I have been drawn to stories of the Vietnam War, ever since I was a girl just entering adolescence. When I was in 7th or 8th grade I won a writing contest sponsored by the Detroit Free Press with a story I wrote entitled "I Died and Lived To Tell About It", which if I remember correctly, revolved around a man who watched his entire platoon be killed, but somehow managed to survived. I know right around that time, I also wrote a chronological- based fiction work entitled "Watershed Tears" based on the main character living through the events of 1968. While the rest of the seventh and eighth grade girls were swooning over pop stars and actors, I was reading about the tunnels in Cu Chi and couldn't wait for the opening of Platoon. I remember thinking at the time if perhaps if re-incarnation was real, that I had died there- just one of those thoughts seeking out greater understanding of the connections I felt to that time and place and those people.
Eventually, my reading expanded and that fiction consumed more of my attention. There were all of the distractions of growing up, especially those I had created leaving home on and off starting when I was 15. My attentions turned towards boys, and music, and poetry; fading away from Southeast Asia.
The year before last, I read Dispatches by Michael Herr and If I Die In A Combat Zone by Tim O'Brien. Along with the World War II novel, Catch-22 by Joseph Heller, those books began to push and nudge awake this piece of me, which had been such an integral part of my growing up. I had planned since then to read Tim O'Brien's The Things They Carried, which I honestly thought I had read before, but seems to have come out when I was in high school which would make it unlikely that I had read it heretofore.
Words seem so inadequate to talk about The Things They Carried. Reading it is like a first love affair. Speaking about it out loud, seems to do disservice to it's sacredness. It is all consuming. It makes you greedy for more as you read. Even it's destruction, and some of the stories do destroy you, is alluring the way young passion makes us unable to turn away.
For me, the experience was especially full of emotion, for though I am firmly routed in my Catholic beliefs, the familiarity and sense of some other life overshadowing my own current life lingered just over my shoulder, just out of view. The whispers of ghosts, just beyond hearing. The connection which was so powerful when I was a girl, nearly knocked me over. The tears flowed freely.
The Things They Carried is beyond a book. It is a piece of all who ever ever fought war. All who ever lived with those who have returned from war. I cannot recommend it enough--even though it appears now on lots of required reading lists., which sometimes make people feel as though are boring or too difficult to read. If you are not unchanged after reading it, I would be beyond surprised.
For any who have read it- what are your thoughts? For those who have not, are there any times or places toward which you feel particularly drawn??