My Mysterious Cousin
I was 11-years-old the
day my mom took me to Granny's house to meet the mysterious cousin who
wrote the book about Viet Nam.
I had seen the book passed around among my aunts. And I had heard them talk about it, in the way that a kid listens to things he doesn't fully understand. I knew that some people thought it had too many dirty words. And there was a skull on the cover.
I had never met someone who'd been to war. I had never met someone who made a living as a writer.
We sat in the living room where my grandmother sometimes quilted, and Gus talked about the books he was going to write. He talked about the one he had already written. I sat next to my dad, hardly speaking, certainly never saying anything worthy of going into Gus's famous notebook. I was just a kid. I just listened.
The second time I saw Gus he gave me a bullet that he'd dug up at Shiloh. We rode on quilts in the back of my dad's truck, and I let him read some of my comic books, probably Atari Force or Blue Devil. We walked down the halls of a hospital together, and he scribbled notes in his notebook. He gave me a stack of history magazines. He found out I was interested in the Civil War and sent me two big books (neither of which were stolen from any libraries). He sent me my own autographed copy of The Short-Timers. I was probably 13 or so when I first read it. Because he was one year older than my mom, his own aunt, I called him "Uncle Gus."
My mom and I went to see Full Metal Jacket the day it came out. I clipped out articles and interviews from the local papers. I told everybody that "my cousin wrote that." I imagined the two of us hanging out at the Oscars, talking about movies.
We corresponded for a while, each new letter arriving from a different address, usually a different country. I was just beginning my own meager forays into fiction writing. I wanted to ask him lots of questions. But eventually the flow of letters dwindled.
He was still writing books, and I still read them, getting ahold of copies through my aunts, who would pick them up through special orders or at library sales.
In the summer of 1991, to celebrate our high school graduation, my friends and I drove from Alabama to California. One of my friends was from El Cajon, just outside San Diego. We stayed a few weeks. Completely unbeknownst to me, Gus sat in a motel room just a few streets away. He hadn't been out of jail long. He was living with his books. He was starting to drink too much. I went with my friends down to Tijuana and up to Hollywood. We had burritos at Roberto's. Then we went home.
It was cold the day Gus came home. Next to the cemetary there was a drive-in theatre, closed until the summer. I figured when it opened, Gus would have a pretty good view.
I wish he could've written all those other books he wanted to. I wish he'd taken better care of himself. I wish his books were still in print. I wish it hadn't taken until now for me to get to know him pretty good.
Written by Jason Aaron
Jason Aaron is mean as a rattler and twice as fast. When not working on this web page, he spends his time in a cluttered little hobbit hole, reading good comic books and writing bad fiction. His eyes have stared many sidewalks smooth. A recovering Christian, he now worships at the altars of Imagination and college football. He is feared by men, loved by women, and where ever he goes they speak his name in whispers.
Photo of me in
the Photo Album
If you're bored or brave or both, check out my story at www.mindkites.com
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