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a quote from my favorite author

“The most solid advice, though, for a writer is this, I think: Try to learn to breathe deeply, really to taste food when you eat, and when you sleep, really to sleep. Try as much as possible to be wholly alive, with all your might, and when you laugh, laugh like hell, and when you get angry, get good and angry. Try to be alive. You will be dead soon enough.”

-William Saroyan, The Daring Young Man on the Flying Trapeze

Tuesday, February 26, 2013

BROKEN


Slice of Life Tuesdays are hosted by TWO WRITING TEACHERS


with thanks to Natalie Merchant (the lines to the right, in italics, are borrowed from a song she wrote that was performed by 10,000 Maniacs: Gun Shy)


I saw him standing—proud—in army fatigues at the end of the hallway.

I always knew that you would
 take yourself far from home
as soon as, as far as you could go.

The hallway had almost cleared of students.
I was waiting for the last few stragglers to make their way to the stairwell.

He was leaning on a cane. 
Injured.
Broken.
By the quarter-inch cut of your hair
and the Army issue green,
I can tell where you've been.

The hallway was silent.
His grandmother hovered beside him,
her coat gathered in an otherwise empty embrace.

He had come home.
Injured.
Broken.

He was there to surprise his sister.

His sister’s math teacher glowed—impressed
by his maturity,
awed by his commitment.

Her social studies teacher shook his hand—a thank you
for his sacrifice.

there was soldier's blue blood
 streaming inside your veins.

They saw a soldier.
I saw a student.

He waved. 
I froze.
Emotions choked me into stillness.

Reason told me to walk towards him.
“Don’t make him hobble halfway down the hall,”
said a voice from some unlit corner of my head.
“You are not prepared to face him.  What will you say?”
cautioned a voice from the far reaches of my heart.

So now you are one of the brave few,
it's awful sad we need boys like you.

“It’s good to see you!”
It sounded forced
even though the sentiment was genuine.

“It’s good to be back.”
It came out slow
as if he had to be careful, thoughtful,
to get the words out clearly.

“What happened?” my heart cried out.

“Stuff,”
the hollow voice of a soldier answered.

The logical part of my brain took over
wondering what kind of idiot
would ask an injured soldier to recount whatever awful experience
had brought him to this moment.

“What kind of stuff?” my heart cried out once again,
dissatisfied with the world that had broken this student.

His grandma rescued us.
“He’s not allowed to say.
He signed papers agreeing to keep quiet.”

My heart cried out.

“I am on the front lines.
I kill people.
It’s my job.
I like my job.
I like my blue cord.
I can walk. 
I am just using the cane because I am stiff
from being on a plane for so long.”

Stock and barrel,
 safety, trigger,
here's your gun.

My brain quieted the fury in my heart,
“Where were you?”

“I am done with basic training.
I am at my post now.”

“Where is that?”

“Texas.”

“So, did this happen domestically?”

“Domestic?  Not really. 
Terrorist.
But, yeah, it happened here.”

There is a world outside of this room
and when you meet it promise me
you won't meet it with your gun taking aim.

My thoughts unable to battle my heart any longer,
I turned to his grandma.
“I can’t imagine what you are going through.”

“The thing about those papers that bothers me,” she confided,
“is if he can’t talk about what happened,
what is our government doing that it shouldn’t be doing?”

“Oh, I know exactly what they’re doing.”

It was the authoritative voice
of a soldier.
Cold.
Injured.
Broken.
Loyal.
“But I like my blue cord too much to tell.”

So now does your heart pitter pat
 with a patriotic song
when you see the stripes of Old Glory waving?

“I am going back.”

My head and my heart finally joined forces,
“Thank you for what you are doing.”

“It’s nothing. 
It’s just a job.
I like my job.”

“It’s more than a job.
It’s a calling.
It’s a sacrifice,
and not just because of the injury.”

He ducked his head.
Humble.
Not a soldier.
A boy.

Before he got in the elevator,
he reached out to give me a hug.
My student.

they're so good at making soldiers
but they're not so good at making men.

The elevator door closed.
I turned away.
Broken.

10 comments:

  1. Wow. "It's my job. I like my job." It's just incredible to me what our soldiers face each day. They are heroes!

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  2. Oh, Christy, this brought tears to my eyes! Such power in using the lyrics as an echo of your thoughts and emotions. I am awed by your ability to bring us into your world and touch our hearts with your words.

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  3. I loved how you relayed the emotion and the story into this structure, Christy. Interesting about your student & that he was injured in the U.S. I wonder... lots of things. Thanks.

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  4. Christy, I got goosebumps reading this! What a powerful moment you had with this former student. The blending of the song fit perfectly. What an incredible piece of writing you have created.

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  5. This is a deeply moving piece of writing. You have masterfully captured the scene with the many emotions. It forces questions for reflection to the surface. It mirrors the way you were not prepared to face your former student because as I read this I am not prepared to face those questions either. Your words will stay with me.


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  6. What a moving exchange betweeen you both. So much pain and anguish, so much hurt. Hopefully he will heal inside as well and can eventually talk about this with someone.

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  7. Masterfully crafted to convey your emotions and evoke the reader's feelings. This weaving of your words with the lyrics added depth and power. Though with your carefully chosen words you touch the reader strongly already.

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  8. Well said; I wish I'd been later getting to Writer's Club, because I would have seem him longer than I did. Every one of his FB posts have always shown him thoughtful and proud of his service. I pray for him, and all of our other students who are in harm's way, to come home...even if they are broken. Our love and hearts and dreams can be big enough for them, too.

    Powerful, Christy.

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  9. I believe this was tough to write, Christy, but not just because of the exquisite way you crafted it. I know it was hard to write because I've been thinking about what I'd write back as a comment since last night. I've thought and thought and thought and realized I didn't want today to become yesterday before I left a comment, so here I am. I bolted out of my bedroom because I wanted to write something, anything, here to thank you for the way you handled yourself in the face of this former student who is serving our country. I don't know that I have much more to add that the others who came before me haven't already said. So I tip my proverbial hat to you for reminding us all of the men (and women) who wear our country's uniform. They don't realize that what they're doing is so much more than a job, do they? Wow. That, in and of itself, floored me.

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  10. Do you know how well crafted this is? I imagine it is so close to your bones at the moment, but someday, I hope you look at it from your writer's glasses. It is a work of art. Your use of dialogue is what struck me the first time I read it. The second I was struck by the pulse of the word "broken" and the way it twists at the end. Finally I was struck by the rhythm of your words. Not only could I feel your hesitancy, but I could hear it too. This is one of those texts that will haunt me for years. I hope you share it with your students. Thank you for sharing it with us.
    Ruth

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