We have a problem. We have a black cloud over our head, a shadow over our conscience, and a question mark over our future. Iraq is sucking the joy, the spirit, the courage out of us.
I bet you’re like me. When you get pissed off about the traffic and your idiot fellow drivers and long check-out lines and people who seem to be taking out a mortgage instead of twenty bucks at the ATM, a little voice in your head says, “Yeah, but at least I have electricity. At least I can buy stuff. At least I can drive down the road without bombs going off.” And like me, you feel more guilt than gratitude.
I work part-time at UPS. One of the drivers and I have a thing, a fun thing, where we pretend to be boyfriend and girlfriend. Vince is black and at least 10 years younger than my 40-something white self. If I look nice one day, instead of just saying, “You look nice today,” Vince says, “Baby! Did you wear that for me?” and I assure him I did. When I rag him about an irate customer and her petulant demands, he cuts me off and asks, “I’ll see you at the house later, right Shorty?” and I assure him he will.
We kicked off our friendship when I was unknowingly the third person to message him about the same annoying thing on a bad day and he called me from the road to tell me exactly how much I pissed him off. After he hung up on me, I found out he was right to be indignant and messaged him my regret. In the meantime, he thought about it too and reached the same conclusion, but in reverse, so when he came in that night he apologized to me for, “getting all Army on your ass.” I asked him what that meant.
Vince has already been to Iraq once, at the start of this mess. That should have been enough, but he spent three weeks in Georgia in July training for redeployment. He knows this is the deal he made. Vince has two years to go before he has his 20 years in. His little girl just turned 4, and from the pictures he’s so proud to show, is the spitting image of her dad, only prettier. His partner doesn’t want him to go back but knows she can no more end his service than his annual Kentucky Derby bets.
I don’t want Vince to go back. I don’t want anyone to go. I don’t want one more single, solitary person to go. It hurts to even think about it.
I want Iraq to just stop. I flinch when a 38-year-old guy in the reserves, like Vince, is killed because I know he’s got a family, a community, a good life in progress. The picture on the news of the just-killed 19-year-old hayseed with a grim expression posed in front of the flag makes me imagine the parents somewhere who never saw this coming, never thought he’d die after all the hard work of raising him was just easing off. The dead female soldiers – who smile radiantly in their pictures no matter what their age, young mothers or not – are especially hard. And it’s just too painful to think about the vast Iraqi death toll.
But we do contemplate it, all of it. Somewhere deep inside we know it’s happening RIGHT NOW, and we think about it. It’s a weight around our hearts, pulling us down, and hurting, hurting, hurting. Cindy Sheehan reminds us of this hurt. President Bush ignores it, goes on about his dude ranch holiday, puts one foot in front of the other, head down. But we know. We know.