By Graham Danzer
Marty exited the subway, pulling his coat around his shoulders for warmth, and making his way up the stairs and onto the street. The Veterans Assistance office just around the corner. As he began his short walk to the VA, he passed by office windows plastered with anti-Bush propaganda, street vendors passing out bumper stickers protesting the war in Iraq, a couple in chairs out in front of a coffee shop lavishly pondering their theories on government conspiracy.
Marty remembered his father telling him of his homecoming from World War II—the parades and kisses from pretty girls. His country’s gratitude and respect for his serving his country. Marty grimly surveyed his surroundings—some homecoming, he bitterly admitted.
Not just for a lack of support, but for where his service had lead him. He had believed in his country and supported its efforts when he enlisted in the United States Army. Never mind the politics and propaganda; he had wanted to be a part of something—something greater than himself. He wanted to follow in his father’s footsteps and to live up to what he did in the Second World War and what his father before him had done in the first. Despite the controversies of the Iraq campaign and the presidency, Marty had felt a pure intention. He had heard of car bombings and suffering overseas and wanted to be part of the solution. A true compatriot, he wanted to be a protector of the people, and of a free society. Furthermore, the military was the only legitimate opportunity he could see at 18 years of age.
Raised in a small town in the Midwest you’ve never heard of, his father returned from combat to working in a toothpaste plant and a steady diet of rum and rage. His mother, a homemaker, the world outside their 10 square mile town and 500 people seemed extraordinary. Marty felt like he didn’t exist. Tired of the beatings and the isolation, the military offered him all that his world seemed a world apart from—opportunity, career, achievement, and a great sense of belonging. They sounded so good in the black and white movies he and his mom used to watch before apple pie on Sunday nights.
The first day he put on his uniform, he felt that he had finally become somebody after a lifetime of nobody. Not that he was stupid, his grades in school were promising when he was allowed to attend. Nevertheless, he often had to leave school so as to man his paper route and help the family make ends meet. Eventually, he dropped out. His guidance counselor protested profusely, amusing Marty and his family. College, city life, he must have been from another planet. Such things were unheard of where Marty came from. In the military, his comrades were something like the same. From other places you’ve never heard of, nothing was waiting for them back home. The future of Marty’s father was their best of likely opportunities. Marty knew it was true, but he was realistic. At least he would have his glory days to relish on and stories to tell to his own children as his father told to him—the marching bands in the streets, the salutes, the smiling and admiring youngsters waving to him as he passed them by. BRING OUR TROOPS HOME NOW!!!! An old woman’s T shirt proclaimed, as Mary’s eyes wandering in thought were suddenly yanked back into reality. Some homecoming.
And that was only the beginning. Returning from war, Marty didn’t find the hero life he had expected. His hands had begun to shake during his 6th month of combat duty in Baghdad. Just nerves, his commanding officer had told him, don’t worry about it. And Marty didn’t. Again, he believed because he had nothing else to believe in. But his problems began to pile up on him. In the military, he had begun going out drinking with the boys, chasing the girls, staggering home, camaraderie they called it. When he began to have problems sleeping, becoming easily startled, having nightmares, and extreme anger plus difficulty controlling it, Marty’s drinking became his escape.
He began to drink much more than he knew he should. Camaraderie was a thing of the past as drinking alone was so much more soothing. “Just one to kill the pain,” he would say. But as the pain escalated, so did his drinking. He saw the veterans lining up for free food at the soup kitchens, sleeping in alley ways, shooting up dope in the park. They served their country too!!!! How can this be allowed to happen!?!?! The idea made Marty bitter, at himself and at believing all of what he had been brought up to believe—the bullshit of its entirety.
And for that he drank. He was turned down for work at the local police department due to being “mentally unstable.” This was a crushing blow as protecting the community was one of his other lifelong aspirations. Then, came more bitterness, more drinking, more anger, and more problems. It wasn’t supposed to be this way. Mentally unstable . . . you duck artillery fire for a year out the back of a truck and talk to me about stable !!!! Anger came swiftly to Marty. Quick to join him in a fight, quick to protect him from betrayal, sadness, feelings harder for him to manage. He had seen soldiers crying in Iraq for all they had seen, all they had lost, carrying their own blown off limbs to medical brigades, losing a friend every two weeks. Pussies, his friends had called them. Numbness, overpowering fear. Its just nerves, don’t worry about it, they said.
Marty had believed these words. Hoped his problems would subside when he came home. But they never did. In fact, they got worse. And they not only affected him, but his loved ones as well, including Jeneane, the love of his life, his high school sweetheart whom he had promised to marry when he came home. And she waited for him. And he loved her. Her faint scent that was almost like still hot clothes coming out of the dryer, the wisps of blond hair that used to blow past her face during the dust storms, the freckle on her cheek. He loved her. . . . . and then he hurt her.
He came home late one night from the bar, stumbling, slurring, a mess. Jeneane was hurt. She had spent two hours cooking—chicken and dumplings with roasted garlic over mesquite Texas-style marinade, Marty’s favorite. He was supposed to be home hours ago. Called and said that he had a job to go check out. He had to check out alright, but more emotionally then vocationally. And Jeneane was angry. Where have you been??? Dinner is cold, I’ve been waiting all night for you!!!! And Marty was drunk and irritated. Just had one on the way home. I’ll take you to the movies tomorrow.
And Jeneane was outraged. That the man she loved could believe she was so stupid. Out of love for him, she let him know. And out of rage, he hit her hard. A sweeping gash across her cheek, bloodying that freckle he loved in the beauty of its imperfection. He didn’t even remember doing it, until next morning. He awoke and saw boxes a plenty filled and half filled throughout the house. Someone had started work early. Jeneane coming into their bedroom, packing her lamp formerly atop their nightstand into a box filled to the brim. Marty saw what was going on, and couldn’t believe it. Jeneane didn’t look at him. Only continued her work in silent determination with as much dignity as she could muster.
Marty saw the gash on her cheek. And then he remembered. He couldn’t believe what he had done. He wouldn’t believe it, as strongly as he knew it was true. And so Marty begged. And Marty pleaded. Please don’t go, I’m sorry, I love you so much. And Marty cried. Jeneane had been with Marty for 10 years, and she had never seen him cry. Something got to her. Something subtle and yet dominantly so. She hated him for what he had done. And yet she hated how much she loved him. She placed the lamp back upon the nightstand. I go, or you get help.
And so Marty got off the elevator at the VA—scared to talk about his problems. To say he didn’t have it under control and that it might not just be nerves scared to the core. This would bring the thought of he was a pussy. But his fear of Jeneane leaving was greater then his fear of being honest. And so Marty approached the desk. The woman behind it with a blue business suit and swarthy rimmed spectacles cleared her throat and breathed in unintentionally through her nose. Her nose wrinkled as if an infantry platoon ambushed her senses. Something seemed to push her back in the chair. She looked up from her paperwork at Marty, exhaling loudly and waving her hand frantically in front of her face.
Alcohol treatment? She half way asked and half way demanded. Marty sighed bitterly to himself. Some homecoming.
Note: Graham Danzer lives and works in San Francisco. Mr. Danzer also holds a master’s degree in Social Work. Send your comment to his beautiful writings at email@example.com
Also see FATAL ATTRACTION