Magazine article WLA ; War, Literature and the Arts

France in June

Magazine article WLA ; War, Literature and the Arts

France in June

Article excerpt

Motion sickness bothered me since childhood, though Dad never believed me-thought I was faking for attention. Fits of sweat, the swaying, my nervous stomach would bloat and burn like the aftermath of a warm glass of expired milk. I'd start burping, pleading to my dad to crack a window, if I could only breathe. But he always kept them locked, ever the dictator. One day after school, it was too late, and projectile vomit splattered all over the leather interior of his light blue 1962 Buick Riviera. He occasionally opened the window an inch for me thereafter.

On the other side of the Atlantic, my damp palms clutch a grease-stained paper bag during a two hour bus ride from Paris to the Normandy beaches. The other tourists stare from a safe distance rows away, worried I'm going to burst and the entire bus reek of onion soup. Maybe I should have cancelled this tour and spent my last vacation day in Versailles to poke around the grounds of frivolity and excess. Revolutions always intrigued me. In the tour bus office, though, I saw a Normandy pamphlet and felt guilty passing it up. It was there my grandfather risked his life. D-Day. "Just make it to the first site," I tell myself. "This will mean something to him."

The coach roams through rustic towns of slate roof cottages and pastures of white cattle. As we neared Caen, getting closer to the coastline, almost all of the homes post American and French flags full-staffed. Some say the French hate us, but not here. Here they remember after all this time.

We reach the first tour stop. Utah Beach. This was his stop, too. I immediately leave the coach, breathing in the salty air to calm my guts. With a half-an-hour to walk around, I head towards the ocean and quickly realize this was not the beach I had imagined.

Acres of grass, rocks, and patches of sand positioned on a cliff. Jade and dandelions scatter the grounds, but the fields are fractured. About every 20 yards lay gaping holes at least 10 feet deep and wide. My WWII pamphlet claims Navy missiles left these craters during the Invasion. Now, the holes are overrun by weeds and tourists.

I descend one crater to inspect its size and am struck in the thigh by two racing toddlers. Up and over the hole, back and forth, they run with piercing laughter. Americans, probably. I suppose it is not the kids' fault their parents let them shout and sprint over an unmarked cemetery. If my grandfather was here, he would curse, but I just keep quiet and focus.

Further towards the cliff rests a massive bunker still intact, imbedded into the ground. The octagon-shaped fortress of concrete could easily hold 10 or 20 standing men with enough room for large weaponry. I begin to take some pictures of the design when a heavy-set man with loud beach trunks and shabby Nike's finds his way into my shot. He stands inside the remains, grazing on a candy bar and inspecting the walls like he's reading hieroglyphics. Minutes pass. Just one clean picture is all I want. A few tourists gave up on the perfect photo and move on, and I do the same.

I continue toward the overhang, at least a hundred foot drop above the beach secured by rusted barbed wiring. Hovering near the edge, I separate myself from other onlookers and observe the sun's brilliance off the calm water. I study the distance to where the sea meets the sky at the horizon and envision my grandfather beyond that point, a 19-year-old preparing for battle. The sight urges me to call him, despite the dollar-a-minute charge and one bar of service.

After two rings, a loud voice picks up. "Hey, kid!"

I shout over the wind, "Grandpop! Guess what? I just got to Utah Beach!"

"Oh yeah? I've been there," he says without a beat. I laugh.

He proceeds to ask me how my trip is going, but that was all I get. Without warning, the gentleness in his voice escapes me, and my throat constricts. I inhale through my nose, as the stomach prepares to vomit. How can I be motion sick now, so far from the bus? …

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