Today, on Using Other’s People’s Writing to Stand in for my Own, or, Live Every Day like you’re in a really good Sophomore English Class: I’m finally reading The Things They Carried, Tim O’Brien’s memoir about the Vietnam War. I just can’t (read: I can) with his incredible descriptions of one Lieutenant’s thoughts of a girl he left back home, who doesn’t really love him, who he loves: Martha.
And then suddenly, without willing it, he was thinking about Martha. The stresses and fractures, the quick collapse, the two of them buried alive under all that weight. Dense, crushing love. Kneeling, watching the hole, he tried to concentrate on Lee Strunk and the war, all the dangers, but his love was too much for him, he felt paralyzed, he wanted to sleep inside her lungs and breathe her blood and be smothered. He wanted her to be a virgin and not a virgin, all at once. He wanted to know her. Intimate secrets: Why poetry? Why so sad? Why that grayness in her eyes? Why so alone? Not lonely, just alone—riding her bike across campus or sitting off by herself in the cafeteria—even dancing, she danced alone—and it was the aloneness that filled him with love. He remembered telling her that one evening. How she nodded and looked away. And how, later, when he kissed her, she received the kiss without returning it, her eyes wide open, not afraid, not a virgin’s eyes, just flat and uninvolved. Lieutenant Cross gazed at the tunnel. But he was not there. He was buried with Martha under the white sand at the Jersey shore. They were pressed together, and the pebble in his mouth was her tongue. He was smiling. Vaguely, he was aware of how quiet the day was, the sullen paddies, yet he could not bring himself to worry about matters of security. He was beyond that. He was just a kid at war, in love. He was twenty-four years old. He couldn’t help it.
I think every girl, or at least high school or college age girl, or at least definitely me at that age, longs to be Martha: so loved while giving nothing in return, so deeply lonely and silent and still and yet so beautiful that brave strong boys want to live inside of her lungs.