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  • Writer's pictureYennie Cheung

Short Story #3 - Tim O'Brien with bonus essay by Kristi Rabe

Photos of Tim O'Brien and Kristi Rabe.
Tim O'Brien and Kristi Rabe

Today's entry includes a bonus personal essay that was published today and really affected me.

I'd written a couple of paragraphs about "The Man I Killed" a couple of days ago, and I'd planned to put it up today as one of my favorite stories from one of my favorite books, The Things They Carried. Then this morning, Writers Resist published "What You Need to Know," a very personal essay by my friend Kristi Rabe, and it left me in tears.

For a moment, I wished I'd waited to write about Kathy Fish's story today instead of yesterday, given the obvious similarities. But when I thought about the O'Brien story, I realized that there's still a lot here we can get from reading "The Man I Killed" and "What You Need to Know" on the same day, maybe not about guns exactly but about empathy and death and how we treat our fellow human being. Every time I read the O'Brien story, I'm blown away by how he uses repetition to show readers how it feels for a soldier of conscience to take a life. The imagery, written over and over, reveals how mentally damaging this moment is.

"What You Need to Know," I suppose we can say, takes cues perhaps more from the titular story of O'Brien's book, which uses something of a list to show the burden that soldiers carry with them. Only with Kristi, there is the burden of time. But with the anaphora at the end, I see far more the parallels between her essay and "The Man I Killed"—the mental anguish, the struggle to pull oneself out of that anguish, the plea with us readers to empathize.

We've been reading for years about the struggles of soldiers in war, and yet we still romanticize and glorify it. We've been reading for years about the inadequate medical care we give people with mental health issues. And yet, so many people continue to stick their heads in the sand, continue to blame victims and caregivers instead of asking themselves how they can help, how they can manifest change, and how that change can start with themselves.

I feel like in my rush to get this out today, I am writing inadequately about both stories and my feelings on them, and I apologize. But please read both stories. I promise, they're both amazing.



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