Glossolalia: New and Selected Stories
“Freeze” is from David Jauss’s collection Glossolalia: New and Selected Stories (Press 53). Jauss is the author of two previous collections and his work has appeared in The Paris Review, Ploughshares, The Iowa Review and elsewhere. His stories have appeared in several anthologies including Best American Short Stories and Prize Stories: The O. Henry Awards.
Jauss said this about story: All my adult life I wanted to write a story about the Vietnam War because it, and the possibility that I would be drafted to fight in it, had loomed over my teenage years, but it wasn’t until 1987 that I found a way to write about it. A student of mine who served in the war told me one of his squad members had stepped on a mine that failed to explode and afterward suffered a nervous breakdown. I found myself obsessively thinking about his story–and wondering why I did. Eventually I realized that it was because of a near-death experience of my own. In 1967, I had a car accident in which I suffered a broken back. For two months, I was confined to a hospital bed because my doctor believed I might become paralyzed if I stood up before my vertebrae healed. All that time, I felt something akin to an out-of-body experience. I felt detached from everything, and nothing–not the world, not me–seemed real, and I feared that I’d either had or was about to have a breakdown.
Because of my injuries, in 1970 I flunked my draft physical and was classified IV-F. Ironically, the very thing that saved me from the war gave me a way of writing about it. As soon as I made the connection between my student’s story and my own near-death experience, I began to write “Freeze.” As I wrote, random details I’d heard or read or seen over the past two decades surfaced from my memory and found their way into the story. I did not have to do any research to write it; my life from age fourteen to the present had given me all the information I needed.
After the story appeared in print, I received a phone call from a vet who said he remembered the lieutenant I wrote about and wondered if we’d been at Lai Khe at the same time. When I told him I’d never been in Vietnam, or even the military, he was outraged. “What gives you the right to write about the war when you weren’t even fucking there?” he demanded. He hung up before I could defend myself against the charge of lying in a work of fiction, but if he hadn’t, I would have told him that I consider writing about other people’s lives not only a fiction writer’s right but his duty. And I would have also said that, thanks to the power of the imagination, I was there. Every single day I spent writing this story, I was fucking there.