Last month, I read Tim O’Brien’s The Things They Carried. I was so intrigued by the novel’s poignant story that I decided to write a few diary entries from Mary Anne Bell’s perspective and explore her feelings with the Vietnam war, as she is the only girl in the novel that we know has experienced the war first hand. Writing diary entries would let me do this without restrictions.
Throughout the chapter ‘Sweetheart of the Song Tra Bong’, Mary Anne is eager to explore the foreign culture and land. She easily fits into the environment, while Mark Fossie, her fiancé, struggles to understand how she does this. Through my diary entry, I want to voice her thoughts as she transitions from an innocent, inquisitive girl to a strong, independent trooper. I chose specific events to discuss in the diary entries like the first time she arrives to Chu Lai, nurses a soldier, and scouts the jungle, as these are the moments when we learn a lot about Mary Anne. I also address her relationship with Mark and how this impacts her decisions in Vietnam. Lastly, I address themes like the significance gender roles during a war and the effects of war on different people.
October 6, 1950: Chu Lai
Vietnam is beautiful. The thick wilderness, jungles, mountains, ravines, and gorges surround me. I have never seen anything like it. Waking up to the chirping of birds and clean air is so refreshing from the hustle and bustle of Cleveland. I am so glad I came here to live with Mike. He planned my voyage meticulously – from Cleveland to Los Angeles to Bangkok to Saigon and then Chu Lai. After becoming a soldier, he is so strategic and strong. When I told Danny and Erica from Cleveland Heights Senior High that Mike had invited me, they were so jealous. But, they told me to be careful because Mike could be stubborn and overpowering at times. What do they know, though? We are in love.
The other troop members are nice, and they teach me all kinds of things about the war. I am here and I have nothing better to do while Mark is working, so I might as well learn.
Questions to ask Rat and Duong and Nguyen, so that I don’t forget them:
- What is a trip flare?
- What is behind the scary green mountains to the west?
- How does a Claymore work?
- How do the local Vietnamese cook food?
The Vietnamese culture is so different from ours. Duong and Nguyen from the ARVN teach me a few words and phrases occasionally. They call me their own little native. It’s endearing, really.
I visited the Tra Bong village the other day. The village was quaint and rustic. It was nothing like I had ever seen, yet I felt at home among the villagers. The village life was so simple. I met two small children, Diem and Vo. They ran around naked! I think I am envious of their lifestyle. The villagers have it so easy. I aspire to be like them.
After visiting the village, I went for a swim in the Song Tra Bong, which was quite refreshing. I felt at peace. I really want to explore Vietnam on my own. I want to discover the rainforests, the valleys, the jungle, and the people.
I just helped a causality! Four of them came together, but one of the soldiers – the one with the big brown eyes and small head – was bleeding profusely. Kiley had taught me how to clip an artillery and pump up a plastic splint. So, I performed the procedure on the man, and I saved him!
Kiley told me I was a natural. He said that my delicate lady-hands would help me clip narrow artilleries with ease. But, it isn’t because of my ‘lady-hands’. I am just good. Adrenaline pumping through my blood, I know exactly what to do. It’s so weird. I am not scared either. My hands automatically start working. It’s instinctive and natural and spontaneous. I told Mark about it and he said he was proud but he kept warning me about how I was dealing with life and death and I couldn’t take it as a joke. He said that I had to be extremely careful because we are at war and anything can happen. I think he feels like he needs to protect me. But, I am not in peril because we live in a small medical detachment for god’s sakes! Nothing can go wrong because the VC will never reach us. I don’t understand what he is worried about. I keep telling him that I have never been happier in my life, but he insists that I go back home. This is my home. I don’t want to go back to Cleveland.
I don’t know what day it is. I have lost track of time. But, that isn’t important. All that matters is I am in Vietnam.
I went for my first ambush with the greenies last week. We scouted the jungles. They trusted me with the M-16.
It is an art, really. Trying to be deceptive and coy, silently stalking into the night, risking your life. I feel that every tendon in my body is taut with desire. Every step that I take, I feel the bond between the land and me strengthen. The land is me, and I am the land. We are inseparable.
When I returned, Mark was pissed. He slapped me.
He said, “It was out of love.” He said. He said that he didn’t mean to do it. He said he was scared because he couldn’t recognize me with my short hair, bushy hat, and filthy green fatigues. He said that he had beckoned me to Vietnam so we could take our relationship forward. He said he loved me through the tears. He proposed, and I said yes.
But, I wish I hadn’t. I don’t want to marry him. I don’t want to live in a fine gingerbread house near Lake Erie, and have three healthy golden-haird children, and grow old together, and lie in each other’s arms, and be buried in the same walnut casket. I just want to wear my green fatigues and scout the jungle.
I don’t know why I said yes. It just came out of my mouth before I could stop it. It’s so awkward between us. There is this palpable tension because I want to tell him how I feel, but at the same time, I don’t want to disappoint him.
He keeps planning things for us to do together. He wants to sunbathe, play backgammon, or just sit together. But, it is so frustrating because I just want to be left alone. I don’t know what to tell him and what not.
I confessed. I told him how I felt. I thought he would understand, and we would reach a compromise. Isn’t that what a relationship is about? Instead, he had this hurt look in his eyes. I have nothing left to say to him. I just want to disappear into the wild jungle.
Pointless to even write.
O’Brien, Tim. The Things They Carried. New York, NY: Houghton Mifflin, 1990. Print. Accessed Nov. 21, 2017.