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Patriots, Body Counts, And Suckers
By rg cantalupo
I feel like I am reliving a nightmare from a previous life.
"Vietnam. Vietnam. Vietnam."
I disengage, disassociate, self-medicate, push down my fears.
My old PTSD comes back with a vengeance.
I can't sleep. When I sleep, I have nightmares. I am on a hair-trigger, my old rage rising like a tidal wave inside my chest.
Each day another dead body to count; each day more bodies loaded into refrigerated trucks.
I go out, get essential supplies, buy groceries.
There's a man walking around the store without a mask. He shoulders an AR-15 like he's at war. He acts entitled, as if it is his right to do as he pleases regardless of who he might harm.
"Vietnam. Vietnam. Vietnam."
Rage rises in my chest.
When I ask him about not wearing a mask, he quotes Trump, and tells me he's a patriot.
I've been hearing that word a lot lately: "Patriot" and a new one, "sucker".
I try to understand what he means.
A Patriot NOT to wear masks.
A Patriot to hate African-Americans.
A Patriot to fear progressives, or liberals, or Democrats, or anyone who is not white and "entitled".
And "sucker." Trump calls me and my fellow compatriots in the "American" War "suckers" for having gone.
I try to understand how I became that: a "sucker" for being drafted; a "sucker" for not going to jail, or Canada, or finding a doctor who would lie for me; a "sucker" for being wounded three times; a "sucker" for honoring my friends whose names are engraved on The Wall.
I want to handcuff Trump and dispose of him and his phony bone-spurs in Yemen, or Syria, or El Salvador.
I want to kill this Patriot walking along the aisles of the grocery store where I shop carrying an AR-15. I want to unload an M-16 magazine in his ignorant body.
But I squelch it down. I walk down another aisle. I go off in another direction till the "patriot" is gone.
I'm still angry as I drive home.
No, more than angry, outraged.
I am the "disposable old". The only difference between me and the disposable "old" in nursing homes is that I am still well enough to be productive. I don't have cancer, or Alzheimer's. I'm functional. I still have—if my health permits and Covid doesn't get me—another ten years or more of quality, "golden" years.
When I get home, I chant "young people will not replace me!" to myself.
"Trump and Charlottesville be damned. I will not go quietly into this, or any, "good" night. I will not let myself be another body thrown into a refrigerated truck!!! I will not let Trump and his rich friends steal my social security, VA benefits, and medicare benefits by killing me off in the pandemic.
When I walk my dogs later that afternoon, I see a "Freedom" sign waving in front of one of the houses on my street. Next to it is another: "No Tyranny!"
My first impulse is to tear it down. I start walking up his driveway, but my dogs pull me in the opposite direction.
I guess they know better and want to keep me out of trouble.
I need to redefine what that means.
I was awarded three purple hearts and a Bronze Star for Valor fighting for America's "freedom".
But this is not that.
This is the "freedom" to infect and harm other people.
This is the "freedom" to drink and dance and party and live as if one million dead people in the pandemic is a hoax.
This is the "freedom" to be stupid, selfish, self-centered and carry the banner of death through the streets.
But that's not "freedom" that's the definition of insanity. The freedom to harm others or yourself is cause for getting locked up in a psychiatric ward for three days.
And yet, that's the mantra of millions of Trump-based advocates.
After walking my dogs, I sit down on the couch and wonder how we got here.
1969. We took to the streets to fight for "freedom"—the freedom to STOP an unjust and criminal war.
We fought with police. We threw our "Vietnam War" medals back at the government in the name of "freedom".
How did we get from there to here? And what does it mean? What will it mean if Trump wins again and emboldens more of these "patriots" with AR-15s on their shoulders?
I am afraid for our country.
I am afraid we've passed the point of no return and there will be a civil war, or we will no longer be a democracy.
I am afraid my VA benefits will be taken away and I will be disposed of because I am "old".
I am afraid I will have to fight for my "freedom".
We are living through a terrifying time, one I never imagined I'd see. Out side my window the sky is red from fires. Red and gray like the aftermath of a a napalm strike.
"Red sky in the morning, sailor take warning."
Yes, I take this as a warning.
I just don't know what is to come.
rg cantalupo is a poet, playwright, filmmaker, novelist, and director. He served in the 25th Infantry Division as an RTO, radio operator, for an infantry company from 1968-69 and received three purple hearts and a Bronze Star with a Combat V for Valor Under Fire. His books can be purchased through New World Publishers or through the author at email@example.com.