Jeff Newberry's most recent book is the novel A Stairway to the Sea (Pulpwood Press, 2016). His writing has appeared in a variety of online and print publications, most recently in Peacock Journal, Atticus Review, and Snake Nation Review. Find him online at www.jeffnewberry.com.
Letter to Justin after Orlando,
after Sandy Hook
I’ve never owned a real gun—never
wanted one. As a child, I
idolized soldiers & killing,
thrived on Vietnam War movies
& thought John Rambo a national treasure.
My friends bought Dollar Store
AK-47s & stalked the jungles
of our backyard imaginations.
We dodged invisible grenades
& killed “gooks” and “wops,”
the yellow men of our imaginations
because we wanted to show
each other our manliness.
I was a fat kid, Justin—my boy boobs
jiggled behind an ill-fit
K-Mart camouflage t-shirt.
My breath wheezed through lungs
made shallow by nights
of Little Debbie cakes & RC Cola.
I had to prove to them I could run,
had to show them nothing scared
me. My narratives were the bloodiest,
the violent tales of bouncing betties
taking a man’s legs out in a red haze.
I slaughtered scores of imagined enemies
to prove I loved America,
to make them love me even more.
I never served, Justin, to answer
a friend’s question, who interrogated
me in the days after Iraq,
when I wondered why we’d waded
into yet another quagmire.
My father did his four years
& ditched the Air Force after
the Cuban Missile Crisis. He told
me he lay in his bunk & waited
for the world to end. Tonight, I’m
listening to my son run through the house,
telling his cousin, “I’m gonna kill you”
because the boy had taken my son’s toy.
I laugh & know that it’s not serious.
He’s only got a water pistol.
His rights are safe. He can fight
for his freedom. He can walk into a night
club or high school tomorrow,
free as an ejected shell.