Wednesday, November 11, 2009

Veteran's Day

On memorial day we honor the courage it takes to fight for your country and die for her. Today we honor the courage it takes to come home.

On July 20th, a friend posted an entry about a captured Marine. Here's the excerpt that's most relevant to my reply:

So what's the big deal now? I am being a bad person; I am reacting to something differently because it hits home a little, something that irritates the crap out of me when others do it, ,and I am holding myself to task for it. My daughter is very serious about a young man who is a Marine, who deployed on his SECOND duty out in Iraq/Afghanistan. All I know is he has something to do with Operation Leatherneck (Google it).

So I read in the news that once again, the Taliban has captured another young American soldier and is parading him around on videos (posted below). I don't know him, any more than I knew the dozens before him. But with K deployed in that area, and the Marines being sent in first into uncontrolled territory, suddenly I personalize this stuff; I see him in the video. It is an understandable reaction, but why is it worse when it is in our backyard? Why aren't we upset for every death? Is this a form of hypocrisy, or a form of coping, for if we stopped to mourn every single soldier as if he were ours, the country would shut down.

Are you going to turn your heads and scroll by because you don't care, because you don't know him, because you can't afford to and still function? What is the right thing to do here? We may not all agree. I am torn. But I needed to vent about this.

At the time, I requested my reply remain screened. But time has passed and today seems like a good day to share it. This was my response:

For me the war was something I thought we never should have gotten involved in to begin with but that, once started, we needed to stop screwing up, follow through on, and finish. For the most part, though, I avoided following it and thinking about it. Because it wasn't something that really affected me, but, more than that, it wasn't something I could affect.

Then I fell in love with a soldier. By the time we got involved he was already home and a civilian again. But he's still got two more years before those who care about him can breathe a sigh of relief that he won't get called back. And all the memories are painfully fresh in his mind. I've watched him go stiff when fireworks went off unexpectedly. I've talked him down when thunder crashed in an unexpected way. And I've listened to him as he's told me in an eerily dispassionate voice about the people who died under his hands (he was a medic).

And suddenly stories about the war matter. Because but for the grace of G-d, that could have been my soldier. If he'd still been there, if it had happened earlier. And living with the pain of the trauma and memories he brought home, how can I hope to compare to the suffering of those who are living through it while their loved ones are still there? I know how much I ache knowing about the things he survived. How much more must they suffer knowing what their soldiers may yet not?

Was it wrong of me not to know, follow, grieve before? I don't think so. I cannot cry for every soldier and the country gains little if I do. But I can cry for my soldier, and for the parents, sibling and children I know. Because my soldier still can't cry for himself. And the tears of someone who doesn't really get it never mean as much as the sympathy of someone who does (even second hand).

There are many things broken and breaking about our country and the world around us. If we all cared about all of them all of the time we'd spend so much time grieving we'd never be able to fix or accomplish anything. So we care about the things that affect us or that we can affect. It limits our scope into something manageable and allows us to actually make a difference. Even if it's as small as crying for someone who didn't realize he needed tears.

Saturday, August 22, 2009

... but I'm taking you down with me

(This is the first piece of fanart I've ever made. Ever. I don't even write fanfics. But once I got it in my head, I just needed to make it. If this were a real A Softer World strip then the subject line would be the scroll over text.)

Thursday, July 2, 2009

Two Moments That Didn't Happen ... and one that did

With the blue lights flashing behind her, she glances down at the speedometer just in time to see the bar drop below ninety. She just sighs. She wants to be upset; to muster up the tears that might save her from a ticket. But, while she's certain the tears will come again before the night is over, this isn't enough to bring them forward. All she can feel is that cold dead feeling that's been lingering with her since she first agreed to make the trip.

She pulls off to the side of the road and stares blankly out the front windshield. The cop saunters up to the window, which she obligingly rolls down. He leans in and gives her and the car a once over. He takes note of her turquoise and white sundress and the matching pearl and crystal necklace she's wearing with it. His lip twitches slightly at the sight of her tall white heels in the other seat. He smiles as he speaks, asking her teasingly "And where are you going in such a hurry?"

"I'm driving to Milledgeville to meet my boyfriend for dinner so he can break up with me." The cop's smile freezes and he finally looks into her eyes. Whatever he saw there causes the smile to fade completely. She isn't looking for his pity. She doesn't seem to be looking for anything at all.

"Milledgeville. That's ... well, that's a long drive from Fulton county."

Now it's her turn to smile slightly. It does nothing to hide her pain. "Yeah," she says, "I was hoping to get it over with quickly." He stares at her for a minute more before straightening up and walking back to his car. His lights flip off, and a moment later he is merely another car in the distance.

"Are you lost?" He's startled by the words that seem to almost come from beneath him. He looks down to see an elderly face staring up at him.

"Um, I'm sorry?"

"I asked if you were lost. Standing here on the street corner, you look lost." He wants to laugh at her. Laugh at the ludicrous notion that he could be lost in this town that he knows better than any other city on earth. And laugh because he is lost and there is nothing this kind woman can do to help.

"No ma'am. I'm not lost. I'm waiting on my girlfriend. I want to be somewhere that she can see me so I can jump in the car to give her directions rather than her trying to figure it out." His eyes drift back to the road and his focus drifts with them.

The woman smiles. His button down shirt and dress pants seem almost endearing now that she knows he's going on a date and isn't just some lost young professional. "I take it she's not from around here, then?" she asks, wanting to keep him company while he waits.

"No. She's driving all the way from Atlanta to break up with me."

The old lady goes stiff then, but he doesn't notice her stunned expression. With his eyes glued to the road, he doesn't even notice as she awkwardly walks away.

She knew she'd be wearing the new dress. He'd wanted to see it, and this would probably be the last chance. But there are many ways to wear a sundress. She looked at the punk rock necklace of chains and random beads and her eyes glanced at the green and turquoise dr. martins that would complete the transformation of the outfit into casual and fun. And then her eyes traveled on and caught the pearl necklace hanging on the stand on her vanity. She thought of the white heels in the closet. With out further hesitation she grabbed up the matching turquoise scarf to tie back her wet hair and moved to gather the other nice accessories.

With the outfit complete she wondered if she should text him, "wear your nice clothes." Wouldn't it be ridiculous if she got all dressed up only to find him in shorts and a t-shirt? She had no idea where they would be going to dinner. She didn't even know what the options were, as it was his home town they were going to. Maybe there wasn't even a restaurant worth getting dressed up for. Ultimately, though, she sent no message. She didn't ask him to dress up so she wouldn't feel alone, nor did she ask him where they were going so she could dress more appropriately. She left her phone in her purse as she clipped on the necklace and walked to the car with her shoes in hand. Afterall, if they ended up looking horribly inappropriate together, it just proved the point, right?

She continued to get nervous even as she got closer. She'd driven all this way with no clear idea of where she was supposed to be going once she was in Milledgeville. After driving through several large dead zones she'd confronted the fear of not being able to get in touch with him to find out on numerous occasions. She had been instructed to drive straight down this road and that she would "see what to do." When she crested the last hill, her stomach clenched. She saw him standing on the corner waiting for her and the somber expression on his face offered her no comfort. She pulled up next to him with her window rolled down, expecting him to tell her where to turn and park. Instead he opened the door and climbed into her passenger seat. His tone was barely above a whisper as he gave her directions and he refused to look at her. And yet, she couldn't help but feel a pang of relief. Because, glancing down, she realized that his shoes were almost as impractical as hers.

Wednesday, May 6, 2009

Sunday Morning

When my boyfriend and I first fell in love, he was not in an open marriage in any way, shape, or form. After a couple of weekends of falling asleep next to each other, sneaking guilty kisses, and finding any excuse to be alone together even just to talk, we finally decided it was necessary for him to tell his wife what was going on before he did something that would ruin his marriage. Shockingly, she told him he could keep seeing me and a year later we're the poster children for happy, poly families. But we didn't always know it was going to turn out that way. This entry was written during the tense times.

"Ask me again and I'll do it."

I lie on the bed next to him and know that I should. I've already said it twice already. How hard would it be to say it once more? Yet each of the other times I said it wanting him to talk me out of it. If I say it now, he won't. He'll leave having failed to convince me. As I stare into his eyes I can feel the words pounding in my head, but I can't bring myself to say them. It took all the strength I had to force them out the first time. A third is beyond my grasp.

"I should. I should tell you. But I won't." Tears slide down my face forcing me to break eye contact.

"Why should you?" he asks.

"Because it's the right thing to do."

"The right thing for you?" he asks sounding distinctly skeptical, "Or the right thing for me?" That has been his argument this whole time. That his sins are his to bear, and that it's not my responsibility to make him avoid situations where he will be overcome by temptation. But in this moment that argument provides no comfort; irritation and frustration flare as a mask for guilt and I find myself snapping at him as I force myself away.

"It's the right thing for a woman I've never met." I find myself with a desperate need to escape the tension and conflict that has built up in that room. I push myself from the bed and out the door, pulling it closed behind me. I get as far as the stairs before my thoughts catch up to me. Thoughts of how much he means to me, of how I don't want him to think I'm upset at him, of how much I want him. I am stopped in my tracks by a need to reassure him. I turn and walk back into the room where he hasn't moved. I crawl across the bed to lean over him. What I intended as a brief and gentle kiss ends up far more passionate than expected. I pull away and look at him. Once again I feel the words pounding in my head. They're so potent I can feel the shape of them on my tongue. I stare at him, almost shocked that he can't hear them. It would be so simple to just let them escape. So simple to tell him to never come back again.

"I can't. I should, but I can't."

I don't know if I'm talking to him or myself. In truth, it doesn't matter. I pull away and am once again back outside the room with the door closed behind me. In a matter of moments he will be coming upstairs to get ready to get on the road and return to his home. I want to be out of the house by then, and far from all this tension and temptation. I glance towards my room with thoughts of grabbing shoes and a jacket. But there are people sleeping in my room who may ask questions about where I slept, or questions about my evening in general that I am simply not in a state to answer. I look around my living room, but only my heavy coat is in the coat closet; everything else was put away when we cleaned up in anticipation of guests. I am turning back in the direction of my room, trying to think of anywhere else I might have stray shoes, when I hear the door at the top of the stairs open. Unwilling to see him, much less walk past him, I turn and escape out the front door as quickly as I can.

Outside the sky is grey with a slight sprinkling of rain. As the cold droplets hit my bare shoulders I wish I'd grabbed anything to put on over the light sundress I was wearing. Yet even as I think this I notice that my feet are still moving and I am quickly progressing away from the house. As I round the corner the wind picks up and I wrap my hands around my cold shoulders. A hear the sound of a truck pulling up behind me and remind myself that there is no way he would be ready to leave the house already. As the truck passes I wonder about the people who drive past a girl wandering down the street shivering and shoeless, yet don't offer to help. As I reach the next corner I find myself turning to follow the normal route that leads from our residential area to commercial civilization. I have always known that The Village is with in walking distance, but I have never actually made that journey before.

I find myself wondering if I can make it with out shoes. And then I find myself wondering if I can make it back. I have brought nothing with me in terms of a phone or money. But these concerns drift aside as I find myself focusing on the idea that, as long as I can get there, I can probably find someone to give me a jacket. The chill that surrounds me is a far more pressing concern than how I will get back to a house I am actively avoiding. Besides, I find myself thinking, he will pass me when he leaves. It will take me longer to walk to The Village than it will take for him to get ready and drive towards the highway. He will stop and offer me a ride home. I'm not certain if I will accept the ride, but at the least I will be able to ask him for a t-shirt or coat.

I continue walking, pleased to be on a road with a sidewalk now, instead of wandering down the street. My thoughts drift from one trivial topic to another, continually awed by the number of cars that never think to slow or inquire. My gaze momentarily strays from the ground in front of me and I am startled by the sharp pain that it produced by my foot coming down on top of an upturned twig. But the pain fades quickly into the haze and I continue my steady pace forward. As I pass Ormewood Ave across the street, I find myself surprised by how far I've come with out any notable physical protests. I begin to suspect that I might not only be able to make it to The Village, but perhaps even farther should no one offer me a way home.

As I focus on the ground in front of me, I notice a sound that is discordant with the presence of my own unshod feet. From behind me comes the sound of boots taking long strides across cement. At first I resist the urge to turn and look, assuming that who ever is approaching will simply catch up and ultimately pass me with no consequence. But as the sound gets closer I find myself giving in to curiosity and sparing a quick glance over my shoulder.

I cannot describe what I feel when I see him there. The fact that I was prepared for him to stop when he saw me on the side of the road does nothing when I find myself facing him on the sidewalk. Here, there will not be the distancing factor of machinery when he catches up to me. But more than that is the shocking knowledge that he has not simply encountered me by chance while leaving town, but has walked all this distance for me. My mind, which had frozen when it first saw him, now finds itself caught between the conflicting urge to simply stop and wait for him to catch up or to find someway to avoid him. Stumbling with indecision, my feet slow of their own accord and his footsteps level with mine in only a few strides.

Covered by his shadow, my whole body tenses, bracing me for what he might say or accuse me of. The idea that he might intentionally come after me had never even occurred to me, so my mind can come up with no possibilities for what is about to happen next.

"Do you know the first thing people think when they see a girl wandering down the street with no shoes on and a glazed look in her eyes?" he asks somberly. A few possibilities occur to me, some of which are genuinely concerning. "Zombie," he concludes. I am stunned into stillness by his observation. I replay the scene from a third person perspective in my mind and realize that it does, in fact, play out just like the intro to a zombie movie. The absurdity startles me into laughter. I can feel him smile beside me as the tension drains from the moment. "You don't want that," he says, his somber tone broken by the smile. "Come back to the house and put some shoes on." I simply smile up at him and he wraps an arm around my shoulders to lead me across the street. The other side has no sidewalk, and my toes curl into the wild grass that lines the road. I slip my arm around his waist as we continue back the way we came while refusing to retrace our steps.

Sunday, April 5, 2009

Sunday Evening

When my boyfriend and I first fell in love, he was not in an open marriage in any way, shape, or form. After a couple of weekends of falling asleep next to each other, sneaking guilty kisses, and finding any excuse to be alone together even just to talk, we finally decided it was necessary for him to tell his wife what was going on before he did something that would ruin his marriage. Shockingly, she told him he could keep seeing me and a year later we're the poster children for happy, poly families. But we didn't always know it was going to turn out that way. This entry was written during the tense times.

"Wanna go get coffee?"

His eyes were locked on mine. Amidst the swirling coats and bags of people standing and preparing to leave the restaurant, I caught the question that was delivered to me. Even as I opened my mouth to reply in the affirmative the girl next to him responded enthusiastically,

"Coffee would be great!"

I wanted to turn to her and snap "He wasn't asking you," but there was no reason why anyone other than me should have assumed it wasn't an open invitation. After all, we were all here to hang out with our friends. Why would we want to disappear to a coffee shop together while everyone else went back to the house? I'm just his friend - just like all the other friends here who only get to see him once every two weeks and want to spend time with him. So I stay silent. And only the briefest flicker of his eyes portrays any conflict on his part.

So the swirling coats and bags signed the last of their checks and walked away from the table to join the smokers who were waiting on the sidewalk. He and I walked past the group towards the gate of the coffee shop patio. As we walked past she called out forlornly from her husband's arms, "I'm not allowed to have coffee." I'm not certain if her husband was more clever than her, or if we simply got lucky that he decided to enforce the limits of their financial situation. Regardless, I expressed our regret and told the group that we'd see them back at the house.

I walked up to the counter to catch him asking for advice on which coffee to order. He reached a decision and turned to ask me what I wanted. "I've been told I can't spend any more money," I replied.

"You won't be," he said. Fair enough, I thought and placed an order. He paid and the man behind the counter told us to take a seat while we waited for our drinks. He walked ahead of me directly toward the table I had mentally already picked out for us; it was the one farthest away from everyone else in the small coffee shop. He sat down in the booth that ran along the wall. At a two person table etiquette would dictate that I sit in the seat across from him, but that seat had its back to the door and the rest of the shop, which is something that makes me distinctly uncomfortable. Normally, I would tell the person who took my preferred seat to move and swap to the other, but today I simply accepted the excuse to slip in beside him.

We weren't talking much. He mentioned how tired he was, and how he should have left town already. I made passing conversation explaining my aversion to the opposite seat. Our drinks arrived and we lifted them to our lips in unison. Conversation was limited to the occasional bemused facial expression or snarky comment regarding the conversation at the table across from us. After a moment we fell silent again and simply sat side by side, drinking our dark, caffeinated beverages. The intro music for some mellow indie rock song began to play over the shop's speakers. As he sat his cup down he commented,

"You know, sometimes there are these moments where we could just be two normal people." He stares into his cup for a second before continuing. "This is one of those moments."

"Yeah." I smiled into my hot chocolate and didn't say anything more. I knew exactly what he meant. Meanwhile, the vocalist in the song began to sing about the conflicts of life while the people at the table across from us continued talking about sexuality and drama as if they had any idea what it meant.