What can be said of Hell, when at its most quiet, I was most terrified? The explosions that had rocked every fiber of my being and made my bones feel like they could simply shatter like tempered glass still resonated. I looked over at the wounded, wondering if I had the same haunted look in my eyes, and thought I probably did. In this war, no one leaves. No one goes home... and everyone is a casualty of war. You ‘don’t read war stories’? This is unlike any other you’ll ever read, unbelievable love set against unbearable challenges. This true story is a cautionary tale against involvement of yet another war where we don’t belong and soldiers and innocent civilians are put in harm’s way. I lived every word of this novel. We need to learn, and to teach others, to study war no more.
A large green helicopter with military markings dropped into the clearing a hundred meters from us. The engine powered down and supervisor Patty went to greet the visitors. The pilot jumped out and several young Marines piled out of the rear doors.
“We’ve got a minor mechanical problem,” the pilot said. “We saw the red cross on your tent from the air and a place to set down. We’ve got wounded. Can you help?”
“Of course,” Patty said without hesitation. She looked over at the stretcher being offloaded. “No doctors here, only nurses. We can’t handle anything very serious.”
“Marines get all their casualties out,” the pilot said, “even the ones who aren’t gonna make it. His recon patrol was humping down a hill. A mine got tripped at his back. Medic says the guy has no spine or kidneys left. Treat the others. I’ll get the engine.”
“Mr. Warmth,” Patty mumbled as she followed the men carrying the stretcher to the deserted ward. “Irene, you and Mara start treating the others. Sissy, let’s get this young man settled. Check his vitals. If he comes to, give him pain meds.”
I nodded and reached down to take the pulse of the young Marine.
“You have soft hands,” he whispered, his lids parting to expose moist brown eyes.
I forced myself to smile. “A woman should have a soft touch. How do you feel? Do you need something for pain?”
“I can’t feel anything but your hand. Don’t go,” he said as I started to turn away. “Stay with me.”
I looked over at Patty. She nodded. I pulled up a stool and looked into the face of this boy who was in my care to die.
“What’s your name?” I asked. Tom, he said, and my mind flashed to another boy named Tom, my fallen high school buddy, the impetus for my being in Vietnam. “Hi, Tom,” I said, “I’m Robin.”
“Pretty name,” he said softly. “Don’t leave me, Robin.”
I moved the stool closer. “I’m not going anywhere. Is there anything I can get you, anything you need?”
Tom blinked slowly and tried to clear his throat. “There is only one thing in this life I don’t have. I always wanted to fall in love once before I died.”
I noticed that two of the soldiers stood just inside the tent flap, quietly at ease, hands folded over their belt buckles, eyes on their fallen comrade. I ran the back of my fingers across the grime and dried blood on his cheek. “How about I clean you up a bit?” I poured some bottled water into the basin on the stand next to the cot, and gently washed his face and neck and hands. I smiled. “My goodness, there really was skin under all that dirt.”
“I could fall in love with you,” he whispered, “I really could.”
I had to laugh. “I don’t think your mother would approve if you brought home a girl who was married and divorced before she was old enough to vote.”
Tom tried to shake his head and winced with pain. “My mom has a big heart,” he said. “She’d love anyone with your soft green eyes and soft white hands.”
“Careful, Marine, you’ll turn my head,” I said, placing my hand over his.
He moved his fingers against my palm. “I want to turn your heart,” he insisted.
I think you just did. “You’re actually a very handsome lad under all that jungle grime,” I said. “I’ll bet you turned heads and hearts all over your hometown.”
“I was a jock, all jocks get girls,” Tom admitted. “No one special, not till now.”
Such a sweet boy. I glanced over at Patty. She gave me an acknowledging nod.
I’ve won several awards for stand-alone chapters for Accept the Broken Heart, but this was well before it actually came out, and those awards are not really something I could use in promoting the book. However, one of these chapters happened to come to the attention of the inimitable Ray Bradbury, who said to me, “Dear God, I wish I could write something like this!”, and I was fortunate to have him as a friend and mentor the last fifteen years of his life. So many of the terse and pointed things he would say about the writing process are among the things that propel my own writing process, my favorite being: “Throw up on the page, then clean up.” A corollary to that statement was: “What do you call a first draft? TRASH.” He was always harping to get the story down, put that first best energy into the story. I had no idea I had this book in me, when, at the Santa Barbara Writers Conference, he leaned over from his table to my table at lunch at the hotel, and he said, “Stop telling war stories and write the damn book!” I blinked hard…this was RAY BRADBURY giving little old me advice??...and I said, politely, “I’m not writing a book, I’m just telling tales.”
He announced to me in that tone of his that left no argument that, yes, I was writing a book, and I’d better have it with me the next year at the conference. I’d only attended on a lark, and suddenly I was writing a memoir with Ray Bradbury mentoring me?!? He sought me out that next year to see if I’d done as he bid, and I had, and he shepherded me through workshops to hone this book for a couple years. Despite his direct intervention we had trouble getting publishers to understand what this book was: a nurses story but not, a coming-of-age story but not, a war story but not, a love story but not, so many things but not. I was sad indeed that it did not see print till after his passing, but I dedicated the book to him and his compadre Barnaby Conrad (founder of SBWC) who were my champions of this story, whatever it was.
I LOVE NaNoWriMo! A couple different times joining their November challenge has spurred me to really concentrate on a problematic story. My scifi work Suncatcher came directly out of NNWM, and a WIP entitled Bring the Rain was great enhanced by the most recent NNWM. If a writer has a story that really needs work, there is nothing like the adrenaline of having that daily and cumulative word count to propel the work!
I will be giving away an e-book of Accept the Broken Heart to one lucky winner, chosen at random by random.org and the author alone is responsible for this e-book and the winner selection.
MUST HAVE KINDLE E-MAIL in order to receive this e-book.
About the Author:
Robin Leigh Anderson was born in the Montana Rockies and escaped to California in the early 1970s. She attended school in Montana, Washington State, and California, eventually settling in beautiful Santa Barbara with child and cats where she lived for 38 years before escaping sans grown child and late cats to Northern California. An advocate of reinventing oneself, Ms. Anderson dabbled in many of the major disciplines of life, providing fodder for the writing she pursued since she was eight. She has won numerous awards at writing conferences over the years, and was staff of the prestigious Santa Barbara Writer Conference for ten years. She has published numerous articles and short stories in her lifetime. She taught “crash-and-burn” intensive writing seminars in Santa Barbara and was the moderator of a writers’ critique group. She still conducts occasional seminars and enjoys editing others’ works, words being her all-consuming passion, as she writes in several genres, notably based-on-true stories and science fiction.