It’s time to tell the truth. My time here is coming to an end, true, and I’m a writer now -- not much of one maybe, certainly not a wealthy or famous writer but I am a storyteller -- and a long time ago I served in Operation Urgent Fury, aka the 1983 invasion of Grenada, as a foot soldier with the 75th Rangers. Almost everything else is invented.
Storytelling is not a game. It’s a form. Right here, now, as I reinvent myself, I want to tell you about why this story is told as it is. For instance I want to tell you how in a lifetime ago I watched a man die as he stood on a burning tank on a verdant hillside in a country no one cares about and as he fired a machine gun toward an unseen enemy as he kept my and many other soldiers lives alive. I did not kill him. That is to say I am not the man-child who fired the bullets which splattered his head into so many pieces which days later I still found the tiniest pieces of him embedded into my uniform. I didn't fire those deadly bullets. But I killed Audie Murphy just the same.
Even that story is made up.
I want you to feel what I felt. I want you to know why story-truth is truer than happening-truth.
Here is a happening truth. I was once a soldier. There were many bodies, real bodies with real faces, but I was young then and still capable of hiding truth even from myself. And now, a lifetime later, I’m left with haunting dreams of faceless men lying on a jungle floor who I left faceless responsibility and faceless grief.
Here is the story-truth. He was young, too. Brave as many young men are in war. A soldier calls out to him, “Who do you think you are, Audie Murphy?” And as he turns to answer enemy bullets rip into him tearing his head from his body and sending raindrops of his flesh onto other soldiers as they hide from their own fears.
When the firefight ended, examining the carnage of war, and of what was left of him, his jaw in his throat, half his head gone, his one eye shut. I knew I killed him.
I guess what stories can do is make things present.
I can look at things removed from distance and out from haunting dreams, never examined closely out of fear, and I can face them with a new eye and I can tell the truth without repercussions or grief.
Except I can’t.
Those memories won’t let me go. They haunt me every night because it’s not just one man I killed. It’s my brothers, my closest friend, complete strangers, all dead and killed again in dreams which won’t let me go…
Not once has anyone ever asked me if I killed another human being. If they did, I would tell them a story. I hope they forgive me.
Jake James is a writer who lives and writes in Grenada.