“Last Words”

Vinh,

Thanks for the comics and pictures you sent. Man, you’re getting fat. What do you want for Christmas? This guy from the platoon smuggled out a dead Iraqi’s knife to his brother in a footlocker. You want war souvenirs? Just tell me. I’m bad at guessing.

I’ve enclosed two checks: one for you and one for Mom and Dad. Get yourself and them something nice. Whatever. Just write my name on the card. Print it. You write like a girl. I’ve attached the pictures I promised of me and the platoon in Saddam Hussein’s palace. Some of us are naked. Sorry.

Is it snowing in Cleveland? Man, I miss the city. My buddies and I rigged a Christmas tree out of some broken M4s and M16s, hung PBR cans as ornaments, and made a tree-topper out of some bullets. Last month, we were hit by a sandstorm that buried the tanks, the jeeps, and part of the base. It reminded me of a blizzard. There’s a picture of a sand angel I made. My buddy, Lawrence, drew the tits, but you can’t tell in the photos. He’s the naked guy on top of it. Sorry – again.

Things are pretty messed up here. I’m pretty messed up.

Five days ago, I killed a man. When he fell, his body went limp before he even hit the ground. Practice targets can stand up to multiple clips of gunfire, but he fell only after two rounds to the chest. Up close, he had dust on his face, his arms were at his side, palms up, and he looked no older than Dad. We were outside of Baghdad, moving a few clicks a day. Usually, Lawrence called the point, but since we were coming so close to civilian territory, he thought McNamara could handle the job for the night. “The experience will do him good,” he told me. Lawrence wanted to talk to his wife; she went into labor that night. I don’t blame him. I would’ve done the same.

We advanced and set up camp on this guy’s yard. That night, he yelled at us – I found out later it was because two of our boys were stealing his chickens. And then McNamara shrieked, “rifle.” I fired twice. Center-mass. Screaming came from inside the house. Two women ran out. They smothered his body and cried into the two holes I put into him. I think they were his daughters.

And what Bob McNamara thought was a rifle, was a broom. “Who the fuck sweeps his house at 10:30 at night,” he argued. The women cursed us. I went up to the house but I didn’t know what to say. I just held out a wad of money. The angry woman smacked my hand, spit in my face, and the wind took the cash away like leaves. They buried him that night. I offered to dig the grave, but they hit me with their shovels and brooms. The grandchildren threw stones. I stayed nearby but out of sight, and listening to his family cry for two straight days, only stopping to eat, pray, and throw more stones at me.

Lawrence checked in on me. He had a boy. Named him Connor.

“These people do their house cleaning at night, because it’s too hot during the day,” he said. “Remember that for next time.”

I talk to this guy named Louise Santiago. We call him Spanish Rice; he’s part Cuban and Korean. He quit the seminary to enlist and works as a minister’s assistant. He baptized me at a strip club. I’ve been talking to him a lot about God. I asked him if God was going to forgive me? Spanish said that when you confess, He grants forgiveness, just like that. He gives you a clean slate and loves you all over again. The government is going to forgive me. I hope the guy’s family will one day, but I doubt it.

Vinh, can you? I haven’t even told Mom and Dad yet, because it doesn’t feel right, you know?

I asked Spanish what was the use of believing in God if He can’t help you out when you need him?

“God understands things get bad,” he said, “and there are days He wishes He could do more, but all He can really do is offer you a cracker, a big glass of wine, a good ear, and tell you, ‘just wait till tomorrow, man. I promise you, it’ll get better.’ I know it’s not much to go on, but it’s way more than what some people offer you these days.”

I don’t know if what Spanish says is bullshit, but if it is, it’s good bullshit. I love you, Fatso. Merry Christmas. Talk soon.

About David Tran

David Tran is father, writer, and educator. He is a graduate of Bowling Green State University and the MFA program of the University of Mississippi, where he was awarded a fellowship and won multiple awards. In July 2017, he participated in the Sewanee Writers’ Conference. Currently he resides in Florida, but he considers Ohio, Mississippi, and California his other homes.