Most others didn’t much bother about it. But having me around didn’t help the higher ups when it came to explaining to the village chief how a young mother and her child got reduced to ash by a white phosphorous grenade. Scabbed over burns on my face were also hard to explain. Explanations like desert mites and psoriasis did not wash well. Not knowing for sure what happened, the fog of war and all, I wasn’t much help either, so I had to go.
Faced with being home and a different batch of others, the scabs on my face turned to raw sores. Night walks kept me going. The sores could not be seen.
Quickly entering the examining room, the VA shrink gives me a smiling nod and sits on his large desk with one foot on the floor and my file open on his thigh.
“You are Ben James,” he ask, “I saw you last month?”
“Is there anything that you wish to talk about today? Something that would maybe make you feel better?”
I shake my head.
“Take off the sunglasses and remove the face mask,” he says, “I want to see your eyes.”
Now this foreign doctor will see my sores and he will know about the accident.
“How do they look?” I ask.
Without looking up from my chart, he says, “How does what look?”
“ The sores,” I say, “I think maybe they are more infected.”
Lowering the chart, he looks directly at me and shakes his head, “There are no sores, Ben. Are you taking the medicine I gave you for sleep.”
I am taking them with a glass of vodka to even approach sleep but I simply say, “Yes.”
“Good, good, you know that we are here to help.” He scribbles on a pad, tears the leaf off, and hands it to me on his way to the door.
“Here’s a fresh prescription. Have it filled at the pharmacy on your way out. I’ll see you next month.”
Smashing into the side of my head, the butt of the Kalashnikov almost knocks me out. Like watching a film at half speed, I see the concrete floor slowly rise up to smash my face. Standing over me, stretching to the roof it seems, is an older fighter holding the Kalashnikov. Three other slightly younger men are with him. Saying something that makes the others laugh, he viciously kicks me in the stomach. Still laughing, they all strip off my boots and desert fatigues and drag me to a half collapsed wall inside the bombed-out house. Draping me head first over the wall, they tie my hands and arms to a supporting post, spread my legs, and do the same with them. One of the younger men rips off my underwear. Half conscious until now, my fear builds along with my other senses as the older man paces back and forth appraising me. Grabbing my ass suddenly with both hands, he looks at the others and laughs. Laying his armaments aside, he lifts off his garment to reveal a huge erect penis with a head as big as a softball. The mammoth cock has the painted face of a laughing clown. Wild tufts of red hair growing from the sides of the bulbous head start flapping like wings as the fighter prepares to mount me. A rumbling sound in the background, barely audible at first, grows louder when I feel the kiss of the clown on my ass.
Opening my eyes, I do not recognize the torn and faded wallpaper on the wall near the edge of my bed. The rumbling sound of the morning school bus along the dirt road slowly nudges me around to where I am. Further shaken by the sight of my blanket on the floor, the sheets and mattress cover pulled from the mattress, and my pillow dark with spit and sweat, I come to an elbow. The sores on my face are running wild. Trembling, I stumble to the kitchen, fearing that it will be gone. There. Thank God. On the counter near the medicine cabinet with no mirror sits the half gallon bottle of vodka, still a third full. Ripping out the plastic jigger with a fork so that it will flow unimpeded, I grab it with both hands and turn it up. I do not count the gulps. Like air, what difference does it make? After I have pulled enough to stay together, I look at the clock over the refrigerator and count almost 12 hours until darkness.
Cool nights amplify the crunching sound of my steps on a ground covered with dying leaves. Like a lizard of morphing colors, dusk fades to a grayish blue before offering up its darkest cover. Reaching the river, I hop from rock to rock out to the big one in the middle of the stream. Like Siddhartha, I wash my sores in the never ending waters that flow around me. Beyond my rock, near the other shore, the loud slap of a beaver tail reminds me of a one gun salute. Soon I will crack the ice when the water freezes. And the beaver will no longer one gun my arrival. One gun is plenty to do the job. I learned that for sure.
I sleep some…...but only during the day. I must have the nights for my walks, my therapy. And to hide my sores. The VA shrink says that I am getting better. Maybe soon my sores will heal and I can get further out, mix it up again.
I just wanted to see her up close, make a little visit. Children are such idiots. They will drag around anything. Even a white phosphorous grenade. Probably an accident.