December 18, 1973 – Time to get int-ro-spect-ive

When I was nine I was playing on the roof my grandma’s house.  She had told me not to go up there.  This may shock you, but as a kid I wasn’t always the best at minding what I was told.  I saw some kids playing on the roof across the street.  What was I going to do, let them outshine me?  I didn’t fall off the roof, but when I was climbing back down onto the back porch I lost my footing and hit the railing pretty good.  I had the wind knocked out of me for a minute but once that was over, I started crying.  And I mean hard. 

After a minute my grandma came out, lit up a cigarette and leaned there and smoked it while I bawled my eyes out.  When she was done smoking she went back inside without saying anything.  I swore then that I would never cry again.  I haven’t kept that promise, I doubt many people keep promises they make when they’re nine, but I’m not a big crier.  Not for real anyway, I’m a fantastic fake crier, it’s a great way to make people feel uncomfortable if you need to do that.  If there’s any good that comes from living under a tarp on the roof of a fireworks factory (and there isn’t) it’s that you can pull one flap down and have some privacy for a good cry.  I heard Blue shuffling around “outside”.

“What’s the protocol here?  Am I supposed to throw back the tarp-flap and try and comfort you or stay out here and pretend nothing is happening?”

I peeked out from under the tarp-flap “I wasn’t crying, I’m cutting onions for a lasagna.  Don’t come in yet because it’s a surprise.”

He sat down on the roof “A surprise lasagna?  What a delight.”

I threw the tarp-flap back into a vague tent shape “What did you feel after you killed someone for the first time?”

“I don’t remember.”

I scowled “You don’t remember how you felt the first time you killed someone?”

“I don’t remember the first time I killed someone.  Have you ever been to Borneo?  It’s all jungles and swamps and mangroves, even when you’re in the mountains.  We were shooting all the time without having any clue if we were hitting anyone.”

“You know what I mean.”

He nodded slowly “Yes, I know what you mean.   I remember the first time I know I killed someone.  I was on recon and I threw a phosphorus grenade into the back a halftrack.  I hope I never get so jaded that I forget burning four men to death.  Although what I remember much better than how I felt is my sergeant dressing me down because the grenade destroyed the communication equipment and codebooks that were in there.  I should have found a way to kill them and get the intelligence materials.  That’s what I remember most.”

“So how did you feel afterwards?”

“Didn’t bother me, that’s why I was there.”

“It didn’t bother you at all?”

“Maybe a little, but by then I had been in the field for almost two years.  I had seen so many people on my side get hit that I didn’t spare too much time feeling sorry for the people trying to kill us.  Plus I wasn’t even twenty, I wasn’t given to a lot of soul-searching at that time.”

“How about now that you’re not twenty?”

He flicked his tongue in what I’ve come to understand is a shrug “Still doesn’t concern me much.  War is what it is, people die, not much anyone can do about that.  Except stop having wars, which is a little bit above my pay grade.”

“Doesn’t that make you a sociopath?”

“I don’t think so, but I wouldn’t know it if I was, now would I?  Ideology and governments and countries and all that has nothing to do with it Ela, not really.  There’s a reason nations send young people to fight in wars, they don’t know anything.  I was trained to kill people and I was told to kill people and I was rewarded for killing people – how could I feel bad about that?  I killed six men one night and they gave me a medal for doing it.  People can say they’re defending what they believe in or they’re stopping bad people or whatever they want.  But it’s just training and conditioning.  They tell you to do it and you do it.  If you’re good at it you get rewarded.  It’s what the state does, sometimes there’s due process and a needle in the arm and sometimes you get shot in the head by a sniper.   Why do riot cops shoot demonstrators?  Someone gives and order and they follow it.”

“And that makes it okay?”

“What’s okay about anything that happens?  Ela what you’re going through here is the dilemma that warriors have been struggling with since the first time a caveman told the big caveman in the group to bash someone with a rock.  Why am I doing this and what does it all mean?  And thousands of years later we still don’t have any answers.”

“But you’re not in the army anymore, so why are you still doing this?”

“Because I can’t sing and I can’t dance.  I can’t shoot a basketball, but I’m pretty good at killing people.  I’ve been doing this for more than twenty years, it’s all I know, what else would I do?  Plus I have to find the people that turned me into a freak and make them pay.”

“Revenge?  Is that it?”

He huffed a lizard laugh “You’re chastising me for wanting revenge?  That’s your reason for everything you do.”

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