...a day late and a dollar short, as usual.
I wrote this untitled piece, which I call "War Story" not long after I got back from Afghanistan, in 2005. I am still a little embarrassed of it, but I think now, that there is more to be pleased by than embarrassed at as regards it.
Although I had three good friends who were killed by Improvised Explosive Devices, (sometimes referred to as roadside bombs or booby traps by our good friends in the media), and was almost killed by one myself in Iraq, the character in this story is fictional, although it should be plain that my own personal experiences, and those of some of my friends, are, essentially, HIS life.
For a long time, I figured this story had no place anywhere but in my filing cabinet, but I am beginning to think that the story might lend itself well to the comic format. Somehow, I was gripped by the the comic story "Les Yeux Du Chat" by Jodorowsky and Moebius, which I found in in a copy of "Taboo" in a local used bookstore some time after I came back. Moebius's magnificent imagery immediately made me think of my nameless "war story".
I'd like to do this story in comic form if I can find the right guy to pencil it...
The illustrations I've added here are from Le Yeux Du Chat. The Photos are all my own.
To what belongs his name? A man. A boy. No-one. He had a bright face, dark skin. His teeth were white, his was hair short and black and curly. He could remember sitting on a carpet in the little house, kneading its substance in his tiny hand. He could remember the grown-up girls striding down the walk outside, their laughter loud and high and alien and strange. He could remember the rain filling up the cracks between the bricks on the patio outside. He could remember a dog, his mother cursing, his father laughing…and then his father was gone. There was a school, with whitewashed walls, and silly posters and ball games, and there was music, with its thumping rhythm that made the girls want to move, and here were the girls again, still alien, but familiar, too, in an alarming way, and some of them he kissed, some of them he made love to, in little close rooms or outside in the Southern evenings, the breath of God washing though the trees above, and he thought “This is alright, if this is all that ever happens to me, then that is alright.” Because there is nothing more beautiful than this. And he said, thank you, God, for this, but he was afraid, too. He thought that God might be angry with him for it, like his mother would be, but he closed his eyes, and a girl’s cheeks was warm on his naked shoulder, and he thought “Thank you, God, thank you for this”
Under the soil of the summer orchard in Ghazni, God was waiting.
There was a shiny, silken robe, and a diploma curled like a scepter in his fist, and cameras, and aunts and grandmothers that hugged and kissed him, and there was a tired seeming man in a green uniform, who was older than he looked, and who sat in an office full of posters, and the television was loud with the rumors of war. In a strange place, in another world, there were burning trucks on the sides of nameless roads, and pale men with wide eyes full of fear. And then there were shouting men in funny Smokey-the-Bear hats, pretending to be angry, and sometimes they were angry, but not often, and he his friends, their heads all shaven, laughed, and the drill sergeants were laughing, too, before the end. But with some of them you could see it, a soft movement around the mouth that was a little bit love and a little bit fear, showing through all the bluff and braggodoccio of the business. And it WAS a business. Or so it seemed, to them. And they all knew it. And that was the sad part. But no matter.
Shoulder to shoulder they stood on the hot asphalt on graduation day.
One behind the other they stood in the belly of the roaring plane, and the navel of the plane opened, and they howled together in defiance of their fear, and down they went, out they went, in a long chain, out, into the light, and you stand for an instant in the door and your heart is exploding with your terror and your joy, and you step out and place your feet upon the palms of God, and out you go, borne aloft like a bird, and the mad earth dancing eleven hundred feet below, and he thought, Dear God, get me through this, and I’ll never ask you for anything else ever again. And as if by a miracle, soft he landed, in the high grass, and heard the murmuring passage of the plane that had borne him passing away toward the east, and he watched a little red insect creature clamber up a stem of grass, and its back opened up and became wings, and it flew away, and he thought, thank you, God, thank you. You didn’t let me down.
In Ghazni, under the apricot trees, God was waiting.
His mother was there, smiling and weeping a little, and praying for God to go with him.
There were goodbyes and there were “You’ll be allrights” and “Keep your head downs”…
There was a long line of men out to the waiting plane.
There were long lines of men threading their way through the mountains where no grass grew, where no stream sang. The sun was high and hot. Brown faces glared at them from out of mud windows. Great mastiff-hounds roared at them from out of the shadow of mud walls. They tried to think of home. They tried to think of girls, but all the women here covered their faces, as if they feared the eye of god might fall upon them, and they thought of the stewardesses on the planes, who smiled pasted-on smiles at these men who were so afraid and needed so much to be loved, who but shielded themselves, with their smiles, like the strippers did downtown, and the men knew it and hated them for it, and were all the more afraid.
There was never enough food, there was never enough water, but there were almonds and apricots and pomegranates in the shady orchards, and they came down out of the mountains after many days more ravenous for sugar and moisture than they were for love, for hunger is always stronger than love, and they plucked the fruit from the nodding branches. Great black birds, the only birds to be seen in all this cruel and unwholesome corner of the world, watched them with black snake eyes from the highest branches while they ate and sat and nodded and dozed in the scanty shade, and as they dozed death gathered close about them, and they awoke from dreaming of strange far places, and they shook off their darkness and shouldered their black rifles, and set off through the shaded avenues of fruit trees.
The boots of eight men scuffed the face of the trail, kicking it up in little clouds of dust, but they all passed safely by the metal box in which God was buried. Joe was the ninth man, and it was he who stepped upon the box.
God spoke from under the ground.
The trees shivered. Black birds rose in a thunder of wings, driving themselves up into the sky, crying aloud with wild voices. His friends fell to their knees, but HE was lifted up. He turned into a tail of earth and smoke that was unfurled upon the breeze. He turned into a mist of blood that fell back upon the orchard floor in a gentle rain. He turned into a black bird that spread obsidian wings and lifted itself upon the wind…
The bird flew high above the stony fields and dusty flocks, and over the columns of marching men, straggling over narrow bridges above dead rivers. It rose above the dust and haze, up into a clearer air. It flew over burning deserts, and dry rivers, over grey field and brown foothills and blue-skirted mountains, their caps sheathed in snow, winging its way toward the west, and searching, always, for the sea.
Big FUCKING deal.
Find me a day when I DON'T remember these three men, my friends, my comrades, my brothers, who fell in battle beside me...
Corporal Miguel "Bee" Baez
Staff Sargeant Sandy "Scuba" Britt
Sargeant John "Ski" Osmolski
There are no better men than you, my friends.
I love you and I will see you soon.