She woke up dreaming of her young husband’s wet grave. At least she thought it must be wet. Didn’t it always rain over there? Every picture she could remember seeing on the T.V. was of mud-covered young men, all with his face, sloughing through the rain. The country probably would have floated away if it always rained, but that’s how she’d pictured it.
They’d been married only two months when he got his draft notice. He’d graduated college and was no longer protected by his earning of an education. Never mind that he never got to put any of that knowledge to use. The government didn’t care if he kept it, just that he got it--then they could send him to some god-forsaken little province where it always rained.
He was gone less than a month when she got the telegram that said he was missing in action. Missing meant dead without being found, she knew. It meant falling somewhere unseen and being swallowed up by the mud.
She often thought that missing in action was worse than being just dead. At least just dead men had their graves, many with neat white crosses that families could go and visit. He only had layer after layer of foreign mud packing him in.
It had been thirty-five years now since he went MIA, so she knew there must be many, many layers on him. Maybe even houses. Maybe even towns.
Sometimes throughout the years she had pictured him not dead. He had never been found, after all, and there were always those stories of men coming home after having been gone for years. She’d shut her eyes and see him, still a 23-year-old boy with sandy hair and gray eyes. He’d be standing outside one of those huts like they used to show on the television. A woman would come out then, dragging a passel of slant-eyed children that had his smile. He would have forgotten his young American wife who was not so young anymore. He would have forgotten everything.
That image hurt more but never left her lying in a pool of sweat like the one of him in his wet, muddy grave. If she could, she would go to Vietnam. Try to find the spot where he’d gone under. She didn’t know how she’d do it in a place so foreign and exotic that she couldn’t even imagine, but she thought she’d just know where he was. She’d be able to feel him through the mud above him and beneath her and then she’d let herself sink down. Down down through the layers and layers of years and years to find him again.
That was impossible, though. Her two children from the second marriage that lasted only a few sad years would never let her go. And she wouldn’t be able to go alone anyway. What did she know about booking airplanes and exchanging money? She’d never even been out of Ohio.
So she limited her sleeping hours to lessen the chance of the invading dreams. And when she did give in and shut her eyes, when she’d wake up screaming, there was a way of making herself better. She’d go out to the backyard, the place that was always just a little soggy because it was lower than the rest of the property. She’d kneel down on the moist ground and feel the wetness on her knees as it soaked through her thin nightgown. Then, scooping up a clump of mud into her hands, she’d let the cool dirtiness slide through her fingers, and think how maybe, just possibly, one of his atoms had made its way from that alien mud, across the ocean, through the rivers, and somehow into her backyard. Back into her hands where she’d squeeze and pump her fist as if it were a beating heart and the mud was his blood. She’d hold it up and let it breathe, up in the air, away from the ground.