Amerikan Daughter: One of the Boys Part III
Oh, how our proud soljer boyz fight so hard to defend a woman's "freedom" to be ogled like a piece of rape meat, which then turns around and hates the Vietnamese for not putting out with enough servility to satisfy outraged Plantation Miss. Can Ugly Amerikans really be this dumb?
The pool is Olympic size - once exclusively for members of a private French club, now exclusively for American armed forces. The first time we came here, we were the only women among hundreds of GIs. Cowed by the odds, I sweated it out on a lounging chair covered from head to foot with a beach towel. Sandy, all five feet two of her, braved the gawkers to go for a swim.Don't it all just sound soooooo familiar?
I describe my frustrations with the Vietnamese - with engineers who can't even unplug a bathtube drain, pedicab drivers and coniving street urchins who rip us off every chance they get, all the useless, ungrateful gooks who don't like us, just our money.
But I can't get past the feeling that it's me he's leaving, not Vietnam. And I can't overcome my fear that back in the Land of Round-eyes, he'll forget about me before my remaining nine months are up.
"What the fuck are you doing!" They scrub harder.
"You goddamned fucking stupid little yellow-bellied bastard gooks!" They scrub faster.
"There seems to be," someone in the crowd observes, "a breakdown in communications here."
One of us fetches a Vietnamese secretary to straighten out the mess. She barks at the little men. They lower their heads. "Dumb gooks," she spits, clicking past us in spiked heels.
After work I write back that I'm sorry about all the demonstrators, but I've about decided that our empire must fall as all great empires fall. "Too bad," I add. "I thought we had the answer too, but the world isn't enough like us."
Bright overhead lights thrust the ward into sharp focus. There must be a hundred IV bottles suspended in the air, and I'm struck by how noisy it is: the hum of continuous suction machines and oxygen tanks hissing, respirators whooshing and someone coughing through his tracheostomy tube, a hopper flushing in the utility room, and cries for help. As many beds as possible have been crammed into the room - four on each side, two rows of four placed back to back down the middle, and two on the far end. Directly in front of me, closest to the nursing station, a Stryker frame for a paralyzed patient occupies one of the spaces. And every bed is filled.
The patient to my right, closest to the doorway, is staring at me. I try to smile but cannot look him in the eye. Both his legs are missing below mid-thigh, the stumps wrapped in bulky layers of Kerlix dressings. Thick tubes drain blood from his chest into a suction machine on the floor. The same machine also receives chest tubes from a patient in the next bed.
"Her temp's one hundred and six."
"Let her die! She was probably tossing a grenade at our boys when she got shot!"
"My God, Mott, she's just a little girl."
"She's a gook! Bust your ass to save her life, and she's likely to return the favor by blowing up another one of our guys!"
I think of the shoeshine boys in Saigon, how I hate them. Maybe he's right. I don't know. I'm too tired to think about it right now, too confused to argue.
"Whoever she is she's our patient."
"Let me tell you something," Mott warns. "This place'll fall apart if you spend your time baby-sitting."
I know he's right. I'm an Army nurse, and my first duty is to our casualties.
After my shift I find a notice in the mailroom. The presence of "our" nurses is requested at a party at a big brass villa. We can read between the lines, know this is a command rather than a request. Most of us detest the lecherous old men who expect us to kowtow to their field-grade braid. Even their lavish air-conditioned villas and savory meals are not worth the insinuating brushes to our breasts and pats to our bottoms, their whispered hints that it would be well worth our time to get away from the crowd. The higher rank of the leering smile, the more agreeable we're expected to be.
These ongoing, tacitly approved efforts to get us into bed really irk me - especially since any woman who "gets into trouble" is treated like a slut and threatened with a dishonorable discharge. Fortunately I'm no career officer. I pretend not to notice disapproving frowns over my refusal to perform, just as I ignore disapproving frowns for not cutting my hair. What can they do? Send me to Vietnam?
My job is to care for the wounded, not to ask why they exist.
When they make their move, our men rain fire from the top and new forces are ferried in by choppers to the bottom, trapping the enemy in the middle. The fight ends when Charlie slips away as quietly as he has come. How can he do that with our forces in way of his retreat? He's a slippery little bastard all right. Can't get him to come out and fight like a man. Does his dirty work at night and runs away at the first light of day or at the first sign of a real fight.
[From one of her mother's letters]: "Maybe they are their own people and should learn to live together and stew in their own fat, but unfortunately other countries have become involved and who's to say where it will ever end. It will be a while before the U.S. can pull out and leave them to themselves."
Labels: Amerikan Daughter Gone To War