Wednesday, May 5, 2010
"Don't Ask, Don't Tell"
dispatches from 2009, Norfolk VA, USA: navy town
Bill, a handsome black Texan navy officer standing well over six feet tall, taps his lapel which is striated with two rows of colorful stripes. It reminds me of a barcode, his price point to the nation, but of course I don’t say that. He wants me to understand and carefully explains all they signify. “This one here is for my third term of service in Iraq.” It was to be his last and he was grateful. There was a time when soldiers would only get two tours of duty, but that was then. He was just 27. “And this…” he points to the last strip, a little red rectangle with a metal pin beneath shaped in an ‘S’, “stands for ‘sharpshooter’. Hitting a target at least 130 times out of 140. Not here,” he motions to my outer body, “but right here.” The heart. “I could hit you at least 130 times, no, 140 times, in the heart. Every time. Pow, pow, pow. I wouldn’t miss the once.”
Bill is a sweet-natured, frivolous guy with a gap between his two front teeth that is endearingly goofy. I imagine he has Stories too, but I am awkward and don’t pry; they would be too fresh, still weeping blood. They are Scars. I am an enabler, because I don’t have to think about the war; I avoid it mostly in the news, at the movies, and don’t particularly want my military friends to tell me about it. It’s far away in a foreign land. I’m not dodging sniper fire or watching enemy planes glide over my head. Obviously I prefer it that way.
Bill also is a gay man. I once saw pictures of his family back in Texas. To my jaundiced eye, the faded Polaroids are a bit strange; the Texan suburban landscape is a sun-bleached husk, and they all look at the camera as if it’s about to steal their souls. Yet the moment is touching, discernible in their awkwardness. He isn’t out to them, and believes it would break his father’s heart, I think. His ‘day job’, forget it, though they find a way for them to express themselves, even in that rotten egg of a war, frying on booby-trapped asphalt. He relishes telling me about fucking a firefighter on base. Bill was in Iraq eight full months this time, so maybe it’s not such a big deal getting laid the once, but the sheer resourcefulness of male sexuality never ceases to amaze me at least, I have to say. Maybe I’ll tell you my stories, some time.