When I was 12, my grandmother took me on Greyhound to Virginia and North Carolina to meet her two sisters. Along the way we stopped off and stayed the night with a distant relative on a pullout couch. I’d been dozing for about an hour when I heard one, then two screams in rapid succession. I was more shocked than scared; living where I do, I’m used to hearing all sorts of street noise. But this was different. There wasn’t arguing. Someone seemed hurt.

Before I could sit up my grandmother touched my arm. She told me it was OK, that my cousin had been in Vietnam, and that’s what he did in his sleep. We’d had dinner together with his wife and both were friendly and polite. But when he tried to rest, he shouted, barked, and cried out. Even though I was only 12, I knew what Vietnam meant. I often saw men on the street in green army jackets, looking grizzly, carrying baggage. I read a lot and knew people had spit on them and treated them, mostly, as criminals when they came home, not as men in an unimaginable situation doing what their country had asked–or forced–them to do: serve. Later I would read about men escaping to Canada and monied young men who took medical deferments, but my cousin served overseas.

In 1984, PTSD was not a concept. My grandmother told me he was shell-shocked but he was OK, his wife was there, and to try to sleep. I did, but it was fitful. I knew military men like my uncle who drank, or shot heroin or were homeless, while others managed a more seamless transition back to civilian life–mainly by not discussing the war at all. It was simply off the table as a topic.

I’ve never forgotten that visit. I don’t remember my cousin’s name. But I remember he was a veteran, and his night echoed with screams. He came home but brought with him a haunting.

I’m liberal. I’m anti-war, particularly as war in today’s society is rarely about the citizens and more about profiteering. For years I struggled with the idea of men and women choosing to put themselves in dangerous situations. Why would any rational person do this, given the choice? Now I understand it’s a complex matter, it involves shifting variables, and it’s a personal decision. I’ve learned not to judge: how can I, when I see so many of us, with horrible internal and external damage, being undertreated and inadequately supported upon their return home?

It’s a vacation day for many in America, there are sales all over the place for big-ticket items… And that’s fine. It is what it is. I’d like to be more active with my support, but for now I remember my cousin, I respect our troops, and I pray for their safe passage. They’ve earned that, at least. At the very least.
US flag moved by the wind

The Prophet

Hey folks,

It occurred to me I hadn’t posted a short story in a while. This one felt appropriate. Enjoy~

When I saw Dorian coming up Clinton Avenue, I’d cross the street. Whether or not I had the right of way. Whether or not it made me late. Whether I struggled with a packed shopping cart at nightfall, or strolled by in cutoffs and flip-flops to sun at Fort Greene Park. Only one thing mattered: that I avoid eye contact with my uncle.

Dorian had once been first in his class at Brooklyn Tech. He was in the Air Force for a while. In my childhood, he was the only consistent male role model I had, but I knew a different version of him then. He’d taken his high-school sweetheart on a first date wearing an all-white silk suit and grey shark skin shoes; it was tough, squaring that image with the man I later knew. The person he had become made rounds through the neighborhood wearing overlapping strands of red, black, and green beads across his neck. Over those were roped dozens of religious pendants: Jesus with neon white eyes, a brown Mary with outstretched arms, tangled among layers of crosses of fake silver and gold. And in the crook of one arm, always present, was his Bible. Dorian couldn’t eat or sleep without it. I mean this literally. Toward the end, he couldn’t use the bathroom without having it in his sight.

Continue reading “The Prophet”

On the Rocks

Below is a short story I wrote for my workshop in my first or second year– ’06. We were practicing minimalist writing (which, despite what you see here, is my favorite kind of writing) and tasked to write a short with as few adjectives as possible. We wrote two or three drafts, cutting away extraneous details with each draft. Here is my final draft, which Alexandra told me resembled a piece by a famous minimalist author (I’ll keep the name to myself, but it was a very cool comparison).

Continue reading “On the Rocks”