Aloha, Jenny Picciotto, graces our stage this week from Hawaii.
History of War
By Jenny Picciotto
Previously published on Thinking Ten 8-14-10
David’s reassuring arms held her tight, his face lost in her silky hair. He was dressed in his military uniform. No time now, he thought, resisting the barrage of thoughts in his mind; nothing made sense today. They stood together under the big chestnut tree behind the old farm house where she had grown up. When they were teens they used to escape there, climbing up into the crooks of the wide branches to watch the grey clouds roll in and catch the tepid Kansas summer rain on their tongues, giggling. It was theirs now, she had inherited it when her parents passed away and Gabrielle loved the place. It made her feel whole, she told him, like living in the Garden of Eden.
He brushed stray strands of auburn hair out of her face and looked into her hazel eyes. His love for her was as undeniable as this mission. He would be training the Iraqi Army to defend its borders and keep the peace; it was the fulcrum of the exit strategy, and he was all for reversing the contentious occupation there by US troops. This one, he felt, was a mission of peace.
“I don’t want you to go.” Gabrielle whispered. Her narrow frame felt fragile in his muscled arms. “How can this be happening?”
“I’ll be back by next summer” he said” don’t worry, this tour is a humanitarian mission.” But he knew it would be dangerous, and that this memory of her would be juxtaposed against the horrors of Baghdad. He felt at cross-purpose to himself, ambiguous and uncertain, like the country of Iraq itself.
That country today stood in stark contrast to its ancient history, dating back beyond the beginning of the written word in 3100bc. As Mesopotamia it was the cradle of civilization. He knew it was there that the Bronze Age first appeared, and the people who lived there, men and women, were educated, leaders in technology, mathematics, astronomy and philosophy. Subject to foreign occupation for much of its history, the twentieth century was a wrenching series of internal struggles, border wars and power mongering by global powers fighting for influence over its oil like dogs over a bone.
“The baby will be here by then.” She held back her tears but he could feel her trembling. “I don’t, I can’t, God, David, I just don’t know if I can do it.”
“You’ve got help – you won’t have to do everything. We’ve been over this before. Right now I want to hold you, feel you, take this memory with me.” But all he felt was hollow, like a straw. Leaving her sucked all the juice out of him. He tried not to think of the future, of guys he knew who couldn’t keep it together after their tours. No time for that now.
_ _ _ _ _ _ _
Gabrielle got the news a week after the baby was born.
David’s unit was meeting with the Iraqi Army leaders for training, but the insurgents had buried an IED underground. It exploded during the operation. David didn’t make it. They pulled his body out of the smoke and flames. He would receive a hero’s burial.
She heard the commander’s voice in disbelief. It was her David, this time, grist for the war. This lurid violent war was the antithesis of her life on the farm, where she held the baby to her breast and stroked its downy head. What kind of world have we brought you into, she worried.
The casualties of this war haven’t begun to be counted, she thought. She cried for herself, she cried for the baby, she cried for the children of Iraq, living in ubiquitous violence and fear, fueled by contentious nations out of control. But David’s death united her in a way with the mothers there, and she imagined them holding their own children, while their men left their homes to protect them.
_ _ _ _ _ _ _ _
At the funeral, his casket was draped in an American flag. The uniformed men and women saluted and shots were fired to honor his sacrifice, her sacrifice, the baby’s sacrifice, the country’s sacrifice.
She knew she shouldn’t think it, but she couldn’t help herself. As she looked at the flag she thought: Flags are like lies, symbols of pretend nations, the carnage of other nations, invaded, carved up, colonized, raped. And she knew that this ritual of war and death was being repeated in other cities and in other nations for other wives and parents welcoming home their dead, as people have been doing since Adam and Eve mourned the death of Abel at Cain’s hand.
As she held the baby close she prayed. She prayed for the mothers and fathers, she prayed for the sisters and brothers, she prayed for the children who would inherit this world and face the same demons; Pride, Lust, and Greed – the desires that drive the actions of individuals and nations into war. She prayed, knowing that the pain that flowed through her blood also flowed in theirs, merging into a single river, leading back to a distant common ancestor. But mostly she prayed for the soul of man. She prayed that the day would come when man’s moral maturity was equal to his technological skill; that he could be trusted to choose love over hate, and that the family of man would one day live in peace, leaving behind its history of war.
Jenny writes poetry and fiction. While most of her work is for private consumption, she has recently been published in the collections Saturdays with Lillian, 6S – Mind Games, and ThinkingTen – A Writer’s Playground (Academic Edition). You can read her work online at: The Camel Saloon, Mudjob Blog Spot, 6S and Thinking Ten. She is currently working on her first novel.