected "E." I flunked that test so badly that I got even the giant "E" wrong!

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