The Lounge: We Can Never Leave

by Michael W. Rodriguez

We can go AWOL, or UA, or even a sidetrip R&R.
We can never leave.
We raise our families, go back to school, pick up our lives after The Nam.
We can never leave.

We are old men, now. Our bones creak;
We don't move as fast as once we were able;
Our hair is gray (some of us more gray than others).
We can never leave.

The Nam crawled into us, seeped its way into our minds and psyches,
And became our conscience.
"Don' mean nothin'," we say...still. "Drive on, Bro..."
We can never leave.

The Nam defined our mores, our morality, our mortality.
We walked the earth as 19-year-old giants,
Calling down the wrath of Phantom jets
And the guns of the battleship New Jersey.
We could do anything we wanted.
We can do anything we want, except...
We can never leave.

The Nam became us; we became Vietnam.
Some of us killed from a distance;
Others of us got up close and pulled the trigger.
Whichever, however, the difference remains the same:
We can never leave.

If you never went, you didn't miss much.
We can never go back to what we were before The Nam.
Cordite, fear, sweat, adrenaline, cosmoline;
Each has its own smell, its own odor.
Each sends us back to the days
When we carried rifles and shotguns and machine guns
And wrapped ourselves in bullet belts and grenade pouches.
The difference remains the same:
We can never leave.

We can bail, fall out as non-hackers.
We can look around Lydia's bar , our home away from home,
And say to ourselves, Well, gonna crap out for a little while.
Rodge', say the rest of us.
Because we know;
You know:
We can never leave.

Nobody forgets it and gets on with their lives.
Nobody fights a terrible, shitty little war
And then forgets it.
Nobody blows up somebody else
And then forgets it.
Nobody pops a little sub-sonic .22 into someone else
And then walks away, forgets it:
We can never leave.

We be here for the duration, a period of existence.
Our existence.
We will stay for as long as Lydia keeps the doors to the bar open.
I ain't goin' nowhere.
Got nowhere else to go.

You fuckers ain't much, but I know every one of you.
You be my Bros.
I shared your chow and my last cigarette;
You called in my medevac,
And I helped burn your "Dear John" letter.
We hit every whorehouse in Taipei
And every bar on Okinawa.
We went rockandroll with Mr. Charles,
And we didn't back up.
We got fucken killed; we never ran.
(Goddamn, where were we gonna go?)
We can never leave.

"Our *boys*," said LBJ.
We said, "Ain't no boys in The Nam, motherfucker."
We got people on this list that are great storytellers:
Hoffman, Csuti, Hall, Valerie, Nancy, Lundy, Dog Fondler, McTrike.
Jesus, the list is fucken endless.
All have the gift; all share...
Just like we used to...

You wanna jump ship? Not a problem. I got your liberty card;
Just sign out with the Corporal of the Guard.
Be back in time for Guard Mount, though;
Deep shit, otherwise.

I know you, every last one of you.
You are the guys I went to war with,
The guys I fought with...
And for.

You sonsabitches talk about FNGs and newbies...
I only signed onto this list less than a year ago, but...
I've been here since 1966.
We can never leave...

copyright © 1995 by Michael W. Rodriguez, all rights reserved.

"Lydia" is Dr. Lydia Fish, founder of the Vietnam Veterans Oral History Project and the keeper of "Lydia's Lounge" - - an Internet discussion list for and about Vietnam Veterans. The official name for the list is "vwar-l."