My mother is a trophy wife. Twenty-five years younger than the manipulative politician she married, she spends her days spending money and avoiding her husband. My father never went to war, to him it was nothing more than a distant reality that provided him with conversation for the dinner table. The Americans used napalm in Vietnam so last week we were bombarded with the pictures of the young girl running naked in the streets with others of her age. The soldiers stood behind them and watched. In years to come, they will talk about this photo as a symbol of pain and suffering and then they will do nothing more than move uncomfortably in their chairs and leave the resistance to the youth.
My brother, Mike, was conscripted eight months and ten days ago while we were eating our perfectly sliced toast with Heinz beans slopped on top. I wanted him to stay with us, not go and fight another person's war. Mike is a good man, he didn't want to use influence to get out of 'his duty'.
"Rachel," he said, "You always talk about the injustice of this war, how only the sons of corrupt politicians can sit and watch. I am the son of a corrupt politician, I will fight to end this thing and come back to you."
I think of Mike every day, stranded in the jungle with his hair sticking to his head with sweat and a terrified, panicked look on his face. Of course, he hasn’t died yet as my father will insist on reminding me. Sometimes, I think that maybe we should win in Vietnam. Sometimes I want to give up everything I think and feel just so my brother will come home. I would kill a hundred Communists if it meant I could sit down and eat toast with Heinz beans with him again.
As I continue to walk down the street, I see a group of girls strutting with their perfectly sprayed hair and their cupcake skirts. The subtleness of their disapproving whispers at my ripped jeans and short hair is overwhelming and I, completely oblivious to their smug condescension, walk further along the packed streets of Madison Avenue covered in pictures of American Aviation airplanes, Lucky Strike cigarettes, and endless scenes of advertising mayhem. It is all designed to appeal to an invisible consumer, someone who they have never seen or met, just a person to digest their products mindlessly like Pacman. The towering billboard of Coca-Cola shows a pretty blonde woman picnicking with her husband and three children. I bet her wardrobe is full of pastel coloured trousers and high heeled shoes. I wonder why women wear high heels, maybe it's to make it harder for them to run away.
“Rachel, come on over here and slide next to me,” my classmates spotted me from the cafe they were loitering in. My mother often told me about the importance of men to a woman’s life. Don’t allow yourself to be alone with them, if you end up in a relationship, let them do what they want. The words of wisdom from my mother circled in my head constantly but ignoring what she tells me to do has it's own pleasure.
“How are you today sweetcheeks?” Eddy is a flirt and one that always seemed to succeed in his conquest for some excitement in his banal life. Ever since last summer, he seems to think he has some sort of claim on me but he doesn't understand that sometimes girls want sex just like boys do, none of them do. I've tried to forget that night, not because it wasn't good, but because it was with Eddy.
“I’m just rosy.” I said, “especially since my brother was sent to Vietnam.”
“I heard about that,” he replied scratching his neck .
“I’m sure nothing bad will happen to him. A true fighter Mike is. You should’ve seen him in that football game last year, knocked out the other guy’s teeth in a tackle.” I thank Eddy for his thoughtful words of comfort and order a glass of orange juice to calm my head, maybe Eddy will offer me whatever is in the flask in his right pocket.
"Are you going?" I ask him quietly but neither of them seems to hear me. Jack is flirting with a waitress who has too much thigh showing to just want him to buy her an orange juice after her shift.
"Did you say something, Honey?" Eddy eventually responds, I ask him again and he fiddles with his sleeve.
"My father is a businessman, you know that I'm going to Harvard, I can't go to Vietnam, I'll die." Lucky Strike Cigarettes give you confidence, at least that's what it said on the billboard but apparently Lucky Strike Cigarettes allow you to draft dodge as well. Maybe the heir of Heinz beans gets free admission to college.
" Mike had an offer from Yale to study engineering and he is there fighting a useless war. Of course, you would choose to stay. You're a coward." I know I'm making a scene. Everyone in the room is staring at us but I can't stop shouting. I run out of the place heart pounding, leaving Eddy and Jack to stare at me in disbelief.
" There are a reported 400 Vietnamese dead from the My Lai massacre, the number of enemy troops discovered is not yet confirmed. Michael Draper from Charlie Company has agreed to tell us what happened in My Lai" I ran towards my brother's name. There were about fifty people crammed around the window of television store trying to get a closer look. It can't be, he wouldn't do that, he wouldn't kill if he didn't have to.
"We were told to kill everyone in the village, It was a Vietcong stronghold.We d...didn't know the kids were going to be there I swear. They said it would be over soon if we did this." I can't hear anything else anymore. I block out the looks of horror in the growing crowd. If my brother did this, then how am I to welcome him back? He should stay there, get killed, I don't care anymore.