Horses at Parangtritis, Java

Song Be To Break Down To Settling Down

We’re in Song Be. How long has it been? Two weeks? Three? I give my camera to gunner Jim Lamb,or rifleman Alphonzo Gamble,or point man Timmy Day,or rifleman Glenn Williams (shot by Bill after an enemy bullet sliced his head). Or RTO Mike Wilson who followed Six over the berm when LZ Ranch was overrun. Or was it squad leader Jerry Bieck? I don’t remember–I loved them all. Take the picture,goddamn it.

Twenty-five years later it’s the same image I hallucinate in the rain forest in Sumatra while walking with Mr. Mohammed. For three days we trek hard through dense scrub,exotic spiraling trees,curtains of wait-a-minutes,the sunlight illuminating the triple canopy.

Apparition, Sabang, Sumatra, 1995“Look,”says Mr. Muhammad, pointing.

Twenty meters away, the dirt floor of the rocky lair still holds the animals scent.

“Maybe tiger,” he says,before melting into the jungle to carve spears from branches.

I bend forward,palms to my knees,resting the way grunts did when taking five. Looking up,a young soldier not ten meters away stares at me. A sudden dread and deep sorrow bridge the gap between us. Seconds later my mirror self shimmers and disappears.

“For you,” says Mr. Muhammad,handing me the fresh cut spear. Like him,sweat drips from my face;he cannot tell I’ve been weeping. Gripping the lances tightly we move out.

At a bend in the trail, high above, Mr.Muhammad spies a female orangutan,the helpless baby hugging her back. Reaching our camp site we pass the old woman who lives with chickens in her primitive hut.

“She is crazy,” says my guide. “Her spirit is lost.”

Later,at Mr. Mohammed’s house,after his wife falls to the floor,her eyes roll back,her feet and arms kick and flail,he burns incense,talks to her,mixes herbs which make her well.

Later still,after truck rides, military checkpoints,market place fruit bats trussed to sticks,a rat eaten hole in my pack,visits to the American embassy,visits to ancient temples,modern villas,broad daylight cockfights,there is the blessed horseback ride on the lonely wind blown sands of Parangtritis.

And later still,after sitting in decrepit chairs in high domed thatched huts in Yogyakarta’s sprawling bird market, after telling the pock faced Javanese masseuse who forced her knuckles deep into my back,“No, it’s not good. No bagus!”after the wretched lifeless strip malls of industrial Surabaya,I have my fortune read by a friends sister in a six hundred year old house in Beaujolais, France.“You are my suicide man,”she said,handing me the Tarot cards.

Much later,after declining cocaine in London from a doctor met on the Killing Beach in Zipolite,Mexico, after sipping much red wine at Lake Geneva, I tried hard to look calm but knew I did not fool Pascal or his girlfriend or find sweet oblivion.

Much later,after staying with an ex-cop,ex-drug dealer in energetic post war rebuilt curiosity filled Amsterdam,courtesy of the brother of the Tarot card reader. After visiting Rembrandt’s house,Ann Frank’s house,in the red light district paying thirty guilders to a Colombian whore,“Hold me, please hold me,”I begged her,after we did not have sex. At last, after hiding out in a cramped Dutch youth hostel where I did not know who or when or where I was: a short flight home where I arrived one day before my DEROS twenty-six years after the event and moved sixteen times from ‘96 to 2002 until finally settling down.

 

DEROS:  Date estimated return overseas