Magazine article WLA ; War, Literature and the Arts

Wars, near and Far

Magazine article WLA ; War, Literature and the Arts

Wars, near and Far

Article excerpt

"I wasn't always an only child. I used to have an older sister but she ran away from home a few months after my older brother did. I have a younger brother too, but he got put away for people who are different. I miss him but not the other two."

Jack sat quietly as he always did when I talked, listening to both me and his wife who talked to him so softly only he could hear her. The fact that she was dead didn't stop him from talking to her, so I never brought it up. We sat on the screen porch he tacked up to his trailer so he wouldn't be stuffed inside all day, it being hot without any air conditioning, a luxury only for the rich back in 1970.

I was in fourth grade and talked endlessly to him because I was the new girl and nobody talked to the new girl, except for Kitty who was my best friend because she was desperate for friends. Kitty looked like a boy and acted like one too, scratching without shame and belching more than Jack. I liked Kitty even though my mother said she was a bad influence on me. My mother was a bad influence on me but there wasn't anything I could do about that.

I liked listening to Jack because I thought he needed someone to talk to about his pregnant wife who died while he was over Vietnam fighting for something he said made no sense. I was his only friend and everybody needs a friend, even if it is a girl who was as lost as I was, being dumped off here and there like a kitten nobody wanted. Kitty came over and sat with us on the porch some, but talk of death scared her. She rode her bike all over the dirt road that encircled our run down trailer park, the road that went nowhere. She said death was for old people, although Jack was the same age as my brother; the one who ran away, not the one who had no choice. She said it was easy to die, but hard to live. I knew that to be truer than anything Kitty ever said.

Kitty was smart about things not learned in school, maybe that's why she failed two grades already and was taller than our teacher. Kitty said her mother was real smart, but old enough to die the day Kitty got born. I told Kitty it wasn't her fault but she said it was, maybe she kicked too hard to get born. Kitty carried her guilt around like the big bag of empty glass bottles we redeemed for money. They were Jack's beer bottles mostly. He said that was the only thing redeemable about him, but I disagreed. Jack had a lot redeemable about him, but he was just too empty to notice.

I was smart too, but in a different way than Kitty. My mother said I was arrogant, having dreams bigger than my britches. She had dreams once, but drowned them in Jack Daniels. I was smart about biscuits, fishing, thinking up stories, and God. I took hold of God's hand back when I was eating ice cream with my Grandpa B. He said God wasn't stuck up with so many rules you couldn't live. He said God was about what you could do; loving one another like the whole world was your best friend. He was the best grandpa ever and when he died, I ate ice cream for three years missing him.

Jack drank beer and I drank Pepsi, although I liked Coke better. Jack said since we were in North Carolina I should drink Pepsi, so I did. Them that mourn have rights. Jack said the baby was going to be a girl and maybe like Pepsi and maybe like to talk a lot like me, had she not died. I never knew what to say to Jack, never knew what I had to give someone so far gone down that pot hole of sadness. I sat there trying not to belch and nodded mostly, listening and agreeing when it seemed the right thing to do, wondering what it would be like to die, wondering what it would be like to really live, to dream so big you'd have to live in a two story house. …

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