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Letter to a Vietnam Protestor

by Laci Mattison

I burst through the swamp between my mother’s legs, slick with blood. My first cry echoed through the ghost-white hospital—a battlefield domestic, littered with death. Unlike you, my father didn’t burn his draft card with a bic lighter bought from the corner gas station. He returns to the mind’s jungle underbrush every few years, and the doctors slap him in a hospital bed and cry “cured”—as if a cure for the visions of the dead contains itself to round pills. They call it night terrors. But my terrors do not limit themselves to the night—or to that night: Father’s thick hand pummeled against my chest, the crack and shatter of glass like a breakfast egg as I flew backward out the window into the night, my brother, four years younger, crouching prey-like in the shadowed corner, watching Father pin Mother to the china cabinet, gold-rimmed plates framing her, windows reflecting the blue eyes of my father, and in his thick hand, a knife, wide and slick with years of our blood. They call it night terrors—when that time flashes back and your best friend lies next to you in a swamp thick with blood and you, the only one breathing and your heart, like a grenade, pregnant with death, ready to burst. After these black nights, the world turns gray. Every few years, my father remembers the enemy—in the nights when he clenches his fists and digs knuckles into the padded mattress of the bed my mother made. To him, we look like Viet Cong, though my hair is red, my skin, pale. In the night, huddled under a sunflower quilt against the wooden wall, face hidden between two pillows, I see my father, who holds a kitchen counter weapon, and you, with your small flame, who raged against the night beneath Lincoln’s tall shadow.