Read the beginning of Chapter One from When We Walked Above the Clouds: A Memoir of Vietnam by H. Lee Barnes:
"In midsummer of ’63 the outside buzzer to my apartment rang. I’d worked until late at the press preparing layouts for the camera. I lived alone and no one ever came to see me, so I figured it was someone wanting another apartment and mistakenly pushing the button to my buzzer. It had happened before. I lay back. The bell rang again, this time insistently. I awoke and half asleep slipped on jeans and shirt and tottered into the foyer. Mal stood outside the glass door at the end of the hall. He waved and motioned me outside.
Since my moving out the year before I’d rarely seen him or Mother, and neither had ever visited my apartment, or for that matter shown any interest in what or how I was doing, so his showing up was more than just an oddity. It was early afternoon and the temperature in the high nineties. He paced the sidewalk beside their lime-green minibus. Tied under a nylon tarp atop the Volkswagen were bags and boxes packed with household goods. I knew the gypsy ritual from the dozen moves we’d made over the years. He didn’t have to state the obvious, but he did.
“We’re moving. I start a new job on Monday,” he said.
Mother sat in front with George, two years old and squirming about on her lap. I asked where they were moving.
“Las Vegas. We stopped to see if you wanted to come along.”
I looked inside. An array of boxes, suitcases, along with Mickey, David, Deborah, and Scooter, the dachshund, pretty well filled up the rear. What remained for me was a two-footsquare space on the floor. Deborah rocked back and forth in the seat, and already the boys were sweating and anxious. Soon enough they would be riotous. Even without them along it would unbearable inside in the un-air-conditioned VW. I felt sorriest for the dog.
“No room,” I said.
Mal said, “We thought you could take Mickey and David in your Renault.”
“Mickey and David?” I looked at Mother.
She seemed not to care one way or the other. I noticed a front corner of the tarp was held down by a knot that was sure to slip. The tarp would flap until it broke open, and everything on top would spill somewhere on the highway on their godforsaken drive.
Mal said, “And we can pack some of this in your car and . . .”
“We need to retie that,” I said, pointing to the tarp.
“I didn’t have help.” He smiled, the gold crown on his left premolar showing.
“I told you I heard something up there, Mal,” Mother said.
I loosened the rope, then he and I lifted off the boxes and suitcases and set them on the concrete. We pulled on opposite sides of the tarp until it was taut, then replaced the load and folded the ends and corners snugly over the package. I ran the rope through the stays and secured it with a triple clove hitch, after which I tugged on the edges from several angles until convinced it would hold.
“You aren’t going to go, are you?” Mal said.
Mom said, “He’s in college. Thinks he’s too good.”
“Now, Mother,” Mal said. He’d addressed her as “Mother” since Mickey was born.
“That’s right, Mom,” I said. “I’m in college.”
Mother, Mal, and I had a long trail of bad history behind us; still, I shook his hand and wished them good luck. Then I stuck my head inside the driver’s window and said good-bye to Mom and the kids. She wouldn’t look at me.
As Mal pulled the minibus away from the curb, the full pathos of their lives struck me for the first time—two weak people who loved but loved inadequately, whose lives would always seem unfulfilled, but who would pretend otherwise. They faced a journey across two deserts in the heat of summer to another strange city where they would eke out a living, Mal broadcasting news from a soundproof room for a pittance, Mom serving food at a restaurant for union wages and tips. I’d been angry at them for a long while. A portion of it dissipated, and something inside me shifted. I felt as if I’d been cut free of a dragline.
I returned to my apartment. Instead of napping, I opened The Pastures of Heaven and read the first three stories."
To read a longer excerpt or to purchase When We Walked Above the Clouds, visit http://www.nebraskapress.unl.edu/product/When-We-Walked-Above-the-Clouds,674873.aspx.