“What stories hide in those lines that crawl upon your skin? What tales are sown into your scar tissue?”
“I’ve been asked nearly every question in the book. And even after all these years, I still recite my answers. I conjure the romantic images, and warm thoughts of patriotism and heroic ventures. I stray from the truth, of course.
“I could fill whole conversations with times I watched pieces of another human being roll across the dirt, or saw bodies sail through the crisp night air. I could recount watching bombs blacken villages and towns with ash and fire. People would scream as their flesh burned and their children roasted in the uncontrolled flames. The casual obliteration of a human being is a savage event that unfolded before me more times than I can count. At times, I was behind my rifle, tapping the trigger and murdering them. Other times, I was walking by as bullets ravaged their bodies.
“In both the ink and scars I see nothing more than pain and death. How cliché, right? The black lines and dents in my flesh remind me of someone’s demise, or some wound I received. My tattoos and scars are reminders and memorials. They tell a story of who I am and what I did. They show everyone that I bled for some ideal, some cause. That is what I rehearse at least. To me, these marks are nothing more than a decoy. They get people talking about that romantic notion of war I mentioned before. They shield me from the real terror swimming within. They cover up some of the guilt, some of the agony. I wasn’t incinerated by a mortar or caught by a sniper. I’m here, alive and well and other people aren’t. Friends of mine, enemies of mine; they’re dead and I’m alive.”
“Are there heroic stories imbued in your step, or just dark memories?”
“Heroes, those are the ones who died, right? That’s the popular idea. To someone else, maybe I’m a hero because I didn’t die. Maybe I’m heroic because I got shot, and he’s a hero because his leg was blown off. So, what then is a hero? Someone that gets hurt, someone that bleeds for that flag fluttering in the wind? Someone that suffers and bleeds, lying confused in the middle of a street that no one can cross without being shot themselves? Does suffering and blood loss earn one “hero” status? If so, why not call the dead on the other side heroes too?
“I harbor darkness. It brews in my mind and threatens to poke through my skin every day. I’ve felt it suffocate my heart, squash my lungs and crack my bones. Are there lighter, happier moments? Of course. But my experience, my time in country, is categorized by a bleak mask worn by the most brutal, most evil actions human beings are capable of preforming. Rape, slaughter, chattel enslavement. We did it all.”
“Us, them, everyone in the valley. We all became victims, and we all became thinly veiled heroes, wearing a flag and toting a gun.”
I decided to try to make today’s prompt (which was “infuse” if anyone is curious) fit in with Memorial Day.