All Things Are Possible
by Rob Crandall
It seemed that he was pressing the morphine button more often these days. Constantly, was more like it. No matter that it only actually administered the medicine just a fraction of the number of times that he called for it. He knew that. Of course he knew that. But it still made him feel better to press the button. Made him feel like he was speeding up the process. Anyone who had ever waited for an elevator knew the drill.
The pain was a deep pain. It rocked him to the core. The stomach cancer — the tumor — had grown, was still growing. He could picture the mess of knotted-up veins — or whatever it was — black and red, pulsing. It was a nasty thought. A positively wretched thought, but that didn’t stop him from thinking it. He couldn’t stop thinking it, in fact.
It was like that other thought. No, it wasn’t really a thought. It was an obsession. A memory that wouldn’t go away, no matter how hard he tried to lose it in the expanse of his brain. It was the scene that had played itself over in his mind day after day after agonizing day since it had actually happened — No, you made it happen, Bucko — back in Vietnam, on May 2nd, 1970.
He had had a choice. That was the worst part. He knew what he was doing, and he had chosen to do it. And that’s what it always boiled down to when he got to the nitty-gritty of it. His choice.
Over the years he had told himself that it was an accident. Surely, it had to be because he wouldn’t have done something like that. No way. He knew himself, and the true him couldn’t have done something like that on purpose. And you enjoyed it. Don’t forget that part. That’s the most important part. Don’t ever forget that. Don’t worry, I won’t let you.
NO! He didn’t enjoy it. He hated it. He had to do it. He had no other choice! It was all because of the plan. They were to go through the village and “take out” anyone that threatened them. It was all in the plan. When you were in the army, you had to stick to the plan. Everyone knew that. Anyone who didn’t stick to the plan was, was — well, it was like snubbing your nose at your own country. The U.S. of A! He was only being a good soldier. A good American.
She was probably in her thirties, although he couldn’t be sure. He had only seen her briefly before... The child must have been about four. Old enough. Old enough to know what was going on. Old enough to be scared. Terrified.
Those eyes. So wide. And then, squinted shut, so tight.
And then it was over. Just like that. Like they were nothing but two dogs that needed to be put down. The woman was slumped over the child, but he could still see the little one’s bracelet. The one with the silver heart. It glistened in the sunlight, spraying light into his eyes like an accuser.
Something came over him then. Something that he never got rid of. A numbness. An emptiness. A void. It was as if his blood had run cold from that day forward.
He had never cried about it. He couldn’t. And he didn’t know why he couldn’t. He wanted to. He wanted to sob his guts out. He wanted to gasp until he threw up, but it never came. Not once in 38 years.
But, he was reminded every single day. It was like a hungry mosquito, buzzing and buzzing at his ear. Swelling fat with blood, but never satisfied. It scorched his soul, that memory. And he knew that the cancer was only the manifestation of that memory. It had finally come alive to eat at him for real. And he deserved it. He deserved worse.
But that didn’t make the pain any easier to deal with. You would think that the justice of it all might make the pain bearable — cleansing even. But it didn’t. In fact, it was getting harder to deal with every day. And yet, even with all the pain, he still thought of the woman and the child.
At least it was quick with them. He mentally bit his tongue. Don’t justify it, Bucko.
It would probably be only days now. He had heard the nurse say that. He had told himself that she had been talking about someone else, but he knew. Only days. And where would he end up after that? He thought he knew that too. He pressed the morphine button again rapidly as if the action could take away his last thought. But he knew about thoughts. Oh, did he know.
It was evening when he woke again from a fitful sleep — if you could call it that. It was dark out his window, save for a tiny slice of crescent moon. There was a time when he was a boy when he and his dad had lain on the hood of the 1960 Ford, that he had seen a moon like that. They had been there, down by the lake, to look at the meteor shower, but his eyes had kept going back to that slice of moon. Shivering in his sleeping bag, he had stared at it, rapt. Now that was a memory. A better time. A time before things got “dark.” It was funny that he thought of it now, after all these years.
A lightening bolt of pain shot through his midsection, and he doubled over.
“Nurse” he said, but it came out as a whisper. And, besides, what could a nurse do anyway? He was already on the max dose. He knew that. She could hold your hand. When was the last time someone had done that? He didn’t know.
More pain. Like fire.
He shut his eyes tightly, and when he opened them, they were there. He recognized them immediately. Of course he did. The woman, perhaps in her thirties, and the child, perhaps four. A soft blue glow around them.
Fear prickled his neck. His stomach screamed with searing stings. They stared at him. The little girl blinked. Her face was unreadable. He blinked back.
His mind went back to 1970 for the millionth time. The deafening gun blast. The way that they went limp instantly. The blood. So much of it.
He squeezed his eyes shut and shook his head violently back and forth. “No, no NO!” But they were coming to take him. He knew where. No, not now. Let me have a few more days. Even with the pain. Please. But he knew all about ignoring pleas.
They began to walk toward him. No.
And the little girl held out her hand. A gentle smile crossed her features. It made her look like an angel. An angel. The bracelet — the one with the silver heart — was still dangling from her wrist. Once again, it reflected light... moonlight this time... into his eyes. And this time the light was soothing. Comforting. Cool.
He looked into the little girl’s eyes, and something began to happen. Something that hadn’t happened in so many years. His throat began to ache with that desperately needed sensation. The one that he had longed for, for so many years in vain. It burned in a wonderful way. The muscles in his neck tightened like steel cords. His chest began to hitch.
And then 38 years of deadness came rushing out in a forceful deluge of tears and a sound that was jagged and like laughter it was so sincere. He let it all come out of him. Unashamed and grateful. So grateful. And something happened in his mind then. In his soul. Something clicked. Something was fixed. He took in deep gasps of air. They tasted sweet and tingled in his lungs. He was aware of the lack of stomach pain in a far-off way.
He got up out of the hospital bed and hugged the little girl, enfolding her in his arms. “I’m so sorry,” he said over and over. She hugged him back. “It’s OK,” she said in a small voice. It was in Vietnamese, but he understood it perfectly. And there was a smile in that voice. He understood that too.
After a moment, he looked up at the woman, somewhat warily. Her expression looked relaxed and her eyes forgiving. Her long black hair blew back although the window was shut.
“How could you be... after what I did to you?” he managed, swallowing hard.
“All things are possible with God,” she said in Vietnamese, and smiled. She motioned with her hand, and, looking at him, nodded.
He took the two hands — one small and one bigger — into each of his own, and the three of them walked.
And kept on walking.
Copyright © 2008 by Rob Crandall