A Culpable Innocence

Chapter 11: Paradigmatic Paradoxes (pg. 281)


Historical significance was not Regis’ first concern regarding King’s death. Most immediately, he felt like he’d been punched in the stomach. His first consideration had been of Sharon, because he felt her pain like his own. His empathy was not based on her membership in the black community. He had stopped thinking of her that way. It was the result of the humanity she so openly shared with Dr. King: his faith in the fundamental goodness of people, his hope for a future where all would share in life’s bounty, and above all in his love for people of all races. She was totally committed to the same ideals. Martin Luther King was her hero and inspiration. Regis remembered the fire in her eyes when he recklessly challenged King’s methods. He knew she would be crying right now. He wanted to take her in his arms and comfort her. Instead, he tried to put into words what he hoped might console her grief.

As he sat typing, he reflected upon the apparent irony of his situation—a white man attempting to alleviate the grief of a black woman over King’s murder. Many in America would define his relationship with Sharon as unnatural. They might say that love can only exist between “equals” and, therefore, that their relationship was paradoxical. But the real paradox was that anyone might harbor such a conclusion.

It was past the time for mandatory lights-out in headquarters when Regis finished his letter. He folded it into his breast pocket, turned off the lights, and walked to the CQ shed. Hotwire was just returning from his second-shift rounds and accosted Regis at the door. He scrutinized Regis appearance without Regis taking any notice. “Fallguy, you are somethin’ else. It’s Charlie’s hour, man, and here you are takin’ a casual stroll without a flak jacket, a helmet, a weapon or nothin’. You’re fuckin’ crazy, man. I guess that’s why we all love ya.” He opened the screen door for Regis. “Come on in, now. I’m going to show you how I beat the chess master.”

For the next two hours Regis played chess with little attention to the game. His mind was turning over the events of the day. He was formulating a plan. After the nightly artillery attack, he left the shed, ostensibly to return to the barrack. It was a clear, moonless night and the starry canopy of the heavens was more populated than it had ever appeared in Regis’ memory. The starlight illumined his path as he wound his way to the COM building. He breathed in the scent of life emanating from the surrounding jungle in the valleys below and the forested hills beyond. It was not so much a smell, as a freshness or wholeness released from the oxygen-exhaling vegetation. Night had dispelled the heat of the day and unburdened the atmosphere of its humidity, condensing it to settle in a fine mist embracing the base of Tropo Hill. Regis’ limbs moved freely, belying the tension he felt in his gut. His body might be energized by the Central Highlands’ regenerating night; but his mind’s preoccupation precluded full solidarity with nature. With deliberate steps he walked to his chosen destiny. What he was about to do would change everything. Nevertheless, he would act upon what seemed right to him. The knot in his stomach could only be untied by the course of action he was determined to initiate. The rules he was violating—the risks he was about to take—were no longer his primary concerns. His survival in Vietnam he deemed secondary to his survival as a person.

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