Chinese With My Brother-In-Law
My brother-in-law was a lively talker and eager for a listener. The fact is, he said, they used to tell us to proceed with caution. If we got fired on by somebody in a village, we had to go in there, I.D. the target, yadda yadda. But now— he paused. All bets are off if you fire on an American soldier.
Really? I asked.
My grandfather said it sounds a lot different from what it was like in his day. He was a WWII veteran. He said, We were maybe more careful. Not like we were organized, though. Over there in Europe, he said, our C.O.s didn't even know where we were half the time. He laughed.
My brother-in-law's face was serious. It's not like that with us. We've got to check in with our commanding officer every five minutes like we're some kind of children. And most of these C.O.s don't know anything about combat. I've been in it for a year and then some guy out of West Point comes in and starts telling me how to do things. My brother-in-law's eyes got wide. Yeah. I'll get right on it.
I asked him how he feels. I mean, it must be awful, I said. When you go into those villages--
You got to understand, he said. This is warfare. You get what I'm saying? Everybody's somebody's baby. When we go in, we can't think about it. If we did, we couldn't do our job. You get what I'm saying?
It's affected him, my sister said, holding my nephew. She said, He wakes up from his sleep, saying stuff all the time.
I'm all right, he said.
My nephew Dante was squirming around. He was five years old and rambunctious. He started grabbing for my sister's breasts.
Hey, stop that, boy, my brother-in-law said. He grabbed his son's hands. Then he grabbed his son at the waist and put him on his own lap. He looked back at my sister. Those are my toys, he said.
I don't have them, my nephew said, reaching for my sister. I just have nipples. Why do I just have nipples?
When are you going back? my grandfather asked.
Six months here and then back, my brother in-law said.
My brother-in-law looked at me for a long time. Then he said, You think you could handle something like this? This life?
I said, Yeah, I think I could handle it.
You think you could but you can't, he said. A lot of people think that.
My nephew ran his hand across my brother-in-law's whiskers.
My sister went to the buffet to get some more food.
I looked down and picked at my sweet and sour pork.
It took another year before my brother-in-law got discharged—dishonorably, they said. Went AWOL. He's in Portland, Oregon now. Last I saw from him was on his Myspace page. He's got a lot of pictures on there of him at raves with tall hats on and pacifiers in his mouth.
My sister and nephew moved in with me, in the house behind my grandfather's home. We don't talk about my brother-in-law.
My nephew Dante is growing up pretty fast. He tells me he's in love with my girlfriend and that he's going to marry her someday.