Butterfingers

As of 2014, the Vietnam War is almost 30 years old. However, its aftereffects still haunt the Vietnamese people by subtler means than guns and napalm. Agent Orange, a chemical weapon used by Americans in the war, has been genetically passed down, resulting in an astounding number of children born with incurable birth defects. The following is an observation of hope. 

I watch. So does she. Her gaze becomes unbearable, and so I turn my head away. I can still feel her eyes sticking relentlessly on my face. I search for space, for anything that will keep me from having to look at this girl. But every three moments my eyes are inevitably drawn towards her. I notice everything about her again and again, as though I jump back in time whenever I look back to her. The first things I notice are her legs. Pale and damaged since her birth, they lie upon the matted floor, fidgeting as though they were only asleep. Then I see her back, arched above the floor, as though her spinal cord is Tantalus and the floor cool, unreachable water.

Next I see her arms. They flail about, as though she has no control over them. I remind myself she doesn’t. Her head is disproportionately large; it is almost half the size of her torso. She breathes with the desperate relief of someone rescued from drowning. The sound of her ragged breath assaults my ears. I inevitably see the rise and the fall of her chest, and I am convinced that her every breath will be her last. But all of this is fine; I have read news articles containing sickening, disturbing pictures. I have read books brimming with unimaginable horrors.  No, what chills me to the bone are not her deformities. What makes me shudder, what I know will remain carved in the back of my eyelids is not her arched back, her too-large head, her dead limbs. It is something a thousand times worse: her smile. It is unbearable. How many muscles is she capable of moving? She knows no happiness; she knows no hope for a successful future, yet she smiles at me as though I have given her an expensive toy for Christmas. What did that make me? I notice her hands. They look soft, as though they are made of butter. They melt in the midday sun.

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