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Carried, Back Home: A Reaction to The Things They Carried by Tim O’Brien

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Martha took extra care—she hit each key on a jammed typewriter, curved each s impeccably. Yet, she abandoned each letter at the post office in the same way, trying to forget the words inscribed within their cold, thin hearts. Martha imagined she was doing much the same as the war boys… leaving someone behind, trying not to remain, mentally, with them. She realized the pain she was causing some unseen identity.
Martha sometimes pretended she was waiting for someone. Svetlana carried, always, a bauble from before her family’s emigration; an attempt to remind herself that he had gotten himself here once and could, would, do it once more. Jane carried returned letters to every class. She fingered them in her pocket or below a table, always cried as the other students left the room.
To “study” is to focus your attention on the yet unimaginable, to ignore the pain and fear ripping, settling, spreading. Cherie “studied”, as when she ignored the second, newer, life within her and a missing half to learn of both beauty and bloodied bodies. She was slightly older at twenty-four and carried fuller, more sensual, curves. Her books weighed more than most of the others’, almost twenty pounds. She carried them so they became an extension of her own lusciousness and increased her desirability. Cherie did not carry a handbag; she had not yet received any mail and felt no need for rouge or reddened lips. Such things were reserved for girls like Martha, who went with the young, more urban dolls to the bars that housed handsome men in uniform.
Martha and her common acquaintances, Sally Em and Marla, carried to these parlors just ounces of violently colored textile, although they often left with many more ounces of alcohol. Occasionally the girls carried each other back to the dorm, a valiant attempt to be back before curfew. Other than that, they shared little.
All of these girls shared little-- at least that’s what they seemed to think. No one readily spoke of the men they missed the sight, smell, feel of. Yet, they all felt the emptiness. It was there as they sometimes trudged, sometimes waltzed, through campus. This emptiness was neither entirely disconcerting nor entirely peaceful. Nothing was peaceful.




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