But it makes Memorial Day and the Fourth of July complicated for me.
There's the loyal patriot within me who wants to stand up and praise my ancestors (who served all the way back to the Revolutionary War--no joke). But there's also the angry bitter woman inside who knows first hand what war can do to a person...to their families...to their mind. It's bitter-sweet at best--this tug-of-war between respect and frustrated tears.
So I wrote a story last year and was too cowardly to post it...taking much of it from conversations with my ex-step-father...and my recollections of his 3am nightmares. You know, the fun ones where he drug us out of bed screaming, "Get Down!!! Get Down!!!" Mom called them flashbacks. At 8 years old...I called them "Holy Shit! Moments." I still remember my mother saying, "Just be glad he doesn't think your the enemy during his flashbacks." Considering that he treated me like the enemy when he was stone-cold-sober...I'd say she was right about that.
This story I feel could speak for itself, just fine. This glimpse into my reasoning is merely to calm my inner patriot. I want to be clear that even though I've wanted to hang my ex-step-father's head on a spear in my front yard--I have always--ALWAYS--respected his service. I've always understood that he was plagued with a lot of unaddressed war related issues and pain. So this story isn't meant to hurt him. It isn't meant to hurt anyone. It's just a vessel to pour out the pain I witnessed and the confusion I experienced and maybe...just maybe...it's one last attempt to understand that which can never be understood.
Happy Memorial Day folks. God Bless and many thanks to those who have served and fallen and to those who still stand to remember. Much love and respect,
It's What You Did
The stench from the fireworks clouded his lungs. He coughed. Just a small thing, but it brought blood up all the same. The doc said he had Agent Orange. His feet were eroded by jungle rot. They don’t talk about that shit in the glamorized Hollywood versions of Nam.
Nope. Hollywood just wants some buff Charlie Sheen running through the jungle with sweat gleaming on his muscles. Hell, give him a bandana—make him look like Rambo. Rambo well, at least that prick had balls.
A chubby little kid sat on his yuppie daddy’s shoulders and waved an America flag singin’ “Born in the USA…I was born in the USA.” No way did that kid know what that song was about. Hell the yuppie idiot who sired him didn’t know either.
He scoffed in silence. He’d paid his dues and everybody else’s. No need to march on DC or write the local paper for vet’s rights. He’d said his piece behind the machine gun on a tank. After Cathy spoke—wasn’t nothing but silence. He dug in his pocket. A faded photograph of four skinny guys with dreams as big as the New Mexico sky smiled back with cock sure grins and a joint hanging from the corners of their mouths.
The caption read: “The boys and Cathy’s Clown.”
Dave had busted his chops when he’d named the tank Cathy’s Clown. It hadn’t been so funny when the real Cathy had sent him a Dear John letter—3 months pregnant with Jimmy Kearns’ kid. It was even less humorous when they left Dave’s body floating in a fucking rice paddy. He could still see him floating there—face down—as the chopper pulled away.
He married a little Vietnamese girl. It was the 60’s man, that’s what you did. She divorced him in ’73. He couldn’t blame her. He was an asshole, everyone said so. He drank too much. He’d get the beast upon him and knock her pretty head into a wall. He never meant to…it just sorta happened. The seventies passed him by in a blur of alcohol induced coma. The eighties weren’t much better.
He looked at the picture again. Jesus they were young. Was he really ever that green? He shook his head and passed the families on the green grass. He saw their stares. But he didn’t care. He always dressed in full uniform on the 4th. He was one in a long line of military men. His daddy went to Korea. His granddaddy fought in WWWII. It’s what they did. They served.
He stuffed the photo away.
Only he and John made it outta Nam. And John was still locked up far as he knew. That shit made you crazy. That’s what the doc said, “No shame in talking about it. You guys weren’t treated right. We know it. There’s help out there if you want it.” He shrugged the vet doc off. He was tough. It’s what you did. Only pansies cried and talked about their feelings.
Folks were grilling out today. The air was ripe with charred burgers and hot dogs. That’s what you did on the 4th. Took your kids to a park and cooked out while watching fireworks and waving little paper flags. There were flags all over the lawn. He shook his head, his long hair stringing down his back. It was illegal for the flag to touch the ground. Folks don’t care about shit like that anymore. He picked one up—smeared with mustard. Shoulda been ketchup, the flag was dead, it might as well bleed.
He tossed it down and rolled over it with his wheelchair.
The street was crowded with people pushing and shoving to get to their cars.
They parted when they saw him. It could have been respect for his sacrifice. Or it could have been fear. Why fear a disheveled vet? He pushed the wheels over the pavement. A guy in a Hawaiian shirt and Bermuda shorts stood up and saluted him. Fucking civilians. You don’t salute anyone other than a commanding officer. He nodded at the guy as he rolled past.
When he got to his little apartment he checked his mail. More bills. A letter from the V. A. Nothing important, so he tossed the stack on the counter. He rolled to his bedroom and pulled out his old revolver. It felt good in his hand—heavy and real.
He rolled to the mirror and looked at himself. He paused, then put the gun in his mouth.
When a dog is old and no longer vital you put them to sleep. It’s what you did.