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Anaconda (Continued)

He’s scared.  He runs anyhow.  He pants, being 9,200 feet high.  In front of him, ffft! some bullets raise dust like the bubbling mud at Yellowstone .  Do any grenades come in?  Do any mortar rounds come?  If so, Rivera doesn’t register them.  He triumphs.  The finish line, no frangible tape, is a pile of rocks behind which there lies the boy who cried, “Doc!” and Rivera dives at him like someone stealing second.  He also dives at two soldiers he hasn’t expected: the battalion medic (a boy who’s wounded) and the battalion doctor, a major amazed to be at such remove from a MASH.  In vain Rivera’s hundred-meter sprint wasn’t.  The medic and doctor each have lost his aid bag, and at these guardian rocks the Kerlix, etcetera, is all in Eddie’s monster.  Thank God I stuffed it, Rivera thinks tardily. 

The casualties (by now there are two) are one boy who’s saying, “I can’t see!” and one boy who’s gasping, “I can’t breathe!” and, with Rivera’s aid bag, the far-displaced doctor treats both.  “How you doin’?” Rivera asks them—asks, asks, even shouts from a hundred meters to the two sergeants and Miranda, “How you doin?” 

“We’re all right.”

“Just lay low,” Rivera shouts, aware that if one of them falls asleep, his breathing  might stop and he’ll die.  While shouting, Rivera’s thinking, Oh, god, will these casualties ever end?  No, they won’t, for in this other platoon another mortar round just fell and the radio operator cries, “Doc!”  The boy, PFC McGovern, is Rivera’s phenomenal friend, phenomenal since each of his legs seemed wired to a separate cerebrum.  “McGovern!  What’s wrong with you?  You got two left feet?” Rivera agonized on countless occasions as McGovern tripped over his cot, the MRE box (Meals Ready to Eat) or even the crack in the floor, spread-eagling.  “McGovern!” Rivera agonized.  “Did you not see it?”  “I seen it!  I thought I’d get over it!”  But now (it’s just about noon) no fault attaches itself to McGovern as he lies sprawled, both feet, both legs, both arms full of fiery shrapnel. 

“It’s burning!” McGovern cries to Rivera.

“What’s burning worst?”

“My feet!”

Rivera takes off McGovern’s left boot, left sock.  McGovern’s left foot is a shrapnel-studded caveman’s club, and Rivera instinctively shields his eyes.

“What is it?  What is it?” 

“You’re all right, man,” Rivera says, his hand raised, his fingers apart, a gesture meaning “Easy.  It’s all all right,” his head turning toward the battalion medic, his lips pantomiming, “Oh fuck.”  He wraps McGovern’s foot in Kerlix, but the Kerlix becomes blood red, and he unwraps it and rewraps it in Kerlix, then Ace.  “I know this hurts,” says Rivera.  “But you gotta try to wiggle your toes.”

“I can!  But they hurt!”

“I know they hurt, buddy.”

“Oh God!  I can’t take it!” 

“But you’ll be all right.”  But McGovern screams, and Rivera takes out his Nubain, injecting a minimal milliliter.  “The pain, this’ll get rid of it,” Rivera says, then starts on McGovern’s other foot, McGovern’s legs and arms.

 

“The enemy,” cries an undaunted sergeant, “wants us to sing the Tenth Mountain Division Song!”  Around him the soldiers start it,

We are the Tenth Mountain Infantry,

With a glorious history…  


Booooom!
  It’s the air force, thank God, but all the American soldiers recoil as a cargo plane metamorphosed into a bomber drops one of its six-ton bombs—its six-ton bombs, the weight of a bus and everyone on it—on the mountain that all this affliction comes from, on the cloud-covered heads of the Qaedas.  As anyone would, as soon as the Qaedas hear those horrific bombers approaching they go with lock, stock, and barrel (rifles, launchers, and mortars) into their caves, go, if they technologically could, into the fourth dimension until the bombers depart.  But during every lull, Rivera runs to his patients in both platoons, asking them, “How you doin’?  Are you awake?  Now, don’ become sleepy on me!  Don’ fall asleep!  You need some water?  Here, have some water.  Man, you’re all right.  Man, you’re all right.  You’re gonna make it,” at times thinking privately, Is he all right?  Is he gonna make it?  I don’t know.

“Doc,” all Rivera’s patients ask.  “When are the medevacs comin’?”  The boys mean “When are the choppers coming to carry us out?” 

“They’re comin’.  They’re comin’,” says Rivera while thinking privately, When are the medevacs comin’?  He radios battalion, “Polar Bear?  When are the medevacs comin’?  When are the QRFs,” the Quick Reaction Forces, “comin’?  Where’s our help?  What’s takin’ time?  We got to get these casualties out!”  On this wide-ranging radio, the officers at battalion can’t say “They’re tryin’!  The medevacs tryin’!  The other companies, tryin’!  But the LZ’s too hot!  The landing zone’s inaccessible!” 

Then booooom!  The soldiers cringe, the bombers conclude, the Qaedas, unchastened, undismayed, come from their caves, their rifles, launchers, and mortars come too, and “Incoming!” the soldiers shout.  To shield him, Rivera lies on top of McGovern, the boy with wounded feet, legs, arms, the boy benumbed by Nubain, he puts his head on McGovern’s and hears him say, “Please please please.”  Then boom, a mortar round hits First Lieutenant Maroyka.  Then ffft, a bullet hits Specialist Almey, a boy who played basketball with Rivera, shooting, shooting like some repetitive plastic toy.  Then boom, a mortar round hits Major Byrne, the doctor far from a MASH and, with Rivera, the last intact practitioner here.  Then boom, another mortar round hits the battalion medic, this one from two feet away.  Then ffft

It’s mid-afternoon, and it’s still going on.  How many soldiers in two platoons of Company C of the 1st Battalion of the 87th Regiment of the Tenth Mountain Division of the American army were hit?  The journalist's rule is “Report it,” but the American army’s rule that a correspondent must sign to is “Don’t.”  Restrict yourself, the army adjures me, to “Casualties were light,” “Were moderate,” “Were heavy.”

Casualties were heavy.

 

I tell people, “You’re all right,” thinks Rivera.  But who’ll tell me I’m all right?  It’s moratorium time as the bombers inconvenience the Qaedas, and all right he’s certainly not.  He’s not making calls on Miranda, Abbott, McCleave, McGovern—the roster’s almost interminable—though he’s conscientiously watching them.  Rivera’s worn out.  His day began at two this morning, and he hasn’t eaten breakfast, lunch or Combos since then.  He’s hardly had water, either.  His face is charcoal-colored due to close mortar rounds, and on his hands there’s blood, other people’s ectopic blood.  On all three browns of his camouflage clothes is this same inappropriate red.  If someone cries, “Doc!” Rivera expects to run up and treat him.  But can he? 

It is, to Rivera, as if he’s playing basketball for Ellenville High—he once played forward for Ellenville—and Ellenville’s eighty points down.  He doesn’t want the pathetic game to go on.  He doesn’t want to run to and fro like someone indecisive, dribbling, blocking, tossing.  He doesn’t want to see balls scoring baskets even for Ellenville.  All that Rivera wants is 00:00, the sign that everything’s over, that he can waddle home, and he feels exactly that way at Anaconda.  Dear God!  No more friends crying, “Doc!”  No more friends moaning, “Doc!  It hurts!”  No more friends begging, “Doc, am I going to make it?”  No more insincere answers of “Yeah!  You shouldn’t even ask!”  For eight hours Rivera’s been a one-man basketball team in a game against what? a hundred? five hundred? a thousand invisible opponents?  In time even Michael Jordan would say, “I don’t have enough stuff.”  And neither do I, Rivera thinks.  Whatever I have, I’m about to lose it.  What am I even doing here? 

And then Rivera remembers the World Trade Center.  Remembers the flaring fires like Zeus’s lightning bolts.  Remembers the businessmen (My God!  How desperate were they?)— businessmen and businesswomen throwing themselves to the Plaza, eighty floors below.  The towers collapsing, the ashes supplanting them, the ash-plastered people running away.  The people, all month, doing the rounds of the hospitals, brushing away their tears, asking, “Did you see this man?”  “Did you see this woman?”  And hearing repeatedly, “No, I’ve not.”  And never discovering them.  And never burying them.  It’s not two platoons, it’s not sixty people the mourners sought, thinks Rivera.  It’s three thousand people!  As bad as Anaconda is, Rivera thinks, We’re better off.  We’ll never ask, “Did you see my Mom?” “Did you see my Dad?” “Did you see Krystal?” 

He thinks of the wife who must have asked, “Did you see Steve?”  Steve was the paramedic at Harlem Station, in New York City, who, after Texas’s medic school, Rivera did six weeks of OJT with.  “Do you want to do an IV?” “Do you want to do an EKG?” “Do you want to,” Steve always asked, and Rivera always said yes.  Rivera has heard that on Tuesday, September 11, the north tower of the Center collapsed on Steve, the deed of the organization on the mountain in Rivera’s plain sight.  And now Rivera knows why he’s here.  It’s for the three thousand dead.  It’s for their bereaved, to let them know they’re avenged.  But above all, it’s for the heroic paramedic at Harlem Station, Rivera apostrophizing him, “It’s for you.  We’re gettin’ ’em for you, Steve.  We’re gettin’ ’em for you, Steve.” 

It’s then that Rivera hears, “Doc!”

 

Rivera springs up.  He starts running...More