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Walking in the bush. This world is not like any other world I could ever have imagined. It's green here. It smells. Every sound has meaning, every movement of leaves has purpose. Nothing is wasted.

In the beginning, I didn't get it. Now, I've made myself part of it. It's part of me. Like we are one entity when I'm out here - me and the green.


So I know when it's not right.


Usually it's quiet here. Now there are voices. Never a good sign.

Should I go closer to the voices or away from them?

Can't decide.

Used to be an easy decision. Not my decision. You do what your Sargent says and you hope he knows what he's doing and you hope you stay alive. Nowadays, I'm the only one who can make that call. Move in or move out?

I choose, as I almost always do, moving in.

One step at a time. Things out here are never what they seem. Watch closely. Listen. Every sound has a meaning, every shadow has a function.

Voices again. Not from me. There's nothing quieter than me in this whole jungle.

One step at a time.

Don't think, just feel. Listen.

One more step -

A click -
 
And I know I've made the wrong choice.

One last thought rushes through my consciousness even as I lose it - - something Boonie always says - - I zigged when I shoulda zagged - -

Then, just white light.

My hair is in the mud.

***

I'm still lying here.

Still?


Yes, must be. I can smell the mud and the jungle. Smells like me.


I live. Can hardly believe it. But then - I never really ever die.

Deserve to, though. Tripped a wire. What a rookie mistake.

Lying in this mud for god knows how long isn't so healthy either. I should get up and get out of here. Maybe go back to the camp. I think I'm a little hurt out here. Can't tell. I can't really feel a thing.

Suddenly I remember - there should be voices... there were voices before. Where are they now? Closer? Gone? Imagined? Can't tell. No use lying here, anyway. Better get up and go to the hospital.

Instead, I'm out again.

***

There was a tree in front of my house... big tree. Everyone climbed it. I wouldn't. Mom wouldn't let me. The kids laughed. I hated that.

***

In the winter it would rain so much...

I stayed in on Saturday mornings and played in my room.

I line my soldiers up... the ones with guns at the front... the medic-guys and the radio-guys in the back, behind the trenches. We're winning. Daddy comes in and looks at my war. He smiles. He ruffles my hair and says I'm a smart general.

When he leaves I give my men a pep-talk. We're winning. I'm a smart general.

Wind comes in through the open window -

There's a storm outside, now inside. My blanket gets big raindrops on it. The cat jumps from the covers and out of the room.

Big wind is coming.

Topples my men over. There's rain in my pajamas. My hair too.

My hair is in the mud -

***

When I come to, I'm walking blindly in the bush. This is not good. How did I get this way? What is it that moves my legs? I can't feel them at all. I can't feel a thing. No pain, no cold, no mosquito bites, no nothing. Can't see, can't hear nothing but my own ragged, wheezing breath. How is it that I'm walking? Where am I going? Where's my stuff? I never leave my stuff behind-

***

The kids are laughing at me. I've been up that tree for an hour now and I can't get down. They're done laughing and now they're leaving. Leaving me here. They don't care that I'm a smart general. They only care that I climbed the big tree and now I'm stuck up there -


and although this is a beautiful summer's day -


and although I know this story and I remember how it ends, with my foot on a low branch that breaks and I fall down -

it starts raining and I'm cold again. I hold on to the branch I'm sitting on - the one I climbed to while the others cheered - and I swear to myself I'd never again do things because THEY tell me to, and I wonder where I'll be the next time I come to.


***

Someone.
 
McMurphy?

She talks to me. Am I talking to her?

She moves me, just a little, but all hell breaks loose. I can feel it now, oh, boy, can feel it all over. Pain. Cold. I'm shaking. I'm laughing. I'm dying.

I won't cry in front of her.

But I'll beg.

***


Last few years... I've been going through this world as though I'm not even in it. Don’t want to be in it. Have no place in it, and anyway it hurts too much. Life is a series of greens, then whites. In there - up here. Mostly, after a while, I choose to stay in the green. So many shades of green, I lose count. I lose myself good in there.

But lately... I started to remember the other things that exist in their world. The white world: Boonie's beach. Cherry's hair. Sweetness' teeth. McMurphy's t-shirt.

***

She talks to me and I hear her in my head. I'm not sure who she is but she sounds like she cares. She wants something from me. I can't give it to her even if I want to. I want to. But my body doesn’t listen to me anymore.

Can't count on anything in the world anymore.

She sounds excited. Did I do something to please her? She wants me to do it again.

I would if I could, lady. Sounds like it's important to you, and somehow that's important to me.

Suddenly, just for an instant, the world snaps back into focus and I can feel again, listen, know stuff. She holds my hand tight in hers. She cries and her tears slide down our joint knuckles.

I guess that the something that told my body to get up and leave the bush and walk one leg after the other out of danger and into a place of safety, gave her what she wanted.

She cries but I think she's happy.

I lose the focus again.


***

Boonie. Mom. The tree. McMurphy. The cat. Cherry running in the green. Doesn't belong there. A dog we found in the camp. Boonie riding a bike. That's strange. My mom and dad... that's stranger. The cat ran out of the room. The cat got run over on graduation day. Graduation. I wasn't there. I was here. I climb up the tree. The kids cheer. I fall. There's Boonie again. Mom. Mom? Walking in the bush. This world is not like any other world I could ever have imagined. Sweetness. Bonnie killing… Up the tree. I'm stuck. The kids laugh. I fall. Mom and dad are so worried. Charlie. Charlie is voices in the jungle. And sometimes it's a black-haired girl, six years old. Tries to shoot me. I shoot first. The bough breaks. The cradle falls.

My head is a slide show of things I don’t understand.

***

The pain is unbelievable.

My eyes flutter open.

McMurphy's face is the first thing I see.

"Dodger..." She seems so happy. Relieved. I wonder why. I'm not.

"It's McMurphy... you're right here. You're fine. You're in China Beach."

I'm in China Beach? And she thinks it's fine? I'm still in China Beach and she says it's fine? It's not fine. It won't ever be fine. But at least -

"I'm with you."

I feel the tears. I let them come.


THE END