Rocket Across Texas

The yellow center stripe unrolls electric under a dead-grey sky. "When I was a child I caught a fleeting glimpse, out of the corner of my eye. I turned to look but it was gone, I cannot put my finger on it now, the child is grown, the dream is gone, and I...I have become comfortably numb...". * * Rocket across Texas, Highway 24, at 85 miles an hour. Some who survived the malestrom feel an overwhelming guilt when the names of the dead are read from the lists. Our names aren't on them, but there are other lists. I was a boy in this country, once, years ago. I knew these woods, these rivers, these fields. My cousin, Grant, and I hunted sparrows here with Daisy air rifles, then later, squirrels with Remington, and Winchester. Later still, I hunted men with Colt, and fired howitzers named Little Moe and Wild Bill across nameless miles of jungle to explode in perfect cataclysm on nameless people who must have been very surprised as they died. Now I am back and something is missing, sucked out by the vampire of the war. I'm looking for it. Every mile or so on these farm roads is a sharecropper's house, fallen in; the same faded color as the sky, sagging porch, shattered windows, ripped screens, cotton crops done in by acrylic, polyester, and big-time agribusiness. Time drifts loose here, like a derelict schooner, no future in it, moved to the city. Grandfathers in aging pickups lift a hand from steering wheels in friendly salute. Howdy. Tired, old eyes look straight on, not at the gray, fallen farms. Spark's Theater in Cooper, 1952, showed movies for a quarter, Cokes for a dime, and popcorn for fifteen cents. One half dollar thrilled little boys for a saturday afternoon. Grant and I saw Errol Flynn in a pirate movie, ran home barefoot, and were about to set sail on the bounding main of the fishpond in a #3 galvanized wash tub, armed the swords and flintlocks made from scrap lumber, when his mom caught us. A bath-towel on a broomstick was the mailsail. Where did all that go?! It all slid backward in time like the highway that unzips behind me, releasing the past, like smoke. I can look in all the eyes and feel disconnected. What was sucked out in VietNam was refilled with the knowledge of how to kill a man with a knife, the color of ChiCom tracer bullets, how to clean a bloodsmear off my glasses with my shirttail, the whisper that 'incoming' makes just before it lands. Somewhere out here in these woods, these rivers, these fields is the boy who went to war. Most weekends, I try to find him. Getting close, now. Grant and I flew kites near here. We made them ourselves with paper and sticks, glue and string. On holidays we popped firecrackers that flashed and threw off shards of Chinese newspaper which revealed mysterious and magical writing as we carefully peeled them open. How slowly time moves when you're ten or twelve. We could catch frogs, slay dragons, climb trees, all in an afternoon; then sip our grandma's lemonade in the evening, under the streetlight where bats swooped in to catch moths on the summer night. But... I have heard B-52's play an Arclight Sonata with 500 pound bombs, seen the earth leap and ripple, felt the numbing concussions. Here it is, where the roadway crosses the river. I park the van at the roadside, pull on the boots, chamber a round in the rifle, pocket the little Beretta, and walk off into the woods... Later, this afternoon, all these actions will reverse. History will re-zip itself as I rocket across Texas, going the other way. I think I've made this trip often enough to finally see some difference. Maybe the void doesn't pull so hard now, maybe, I don't know... Maybe I'll make this trip forever... A pair of Cardinals lives in this grove, maybe I'll build a birdhouse and nail it up here. Maybe I should build a lot birdhouses, somehow I don't think it would be enough. I guess that I need to sit on this riverbank some more. OK, I'll be back next Saturday. Turn the key, start the engine, heading back west toward the low, grey clouds, showing a little rain, coming this way...

Copyright © 1995 James M. Hopkins
Computer Graphic Image: "TxHiway",J.M.Hopkins, 1996
* * from "Comfortably Numb" - Pink Floyd