Not That Bad

He saw it in their eyes just as he heard it from their lips when people said, “It ain’t no Vietnam.” They said “the lines are blurred, times changed.” They said “things are bad, but they ain’t that bad, not Vietnam bad.”
Not Vietnam bad he thought. It was like a suicidal mantra he couldn’t stop reciting. Not Vietnam bad. But he knew what he knew. He knew what he’d seen. He knew what he’d felt. Maybe it wasn’t as tragic as Vietnam, or as monumental as the World Wars. Maybe it wasn’t the Pope kissing him on the forehead, but when a person’s splattered with their best friend’s viscera, it just didn’t matter what people said—not anymore. No matter how you baked it, burnt was burnt, bad was bad, pain was pain, and hell was always going to be hell.
Hell is hell he thought.
It was June when he’d left, and a little more than two years later, it was June when he returned. The ball park was still green and the breeze off the bay cool. But somehow they were better in memory. Lying in his tent at night amidst the sound of explosions, he’d close his eyes and remember the small things—the way his favorite baseball glove, in fact, his only glove, slid so effortlessly onto his hand; the scent of the leather; the sound of the ocean crashing on the rocks from the top of Leaper’s Ledge. Someday I’ll jump it he’d tell himself, but all he really wanted was to again smell the salty air. To smell foot-long hot dogs and women’s perfume and Sunday breakfast and his father’s aftershave and wet leaves and clean linen played through his mind like a fantastical reality. He prayed, even though he was never a religious boy, for God to just let him see the grass again. After an eternity of sand, a little grass went a long way. And like a dream, the nightmare eventually ended.
He went home.
And like déjà vu he found the exact same scene he’d left behind, whether that was community college or bumming around. It felt like life ran a rerun while he was gone and expected him to step right back into the show. But things were different. People were different. Things had changed.
Girls he loved became women he hardly knew who became mothers to children that weren’t his. Children that could’ve been mine he thought with more than a touch of scorn. At nineteen he didn’t know anything more than the moment. Hormones and a need to prove oneself was a powder keg for disaster. At twenty-one he was still just as clueless. He was still just as restless. He was still the same kid, at least on the surface.
Just like his town, friends and family were all the same on the surface, there was a completely different taste and smell once you shaved off a few layers, or a few years. For some people the smell was nothing more than stagnation, or boredom, or lust, or anger, or all of the above. But for some there was a far more dangerous smell that others only noticed in the dark circles under a person’s eyes, or tightness around the lips. Certain smells carried a heavy weight around them that made people unconsciously step backward the way an onion watered the eyes. Some smells were death.
“So I told her, ‘Look, either you’re with me, or you’re not.’”
“Yeah, and what’d she say?”
On the surface little had changed.

Not That Bad

Dave Legere

Joined January 2008

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Artist's Description



fiction short

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