Tag Archive: war


Tank


“Bring up Tank!  Come on, hurry up there!”

I hurried at a run, my two guys behind me, ignoring the flames running up and down my legs.  The squad leader, a youth of about fifteen, stood silhouetted in the darkness of the woods beyond which lay a street light on a road.

I was dressed in shorts – not a wise choice for this kind of mission, but it was what I had been given: shorts and a tee shirt.  My half torn old tennis shoes flopped, one sole half torn lose.  I was steaming hot yet soaked to the bone.

“Tank!  Hurry up!  We need you!”  The squad leader didn’t bother to hide his impatience to get going.

I redoubled my efforts, my girth hampering me some.  I had grown during my years here – mostly around.  The briars and nettles raked me – it was impossible to see them, except when we’d cross the occasional field under a spotlight moon half hidden most of the time by darting clouds.  It felt like it would storm again at any time.

“Where’ve you been?”, he asked, crouching as I came nearer.  A few other guys – kids my age – were crouched down around him.

“I had to pee – and we had to finish setting up the deadfall.  Remember?” I told him with a bit of anger in my voice.  We had set the latrine up as a trap – a pit someone might fall into if they came scrambling over a certain log, and if they missed that there was the deadfall to get them.  Or so we hoped.  Everyone was certain our camp would be raided again tonight; they always did, those raiders like us: other kids who were being trained in the guerrilla art-form of warfare.  But we wouldn’t be there – instead, we would be out raiding them, at their camp.  Or so we hoped.

Our fearless Leader had come up with this: the idea of an early offense, striking earlier than was anticipated, and thereby hopefully taking out their camp while they were there – beating up a few kids (maybe), striking many with the sticks we held in our hands.  Nobody was allowed to actually do anything – the use of knives or guns of any kind was strictly prohibited.  Injuries were to be kept to a minimum.  However, our boobytraps – some of those could be quite deadly, if you were foolish enough to get caught in them.

This was while we were overseas, at a camp – I don’t know, some military camp around there, over in the Eastern part of Bavaria.  We were always moving around, and this was a larger camp I’d found myself – there were plenty of amenities and plenty of woods for the G.I.’s – and us – to ‘play’ in.

“You, Tank – you take the lead,” the squad leader said, pointing his finger at me.  The other boys smiled and nodded vigorously while my heart sunk.  I hated going first sometime.  First was always a precarious position – and they were using me as their ‘Tank’ – someone to take the lead, pushing through all the nettles, briars, and bushes – busting a trail while running, not knowing when someone (or something) might take offense to your actions.  But that was what I was known for: my toughness, ability to stand pain.  I could pick a path out through the dark before I was ten and I never got lost.  If I knew where the target was (or home was) I could keep on going (albeit in a straight line) until I got there.

They depended a lot on this unfailing quality about me.  I could guide them to our campsite in the dark – and I could take them through the brush to the enemy.  (This quality was to come in quite handy – and profitably! – when I entered the Corps – escorting Marines through the brush to the theatres.)

We crept slowly up the hill – me sensing more than seeing the paths ahead.  I had been practicing my Indian walking for a long time – about two years, ever since I’d studied it at about age eleven.  My tennis shoes, worn as they were, offered a hope of feeling a branch before I crunched down on it.  I could ‘see’ in the dark rather well compared to some of my peers (a quality I regret to say has been going with age).  I was a good leader.

And I made a good tank in the woods.

Bursting forth with a run, I ran screaming and waving my club through the last dozen feet of woods.  There, in front of us (my legs still burning from the nettles) sat our startled enemy – sitting down, cans out, food half eaten by a small fire who’s light I’d seen.  Behind me, through the hole I’d carved – I’d intentionally went through the thickest set of bushes, figuring they wouldn’t set any boobytraps in there – poured the rest of my squad, the leader behind them, taking up the tail.  With a bunch of Indian screams we ran around, punching in the tents and snapping some of the poles with our clubs.  The kids, startled, jumped up screaming and ran helter-skelter through the woods – I watched as one of them got caught up in his own trap – a net that swung up from the ground and bore him aloft – all the while raising my club and screaming and shouting . . .

It was great, and it was fun

but I’ll never forget how my bare legs would burn and burn for hours to come . . . the deflation after victory, the long march back home . . .

marching through the nettles, to the place we called home
for now.


Fliegerhorst – The Flying Horse Kaserne

 

Fliegerhorst Kaserne – Just So You Know I’m Not Joking

 

“Depants! Depants!” The cries echoed through the ruined bunker. I was only slightly annoyed; this whole game bothered me. Why would some kid want to ‘depants’ another kid? I didn’t understand it. And they never tried to depants me. I would’ve whipped their asses for doing it – even threatening to try was enough to get a hard warning look at my buddies, my fists balled. I wouldn’t run anywhere when it came to a fight though I didn’t like fighting anymore.

The lights where scattered and yellow, hidden behind glass domes protected by armor shields which were supposed to keep them protected in case of a blast. Loose rubble lay here and there in the corridors; this was the ‘abandoned’ side of the bunker complex we were in – there was a firing gallery somewhere, complete with sand banks and lots of bullets us kids would dig out some of the time. However on the ‘other’ side the Army was still using things . . .

It extended 7 levels down, though only three of them were useful. It was said the other ones were flooded by the Germans when the Americans took over the base during the final days of WWII. It was rumored there were German airplanes down there; Junker bombers, Stukkas and tanks. Maybe some of it was usable being underwater for so long, for as the Allies were coming the Germans had stored all their equipment down ‘there’, down in the deepest levels, booby trapped the place, then opened the valves between them and the river – allowing water to rush in. It filled the bunkers up to level with the river sometimes. Which was about three stories down.

You see, supposedly the Germans had this plan. They’d built this base in the basin of a shallow field, digging down (again, supposedly 7 stories down) – and putting an airfield there. When the Allies would send over their bombers, the Germans would flood the base, making it appear as a lake – and the Allies would just fly on, hopefully missing it that way. As the Allies would fly on, they would drain the ‘lake’ (apparently it was just a few feet deep), roll out some fighters to chase the American planes while sending some bombers out on their own. That way they could surprise the Allied pilots on both ends – as they were approaching their targets they could come up from behind – while the bomber had his sight laid on and couldn’t move anything. The bombardier would be the one driving – locked on his path, not straying – not one fraction of a degree one way or another, sighting those bombs in (using the Norton sight, I suppose) – and the fighters could rake them on the way there, or on the way back (when their guns were empty from fighting some fighters over the target area) – and then arriving at their home bases to find that their airports had gotten bombed – depriving them of a place to land, and (hopefully) causing many of them to crash . . . or at least wrecking some landing gear and propellors (no quick turn-around time for them guys!) . . .

Anyway, I’m reckoning that was ‘the plan’, based on what’s been told to me, history lessons that I’ve read, stategic training (as in “what I would do if I was them” – and the Germans always said I’d make a damn fine German as well . . .)

Didn’t matter in the end anyway: their bases got found out; they got bombed to Hellenbach*, and then the Allies just kept going, seizing what assets they could (ever hear of one called “Operation Paperclip”? It was a good one . . . but kinda makes me sick . . .)

 

However, the Allies couldn’t shake the secret from the last man alive who knew about those booby traps and things, and he wouldn’t reveal the intake on the pipe. Pump as they might, the mighty Army (supposedly; this was the tale that was told) – couldn’t pump those lower levels dry. So they sealed them up and left them alone . . .

And they made it a base of their own, complete with spy planes and the like – mostly Mohawks, which were an ugly twin turboprop that looked somewhat similar to the Warthogs of today – flying these big old mothballs (or meatballs, depending on how you were looking at them) – over the paths of our enemy, doing some electronic snooping on them and lots of photographs. (I know; I got to look at quite a lot of them, but for different reasons in a different way.)

The truth of it was, several somebodies probably knew quite a lot about what was ‘down there’ in that hidden darkness, and the military was still using several of the underground bunkers while I was there. This was right underneath the airfield and the hanger wings – a maze of light bubbles, gas tight doors, concrete walls, and an endlessly oppressive atmosphere that seemed to weigh down on you and make you feel safe, both at the same time . . .

It was there that we met some of the time, us kids and some of ‘the guys’. The guys were a couple of G.I.’s.

That’s all I’m going to say for this about now . . .

except that we played in them and they were dark sometimes.

 

The Fliegerhorst Airfield Kaserne (“flying horse” in German, “kaserne” means ‘base’) was important to me. That is where I had my best friend, Donald; and ‘most’ of my memories are from there. “Things” happened there; some of them I am really not quite sure about . . .

We seemed to stay there the ‘longest time’ though we were in “Old Argonner” nearby. (Argonner Kaserne, Hanau (closed in 2008). There was “New Argonner” as well. However we got moved a couple of times, though we all went to the same school. It was the last base we lived on – away from the cluster of other military bases in the area, separated and alone. It was a ‘secret’ military base in some ways – they stored nuclear missiles there, as well as being a base for the Mohawks and spy planes. Us kids were allowed to roam freely and mix around; however, you had to take a shuttle bus away from ‘camp’ to get to the outside world, or else you could ride your bicycle. Riding your bike meant going through Krautland for a long long ways. It was five miles to the nearest base – a long way in German terms, especially for some young kid on a bicycle.

There was public transport – if you had the money. The German buses and trains ran on time – and frequently, I might add. Clean and efficient transportation – if you were going somewhere in Germantown. However, getting onto an American base might be an entirely different matter.

You had to have your I.D. with you at all times – something new to me as a kid: carrying an identification card that said who I was and who I belonged to. (The US Army – it said so right there across the top and with the great big seal they had on it.)

I spent a lot of time alone rambling around by myself at first. For a long time, actually – those first two years, maybe even. It’s hard to grasp. So many of the memories are gone. Flashes of bases and kids . . . a young lover . . . a very deep swimming pool I was in; a merry-go-round (where I met my young lover) . . . cloudy skies and dark bases, endless airports and planes; helicopters thundering overhead . . .

I remember I spent a lot of time out over at (and on) the airport, learning some things. I don’t know what all . . . just ‘things’. I remember walking into the hangers and locker room areas; equipment rooms, storage rooms, G.I.’s taking me by the hand and showing me something or other. These are all ‘recovered’ memories for the most part; I can’t really be sure of them.

But some things I am certain of . . .

For instance, sitting in the co-pilot’s cockpit on a Huey, having a Captain show me ‘the ropes’ – how to engage the machine gun (the little minigun that hangs down in front); explaining to me the purposes of the switches, gyros and things – putting the helmet on me and talking about the Heads Up display (HUD) – how the machine gun would be tracking your movements, and you used the helmet to aim – basically firing wherever you looked or wanted to by simply looking at the object, flipping the cover, and pressing down . . .

It was also explained to me that this was the “co-captian’s” seat; that the pilot would be doing the driving – I might be required to keep my eyes on the dials and things and read some numbers out to him – but other than that I would be shooting the gun . . . if it ever came down to it . . .

I think it was him who explained to me their greatest fear: that us kids would be unarmed, or the Americans so under-armed, undeveloped, and ill prepared that the Soviet forces would be sweeping over us like a crimson wave; a tide of blood, and that any “American” should fight for his republic . . . that that was the reason why we were there . . .

And somewhere down the line it was explained to me that we wouldn’t have time to make an attack. The “Soviets” (actually, the East Germans – but it didn’t matter because they were using Soviet made MIGs) – could be over our base in a matter of minutes; there probably wouldn’t be any kind of warning until the bombs started to go off. If you heard them in time. Chances were you weren’t going to hear anything. The world would end in a great big flash and that would be the end of it – and you – and everybody you had ever known, and everything American made . . .

Atomic bombs were what we had to watch out for, we were told (this was somewhere in survival class). “Look out for the big flash in the sky!” the instructor said over again. “Be ready to duck and hide! At ALL times!” And so I spent a lot of time surreptitiously looking over my shoulder, looking on the horizon – watching for that great big flash that would mean I had to duck and hide if I wanted to stay alive. . .

The rules were rather simple: dive towards a ditch, a low wall; a bank of dirt – put anything you possibly can between you and the oncoming blast. Then get ready to get out of there – but be aware! The wind’s gonna blow in both ways . . . first it’s gonna come with smoke and fire – a virtual blast furnace (and hopefully passing over you . . . meanwhile you are hoping and praying like hell that it doesn’t suck all the oxygen out of the atmosphere – and YOU – if you wanna stay alive) . . . and then the wind is going to reverse, throwing things AT you if you haven’t gotten on the other side of the wall . . . or deeper down into your hiding place. The only thing is: they are going to be burning things and humans on fire. Half of them if not all are going to go blind. The rest may suffer from radiation burns, sickness, death . . maiming, mutilation . . .

Real good kind of trick to play on a 12 year old kid. Get him ready for a war that’s never coming. One in which he’s supposed to be a ‘leader’ of some kind; getting the other kids to gather ’round him – using him like a general would, and him using those kids for . . . whatever. And binding them to him in all kinds of ways; emotionally, rationally, through loyalty, fakery, or betrayal – all in order to “do this mission” of killing some Russians and keeping them (the kids and any Americans we’d find) alive.

To this day I don’t know how or what happened at that time; those times. So much is ‘gone’ out of my mind – a complete blank in some cases, lasting for months and months it seems. Flashes like still photographs; scenes that play out in my head; some of them are unjointed, disconnected – don’t correspond to anything “I” was doing . . . maybe their parts of a dream? If so, it was a dream that went on for a mighty long time – and there again, it’s so disjointed and spread out through time – a little bit took place ‘here’ and a little bit over ‘there’ . . . little hints of something every once and awhile . . .

I have my own theories, of course. One of them (and the simplest, easiest, by Occam’s Razor) is that I simply ‘made it up’ in my mind. That there simply was nothing going on. That I read some facts and made it all up in my mind. But on the other hand there are certain things that I do remember quite well – for I’ve never quite ‘forgotten’ them. The levels beneath the base – why can’t I find anything on the Internet about them? They were there – there’s no doubt about that! And the German’s dug them; of that I’m quite sure. But why no mention in (most**) of “it” (the nukes, the missions, the planes.) Was the Army doing something ‘down there’ that those bunkers – because they were using some of them (for storage if nothing else; I found a comment a former G.I. made about nuclear warheads being stored there) . . . and the CIA was around – I found another document on the Internet that makes mention of Fliegerhorst . . .

Who knows? It was the Cold War and they had a lot of secrets to hide – and a lot of fear on each side – so who knows? Maybe ‘they’ were teaching us kids somewhat how to survive . . . maybe it was an official program; probably not; maybe so . . .

I only recall a few kids ever being there, where I was sometimes. Six or seven at the most; sometimes down to as few as five. (Kids were always rotating out of my ‘group’ of friends, just like I was in their lives due to the military constantly moving families around . . . and I think my dad had a hand in it, too – especially that move from the ‘regular’ kaserne (Old Argonner) over to this new ‘neighborhood’ on this so-called “American Spy Base” of ours . . .

 

Anyway . . . there’s more to come on ‘this base’ and place, one of several I was on. But of all of them . . . this was the hardest in some ways, the best, the worst, and (in some ways) led to the culmination of all my nightmares in the end . . .

 

 

*Helenbach – a wry sounding play on the name of the Georgia made to look like a German village, and “bach” which in German often means “river” and hence was the suffix of many towns . . . and the American slang term: “To hell and back” – which in many senses of the word they were bombed back to.)

**I have found a few references indicating that there were underground facilities there; perhaps more extensive than I thought – including references to the ME jet plane that Hitler was developing . . . as well as a website comment by a G.I. about some nukes that were stored in there; and some data that suggests the CIA had some folks stationed there – perhaps because it was a reconnaissance base on the forward lines of Cold War Europe . . . or who knows? Perhaps it was something more.


War Games: The European Theater

“They’re over there,” we said, squatting around the small campfire the G.I.’s had built to warm themselves and their rations. The woods were gray with snow, and the sky overcast. Tanks and APC’s (armored personnel carriers) sat around grumbling. Us kids eagerly spooned up pink slabs of greasy meat and yellow morsels of pound cake from the ubiquitous green C-ration cans, our bicycles parked in the brush at one side. Our ages ranged from twelve to an over-the-hill fourteen.

“What’d you see?” an officer asked, generously offering more C-rat cans. Most of the food we was older than us – you could tell by the packing date – but it was there, and we were more than willing to be bribed. The G.I.’s ate the same fair, though not with as much interest and gusto as us military kids. I reckon that comes with eating the same thing morning, noon and night for weeks. We’d be going home to our warm suppers and beds that night; they wouldn’t.

“There were about three tanks,” I lied, pointing to a thick tree line on the opposite side of the long field. “And a couple of those – .” I pointed at the APC’s. “With about thirty guys eating lunch.”

The officer’s eyebrows arched with interest as he turned, contemplating the far line. The G.I.’s had been separated into opposing groups, both given tanks and guns to ‘fight’ with. And us kids – dissemblers of misinformation, sometimes mixing a bit of reality with imaginative spice, were regarded as a source of military intelligence. How little they knew we often had a devious plan, and were playing a game within the game.

We weren’t the innocent young boys we pretended to be. We had wandered the woods extensively, passing through enemy and friendly lines with impunity. Such was the life of an overseas Army brat – mixing with the G.I.’s on maneuvers, and generally spreading chaos among the groups of training troops. It was what we called “entertaining ourselves” and it was a game we loved. Making plans in the woods or while listening to officers, we would go from camp to camp, spreading intentionally twisted versions of the truth, or the truth on a silver platter. We often attempted to mix up both sides, sending them charging in the wrong direction, or sometimes pitting one under-classed outfit against a well-armed ‘foe’. Sometimes it we succeeded. Sometimes we did not. Sometimes we just didn’t know if the results were just a typical military screwup, or the results of our disinformation to our foe. But we played a game within the game, entertaining ourselves, and playing with our “friends”. Everyone knew we weren’t supposed to be there, ourselves included. The regulation was something like “Dependents WILL NOT fraternize with Troops in the Field” and if you found yourself in a zone where the troops were training, you were supposed to get out. But us kids sought them out, relishing the sight of tanks and guns, rubbing shoulders with the troops in the field, and most of all, doing something we wanted to do – knew to do. And that was to train for war.


It wasn’t uncommon to be riding through the woods and come across G.I.’s infiltrating an area. You’d see their helmets and rifles moving through the brush, their packs bobbing across the landscape. And us being American kids, the G.I.’s often welcomed us into their camps, sharing their food and sometimes giving us a tour or ride in their vehicles in exchange for some conversation. They always seemed interested in what we knew about “the other side” – and we hoped that by controlling the information, we could control their direction, giving them unexpected results. The officers especially seemed interested in what we had to say, since this spared them (and their troops) the effort of collecting the information themselves. And what can I say? It was fun “playing” spy-counterspy with the soldiers .

I remember us kids sitting on our bicycles at the edge of a field. There was the rumbling of tanks to the left, rumbling to the right. There had been opposing companies parked on each side; we had run back and forth, telling each one where the other was. From the way they had talked and had acted surprised, neither knew of the other’s existence. In what we hoped was a stroke of luck or our own devious design, both sides had decided to attack the other’s position. I had enjoyed watching all the soldiers rushing towards their machines, climbing the tanks and starting them up. That’s when we had left.


The tanks to the left burst with a clanking roar from the woods, spraying leaves and crushing bushes on each side. A moment later another row of tanks burst from the other side. Sharing thrilled grins, we watched the huge metal dinosaurs lumbered towards each other, shaking the ground beneath our feet. Suddenly a tank on the right lurched to a stop, smoke billowing from its engine vents. The other tanks kept on coming. A second and a third tank lumbered to a stop – one throwing a tread, it’s sprockets spinning uselessly. Another began spouting thick smoke from its exhaust. I was amazed at how many of the mechanical beasts simply broke down under the effort. Some, I’m sure, were intentional – surely their operators had been informed that they were “dead” and had turned on their smoke generators to signify the fact. But others – ones such as the one with the thrown track – were pure mechanical breakdown.

The tanks roared past each other, turrets swiveling like long snouts, then continued on, attacking each others position. Men began yelling in the far woods; there was the rapid snap “ratatatat” of small arms and the bang!-bang!-bang! of heavy weapons – .30 caliber and .50 cows kicking in. Us kids, satisfied by the mayhem, watched as a couple tank crews emerged and wrestling with their hoods, began working on and cursing their machines. One stood by his tank’s side and futility kicked its sprocket, spouting curses, then taking a piss. Mounting our bikes once again, we faded into the woods, knowing our job was done. We had once more fouled up someone’s battle plan. Now it was time to look for some more victims – and some more fun.

War In the Hood


War In the Hood

I stood next to the path, gritty sweat running down my face and bare chest. Overhead the sun shown like a molten rock in a diamond sky. I patiently waited, shifting restlessly from bare foot to another, feeling the gritty sand shifting beneath my feet.  A big bark covered log leaned across my shoulder, my hands gripping its rough gray surface like a baseball bat. It was pine, about two inches around, and much longer than me – about six feet tall. Beneath my bare feet the fine white sand was cool between my bare toes; a gentle summer breeze caressed my dust covered legs. All I wore was a set of short cutoffs made from a pair of pants; nothing else. I had no shirt or shoes on – just a firm brown tan carrying a scar or two.

I cocked my head, listening. Not just listening, but listening hard ­for that soft ‘pad-pad’ of feet striking soft sand. Thus far, nothing. The narrow path I was standing next to meandered down the hill in a more or less straight line, threading through thin pine and oak and around scrappy clumps of scrub. I had stationed myself somewhere in the middle, not far behind our house, and almost right behind the teenager’s place – hiding myself beside a thin screen of leaves and finding my weapon of choice.

We had been busy, my team and I, digging sporadically spaced shallow holes along the path. There was one every four or five feet from where I stood, stretching away for a good sixty or more foot in each direction. My team had disappeared – that was the plan – and I stood by to catch ‘them’, the enemy we had been given orders to harm. Even killing was an option, though I chose not to do so. I simply wanted to harm someone, do my part: take one out, or down.

In each hole we had placed stakes selected for the task. Unfortunately, none of us owned a shovel much less a knife, so we had to rely on our skills and intuition – digging holes with our bare hands and fashioning stakes by breaking dry branches so sharpened ends would form. Sometimes we sharpened them on rocks a bit. Then we would dig our shallow holes – odd how the land turned from stark white to a chocolate brown as soon as you scraped the earth. It was a painful task, packing dirt underneath our fingernails and almost ripping them off. Mine were kept short, courtesy of my nervous habit of biting them all the time, but still it hurt as the sand ate away at the skin on the end of your fingers.

I wanted our holes to be deeper, so I had encouraged my team to use the stakes as digging sticks where they could, but soon it became obvious. Looking up and down the path we could see the pine needle patchworks like frayed brown mats covering the holes scattered up and down the sandy white path.  None were much bigger than my foot.  I had measured mine to determine the size of the holes we must dig – and none were very deep. We had covered the holes with laced pine twigs to hold the pine straw mats, but there was no denying it: our traps stood out in the noontime sun like furry brown blisters on the fine white sand. I wiped sweat from my brow with the back of a dusty hand. Above the sun hung like a molten moon – small, distant, and hot. The sky, white-azure, was a leaded plate of glass radiating the heat down, only to suck it back up and send it back later on with more fury. It beat in a continuous wave – a hot July that left your breathless, like standing in blast furnace at noon, which would settle out to simply sweltering at night.

That was one thing about the Georgia sand hills, site of ancient seas – it was cool sometimes despite the rich Southern heat. Set above the Savannah river valley, the breezes carried wafts of ancient air, as cooling to the dinosaurs as it was to me. The settlers ‘down there’ in the valley would come up here in old times, seeking relief from the heat and diseases of the swampy south part of town – Augusta, Georgia it was, and we were not too far off the Tobacco road of fame and infamy.  Not that it had progressed much since that novel was written. Jeeter still lives there, with his mother-in-law and kids – many of them, for they have reproduced like rabbits down here in the south, and there’s no fox to kill them. So they just go on, generation after generation . . . drifting down into the earth like the fossils they are, and leaving only derelict buildings and old outhouses behind . . .

We had moved there some years before, and I was the one calling the shots. After all, I was an officer’s kid – or so they thought. In actuality my dad was but a Warrant Officer, W-1 – the earliest grade available. He was the one who had taught me to fight and showed me some pressure points and things – this was when I was about seven years old and was being matched up against the teenager and kids much older than me. He’d seen me come in bleeding but proud – I’d won another fight with my windmilling approach, but I had no sense of guard; I knew nothing about blocking any blows. Instead I’d just go ahead and suck them up while attacking the other kid – windmilling my arms, head down, feet a’charging. This, I later learned, was not the way to be doing things – and even while fighting like that I knew there had to be something better. So he spent a few hours one afternoon teaching me how to hold my arms up, make a guard – punching out instead of simply lashing out with those wide round houses kids often made. And I became a good fighter, practicing on my friend. He and I were into fighting all of the time; that’s part of what made us such good friends! We’d fight for awhile, determine who was the dominate one – and then with wide grins and big smiles we’d clasp each other around the shoulders and go walking down the road like two soldiers or best buddies, best friends until the end. There was never any animosity between us: we’d simply fight, settle it out, and go on about our play – no harm done.

But this time we were on a different kind of mission. The teenager may had set this one up, though I may be wrong. He often worked for his father as a mason and during the summer he was gone – off on some job site hauling some block, mixing some concrete, or doing some other kind of errand for his dad. That’s why he liked school so much, but it made him strong. The teenager was one of, but not the strongest in the ‘hood. That in part (I think) was due to his age: he was younger than some of them, but older than most of ‘my gang’ – who he hung around most often. Sometimes his attention was split between us – trying to seduce us kids while at the same time maintaining a somewhat normal relationship with the teenagers he in turn wanted to be like: the Fedrickson’s with their nice cars, or even the Stephensons, though he, like us and the rest of the hood hated their bullying ways. All of those kids were older than him – not by much, but enough, I suppose, to have that effect on him: him always ‘looking up’ and wanting to be like them (plus their families were ‘rich’ compared to him; they seemed to have everything, but his own family? Some of the poorest people in the ‘hood. Sometimes ‘we’, our family, came in at a close second. A very close second sometimes.)

This time we were in a war. My ‘team’ – a group of three of my friends and myself – had been selected to patrol – and set up and ‘mine’ – this part of the path. Then, after my friends were done, they were supposed to hightail it up to ‘the ridge’ (a hump in the ground further up on the hill) where our opponents, vastly outnumbering us (it was about twelve to one, including a teenager on their side) – were waiting for us to come up there, or us wait for them. Us little kids had immediately decided to take an alternative action. We had dug our traps – my team had gone up as described – and now I was waiting for something else. That’s why I had picked up this log.

Looking at this path it had occurred to us just how ineffective these traps were. For one reason: you could see them, scattered like the wind tossed mats of pine needle. Our team had discussed it after trying to top the needles with sand (it simply trickled through, burying the hole – or the weight would collapse it down). Not only that but the holes were too small – just big enough for a bare foot to get caught in, sparing a few inches. Due to our lack of construction tools, most of the holes were quite shallow – four to six inches deep, maybe a bit more, depending on the hardness of the sand we were digging in and the time we had allotted for ourselves to get this thing done.

We had brushed out most of the tracks on the path and fingermarks scarring the holes. Most of the kids knew about pit traps – or at least those who played war did. And this wasn’t the first time we had used pit traps. We’d even remarked how bad it was that we couldn’t get some feces to rub on them – that way the ‘enemy’ did – but in the end we had abandoned that idea. Everyone knew we’d get into trouble if we did – the grownups would get mad. Just the pit and the stakes were enough – all that was asked for. Injure some kid bad enough . . . it was enough to make the whole group of us shudder . . .

So we had discussed it, my team and I, before coming up with another plan of action – one that ran counter to what we had been told. I would stand beside the path and ambush somebody – taking them down – and then fading back, do it again – if anyone should come running down that path. We were all agreed I was the most capable of doing this thing: tackling somebody and bringing them down. Meanwhile my team would go ‘up there’ towards the other team’s home (which was behind the ridge) – and lead them down this merry path to my hell. And I was waiting for them to do it; exactly this kind of thing.

However it had occurred to me as my team dissipated along the sides of the path, scurrying through the low brush towards the top of the hill that I was unarmed and unable to do anything against a group of kids who might be coming down that hill. Critically scrutinizing the path, I thought about the games I played – the other games with my dad. A lot of them were ‘war’ games, meaning chess and things – but sometimes he brought equipment home. We had yet to get the missile launchers* – those would come later, when I was about ten or eleven – but they were unarmed. They were simply the collapsible tubes and aiming sights (as well as fold down hand grips, buttons, and instructions on how to use them) – which we would aim at each other when playing war.

So I looked at the path and thought about it – seeing ‘me’ running down the path and knowing what I would do when I saw ‘them’, the traps we had made. I could literally almost ‘see’ myself running towards me, head down, scrutinizing the path – dodging this way and that, avoiding this hole and jumping over another one. I looked up. There was yelling on the hill. Looking around I espied this stick of mine – a broken down tree laying on the ground. I picked it up and took my station, positioning myself behind the bushes . . .

because I knew – knew with an almost complete certainty how the kid would come. He would come like me – head down, concentrating on the path – looking where the next hole was and not where he was going. Already I could hear one running down the path. I knew it wasn’t one of my own – we had all agreed not to use this path; it was mined and ‘booby trapped’ from stem to stern – if not by one of our boys, then one of ‘their’ own. We would just wait here . . . waiting by this path until the enemy came . . . with this great big old stick braced against my shoulder, its end dug into the ground . . .

I heard the pitter-patter of feet coming a lot closer – and the yelling and shouting like mad Indians or wild hoodlums grew louder as the crashing of bushes came down the hill – and I tensed, bracing myself. Glancing around the thin screen of bush I could see him – a kid like me coming on down the path, his head down, hair crew cut like mine – maybe a spot or two thinner (all of our ribs were showing) – and a bit smaller in frame – and he was running, his head down as he concentrated on his path. He was hopping and dodging like a rabbit down the path, his feet skipping between the holes like it was a game, shooting little sand geysers like sparks and flame, leaving dust behind. As he came abreast of me, I stepped out and took my swing . . .

He barely saw me – barely had time to slow down, his face a slate of blank astonishment – but the motion of his body carried him on – and before he had time to turn around, I had taken that great big ‘log’ – that two inch wide stick in my hands – and cracked him in the back with it – right there, right above the middle section, just below his ‘blades (his shoulder blades, I mean) – and POW! – he goes down skidding across the sand on his belly, hands thrown out in front of him. And I had hit him so hard that that branch or log or stick in my hands broke right in half across his back – one end going spinning away into the brush somewhere while the other end stayed in my hand, flaking bark still from the force of my blow.

I looked at him. He looked like a beached fish in the sand; he lay there gasping, his hands making vague clawing motions in the sand. I could hear the yelling on the hill. It was no longer growing louder; indeed, it had settled down somewhat. Had my team taken them? Spinning in my heels I turned, looked up the path and then back down at the kid. He had stopped moving and was just laying there, his ribs going up and down. I felt a wave of contempt mixed with self-sympathy and sympathy for him. That, I knew deep down as I began running through the woods towards where my friends were battling the teenager and someone else, could have been me. That was the nature of our warfare. Grim and determined. And sometimes we kept it real.

Real wars in the ‘hood.

Battle and battle on . . .

Sometimes it seems it was the story of my life sometimes . . . in those days and days to come . . .




*I learned later those disposable rocket launchers were M72 LAW‘s , a Light Anti-Armor weapon which was developed after the Korean war in response to the expected threat of overwhelming masses of Soviet tanks and armor crossing into Western Europe – and perhaps America – in a war which was to come. One might think this, along with the training I had later overseas as an older kid would lead to something . . . but I think not, or do not know. It almost seems as though ‘they’ (the parents, the grownups, and the Army) were training kids for ‘that war’ (the one that never came). The expectation was a Soviet invasion in which our soldiers might die – and so maybe us kids were meant to fight as guerrilla fighter, individually or in groups – and fight hard – until we either died or succeeded in our mission – which was to overcome, overwhelm – and simply survive, if nothing else, in a forgotten and blasted land . . .

Sleepovers


I find the civilian attitudes strange nowadays, but in a good way. Not like when I was a kid. Not during the Vietnam war.

When we were little and living in the ‘hood, we began to have some problems. There were two military families in the ‘hood – ours and the one up the road. Us kids didn’t think too much about it, though our fathers being in Vietnam worried us. We knew daddy could die. After all, we watched the news every night and there they were: the lists of the dead, wounded, and somehow worst of all, “missing in action”. It was always there when he wasn’t at home, when he’d be gone for a long time – preying at the backs of our minds. I still have letters from my dad when he was over there, and in them I can see in his answers to my letters my worries. So often they start with “don’t worry, I’ll be all right . . .”. After all, we knew in a moment’s notice ‘this’ – our lives and everything else – could change, going from the sort of known (if rarely certain) to the completely unknown – going from being ‘poor’ to being poorer, going from having a dad (and all he represented) to not having one . . .

But this story doesn’t deal with Vietnam, or our childhood fear of him being lost in a war. It deals with something that went on in the ‘hood, at our house.

It seems that some people; unknowns to us, began to think it was a great fun to protest the war by terrorizing us kids and our mother. They didn’t succeed in scaring us kids, not at all. We didn’t know what was going on, nor did we care. If someone had come in we would have fought with them. But they scared my mom so bad that we going across the street to the neighbors house, who had become like a second family to us.

I remember those evenings. We’d get dressed in our PJ’s, and as twilight would come settling over the land, the blood stained horizon turning dark blue, we’d grab our pillows and go wandering across the sand, kicking up dust over the unpaved road. Usually it would be hot – after all, it was Georgia in the summer, and the air would hang thick before the evening breeze blew in. My mom would herd us along, blankets dragging in tow as she cast worried glances back at our house. I think one time a window was broken, but I’m not sure. They were cheap windows anyway. But I do know that they scared my mother and made her nervous.

So we’d go over to our friends where there were three boys – one of them my age, another one just a bit older, and a younger son as well. Their house seemed enormous to me. It was a brick house, which made it only seem bigger, and it had a big back yard, filled with country junk and the old pines. There was an old wellhouse standing there – nothing but the foundation where we could go play – but that was during the day. This was at night.

Their mother would bundle all of us kids into one big bed – five of us – in that one room right off the carport, adjoining the kitchen, and there they would leave us. There was no air conditioning, and only one thin sheet which we would throw aside. We’d all be sweating like pigs, but we didn’t care; it was a unique and novel experience for us all to be crowded in one bed, the lights on, giggling and laughing and having a good time. My mom would leave us alone to go talk to her friend; I don’t know where she slept, and it was no concern of mine. Of all the things I remember about that, it is that scene: all us kids piled into that bed, so hot, stuffy and humid, all of us just burning up with sweat – so hot it was miserable – but not minding, not minding at all. But it was almost a month and a half, maybe two, that my mom was too scared to sleep in her own home, all because of how people were harassing military families back then.

Strange how times change.

Eventually the prowlers and ‘peeping Toms’ stopped coming back – whoever they were. It might have been when my dad came home; I don’t know. I do know that in that neighborhood our neighbors were into helping one another – so no doubt some were keeping an eye on our place, but even still – it was uncomfortable, the idea of being singled out as a family – and as a kid – simply for something your father had done (or was doing) – off fighting a war. As if we had a choice. And yet . . . I guess in some senses, our family got punished for what he did. Over and over again.

And strange, how some things never change.

 

 

The Armageddon Child


We think we finally ‘know’ (somewhat) what happened to our little one, Mikie.  “They” (society, the military, and to some extant our parents) ‘trained’ Mikie to be an Armageddon Child.

And we (or he) is not the only one.  I am certain there are literally thousands of us – tens of thousands, if not more – children who were brought up in the warfare environment – whether through military training, or just the horrors of being exposed to war and what war means – especially for the “End Times” – those “End Times” being (in the Nuclear Age) the disposal of our nuclear weapons – by using them.  Not just us, but ‘one and all’ . . . leading us into Armageddon.

Think about it some.  I don’t know about you; but for US, the ‘war time’ children – those raised during the “Nuclear Age” when Kennedy was president and it seemed that the world was going to go to war, using its nuclear arsenal rather than fists and clubs . . .

Those “army brats” and “navy brats” – the Marines, Air Force, and then some – WE were raised with the threat of the nuclear umbrella closing over us – engaging us in a wintery darkness (and radiation fallout – we mustn’t forget about that thing!) – the Russians poised right over the German border; thirty thousand tanks against our ten; nuclear arms race is going on (as well as the SALT treaties – we mustn’t forget about those!) . . . on and on and on again; this pressure from behind and above and from our ‘secret enemies’ (who, we are sure, in this day and age, must have been equally as scared as us) . . .

So they took this child – this Artist and Sensitive Child – a Child of Love and Nature – one who felt within himself only the desire to “do good” and “do right” and “do good and right by others” – a child who felt LOVE so tenderly and yet had none in his life – this child who would do ANYTHING – literally anything – to save someone he loved (even if, sometimes, that saving was himself) – they took this Sweet and Honest child . . .

and twisted his mind (or tried to) – and Made a Warrior out of him . . .

And hence Matthew was born (to some degree.  There is one other – during that transition period – which suffered a LOT for us – we feel secret anguish and tears over what he’s done) . . .

But that – that cruelty of the world – that’s what changed him the most.

and things haven’t changed a great deal since then.

The nuclear weapons are still ‘poised’ above us (ask the Russians; ask the Americans: yes, Virginia: there are nuclear bombs pointed at your head.)  While arms reduction has reduced the number of weapons available – we used to have enough to wipe out the world five times over – the fact remains we still have enough to do it twice again – more than enough for the job – if someone gets a nervous finger (or tic in his face) – and decides its time for the end to begin . . .

and that’s what “we’re” here for . . . to survive that end . . . and begin again, if necessary, if we can – if we are alive by then.  For it is certainly a fact: they don’t call it ‘Armageddon’ for nothing.  Chances are none of us will survive, though a few might . . .

And people trained like me (with little Mike at the core; the helm of things – with Matthew and the Soldier to protect him) – people who were raised to be self-sufficient; to learn to ‘do’ anything they needed to be a survivor – to survive to ‘move on’ and ‘carry on’ .  .  . that’s me, that’s them, that’s the thousands of ‘them’ that are out there (both on ‘our’ side and on ‘theirs’) – we learned something.

The human race doesn’t have to hate to survive – that’s not what little Mikie’s about.  He’s the one; the ‘strength’ in us; the compassion, the sweetness, and the sweetheart.  He’s the one who can love (we can’t? or can we? we don’t know . . .) with an endless pure desire – not us.  We’re contaminated by those ‘things’; the reality of the situation – the ones who despite him must fight on – and with him, find we can, though we have had to do terrible things to him (and others) to get there . . . hurting ‘him’ inside while hurting others outside (often for their – or someone else’s – own good) . . .

He’s the one who will pick up the gun; but not the one to use it.  He’s the one with ‘training’ – but his is of a different kind: no longer the ‘vengeful’ training of Matthew; nor the exactitude training of the man and soldier; but he’s the one who will hold our finger on the trigger – while we decide whether or not to depress it – with him calling on to us “Hold On.  Just give them one more second (to behave).  One more chance to do the right thing . . . let’s go over and help them” – while the rest of ‘us’ are knowing that the only thing that awaits us ‘out there’ (on the endless battlefield) is death and things . . . horrible things; things we don’t want to see . . .

Mikie is our dreamer, our lover, our companion; he is the one who, like a dog, is eternally forgiving.  (“Go ahead and strike me if you dare . . . I will still love you nonetheless…”).  That’s him.  Brave child; eternal child; face lifted to the horizon, eyes defiant – and filled with a bold love . . .

They took that child there and gave him . . .

us.

 

sweet and precious child of mine, destroyed – yet not destroyed!
before your precious time . . .
Taught the things you must be taught to survive the end of time
seeing the things that must be seen . . .
the hurt, the killing unkind . . .
nothing is ever worth it
this loss of love
and so Mikie constantly gives birth to it
while Someone watches from above . . .

gently nodding . . .
see “The Tree“.

 


Strange Dreams: A Child Dies


This is the second dream we ever remember having.  It is one of our oldest memories.  It comes from when we were three or four years old.

Before you begin, we want to ask you: Since when do little three or four year old boys know about Death?  Since when did they know about a tanks and red stars?  And how – oh, pray tell me how – could we have known all this as a child?

How could we have known. . . what it’s like to die . . . when we didn’t even know what Death was?

So remember: this is from when we were three or four years old . . . a young child, a toddler perhaps – oh so very young – and yet it is true.

It is a dream we’ve always remembered.  But then again, that was the game we used to play . . .

Remember when . . . . . . 

                                      a long long time ago . . . . .

The dream opens like a fog; the “fade in” from black to a roiling mist, from nothingness to . . .

The battle opens.

We (he) are in the woods.  There is noise all around us; the woods are ‘clean’ – that is, they aren’t littered with branches and undergrowth.  These are ‘mature woods’ – lots of pines, men running . . . and the sound –

We are standing there in a overcoat – a heavy one, and it is warm.  There is a rifle in our arms, diagonally held across our chest.  It is cold and there is snow on the ground, though in patches it is all scuffed up and you can see the dark decaying leaves.   In front of us a tree has fallen, left to right, the ball of its roots rising high in the air – it is a big one, with twisting roots sprouting from clumped dirt, and there is a dark cavity where it had come from . . . all of this is happening at the same time –

We can see the our breath puffing into the windless air.  It is . . . midmorning some time?  It is not dark, but gray – there is a mottled gray overcast sky hanging overhead, like the clouds we came through in this dream . . .

and there is the running.  I have been standing there some thirty feet from this tree, watching them run.  They are running through the woods in front of me and behind me while somewhere in the distance there is a popping-chatter (that my adult mind constantly identifies as machine gun fire) and a ground thumping, ground shaking roaring clatter.  I watch the men streaming through the woods from right to the left – dodging around the trees, overcoats flapping . . . and I, too, am breathless with dread and fear . . .

I look down.  I see my hands.  They are shaking; white fingers curled around my weapon.   And I know:

The tank is coming and there’s nowhere to run, no way we can run fast enough . . . we must hide.

We are scared, scared out of our mind.

Wide eyed and panicked (we are young, but this body in this dream feels more like that of a younger man – say in his teens or early twenties or so) – we run forward.  We have a plan.  We’re gonna go leap into that hole that the roots have left . . . knowing that the dirt will protect us from direct fire . . . we’re gonna have a place to hide . . .

but as we are dashing forward the tank appears – going right to left – and it’s about thirty feet or so beyond the gnarled fist of roots . . . and its turret is already turning as it is clearing the edge of the root ball . . . I realize we’re not going to make it.  I have seen the big dull red star on its green painted rough hide, but it is too late – as I leap towards the hole, going in feet first, I see something flashing beside the big barrel (which isn’t aiming at me) – and

something strikes me in the chest.  HARD.  For a split second – a fraction of a hair – I can feel myself being tossed back (surprised, dismayed, disappointed, and in FEAR) . . .

then

nothing.

End of Dream.

And there you have it.  I know we (I) – the child I was then (and I can remember this quite clearly, waking up in my room) – must have woken up for a brief second – just long enough to ‘record’ and remember this dream – and that it has stuck with “me” ever since . . .

Strange dreams to have . . . for a three or four year old boy . . .

Don’t you think?

(PS: As always – and given some recent information – we have come to wonder about this thing, this dream . . . originally thinking it may have been a ‘dream of reincarnation’; that is, we were born in Germany about a decade and a half after WWII . . . we always have been a ‘Warrior At Heart”, meaning one who never knew when to quit . . . if you wanna look at it that way . . . or something else.  Perhaps .  . . perhaps we’ll never know.)

It just seems odd, though . . . there are details in this dream so clear – both back then and right now – though I discredit anything I ‘see’ in it now, knowing it can be contaminated by the views and perspectives of adulthood – one with a very creative (and loving! and hurt :(.  And injured) child inside ….

Wishing us luck – and you too, on this thing . . .

This adventure we call ‘the adventure of a lifetime’ . . .

because it certainly is.


Tales Momma Tells
(Toknoni 05/16/2009)

While my mother and I have a troublesome past (mild understatement), I like hearing her stories of her past. These are stories that are fading with the older generation, and not often written down. In time they will be lost forever. Often they reveal things about my mother’s upbringing which gives me some insight into her and my own upbringing, since one affects the other. (see “The Tools They Were Given”).

Yesterday my mother and I went to a museum, not something we do often. The museum visit – forgettable. The ride there and back – not so much. Especially after my mother revealed an incident involving me and some Vietnamese officers that I am still trying to “get over” or digest. Last night was hard, and I . . . “switched” in my wife’s arms, something I have not done for years, and let her hold that child-thing within me. (Yeah, it was that bad, and I have gone to her several times today, just to be in her arms – though she does not know what I’ve been told, only that it ‘did something’ to me.) But in that thing my mother told me, she revealed either her love for me – just her outrage at those men (because she truly does hate men at heart). More on that later, perhaps today. We’ll see.

In her tales to me, she revealed that she was ordered to take care of her siblings – just babies – at the age of seven – or else! Her new step-father was a PTSD WWII alcoholic vet (a very violent man). I have just begun to realize how very poor they were.

She told about how they would save tinfoil for the war drive – not the tinfoil that you cook with, but even the foil off of cigarette wrappers, gum wrappers (when, she said, they were lucky enough to have gun) – every little scrap. She told how she, when she got older, would babysit for money – but had to turn every cent over to her stepfather, who would contact her employers to make sure he got every penny – and would beat her severely if she held back a single dime.

She talked about how they lived for a while on a tenement farm

She talked about how she never knew how she knew to take care of and handle the old kerosene lamps – the cleaning, trimming of wicks, etc., until HER mother said:

“Don’t you remember, dear? How you would have to carry the lamp upstairs to go to your bedroom? In that old dry house? And I was always afraid you’d fall or drop it – but your (step) father wouldn’t let me do it. But you always made it!”

She talked about how her and her mother, along with the kids, would be dropped off at the “garden” to work all day in the hot sun – her no doubt having to alternate between taking care of the kids and weed and hoe – while her stepfather went to town to start his daily drunk. I know those ‘gardens’ – they weren’t ‘gardens’. They were (and are here in the South) long endless furrows with dust and weeds, not a drop of shade to be found. It’s hot, dry, dusty work that leaves your tongue swollen with thirst, your skin caked with sweat coated mud, and your fingers and back sore from bending. About how, at the end of the day they would sit on a dusty bank waiting for him to come pick them up. And how in the end it all proved an exercise in futility, for their father made them move before the garden ‘came in’ for harvesting. I could hear the tone of finality, the sense of regret and loss in her at that. She has always loved gardening.

She talked about how they grew up poor, so poor that in all their years their greatest treat was the few (I take it two or three) times that her and her brother would be given a Hersey bar to split; how their mother would split the bar, and then they (my mom and her brother) would separate the little squares, dropping them into two separate teacups and sitting on the couch all day, suck on the chocolate squares, making them last as long as possible. “It’s not like the children of today,” she said, indicating with her tone how spoiled they are. “We didn’t gobble them up. We’d let each piece slowly melt in our mouths, savoring the flavor for as long as possible.” The wrappers, of course, went to the foil drive.

She grew up in places where the things we as modern individuals take for granted were just a dream. No electricity, no running water, not even a toilet in the house. They used an outhouse instead – and this was in the early fifties. They would have to heat water on the stove to do dishes – and her a young girl of maybe ten? I can imagine my mom struggling with a big pot of boiling water, making her way ever so carefully from the stove to the sink. What a hard life it must have been (and yet I have lived like that a time or two myself, which is why I have no fear of extreme poverty.)

She also talked about how the kitchen had to be spotlessly clean before everyone went to bed – another one of her chores – and if anything was forgotten, her stepfather would beat her unforgivably. (Having met that cruel man, I can easily believe this – very easily.) This is a habit she carries to this day: everything must be put up and tidy; the cabinets all wiped down, before she retires in the evening – no matter how tired or sore she is from her old age. Me? Not so much. I will leave dishes in the sink until morning, though I am a compulsive countertop wiper.

What reoccurs in all her stories of the past is her abusive – and I take it horribly abusive – stepfather, his rages and tempers, and hard quickness of hand. I imagine that because he was so abusive, she doesn’t see what she did to us kids as abusive, not so much – though I think in her heart of hearts, she knows, and knows very well what she did to us was just as horribly wrong in its own way. The fact that she didn’t abuse us quite as bad as she was abused tells me something about her – but I don’t know what, yet. It’s still something I’m trying to figure out. (See “The Drum Beats Slowly”.)

That’s something that I learned when I inadvertently became an abuse counselor online (while seeking help for me) – it’s not the stories that matter; it’s their effect on a person. It’s not the depth of abuse so much as how the person decides to handle it, change their own behavior, reject their ‘training’, and become a better person not only despite it, but because of it and their recognition of what it did to their lives. It’s one of the reasons I think us survivors are strong, and why we can be more tender and compassionate than those who have never had this sort of thing go on in their life. But only when we heal, or as we heal — for the scars last forever. They really do. And looking at our own scars is what gives us the strength to bear another’s; memories of our own pain is what gives us the empathy to understand the pain of another.

It’s a sad thing to realize you’ve been abused; but I feel it’s up to you (me) to change it, if you’ve discovered in your own self those abusive behaviors – the tendencies to strike out at others (unreasonably sometimes), to push away, sabotage your accomplishments, and engage in self-destruction. Lord knows, I’ve done everyone of those things in the past, and face the temptations to do those types of things on a daily basis. Not a day goes past that I or some part of me doesn’t have the temptation to put my .357 to my temple and pull the trigger**. Sometimes (like last night, after my mom revealed to me something forgotten), the urge to cut and hurt myself strikes. I sometimes find myself looking at the male-seeks-male ads, wanting to satisfy that long denied side of my bisexual nature. But I never answer; never (thus far) give into those impulses, knowing they are not only self-destructive, but would terribly hurt the ones I love so dearly. The ones who can not understand, and my wife who can never trust (she, too has some issues from her past.) But I know she trusts my love, and knowing how untrustworthy I can be, I try my best to be my best for her.

I won’t say I’m perfect. I’m so far from perfect that I can’t stand myself sometimes (hence the behavior patterns of times gone past, and the temptations I face now, and will face in the future.) Despite my name – “Michael” – I know I’m not angel, though he is my guardian at times, and I will fight alongside him should that judgment day come to pass. After all, it’s what I am, and what I’ve become, and what I always hope to be.

More human all the time.

 ** Note this was written in 2009.  Since April 1st of this year (2011) things have gotten MUCH better as we’ve cut through this BS and learned not only to accept ourselves, but BE ourselves – a multiple being living in a single unit, embracing each other and all – inside and out – with love. 

Things are much better now (we are hoping!) – and will continue to be so, though we also know: there’s a long tough row to hoe ahead in our lives – but we will go on living!  (singing our SONG of LIFE inside – forever and always THERE!  (big smiles big big smiles . . . if you only knew …. the beauty that we see.)


Two Brothers
(Tokoni 05/21/2009)


My brother and I are as different as a black-eyed pea and a green pea – both come from pods, but they’re not the same. I used to be fat; he used to be thin. Now the shoe’s on the other foot – he’s turned his six-pack into a keg, while I whittled my keg down to a . . . well, not a six-pack, but my stomach doesn’t arrive before my chest does. He’s dark haired; I’m more of a sandy blond. He’s clean shaven; I’ve got a mustache and sideburns. He’s thin boned; I got thick ones. His eyes are dark, mine blue-green. Not the same at all. We didn’t fight like cats and dogs; that would have been too civilized. No, we fought like . . . vicious human beings, which goes far beyond any animal conflicts I’ve ever seen. And yes – there were times we quite literally tried to kill one another.

My mom says he takes after her side of the family. As for me? I’m the spittin’ image of my dad, only uglier. And, like my mom, my brother’s a bit on the paranoid side whereas I’m a devil-may-care go-get ’em kind of guy who laughs readily in the face of disaster. He believes in trying to control his fate with a constant sense of desperation where I just kinda wait to see what fate throws in my lap, and deal with it then.

It’s always been like that, these striking contrasts between my brother and I. Even going back to when we were little kids – I was the ‘dare-devil’, engaging in stupid stunts, while he tended to lean more towards the conservative side – the ‘safe’ side. Not that he hasn’t had his share of adventures – we both have – but I love to seek them out whereas he would just wait (and worry) over the inevitable, trying to postpone it as long as possible, living the ‘safe’ life of endless work and money-grubbing.

One thing we have in common is that we both joined the Marine Corps when we were eighteen; but where I served a very successful term, he bailed out early, going “UA” (or AWOL for you other military fans) – until they threw him out on his ear. Not that I didn’t give the Marine Corps a hard time – one of my drill instructors said I was the most ‘hard-core’ (meaning ‘bucking the system’) recruit he’d ever met. And while my brother came out of boot camp a “gung-ho” down to the core Marine – me? Not so much. I was a ‘soldier’ before I ever got there. As a lifelong friend who has always known me said: “You are the only person I know who came out of boot camp the same as he went in.” I supposed that says something about my hard-headedness at times. It also says a LOT about how tough I was before I joined; I just came out a bit tougher. That’s the “soldier” part in me, which existed long before I’d ever given any thought to joining that particular organization. I already knew more about making war and surviving; shooting guns and dodging bullets, fighting with knives or barehanded – than the Marine Corps could ever teach me. And that, my friends, tells you something about my past.

When I look at him and I look at me, I can’t help but wonder: Where DID he come from? And I’m know he’s often wondered the same thing about me. (I remember him telling me when we were kids that I was ‘adopted’.) And this goes back to when we were little kids, I’m sure – because I remember wondering just what in the heck HIS problem was – when we were about to get beaten.

It’s become apparent to me this past week after discussing this with my brother that I ‘blocked out’ most of my memories of the ‘individual’ beatings – the ones where my dad would haul one or the other of us into a room and beat the snot out of us. I’ve known since I was little my dad has a cruel and sadistic streak – almost a perversion — though now he keeps it well hidden under that ‘caring Christian’ exterior he’s built up – trying to present one face to the public while . . . well, lets just say I think a weird, sick, and perhaps perverted heart lays beneath (see “Dark Suspicions” for more on that.) With just a few words my brother conjured up a vision I had forgotten – of my dad hauling us up by one ankle, dangling in the air, and then flailing away at us by the belt – over and over again. Far past the point of any ‘pain’ or discipline. I had “forgotten” that, or perhaps just chose not to see it. What I remember are the times we were beaten together, both in the same room. And that illustrates another major difference between my brother and I.

I remember so clearly how those ‘spankings’ would begin. First, the words: “Go to your room.” Second: The wait. Dad would always keep us waiting for a half-hour or so before showing up at the door. (A form of mental torture.) Why did we always close the door immediately after entering the room? I don’t know: perhaps as a form of futile self-protection, since we were not allowed to lock it?

And the difference in how my brother and I would ‘wait’. He would immediately start crying and wailing, as soon as ‘those words’ were spoken. I, on the other hand, was much more stoic. I would just sit there on the bed, waiting, while my brother ran around the room screaming and crying. Tears before the pain? No, that was not for me. I don’t know why. I guess – and looking back, I see that perhaps it is true: I was already “zoning out”, preparing myself for the pain that lay ahead. And there was that other factor: I wasn’t going to give my father the satisfaction of seeing me cry until the pain got so bad I had no choice. And apparently cry I did, for my brother reminded me of how “I could hear you screaming and screaming and screaming in the other room” when I was beaten by myself (something I don’t have anything but the fuzziest memories of.) And it took a lot to make me cry; I was stubbornly resistant to tears; still am, and haven’t cried since I was thirteen – thirty-six years ago. Tears, to me, represented a weakness; they still do, I guess. I know I stubbornly refuse to cry even now, even when, say, writing “Cat Scratch Fever” – which is the closest I’ve been to tears in over a decade. I guess it’s not the ‘soldierly’ thing to do. Not the ‘manly’ thing. I don’t know; the shrinks said it was a bad problem, that I need / needed to learn to cry for myself. But self-pity wasn’t allowed in our family, not at all. It was a punishable offense. I still can not allow pity for myself; nor can I tolerate other’s pitying me. It just drives me crazy (or crazier) and can lead to self-injury. Punishment for the pain, or the pity for the child that once was (and still is.)

But how I remember those ‘dual’ beatings, when my dad would come in, leather belt in hand. Slapping it against his palm. Looking at us – and it gives me shivers, because NOW I can see in his face some perverse pleasure – something my brother (again) reminded me of. “He got off on it,” my brother said last week. “He loved it. I don’t know what made him stop.”

And my brother – how frantic he would become! Have you ever seen a terrified cat locked in a room with a threat right there? How it races around, blindly attempts to climb the walls, dodges in corners and holes – anything to escape the punishment it thinks is coming? That was my brother. And it drove me CRAZY, I swear! I remember begging him before my dad would come in to STOP crying STOP wailing, SHUT up and sit there quiet with me on the bed and WAIT until you are hurt until you begin crying. His crying hurt me emotionally. But he never would. I recall one time my brother diving beneath the bed – then my dad, reaching under – and yes, dragging him out by one foot, holding him in the air, and whaling away at him – with me sitting there, knowing I was going to be next. Looking back now – it reminds me of those shows where there are the prisoners of war sitting in their cells listening to the cries of their comrades being tortured – and knowing they are going to be next. I had at least ten years of this type of behavior; of being in ‘that cell’, listening — no, WATCHING — my ‘comrade’ – my brother – getting tortured while I awaited my turn. It’s no wonder I cracked and went crazy, huh? PTSD – yeah, I reckon that’ll give ya some.

I am sure my stoic attitude was a problem for my dad. It probably meant he had to beat me more and harder to get me to respond – to give him his ‘thrills’ – because I would hold in my tears and screams as long as humanly possible – or at least as long as a child can. My brother, on the other hand, was an easy target – just say the words to him: “Go to your room” and he’d start the friggin’ show. I don’t know which gave my dad the most pleasure.

And the beatings: always the same. “Strip. Drop your drawers.” And you would step out of your pants or shorts because you didn’t want them tripping you up, sending you crashing to the floor. Falling to the floor wouldn’t stop a beating; it only made it worse. I don’t know that we wore shirts – we rarely wore shirts back then, clothes were too precious of a thing for everyday wear. But I do know we’d keep on our underwear most of the time – unless we lost them somewhere during the spanking and beating. And I know I learned early on: face the bed because that first lick WOULD send you flying – and it’s better to hit the bed head first than the wall. Every time.

Yeah, he and I are different – very different. I don’t fear poverty; he does. I don’t fear extreme danger (though I’ve learned to be wary – pain is pain, after all, and without medical insurance, I can’t afford to be hurt.) I can still bear a lot more physical pain than he can. (According to my wife and docs, more than most folks can.) I have literally had chunks of flesh gouged out of me (just like with a spoon) – and I looked down and laughed – and calmly went on working (my wife was like ‘whut the hell?!! Doesn’t that HURT?” But – it merely stung.) Not that I don’t feel pain. I just ignore it better.

My mom likes to tell the tale of how when I was a little child the nerves in my hands hadn’t grown properly, and sometimes she would smell something burning. Going into the kitchen she would find me, my hands on the red-hot burners – just to see what was going on, I reckon. I don’t remember those times. But I’m thinking – perhaps – there were times when I wished that numbness would extend all over my body – sinking inside, perhaps, and taking over my soul.

Becoming completely numb. That’s what it was about sometimes.

And I guess that’s why I became and did and behaved and went crazy, the way I am today. Ever since I was twenty-one, and “The Machine” part of me broke down – I’ve been working on escaping that numbness of mind, soul, spirit and emotion. And, I guess, I’m still working on it now.

Only this time I think maybe I’m trying to breath some life back into that child; that teenager – to feel their pain – the pain they’ve hidden from me – for so very, very long. In order to ‘heal’. After all, as another abuse survivor once told me: “to feel is to heal, and I want you to heal yourself so that you can feel — all the wonderful things that are you.” And, I reckon, she was right on target with that, for I wrote it down, and treasured her very much for all she did for me.

In case you are reading, “Bean” — somewhere out there — this is just to let you know: I’m still working on it, and miss you sometimes. Thanks for all you did.

(Tokoni 05/21/2009)


Little Girl Lost
(Tokoni 05/17/2009)

It was the worst thing that can happen to a military family. No – not mine. But the lightening struck terrifyingly close, opening all of us kid’s eyes to the harsh, cruel, heartless nature of where our fathers were – and what could happen to us.

This was in the late sixties, and all us kids were in one of those ‘temporary’ classrooms that always seem to become temporarily permanent – you know, those quonset huts or trailer like structures that the Army always used to expand their ‘storage’ when storage – or classrooms (same thing as storage to the Army) – are becoming overly packed and crowded. It sat back off a metal awning covering a sidewalk, raised up above ground level, with a plank ‘sidewalk’ extending from the real thing to the metal room’s entrance. I remember the inside of the quonset hut – walls squared off and cluttered with bulletin boards, kid’s art, cutouts and gaudy posters; the desks those simple metal and wood affairs that we adults can never squeeze in (but which are always there for us during those “teacher-parent” conferences or open houses that the schools have). This was a military school for dependents, not that it was that much different than the civilian school I’d been attending, and I must have been in fifth grade, for that was when we first moved there.

I was ‘sweet’ on the girl sitting next to me; she, as I recall, always wore a short cotton dress that dropped not much further than her knees, and I think she was sweet on me as well, for she’d often cut glances my way when we’d be doing our school work – and I know I spent a lot of time sorta gazing dreamily at her. But I was too chicken to let my fondness to be known; when recess time would roll around I would go out to the hill with the other boys to ride my sleigh down the long snowy slope while she – well, I guess she did what all the other girls did: skip rope, play house, or sit around and giggle all the time. Not the sports of boys, and definitely not a rough and tumble kid like me, who was foolish enough to do anything that appealed to my daring nature. Just like any other boy, I reckon. I would soon change, but not so much from this. That comes later, in another story.

We were sitting there one morning – I know it was morning, I remember the day so well, like it was yesterday, or the week before. The German sky was overcast, gray with clouds; snow had fallen, promising some slippery rides on the slope beyond the expansive (and amazingly empty) playground outside. We had no swings or slides; just an open field to play in, with that great white slope behind. We are sitting there working on our schoolwork; I can almost see the papers on my desk, fanned with curling edges, the thick pencil between nubby fingers, casting sidelong glances at my female partner. The classroom is quiet, but not too quiet – I can almost hear the teacher’s voice droning in my mind. I don’t know what we were doing, or what we were supposed to do, when suddenly there is a knock on the door; a firm “rap-rap-rapping”. Someone wants to come in.

Us kids do what us kids always did; we pause in our work to look up while the teacher, encouraging us to get back to work, goes to the door.

Three Army officers walk in – or at least I suppose they were officers. They were in their dress greens – sharp looking uniforms with emblems and epithets, little badges across their chests (I was to learn later there are campaign ribbons.) They talk to the teacher for a moment; she points in my direction, and then leads them down MY aisle; she passes my desk a little ways, perhaps a few feet, and the Army officers stand beside me – just a child’s arm’s breadth away. They are looking at the little girl. Their eyes are . . . hard? Firm? Understanding? I don’t know, but there was a strange locked expression in their faces – as though they didn’t want to do what they were going to do, but were going to do it anyway. I was froze (remembering here, now, being frozen in my seat, staring at them, pencil clutched painfully between my fingers and papers beneath the heel of my hand.)

“Come with us,” one of them says, holding his hand out to the little girl who is eyeing them in bewilderment. “Your father has been killed. In Vietnam.”

“He was shot in the head. On a riverboat, headed back up the Mekong.” (A river.) “While on the way home.”

Now I don’t remember where this came from – I’d hate to think they were this cruel – but perhaps in their own way, they were simply explaining. Or maybe we heard it soon after. I really don’t know. I was in SHOCK – as all of us kids were. The officer takes my (why do I think “my”?) little girl’s hand – the girl I’ve been falling in love with – and she rises – also in wide eyed shock – and they lead her away, on out the classroom – and we never see her again. NEVER.

I don’t know if that bit about her father getting shot in the head while on the way home was said right then, right there in the classroom, but I swear I heard them say it. Apparently he was on a boat on the river, heading towards home – his time was up “in-country” – and I guess in other ways as well. Forever. But the story went around the school like wildfire, and by noon we were all in fear and shock. All of us kids. Every last one.

Because we realized it could happen to our dads.

For the first time, the truth really hit home. That little girl could be us. At any time, any place – we could get the news – and we knew how it would come. In the form of three Army officers, come to take you away – and then . . . you would be gone forever.

Nowadays they have counseling for those kids, and the kids in the classrooms around them. They have therapy sessions and talks; gatherings and reassurances. The dependents are taken care of, very well. But back then? There was no such thing. We were on our own to deal with it as best we could – every kid unto himself, by him (or her) self. No such help from the counselors – there were none – nothing.

Even the teacher was in shock. I remember that muted silence that went on and on and on in that classroom. And it never seemed to end – not ever, not until we moved away from there.

And I had lost my best little friend, the one I had never known.

I just wish now I knew what her name was, how she fared, and what they did to her. Because we never did find out. All I know is she disappeared – never to be seen again.