a story by Richard Hartwell

I have several small objects buried deeply within the heart of a small, wooden box on my wire mesh nightstand that looks like a cage, including one item that is emblematic of my borrowed life. In the box are dice from my grandfather for remembrance, military medals for several nothings, children’s teeth for fairy money, and several other trinkets. However, there is one particularly that I treasure, not necessarily beyond the others, but to the extent that it is an article of unique and distinctive value.

I have in this keepsake box a bullet from Vietnam, bullet from 1967. It is merely a slug, not the entire cartridge, not a shell, and it is from a .30 caliber weapon. The spiraled scoring of rifling can barely be detected, there is a slight bend to the point of the bullet where it ricocheted off my spine, and it is rusted with blood on the blunt end that fitted the sleeve of the shell before it was fired. The slug was dug out of my right shoulder, near the blade, where it lodged after being deflected and angling up and off. The Army doctor had to be begged and cajoled to save it for me, against medical protocol.
I treasure this bullet, not just because it was taken from my flesh, but for all that it represents: the futility of a particular war; the unexpected quirks which occur to preserve a particular life; and even the fact that I killed a soldier a moment later, a particular enemy of that one moment in time, and probably the same one who had just shot me.

There is not a war story attached to this memento, but a life story. It reminds me of the frailty of my own particular life and how every day since then, forty-four years of every days, I have been granted an extra helping of life. That is the one true thing represented by this personal article buried deep within the box and deep within my mind.

© 2011, Richard Hartwell