[the land itself]



“Often they carried each other, the wounded or weak. They carried infections. They carried chess sets, basketballs, Vietnamese-English dictionaries, insignia of rank, Bronze Stars and Purple Hearts, plastic cards imprinted with the Code of Conduct. They carried diseases, among them malaria and dysentery. They carried lice and ringworm and leeches and paddy algae and various rots and molds. They carried the land itself–Vietnam, the place, the soil–powdery orange-red dust that covered their boots and fatigues and faces. They carried the sky. The whole atmosphere, they carried it, the humidity, the monsoons, the stink of fungus and decay, all of it, they carried gravity.” 

–from The Things They Carried (O’Brien 1990, p.14)

He carried a wallet and in it his Veteran’s ID card, pictures of us as children, and photos of his grandchildren. Though not overtly or deeply religious, an image of Jesus. A frame from a comic strip cut out–“It’s no fun being alone,” the bubble above the character reads. An article about Agent Orange pulled from a magazine. He carried bandaids for his too thin skin, a list of medications, of emergency contacts. “Stage 4 cancer” written at the top of the tattered sheet. Another slip, this one small with my handwriting “Editorial Assistant for the American Economic Association. She types a LOT”so he could tell his friends about my job in Pittsburgh. He carried cash in a bill clip. Keys in his coat pocket. He carried a fear and knowing of death with him at all times.