Posts Tagged ‘PTSD’

SNEAKY PEOPLE

May 11, 2011
The Poet Dines Alone
The Poet Dines Alone

Excerpt: SNEAKY PEOPLE, unpublished novella.

Okay, this is a story about me.  It’s my diary, so I can write about anything I want – even things I wouldn’t tell other people (especially other men).  I’m a sneaky person.  I come from a long line of sneaky people – really sneaky people.  We’re part of the anonymous swarm that comes out like rats – day or night – picking off top or bottom of the midden heap (depending upon status in the pack) – seeking sustenance while awaiting the ever-approaching End of the World.

Which is pretty much occurring every day.  The End of the World is both cumulative and individual specific.  On the upper end of the End of the World Scale is Climate Change, which promises wholesale extinction (and, some bitch winters and summers between now and then); and, on the other is the latest starving Somali, homeless person, or helpless geriatric.  Somebody’s pretty much meeting the End of the World every single second.

I was born in San Francisco a bit before the mid-point of the Twentieth Century.  My parents were apprehensive about the spreading World War of that time and, I believe, my arrival was an oasis of joy for them – odd as that seems to me now.  My birth was an opportunity for them to hold the rest of the insane world temporarily at bay, basking in the momentary glow of life’s continuity.  Like all young people, they huddled secretly under the covers with their arms around each other, whispering about futures and possibilities – hopes.

My presence – miniscule and infantile – was accepted as God’s reassurance that all of us – each one: Dad, Mom, and Jr. – would come out all right.  In the end, the enemy would be defeated and the world brought majestically into the bright, painless peace of Forever After and the New Deal (which sounds like a rock group and if someone cops the name, I’ll sue).

However, my parents honestly felt that they were finishing the “undone business of World War I” – there were still German vermin to exterminate and, unexpectedly, the sudden need to fumigate Italy and delouse Japan.

Shortly after I was born, father was sent to the war by our beleaguered government and mother moved in with his mother – grandma – and three maiden aunts who were all destined to have affairs with transient servicemen who “might be killed in a matter of weeks,” and were.  None of my aunts’ fellahs made it back.  One aunt went bonkers, one married a dull-witted postman, and the third wed a fat automobile dealer and got a divorce from the rest of us.

Anyway, we waited at grandma’s for dad to come home.

He arrived late at night three years later.  He was flown into San Francisco International and taxied seventeen miles to his mother’s Oceanside home – to his wife and growing son.  I looked up at him as he stood over my bed.

“Did you fly home?” I asked.

“Yes,” he said with a pleased laugh.  “Do you remember me?”

“I have your picture,” I replied, pointing to his image on my dresser.

He looked at himself in the photograph for a long time, silent and withdrawn.  The day the photo had been taken, he had been a young soldier, vibrant, self-assured, and alive.  His face now was subtly different from the one in the photograph mounted between fifty-caliber machinegun rounds.  In the picture he was young and proud with new sergeant’s stripes on his Eighth Army Air Force uniform.  Standing there looking at himself, he was weary and grim.  A trace of the young man remained – a hint of optimism, which fired his eyes.

“I’ll see you tomorrow,” he said at last, hardly believing that this would and could be so, that the bombs were left far behind, and gratefully forgetful that half the world’s population was still awakening in a world of ruins – picking hungrily through the rubble, hunting rats for nourishment.

I learned that he’d been in photo reconnaissance.  I liked the sound.  The French word “reconnaissance” had a lean mean underground battlefield resonance.  I was a romantic kid.  (That drove Dad nuts – among other things).  I learned, too, one evening when he was drinking, something he did more and more, that he had helped empty a rocket-hit orphanage one night in downtown London, carrying out its dead and dying children and their bloody parts.

He saw and lived with death as a routine for three years.  His photograph war souvenir album had pictures of massive bombers dumping lethal rain on Dresden, Berlin, German gun emplacements in Normandy, French coastal towns, war ships and hospitals, trains, cars, horses, wagons, canals and villages.  Now, home, he attacked normal civilian life as if it was the new enemy.  He had lost time to make up, things to do, family to feed and a top to possibly find.

In his free time, he watched boxing on the new-fangled television, tense with pleasure waiting for the knockouts, heavy K. O. punches, and T. K. O. s swimming in blood.  He watched the gymnastic exhibitions of professional wrestling until he realized that the mayhem wasn’t real.  He watched John Wayne repeatedly and successfully storm Iwo Jima.  He saw Errol Flynn shoot his way single-handedly through the entire Japanese Army in Burma.  He observed as Jeff Chandler really died of pleurisy while filming a mediocre account of Merrill’s Marauders on location in Imperial Indochina.  Pa’s latent violence had to translate into real life.

He punched Ma.  He punched me.  He drank himself finally and completely to death.  In his scarred wake, he left two sons, one daughter, and his frightened, yet indefatigable wife.  He also left behind the lingering echoes of Henry David Thoreau, “The mass of men lead lives of quiet desperation.”

Father was a desperate man.

I’ve thought since that he was born in belief, raised in faith, condemned to hell, pardoned to purgatory, and eventually dispatched to…wherever he went.

Mother always said, “The War changed him.”  This is certainly so – I’ve seen other young men come back from Korea and Viet Nam.  They all have Dad’s eyes.  The men who fought at Salamis probably looked that way too.  Bloody fields and death process slowly.

Because of all this, justifications of violence appall me.  Its price is too high.  Brought home in the eyes of our young men, violence compounds as it seeks its vent.  Within the peacetime marketplace it ripples out on a high, spreading across the schoolyards, streaming into ghetto back alleys, finding its way into the boardroom.  Man against man, clan against clan.  So it goes, as Vonnegut says, and I?  I go on, watching to left and right, mindful of the dangers on the street, wary in my sleep – as restless as I was at the mouth of my cave one million years ago.

The history of mankind is a dry narration of famous battles, famous generals and famous kings, interspersed with profiles of failed political, social, economic and religious systems, which all rose and fell on the profit line.  The chronicle of anything else is incidental, a coffee table book.  Art, music, literature, dance, theater, magic are a sideshow to the main show.  Those things are the province of dreamers, romantics and fools.  For, if anyone is able to live a placid life, outside the maniacal slashing and hacking of whole peoples intent on the obliteration of other whole peoples, then one is, indeed, fortunate.

Life is a series of accidents.  Chance, not choice, governs (although, why we are in one spot at a particular time and not in another may be divinely inspired).  However, I doubt there is a Master Plan.  Master plans and master crimes require cumbersome plotting.  One can, or should be able to see their patterns, but impulse fires most of us.  We deal with consequences afterward, which is when they should properly be dealt with, I guess.

I’d like to do something to help my fellow human beings, but I don’t know what.  Everybody’s fighting and clawing, biting and scratching.  I’m hiding.  Scared to death.  Who wants to attract attention?  The threat to life may be worldwide conflagration, or in the mouth of some filthy city alley, with a knife wielding, coked-up assailant standing over one’s punctured corpse.  “Neither a peacekeeper, nor a lender be.” It’s too painful, too expensive, and too dangerous.  Experience is a great teacher; if we survive the lesson, but we’re still not gonna get out of this alive.

I wish I could stop the clock.  Turn back time until I’m just short of the primordial ooze – watch by degrees the slow progression of life.  See just how long it takes to make a human being out of all that gloop.  Think about just how quickly that complex organism can cancel itself out with a single bullet.

The universe is infinite.  I don’t really understand what that means, and it’s expanding, but into what?  It’s cosmic and vast and when you think about it, without the artificial augmentation of religious zealotry, perhaps meaningless.  Even so, this ship was pilotless before we knew that it had no pilot and continues so and nothing changes that.  Either way, I don’t expect the Creator to wash my dirty laundry or lift my heavy load.  It’s clear I gotta hoe my own corn.

I am alive, well, and living past the immoral end of the Twentieth Century and on the ignorant cusp of the early Twenty-first – unhappily still under threat of the nuclear-bomb, dismayed by Russians and Chinese, the System and the decay of the World, as ever.  “Is it just for the moment we live?”  You betcha.  What’s it all about, Alfie?  The End of the World is only a heartbeat away.  Whether one is one of a half million blown away at Hiroshima, drowning alone in the pool of a cliffside villa in Monterey, or choking in the arms of a lover on a sunny Egyptian Sunday.

Well, Diary, that’s my Summer Vacation.  I’m going home now.  Wonder what I’ll find?  It’s still the End of the World and Sissy Wagner doesn’t love me anymore.  Who’s going to do my laundry?

— JL:PDX, 8-09

Little Brown Bat with White-nose disease.

IMPORTANT LINK: Bats are present throughout most of the world and perform vital ecological roles such as pollinating flowers and dispersing fruit seeds. Many tropical plant species depend entirely on bats for the distribution of their seeds.

Bats are on a clear trajectory toward oblivion.  The Center for Biological Diversity has warned that the bat crisis is dire while calling for more funding to try to determine what, exactly, is killing America’s bats — and how the disease can be stopped.

http://www.biologicaldiversity.org/campaigns/bat_crisis_the_white-nose_syndrome/index.html

Little Brown Bat with White-nose disease.

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ONE NIGHT

July 30, 2009

Old Glory

Here is a tale from “Sidelong Glances:

One night while I was a Third Class Petty Officer in the Naval Security Group, stationed on Guam at Anderson Air Base, doing courier duty during the Vietnamese War, we briefed the usual officer – a lieutenant jg (junior grade, USN) to carry the manifest for the security messages in their canvas bag; and chose a First Class Petty Officer (USN) who was 8 hours out of the Mekong Delta to carry the .45-caliber Army Colt automatic to guard the materials.  It all went bing-bang-boom.  Routine stuff.

It was the mid-watch: midnight to 8 a.m., my least favorite.  I was on duty with Lieutenant J.G. Hardman, a Rear Admiral’s son in a concrete cinderblock building with a great big, massive steel vault to hold the security material, when suddenly, there came a banging on our door.

I looked through the peephole to see a Lieutenant Colonel of the U.S. Air Force and six APs (Air Force Police) armed with M-16’s.  The Lt. Colonel looked pissed and the APs looked grim.  I told Hardman what was out there.

“For God’s sake, open up!” he said.

I did so.  The Lt. Colonel glanced at me and said to Hardman,

“I’m the Duty Officer tonight.  I have nine aircraft to get in and out.  You people have a man on an aircraft with a .45.  He’s threatening to kill anyone who comes close to the plane.  If you people don’t take him out, I will.”

Hardman gulped and said,

“Legry, handle that.”

I gulped.  My mind was going a mile a minute.  We had just been issued .38 “Police Special” Smith & Wesson revolvers – the enlisted got long barrels, because we were supposed to hit something, and the officers got Jack Webb Dragnet stubbies because – I figure – they were just supposed to look cool.  But stubbies now had an advantage over the long barrel.

“Mr. Hardman, can I borrow your .38 stubby?” I asked.

“Of course,” he said, “Sure.”  He practically shoved the piece at me.  I had the hit he wanted me to go do the job as fast as possible so the Lt. Colonel wouldn’t yell at him anymore – echoes of Admiral Daddy?

I stuffed the stubby into the right pocket of my work jacket, my finger an instant away from the trigger, and (I hope to tell you) the cylinder fully loaded, and went down to the flight line.

I was the center of interest as the Lt. Colonel, APs, and Hardman watched with bemused excitement (maybe somebody would get shot!), but I wasn’t interested.  I was focused on not getting shot.

You have to make an effort to see this scene.

It’s dead black on a warm tropical Pacific night – the heart of the graveyard watch, maybe three in the morning.  The only illumination is electric spots on the airfield.  Inside a circle of light is the aircraft with the First Class poised in front of the cargo hatch, alert as a spooked cat, the .45 held in ready position.  Outside the circle of light are the baggage carts (there are a lot of fellows going home on this flight, lots of baggage), half-circled like a wagon train awaiting Indian attack, and behind all of those vehicles are crouching, cringing Guamanian baggage handlers, praying to god that they are not tall enough to be the outstanding target for the first round.

What to do?  I sauntered – yes, literally sauntered – out into the circle of light to reveal myself.  Inside, I’m ready to hit the deck.

“Do you remember me?” I asked the First Class.  “I’m one of the guys who just briefed you.”

“Yeah,” he says, and I can tell he’s relieved.  I think, he thinks, the Guamanians are VietnameseAsians, yellow-brown men are all suspect.  This guy just came out of the hottest zone in the Delta nine hours ago; he’s still in combat.  These baggage guys could be Cong.

“Can I come over and talk?” I ask like a friend.  All this time, and all throughout, I’ve got my finger on the trigger of that stubby .38 in my right coat pocket.  It’s pointed straight at his heart.  I’m thinking if I get close enough, I will put this guy’s lights out, if he makes a fraction of a hostile move.

“Please!” he says, and I can tell he’s truly scared.  My sympathy for him charges.  I walk straight toward him –slow and measured – I don’t want to spook him.  I get close.  I say,

“Hey, I don’t know what the hell is going on, but I guess they forgot to tell you something when they briefed you.”

“Oh?” he asks.

“Yeah,” I say.  “I’m supposed to come down here and relieve you and you’re supposed to go back to the shack and do whatever.”

“Oh?” he says.

“Yeah,” I say.  “I’ll take the piece and stand the guard until you get back.”  He looks incredibly relieved.  He surrenders the piece gratefully and I resist a heartfelt sigh.  That damned big-barrel .45 has been in the middle of my chest since I started this walk.

He walks away to get whatever he “missed” at the briefing.  I watch the APs close around him like bears around raw meat.

I signal to the baggage handlers.  Come do your thing and they come, relieved, happy.

It nags me.  I think, the poor SOB.  He just got out of hell, he’s trying to do his duty, he’s scared out of his mind, and now his countrymen are arresting him.

I feel sorry for him to this day.  I hope he got in and out of the bear’s mouth fast and clean, but I will never know.  I hope he got home okay.  I did give my own back to Hardman later, but that’s another story.

So, many years later, waiting in Coos Bay for a snowbound bus to arrive from Bend, Oregon, I struck up conversation with a young veteran who was working in a Veteran’s Hospital.  He was an Iraq War vet – a mortar man with two tours behind him and a discharge for medical reasons.  His nerves were shot.  He was helping other vets struggling to recover some semblance of normalcy after shocking physical injuries.  He told me that he did not go to therapy.  He’d gone through a tough time and he had nightmares and that was just the way of it, wasn’t it?  So, I told him about that night on the airfield so many years ago.  Told him about my own trauma.  Told him about the genuine relief it was to share those things with others who had endured similar or worse – definitely worse, for those people knew things that made my own experience dim in comparison.  I told him about wondering if that young sailor had ever made it home from the Mekong.  It touched this young Iraq War vet in ways I could not feel.  I saw it in his eyes, and later, when I stood in line waiting to board my bus, I saw him looking at me, and our eyes met, and he smiled, and I saw the same relief that had been in that First Class Petty Officer’s eyes so many years before when I took the .45 from his hands, and sent him to his fate.

I guess that’s what inspires me to recall this today: my own responsibility, my own need to lay down the spear and come home.

It really is time to end the war.  All war.  Jl: 7-09

ONE LINK:

Sen. Russ Feingold: White House Is Whistling Past Afghan Graveyard By Jeremy Scahill, The Nation. Posted July 30, 2009.  In 2001, Sen. Russ Feingold, D-Wis., famously and courageously stood up as the lone senator to vote against the Patriot Act.  On July 21, 2009, he did it again, casting the lone vote opposing Sen. Joe Lieberman’s, I-Conn., amendment to the 2010 Defense Authorization bill that immediately authorizes an expansion of the military by 30,000 troops. In an exclusive interview with The Nation, Feingold says he “did not believe it was in the best interest of our troops or our national security.” The measure passed 93-1.

http://www.alternet.org/world/141606/sen._russ_feingold%3A_white_house_is_whistling_past_afghan_graveyard_/

Never Again!