"I'm Army through and through," I told him. "I mean it, if they'd let me go to Vietnam tomorrow, I'd go. I could be an ambulance driver or something like that." (1.34)
Jamie desperately wants to sign up for war. It doesn't matter that she's only twelve… or that she's still in school. She feels a sense of duty to the army since it practically raised her. So it comes as no surprise that she's ready to officially join the ranks. Too bad she can't do anything about her deep-seeded obligation.
"It's about duty, it's about honor, it's about sacrifice." If you weren't an Army brat, that kind of talk would probably have you rolling your eyes. But we believed it. I believed it. It made me proud to hear the Colonel say it. (2.7)
When Jamie and TJ would get sad about moving over and over again, this is what the Colonel would say to them. He paints a nice picture of the army, right? People sacrificing for one another and the country out of the duty they feel is certainly admirable. Yet subtly, Jamie realizes not everyone buys into this. Hence the eye-rolling.
When he'd saved that soldier's life out in the field, in the middle of combat exercises with artillery and tanks, he'd risked his own life, came a hair's width away from getting killed. Sometimes at night in bed I'd get cold and still all over thinking about that, how the Colonel might be dead right now. But in the daylight I wore his bravery like a badge of honor. (2.26)
To the Colonel, that's just how it is. He knew his duty to his fellow soldiers when he signed up, and he kept his end of the deal. It's one thing to pay lip service to duty and sacrifice, but it's quite another to live it out in the heat of the battle. Jamie feels simultaneously intimated and inspired by her dad's heroism.
Now TJ said, "I want to go to Vietnam because it's the right thing to do, sir. That's the only reason. I'll go to college when I get back." (2.29)
Even though the Colonel fears that TJ is only signing up for the army out of revenge for his buddy or compulsion, TJ assures his dad that's not the case—not even close. Check out what he says about it being the right thing to do. That sounds an awful lot like a sense of duty to us.
He'd raised us to believe in the Army way. And as far as I was concerned, he'd raised us right. (2.38)
Since Jamie's already told us that the army values duty, sacrifice, and honor, we know that's what she means here. She thinks duty is super important because it's valued in the army. Okay, we can get behind that. What about elsewhere in life? Does Jamie have any experiences with duty that aren't a part of the army?
When we were stationed at Fort Bragg, North Carolina, he'd driven me and TJ to the veterans' hospital over in Durham one Christmas just to pay our respects to the soldiers there, a lot of whom had fought in World War II. We owe them our gratitude and respect, the Colonel had said. The very least we can do is wish them a Merry Christmas. (8.4)
The Colonel is really big on duty, and not just in the army, but in everyday life, too. He doesn't care whether his kids want to move around, relocate to Germany, or visit war veterans in the hospital. He takes them along anyway because he firmly believes it is there duty to do so.
My biggest obstacle was plain and simple Army protocol, which of course the Colonel was a stickler for. (11.2)
We appreciate the fact that the Colonel is a rule-follower. As fellow rule lovers, we see the stability in that—and for the most part, Jamie respects this about her dad, too. That is, until she tries to bend the rules a little bit. She knows the Colonel feels it's his duty to follow every rule the army has, but that doesn't stop her from pleading Hollister's case to the guy anyway.
I couldn't quite take in the fact that the Colonel had tried to pull strings to keep TJ out of Vietnam. That went against protocol. It went against everything he'd ever told me about the Army way of doing things. Honor, duty, sacrifice, wasn't that what he'd been preaching to me all my life? (13.19)
What happens when you no longer agree with the rules you've promised to uphold? Do you still follow them? For the Colonel, the answer is yes…sort of. His sense of duty to the army and his own son come head to head when he has to figure out how to keep TJ from entering battle in Vietnam.
"An enlisted man has chosen the military, and he's responsible for fulfilling the duties of his enlistment agreement. It might be taken into consideration that his brother has been killed, but that doesn't mean he won't be sent if he's needed." (13.10)
When Jamie's talking to her dad about Hollister, he tells her that anyone who enlists in the army has a duty to serve because that's what he's signed up for. Fair enough. To Jamie, however, it's not that simple. She thinks Hollister should be able to reconsider his commitment because of what happened to his brother. Do you agree?
I printed every one of them, over and over. I blew them up until moons filled the frames. I blew them up until the only thing you could see were millions of tiny grains of light. Somewhere in there was a clue. (16.7)
Jamie has a different type of duty—this one is to her brother, and it involves printing his pictures. At first she's not particularly interested in the images from Vietnam that he sends, but before long, she takes this task up as her personal duty to her brother. She's responsible for making sure his photos see the light of day, whether she likes it or not.
"What you're talking about is philosophy," Private Hollister said. "I'm talking about feelings. Ain't no mother happy about her son going to war." (1.41)
Huh? Jamie is shocked that Hollister—a soldier himself—would speak out against war. She knows that war is necessary and important. It's never occurred to her that her parents might not be thrilled with her brother enlisting because she's thinking about it in an abstract, impersonal way.
My brother, TJ, was going to war, and I was fired up hotter than a volcano. TJ and I had grown up in the Army, we were the Colonel's children, but that was not the same as being a soldier in the very heart of combat. (1.1)
Jamie is incredibly jealous of her brother and wishes she could go to war, too. Right away, we see how much Jamie loves war and admires soldiers, but we can't help but feel that she doesn't know the full story. Check out how she describes war like a kid would, full of the glory but none of the harsh realities of it.
We'd been playing war all our lives, and more than once TJ had said he'd like to get a taste of real combat, to see if he could handle it. (2.29)
We're not sure the best reason to go to war is to see if you can stomach it. Even so, Jamie understands her brother's decision to sign up—it's part of who they are. Here's the problem with that, though: Jamie is so focused on war being natural and normal in her life that she doesn't really stop to think about what it means. Her brother might get hurt (or worse) over there.
I was dying to know what the war was like. TJ's letter to my parents hadn't said much at all. […] There was nothing in it that let you taste the true flavor of war, smell the smoke of bombs, hear the helicopters as they took off from the middle of the jungle. (4.29)
Is it just us or does that sound freaky? It's no fun running from gunfire in the middle of the jungle, yet Jamie yearns for all those gory details. To her, war is like a video game or a movie, where there are no real consequences to think about. Too bad that's not how it is in real life.
"Isn't this amazing?" I asked him, feeling excited about the work I'd done. "I mean, it's a picture of somebody who's actually been hit by the enemy. It's the real war." (7.24)
Private Hollister doesn't want to see the pictures TJ sends over. Why? He doesn't want to see dead bodies of soldiers. There's enough of that on TV. While Jamie is ecstatic over the gruesome details of the photos, Hollister really stops and thinks about what they mean. To him, that's some guy who's been injured, not just a cool photo.
But the funny thing was, it almost made me feel sad to say it. Because I knew that if I wanted TJ home, then I had lost my good feelings about the war forever. I had lost the excitement that used to get me so wound up I could hardly calm back down again for hours. (11.38)
Ouch. The more Jamie thinks about the war, the more she comes to terms with the fact that it might not be the best thing after all. That might sound obvious, but it's quite a shock to Jamie. War has become a part of who she is because she and her family are always so wrapped up in it.
Was he trying to scare me? Or was he just trying to tell me that war wasn't anything like the way we'd dreamed it, playing with our little green Army men under the trees? (11.22)
At first Jamie is bummed about getting the photos from TJ—she wants a juicy letter instead—but pretty soon, she wonders why he sends the pictures. We'd like to point out that war isn'tanything like how she imagines it, so it's no wonder the photos scare her. They show what war is really like.
When TJ had come home for a few days after basic training, he'd looked like a completely different person. He looked like a soldier. I was almost scared to talk to him. (12.1)
It's interesting the effect a short amount of training can have on a guy—Jamie tells us how different TJ was when he came home from training as a way of showing us how much war changes people. Even before the guy has seen real combat, he's different. Just hearing about war in training has made him grow up.
"It's a worthless war?" My mouth hung open. The Colonel was calling Vietnam a worthless war? (13.26)
When the Colonel lets it slip that the war is worthless, Jamie's reaction is shock. She can't believe her dad would say something like that about a war. After all, he's an army hero and no stranger to war. It helps us realize that not all wars are the same. Sure, you might be all for fighting when necessary, but that doesn't mean you're ready to sign up for all wars.
On the wall behind him hung plaques in neat rows announcing his various awards and honors, and directly over his head was the 1st Cavalry insignia, needlepointed and framed by my mother. (15.12)
Her dad's desk shows off his military prowess, and frankly, intimidates us a little bit. Gulp. Jamie looks at her dad's awards and thinks of him as a colonel, not her dad. It's important that we get to see how brave and respected the Colonel is because it shows us a different side of war that Jamie is more familiar with.
I was six months away from turning thirteen and I thought I knew everything. (1.46)
Let's face it: All twelve-year-olds think they have it figured out, but in reality, we know there's still a lot to learn when you're that age. Jamie's no different. She thinks she understands life and war because she's an army kid, but in reality, she has a lot to learn.
"Oh, honey," my mother said. "You don't know anything about war. You're just a little girl." (2.36)
Oh, snap. Jamie's mom is the first to put her in her place. Jamie thinks her mom is wrong, but it turns out, she's not—there's a lot Jamie doesn't know about war (and life) because she's still growing up. Again Jamie has to reconcile what she thinks of reality with what others tell her about it.
But when the announcement came, over a Sunday dinner in March, a couple of days after TJ's eighteenth birthday, he didn't say a word for a long time, just looked down at his plate like the medium-rare steak staring back up at him was about to whisper the meaning of life. (2.21)
When her brother signs up for going to war only a couple days after he's eligible, Jamie is thrilled. Her dad? Not so much. She knows that can't be true, though, because her dad's an army guy. He loves war… right? Yet, she's confronted with the fact that things aren't as simple as she thinks they are.
"But if you're going to watch, stand back, because those of us who choose to live are going to run you down." (5.4)
The Colonel isn't a fan of photography. Why? Mainly because he thinks it allows a person to live in a different reality. If you're always looking through a camera lens, you're never really living your life—or so he thinks. He wants to live in the here and now instead of trying to get a good picture of it.
"Your brother died?" For some reason, I found this answer nearly unacceptable. (7.27)
Jamie is shocked that Private Hollister's brother died during the war. Since people dying is kind of war's thing, though, this shows that despite her general excitement and enthusiasm over war, she doesn't really think about what it means. It's only when she's confronted with the reality of it that she realizes how delusional she's been.
There was no doubt about it. The Colonel looked like a man who hated his job. (8.44)
Until now, Jamie thought her dad loved his job. Her surprise at seeing how tattered her dad is reminds us that there are often two versions of reality when you're a child: There's your idea of your parents, and then there's who they really are. Jamie's always thought the Colonel is happy in the army, but in reality, he's miserable because he has to send people off to war.
What emerged on the paper was a picture of a GI in a wheelchair, his right leg amputated at the knee and wrapped in a white bandage. He looked so much like TJ, I gasped and took a step backward. I had to force myself to look again and see for sure that it wasn't my brother in the wheelchair, that it was someone I'd never seen before in my life. (9.43)
Jamie thinks she wants to be a part of the war, but she can't even stomach looking at the pictures of it. Here, she squints at the photo because she can't face reality. It's tough to see images of war up close and personal, and that's exactly what she's looking at in all of TJ's film.
And, when you got right down to it, if I lost all those things, I had practically lost my own self. Which is a sad and depressing thought to have. (11.39)
When she doesn't feel positive about the war anymore, Jamie questions who she is. All her life she's known herself as someone who supports war. Once she loses this major part of her identity, Jamie questions reality. She doesn't know how to be herself without promoting fighting or the army in some way.
"We got into it for the right reasons," the Colonel said, leaning forward and looking straight at me, like he needed me to believe him. "That's what all those antiwar types don't understand. They don't understand that the Soviets and the communist Chinese are a real threat to our security. We can't let 'em have Southeast Asia." (13.27)
We finally begin to understand what the Colonel's issues with the war are when he explains this to Jamie. There are different versions of reality at play here. Some people are for the war; others think it's gone south and has to be stopped. The Colonel highlights a real debate that the country grappled with at this time.
I believed those negatives would reveal the truth about TJ, what he'd been doing right before he went missing in action, what he'd been thinking about, some clue that would tell me where he was about to go. (16.2)
Jamie's bummed when the pictures don't help her solve TJ's disappearance. It's a cruel thing to come to terms with, but Jamie has to accept the reality that she's powerless to help her brother.
Not that I cared what people thought about my appearance. But even if I wasn't pretty in an obvious way, if my hair was just-barely-blond instead of a golden yellow, if my eyes were gray instead of blue, even if I was as scrawny as a bundle of twigs, there was no doubt in my mind I looked at least twelve and a half. (1.14)
Jamie's appearance isn't very important in the book, but we've included it here to tell us how she views herself. Notice she doesn't talk about her beauty or physical features very much. That's because she's not all that interested in the way she looks, and instead, she wants to play outside with the boys.
More than once the Colonel had told me that if I had been a boy, I would have been a star football player on any team you'd care to name. Well, maybe he didn't say it in those words, but that's what he meant. (2.4)
Whether Jamie likes it or not, her relationship with her dad is different than TJ's because she's a girl. She knows it, and Hollister tells her as much, too. Sometimes it seems like she wishes she were a boy because then she could do all the stuff she loves to do without people getting all up in arms.
"I'm starting eighth grade in September, which is hardly a little girl, and I read Time magazine," I argued. "I know plenty about war." (2.37)
After her mom says she doesn't know anything about the war because she's just a little girl, Jamie won't stand for it. So what? She might be a girl, but she's informed and she has an opinion. She's not going anywhere either. Luckily, Jamie throws shade on this idea that girls can't know much about what's really going down.
"For boys, maybe. Not for girls. Girls ain't supposed to cuss at all."
"That's a stupid rule. Either everybody cusses or nobody cusses." (3.17-18)
When Hollister first meets Jamie, he's not expecting to be put in his place. She gives him a run for his money, though, playing cards and chatting. Jamie won't be told there are different rules for her because she's a girl. If the guys get to cuss, she should be allowed to talk like a sailor, too.
Private Hollister took a second to write down our scores. "Well, (a) for one thing, you're a girl, and a lot of girls couldn't handle being around GIs all the time without getting all silly and giggly and just acting dumb about it. (3.24)
Check out how Hollister qualifies what he thinks specifically because Jamie is a girl. Hey, it's okay for him to hang out at the rec center, and for other dudes to, too, but girls have a tough time in a man cave. It's not somewhere you normally come across women. He's not rude to her or anything, but he makes it clear that a girl on an army base hanging with the guys is rare.
She thought it was inappropriate for a girl my age, on the very edge of womanhood, to play pool and spend Sunday afternoons in a smoke-filled room alongside young soldiers who were not above using colorful language if the situation called for it. (3.28)
Her mom isn't a fan of the idea of Jamie spending all her time around the soldiers because she's a girl, so luckily the Colonel sees no problem with it, enabling Jamie to hang at the rec center like she wants to. Her mom's protests help us understand the expectations for men and women at this time.
"My mom cried," Private Hollister said, sounding more comfortable all of a sudden, like the topic of girls crying was a lot easier one for him to handle. (7.30)
Is it just us or is this silly? We totally support anyone—man or woman—who cries when a brother dies. That's a normal response. Hollister doesn't think of it that way, though. It's more comfortable for him to talk about his mom crying because girls are supposed to cry (at least according to him).
Why did I think it would impress the Colonel to have a man-to-man conversation about TJ, especially when I wasn't a man and what TJ did or didn't do wasn't actually my business? Well, I saw it as a taking-the-bull-by-the-horns opportunity. The Colonel was behaving in a mystifying way. (8.9)
Notice how Jamie uses the word man to talk about something serious and logical. When she wants her dad to be straight with her, she has to act like a man in order to pull it off. She doesn't intend to make a big statement about gender here, but she does anyway in the way she thinks about things.
They'd pull Private Hollister's notebook right out of his top desk drawer and run their fingers down the rows of numbers, adding it all up. Most of them were rooting for me, because I was so much younger and a girl, I guess. (10.1)
Gin Rummy is serious business, especially in the army, and Jamie's got game. She might only be twelve, but she knows how to play a mean hand, and Hollister knows it, too. Yet, we see that the soldiers—including Hollister—doubt her at first. This is partly to do with her age, and partly to do with her gender.
"That's my girl!" the Colonel yelled from the other end of the yard. "You show me Jamie Dexter, and I'll show you a girl who can play some football!" (12.28)
Notice the subtle expectation here is that girls can't play football—otherwise, it wouldn't be such a big deal that Jamie could throw so well. Even though no one ever gives Jamie a list of things she can and can't do, we can tell what everyone thinks by their reactions to her, especially when she defies the norm.
Every once in a while the Colonel pulled out the box of things he'd saved growing up, when he had traveled all over the place just like we did, from this post to that one. He showed us ticket stubs from train trips through Germany and Italy, and matchbooks he'd collected from restaurants in just about every American city you could think of. (2.15)
For the Colonel, showing his kids his ticket stubs and matchbooks is a way of reliving the past; it allows him to remember going to those places, and what it was like to travel there. His desire to show off his memorabilia highlights his positive feelings toward these travels for the army.
TJ unwrapped a piece of gum he'd had in his jeans pocket and folded up the foil wrapper into a shiny triangle. He chewed the gum for a minute, then stuck it to the foil triangle and stuck the triangle to my T-shirt. (2.10)
Back when they were playing war as kids, TJ gives Jamie a medal. Okay, okay, it's a piece of gum wrapper, stuck on by gum—still, though, it's precious to Jamie because it symbolizes her bravery and military prowess. Even more importantly, this memory comforts Jamie when she thinks about her brother.
Colonel replied, his fork halfway to his mouth, strings of cheese stretching to his plate. "I think he's probably thinking about this squash casserole right now and remembering how soft his pillow upstairs is." (4.31)
As Jamie tries to imagine what it's like for her brother at war, her dad shocks her by saying he probably misses home. The Colonel is certain that TJ thinks about the food and people at home to help him deal with the war. In a way, he's using the past to deal with the present.
Private Hollister was quiet for a minute. I wondered if he was going through a list of buddies, trying to remember if everybody was still accounted for. (7.26)
Some memories aren't worth talking about. Hollister doesn't have to think long and hard about his brother's death during the war to make him upset, and Jamie can tell right away that he's bothered when talking about it. It turns out not everybody has happy memories of the past.
"They might have been biting something, but it wasn't anything dangling off the end of my hook. Still, the scenery was great and the beer was flowing, and I have lots of warm and fuzzy memories." (9.22)
Byrd went fishing a couple weeks ago on leave and had a grand old time… he thinks. From what he can remember of it, he had fun. Still, that might have just been the alcohol. There's a big difference between the way he talks about his memories of fishing (lighthearted and happy) and the war (dark and haunting).
I remembered something that Sgt. Byrd had told me, that he dreamed about Vietnam almost every night, and some nights he woke up to find himself crouched in the dark between the bunks in his barracks, his whole body alert, listening. (10.31)
Doesn't sound like fun to us—we can see why Byrd would just as soon forget the past, though it keeps creeping back into his life. There's another form of memory happening here, too: Jamie is remembering someone else's memory. Weird, right? We can tell that she's never had that experience at war, but she's still disturbed by it.
In a way, it's like we'd been soldiers together. I wondered if he still remembered how that felt. One thing I knew for sure when I saw him after basic training was that he'd forget the old days soon enough, if he hadn't already. He was headed for a real combat zone. (12.7)
The funny thing about memory is that two people can have the exact same experience but remember it differently. Jamie wonders how TJ remembers playing war together back when they were kids. For her, it's the time she felt closest to him, but that might not be the way he remembers it.
"You used to be, remember?" I was scrambling, trying hard as I could to win the Colonel to my side. "Mom told us that you used to get up on the roof and jingle bells and stomp around like a reindeer." (13.19)
Trying to remind her dad of a more playful side, Jamie talks about when he used to dress up as Santa. Of course, that was back when she was a kid, though; her use of the past to make him happy in the present says a lot about the guy. Jamie thinks he'll only be himself again if things go back to the way they were.
"Too many memories. I look at all my negatives and I ask myself, why do I want to remember that?" (14.24)
Jamie can't understand why Byrd has so much film that he hasn't developed. He's not sure if it's good to develop photos from the war that will just remind him of all the horrible stuff he saw. Pool guy. Why would he want to relive something that he works so hard to forget?
"You keep it," he said, when I tried to hand it back to him. "Just so you remember all the good times we had playing. That's about the most fun I've ever had playing cards. It ain't fun unless you're playing with somebody who knows what they're doing." (14.36)
Everyone is big on mementos, and here, Hollister gives Jamie their scorecard so she can think about how much fun they had later on. When he gives it to her, Jamie thinks she might cry (but of course, she doesn't so she doesn't ruin her street cred).
"I am a man of the world, full of knowledge and vision, a lover of international cuisine, an appreciator of fine art and good-looking women, and I have the United States Army to thank for this most excellent state of affairs." (2.16)
Not too shabby. Thanks to the army, the Colonel has lived a good life. Check out the way he describes himself as being a lover of food, women, knowledge, and the army. His life revolves around the army, and has been enriched by the army. It's no wonder the guy loves it.
The Colonel had been an Army brat too, and he loved telling the story of how the Army had lifted his father up from poverty to a good life. (2.14)
In many ways, the Colonel's life is all about the army. There's nothing outside of it for him—even the guy's dad was rescued by the army in his youth. We can see how this has become such a crucial part of his identity by this point in his life. It's practically what his whole life has been about.
"Yeah, but you're a girl. No father dreams of seeing his daughter playing in the NFL. Maybe you should try out for cheerleading." (3.14)
There's a different set of expectations and standard of living based on gender in this book. Girls can't do certain jobs or activities because they are girls. This hardly seems fair, which Jamie readily points out. What type of life is it for women as compared to men?
The Colonel didn't see the point of it. "You can live your life or you can watch it," he'd say every time one of our expeditions got slowed down because TJ wanted to take a picture of something, a statue, a duck waddling down the middle of the road, a little kid who'd just dropped his ice-cream cone on his lap. (5.4)
It's no surprise that the Colonel has no love for photography; he'd rather be out there acting and doing instead of stopping to take a photo of it. We take his point: Sometimes we're so focused on snapping the right angle that we miss out on living our lives while they are taking place.
"Are you kidding? Who do you think is out there picking up the wounded? If you want to know the truth, I'd rather have gone Field Artillery. But I thought Mom would swallow the Medical Corps easier." (5.19)
TJ lets his little sister in on a secret about the war and what type of life he can expect over in Vietnam. It's so different from anything Jamie has ever experienced that it's hard for her to wrap her head around the idea. So hard, in fact, that she didn't even think about the bodies TJ will be carrying around.
The worst thing was that she was an eleven-year-old girl whose brain was still on the first-grade level. She could read and dress herself and ride her fancy bicycle in wobbly circles around her front yard, but she couldn't think straight at all. It was like her emotions got in the way of her thoughts. (6.2)
Cindy's brain doesn't work the same way as other kids' her age, so it's a very different life for her. We can tell that Cindy understands things about the war and the moon but doesn't quite piece everything together. Her existence is much different than Jamie's.
And then my eyes drifted up to the wounded soldier. There was a lot of blood coming through the bandages wrapped around his chest. Did TJ know whether or not he made it to the hospital alive? Was he alive now? Back in the States? Or back in a combat zone? (7.23)
Jamie wonders about the soldier in the photo and what his life is like now. The fact that she doesn't know troubles her because she wants there to be a happy ending to the story. Yet the life of a soldier isn't always so black and white—he might be home now, but that doesn't mean that he's okay.
"I figured you'd think this was the opportunity of a lifetime for me. An all-expenses-paid trip to Vietnam. Maybe round trip, maybe not. Go live the life of a real soldier." (10.24)
Hollister jokes around with Jamie when he gets word that he'll be shipping out to Vietnam soon. The whole time Jamie plays cards with Hollister, she's been thinking about the game. He, on the other hand, also has to wrestle with the idea that he might be heading off to war soon. It finally dawns on Jamie that a soldier's life is a dark and heavy one.
"You hear of men enlisting after their brothers have been killed in war, because they want to have a crack at the enemy. Revenge. I don't know if that's a good reason to enlist or not, but it makes for some pretty motivated soldiers." (13.11)
The Colonel's remarks highlight the fact that life is valued in the army: People sign up to avenge their friends' deaths, according to what he's experienced. At the same time, though, life isn't valued in the army: Soldiers are shipped off to war by the plane-full and many of them don't return.
I discovered that in some of them wispy clouds were sliding by a full moon's eyes, and in others crescent moons stood suspended in the night sky like slivers of light, Venus twinkling beneath them. There were quarter moons and waning gibbous moons, every sort of moon there was, sometimes with stars peeking out from the corner of the frames, sometimes framed by circles of light" (16.6)
As Jamie starts to examine TJ's photos more closely, she gains a deeper appreciation for them. Not just that, she also values life a little more. She starts to look at the details and grooves of the moon, whereas before, she didn't really get TJ's fascination with it. Life is more precious to her now.
"College is the coward's way out, sir. How can I go to college when guys I played football with are fighting in Vietnam? Eddie McNeil's missing in action." (2.25)
It turns out that part of the reason TJ enlisted is to prove himself—he wants to show that he's not running away to college out of fear. That's a tough motivator. No one thinks TJ is weak, but he's so bent out of shape proving that he's not that he signs up for a war instead. We're not saying that's the soundest logic we've ever heard, but it sure does show us how much fear can motivate people.
"Are you scared something might happen to him?" This was the one explanation I'd been able to come up with on my own. Sure, the Colonel was a big, tough guy, but even big, tough guys don't want their sons to get killed. (8.26)
There are two levels of fear here. First there's the fear that the Colonel has that something bad will happen to TJ; then there's Jamie's fear that her dad might not be as tough and pro-army as she once thought. Both are understandable, and both turn out to be true in the end.
In the weeks before TJ left to join the Army, things around our house got loud and very quiet at the same time. (8.1)
Suddenly everyone is afraid. TJ is thinking more about fighting a war; the Colonel knows what his son is in for over there and doesn't think the guy's ready; Jamie's mom is scared her boy won't come home; and Jamie worries that she'll never get the chance to fight. All of them have fear in one way or another.
One day after I'd developed a roll of film and had the negatives hanging from the line to dry, I realized I was squinting as I examined them. It was as though I only half wanted to see what was there. It was as though I was scared to look any closer. (9.33)
Jamie knows the pictures can't hurt her (physically), yet she fears what they have in store for her emotionally. She gets scared to even look at them. Jamie knows the pictures might show her something she's not ready to see, and it's tough to admit that to herself about something she loves as much as war.
Every once in a while he made me feel scared, the way his face got dark and cloudy over something he saw in one of TJ's pictures. But there wasn't ever a time when he didn't want to talk. (9.2)
It's not just the pictures that Jamie has to contend with—the soldiers' reactions to the pictures is what really worries her. We can't blame her. We bet it's scary to see a tough army guy get all clammy over some photos. They remind him of a dark time in his life that he'd probably just as soon forget.
"Ah, you know how it is when a guy's being sent off to war." Private Hollister leaned against the mop he was using to clean up spilled beer off the floor. "He gets a little wild. Mostly they're just scared, I guess, and covering it up by drinking and yelling." (10.5)
Hollister is Jamie's ticket into the army world. He helps her understand what it's really like for the soldiers since her dad doesn't exactly spill the beans. When they see people drinking, Jamie just brushes it off as a good time, but Hollister knows better—all that alcohol covers up the fear.
I started wondering how complicated Cindy's thoughts got about things. She knew Mark was fighting in Vietnam, but did she know what war looked like? Was she scared he wouldn't come home, or that he'd come home missing an arm or a leg? (11.21)
It's hard to answer that. Cindy doesn't understand what's happening around her like other people do. She knows her brother is fighting a war, and she even tells Jamie that's his job, yet she doesn't fear the outcome of war in the same way as many of the other families of soldiers.
"I thought college would keep TJ out of the war, but I was wrong. I thought I could keep him safe, but I was wrong about that, too." (13.33)
Regrettably, the Colonel admits he doesn't control the war as much as he would like. Even though it goes against every rule in the book (which he's a stickler for), the Colonel tried to keep TJ away from Vietnam because he's so scared of what might happen to him over there. He's motivated by fear more than anything else.
He meant that my brother was somewhere in Vietnam, but nobody knew exactly where, and nobody knew exactly what he was doing, or if he was doing anything at all. He might just be sitting there, on a half-rotten log in the jungle, a bamboo leaf tickling his ear, just sitting there and waiting for somebody to find him. (15.23)
When TJ goes missing, Jamie can't even process the information. She doesn't want to give into the fear that paralyzes her by thinking of the worst-case scenarios. Once she starts to imagine what might be happening to TJ, she starts freaking out about him being captured as a POW.
For two days I printed the moons over and over again, my hands shaking, my heart racing. And with every picture I printed, I grew more and more afraid. (16.7)
Jamie's scared because the pictures are of, well, the moon—they don't give any hints as to where TJ might be or what happened to him. All of her hopes are shattered when she comes to terms with the fact that there's absolutely nothing she can do to help her brother or figure out what happened to him.
"I think you're wrong," I said, and felt even more determined to learn how to develop TJ's film. Then the true story would come out, with TJ at the center of it, the hero of it all. (4.32)
For Jamie, the pictures are a way to prove her dad wrong. After he claims that TJ probably hates it over in Vietnam, Jamie feels certain the pictures will show him otherwise. We'd like to point out that Jamie isn't interested in the photos for art's sake—at least not in the beginning.
"It's got shadows in it," TJ explained. "From the craters. I think the shadows are interesting. And I like the idea that now there are human footprints on the moon's surface. There's something pretty cool about that." (5.9)
To Jamie, the moon just isn't that interesting. Not so for TJ, though: He sees all the shadows and grooves of it in his pictures. TJ reminds us that the moon is both constant and always changing. That's really what his art is all about, if you think about it.
TJ had a good eye. You'd look at pictures he'd taken of an old stone wall circling round some ancient city, and you'd see things you hadn't when you were standing right in front of it. You'd see the images the shadowy parts of the stones made, or the little piece of graffiti someone had drawn where the wall met the ground. (5.3)
Sounds like he's a great photographer. We love the idea of having an eye for something because it really brings home the fact that this is an art form. It's not just that TJ is snapping pics, tourist-style. Instead he's carefully framing his shots and coming up with the most artistic compositions possible.
But after TJ enlisted, his pictures changed. One, he started taking pictures of people. Two, he started taking pictures of the moon. (5.7)
It's only natural that Jamie notices a difference in the types of pictures TJ takes before and after enlisting. Before, TJ wants to show off his artistic side; after his basic training, though, he's more invested in showing different views of life. Sure, some pictures are of the moon and others are of people, but both highlight the importance of existence.
Each little piece of the picture is like part of a puzzle, and the more defined you make everything, the more your picture tells a story. (7.21)
We love the idea of a picture being a puzzle that comes together through development. It also allows Jamie to interact with her brother while he's at war in a way a letter just doesn't. By developing his pictures, Jamie gets a glimpse of what it's like over in Vietnam through TJ's eyes.
It's a funny thing, printing a photograph, because when you're in the process of doing it, you're paying attention to the tiniest things, like the fingers on a hand, trying to get them to show up in sharp detail, or bringing out the shadow falling across somebody's face. (7.21)
Developing pictures is a good exercise for Jamie because it makes her stop and pay attention to all the minute details she normally misses. Instead of focusing on the overall picture, she has to hone in on small details. Jamie learns to focus through art.
I took the picture from TJ and examined it more closely. There were bags under the Colonel's eyes. He was carrying a briefcase, but by the slump of his shoulders, you'd think he was carrying a suitcase full of cement. (8.43)
As far as Jamie's concerned, her dad loves his job and the army… until she sees one of TJ's pictures. Jamie only realizes her dad's true feelings through the pictures that TJ takes where the guy looks tired and overworked. Pictures are a way of expressing stuff that's hard to say, especially in this army family.
But once I'd gotten into the darkroom, I took my time developing the film, working carefully as I could so the negatives would be perfect, no marks, no scratches, nothing to get in the way of what I wanted to see. (16.2)
We get to hear a lot about the process of developing film. It's an art form in itself, and one mistake and an entire photo could be scratched or altered. It's not that Jamie wants to see the pictures her brother sent as quickly as possible—developing film takes time, focus, and a whole lot of patience.
And when he came home, when the war was over, he would look at all the pictures I took of the moon while he was gone, one for every day, even on new-moon days, when the moon hung invisible in the sky, and he would stare at them for almost an hour until he finally said, You got all the ones I missed. (16.45)
It's only fitting that Jamie keeps her brother's fascination with the moon alive through photography. This allows him to see what he missed while he was a POW in Vietnam, plus TJ gets to see the moon's shadows through someone else's eyes—or should we say lens—for once.
There's a moment in the darkroom, when you hang your negatives to dry, that you finally see what occurred the moment you opened your camera's shutter to let in the light and make a picture. I was learning that half the time me and my camera had been looking at different things. (16.4)
The camera comes to life through the film here. Jamie draws a distinction between what her camera sees and how she views things, and we like the idea of the camera having a mind and eye of its own. She reminds us that pictures capture a split-second of life, and sometimes, they aren't an accurate portrayal of what's happening. They are more artistic and abstract than reality.