The Dirty War

The Vagabond

I don't know what station it was. We'd been hunting for the MBTA for half an hour at least. It was cold and snowing. She was miserable; I was numb. We were coming back from a party.

We stumbled down the stairs into a bright warmth. The gate was open: a bad sign. A man with a broom at the end of the station yelled down at us: "Wa wwa waa wa waaaaaa wa wa." Echoes.

"What's that?" I said.

He came nearer. His words materialized. "The last train is gone." I looked at my watch. It was quarter after one. We turned to go.

The girl was cold and said something about her feet. I said tough, I'd be dead in eight months in Vietnam and her feet didn't matter much. She mumbled.

There was another guy in the station, trying to get a train too, and he caught my eye. I turned. He beckoned with his finger. "Yes," I said.

"You want to see something?" he said.

"O.K.," I said.

He opened his shirt, and pulled out a piece of metal. "You know what this is?"

I was glad I did. It was a paratrooper's emblem. "Six months of hell," I said.

"That's right," he said, like anyone would say as much. "You know where I got it?"

"Where?"

"Vietnam."

There was nothing to say.

"I just came back. I been over there over two years, and I seen guys would give their right arm for me get shot up before my eyes."

Still nothing.

"Like I said, I come back here, and I don't like hearing snotty bastids like you talk about is like it doesn't matter."

"I don't think it's a joke," I said.

He looked skeptical. It didn't occur to me he might be about to slug me.

"I said it because I'm afraid. I don't want to be killed. I don't mean to pretend it's a joke."

"I seen buddies a mine killed," he repeated. He still held the paratrooper's medal in his hand. "Guys I'd give my right arm for. I been shot at, you know."

"I respect you for it," I said. A stupid comment. You don't respect a guy for getting shot at.

He nodded. "They don't want us to leave, you know. I talked to those Vietnamese. They want us to stay."

I said nothing.

"How would you feel if we got invaded?" he asked. "Wouldn't you want the British to defend us?"

Gov 180 lectures, May 2nd rallies flashed in my mind. So what if Great Britain is a minor power now? "Yes," I said. "I'd want Britain fighting with me."

"Well, I know those people want us over there. And I don't like hearing snotty bastids talk about it like it was a joke."

"I don't think it's a joke, believe me. I don't even know what's going on over there."

"Well I do. I been there. I just got back last month. They want us, and I'm willing to give my life for them. If they go, we go."

Domino theory, deterrent theory. Henry Kissinger, what is truth? "You're fighting for me," I said. "I'm safe. I don't even know what's going on over there. When I say I respect you for it I mean it. Maybe I'm just a snotty college kid, but I mean it."

"O.K.," he said.

I stuck out my hand. We shook hands and he disappeared.

The girl repeated that she was cold.

We went back to the party. She collapsed on a couch and took off her shoes. I saw a friend and went to tell him what had happened. Instead I wept. A girl came up to ask what was going on. My friend told her to go away.

My date arrived to say we had a ride. "O.K.," I said. She turned away to get her purse. "They're going to kill us, you know," I said to my friends. He nodded. He's married, so they won't kill him unless it gets serious. "There's nothing we can do about it, you know." He nodded again. "All because of those poor little people who nobody knows what they want."