by John Paul Rossie

(Author's note: I returned to Vietnam in the fall of 1996. I stared out at the ocean from the mouth of a river, looking the opposite direction that I looked in 1969. The odd sensation of displacement in time as well as displacement in physical position caused an interesting perspective to arise along with my memories. I seemed to move back and forth in Time as well as in position. This short statement attempts to capture in words the essence of that experience.)

I'm just a kid, feeling lost and confused. And maybe a little clumsy. I'm aware that somehow I'm part of something that's very important but there's no possible way that I can grasp the full significance of it right now. That's part of the clumsiness.

Conditions seem overwhelming. The task at hand seems superhuman. Some of the characters that I'm surround by are, at some level, heroic figures. And I'm utterly overwhelmed by the whole concept and process of what I'm involved in.

It's that feeling of being overwhelmed, that everything is suddenly "bigger than me" that's the basis of my fear. Feeding into that is a total lack of understanding. I know so little about what's going on around me that I need to be afraid; I want to be afraid as part of a self-protection mechanism. So in one sense, I'm feeding the fear through the "fight or flight" survival mode. That seems OK. But there's a second layer of fear that comes solely from the fact that I can't grasp the underlying significance of what it is I'm now involved in. That part of it over powers me. That part's not OK.

Riding right along with all of this is a deja vu kind of feeling; a recognition that somehow, for some reason, things are as they're supposed to be, as I somehow knew they would be. And it's far beyond my own control. And I resign myself to it because of the familiarity of some aspect that I can't quite put my finger on.

Another feeling wraps itself around the edges. It's an abandonment to something greater than I am; a resignation to the hands of fate. It's very close to the infamous deja vu feeling; a willful acceptance of an active role in some bigger process. I acknowledge and resign myself to that feeling and let it carry me. I'm not in a position to judge the value of whether it's good or bad, even on a personal level. So it's way beyond me to try to fit it into any cosmic level of value.

Maybe one of the ways to explain this is to refer to that line from Shakespeare: "All the world's a play, and we but players in it." This feeling that I'm talking about is an acknowledgment that there is a grander, orchestrated play going on and I have some flunky role in that, although I don't quite understand what's expected of me; not quite sure of the character I play. I need to be on my toes to look for any cue that might appear. A lot depends on that. A lot, in terms of survival and safety at a personal level; and a lot in terms of doing the right things at a higher level.

The need to fit into the right role seems especially important. But without being able to define the situation, that becomes an area of confusion which feeds into the fear, which feeds into the feeling of being totally overwhelmed by circumstances beyond my control, which feeds into the fear.


All these thoughts and feelings wash over me and I am once again swept up in the confusion and excitement and fear and misgivings that I felt 27 years ago. And that sucks me even deeper into the feeling of deja vu. I've been here before but it's not really the same. Yet somehow, because the memories are so intense, somehow it is the same. Somehow, for me, in my own mind, I've let certain scenes, surrounded by all the emotion that they carry, become frozen within my memory and etched upon my soul. And it's that process that seems to be overcoming me now. I'm just a kid again. I don't know any better. I don't understand. I didn't understand it then and I don't understand it now.

I look in at a coast line, fully cloaked in vegetation. I claim to recognize trees and bushes and hillsides. They can't be the same. It's physically impossible. Every molecule that I observe was never even there 27 years ago. It's not the same, out there. It's only the same inside of me. It's only the same inside my head. I superimpose visions of moving rockets and colored tracers, flashes of explosions; a colorful but deadly scenario. I look and I see it but I know that it's not there. So why do I still see it? Why can't I just let it go?

Part of me remembers the beauty of the night; star filled-skies, intense blackness, and the calm of floating on a peaceful sea. But those memories stay pushed back and hidden and all I see are the fires of destruction and imagine that I hear screams of agony that I never even heard then. I was too far away.

I'm looking in again, from the outside, and I'm still too far away. I'm too far away to help except through the reaching out of technology; either blindly throwing out explosive projectiles, or reaching out and pulling in electronic signals. And all that seems so useless and unimportant; not even relevant to the immediate situation. All that seems so alien to the flashes of light that I know signal torn and burnt flesh and the freeing of souls. And I'm still too far away to help.

I feel tears well up in my eyes. Another helpless deja vu. At one time, there was an illusion that I could call out an apology for being too far away to help. Now I see there never was anyone to call out to. There was only myself, and that needed only a whisper. And it never needed to be said at all.

But I'm just a kid. And I shouldn't have to learn these lessons. I shouldn't have to learn so ruthlessly and heartlessly and mercilessly the lessons of life. It shouldn't have to be. And yet, I chose it. I chose it then. I would choose it now again. But in that choosing, I would also choose to close the gap and not be far away. The distances are only in my mind, but the burden of guilt is deep within my soul. And for some strange reason, I hang onto it. Up till now, I've chosen not to let it go. Perhaps now it's time to set it all free, time to finally acknowledge that it is only within me, not out in the world at all.

And it's good to be a kid again, if only for a moment. Now I remember that life is also youthful and vigorous and whimsical and light-hearted at times. It's really so much more than the heavy burden that I've chosen to carry. It's time to set the back pack of memories down and to walk away clean shaven - with the face of youth and a lightened heart and a peaceful mind. After all, I'm still just a kid.

Copyright © 1996 by John Paul Rossie, All Rights Reserved