A Fictional Oddity
Heaven and earth are threads from one loom.
by A.W. Maris
“Are you an ocean lover?” she asked. “Is that why you’re in Ocean Beach?”
You stood still, anticipating reaction. Instead his gaze remained fixed on the muted stone of the Veterans Memorial at the foot of Newport Avenue. Allison thinks, ‘WE LIVE HERE, YOU TWIT!’ but having observed ‘little miss perky blonde’ asking the same question of another couple, strikes back with, “What’s your game?”.
“My name is Ashley and I’m out here today with Green Peace to protect the oceans with ocean lovers like you”
“Not now, please.” He said in a tone that was designed to elicit pathos. You recognized a sad reticence to make public his very private feelings.
He began to back away from his moment of quiet reflection and you began to speculate if he was going to back away from his serenity as well. As you made an honorable retreat, arm in arm, together from the Veterans Plaza, Ashley wondered oblivious of his symptoms, “Why are you backing away from me like you’re afraid?!”
“Yeah, we don’t bite!” added her cohort, clueless applying salt to his wounds.
As you walked down past the seawall, his thousand-yard stare dissolved into a broad smile. “You can’t make this shit up!” he exclaimed as his eyes filled with light.
Allison begins investigating Gulf War Syndrome shortly after her first breakup from Santiago Moon. She has no idea what she’s doing at the time. Nobody does. But the vets returning from the Iraq Wars are making it apparent that something should be done. The absence of ‘normal’ combat stress factors is making it hard for the U.S. government to explain the wide range of acute and chronic symptoms the vets are coming up with. American investment in the munitions industry, including biological, nuclear and chemical warfare agents is making it politically difficult to address the problems as well.
But the sorrows of empire seemed to find you no matter where you live. The costs of war with its impossible debts and long lines of humanity’s stragglers appeared everywhere. The pain, fear, isolation and substance abuse continue to trudge the path of manifest destiny camouflaged under a big tent of normalcy. But one salient fact remains; Gulf War Syndrome has killed more Americans than has hostile fire from Iraqis!
Allison knows that Sandy is suffering from some kind of poisoning as a result of his war. You’ve heard the stories of entire units getting violently ill after the destruction of the Khamisiyah weapons depot. Of the negative reactions to the nerve gas antidotes and bug juice. Of the horribly deformed children that were discarded along with the ubiquitous yellow ribbons.
You cannot live a lie; especially a sick and violent one. You would rather believe an illusion than come to know the truth. Migraine headaches, fatigue and memory problems are the rewards of meritorious service. Slow reaction time, persistent diarrhea, vomiting, terminal tumors and a host of fiendish plagues are the evidence of conspicuous gallantry. If you could only believe that alcohol and street drugs were causing these disorders…
Allison knows that Sandy’s dad overcame post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) only to succumb to the effects of Agent Orange. But Allison’s acutely aware that before he accomplished a premature death and inglorious fate, Sandy’s dad created a living legacy of his own personal demons. And Allison is dedicated to the proposition that the sins of the fathers will stop at her feet. Will it take another clustering of graves at the national cemeteries before you can get the U.S. Government to cure the problems it creates? Will it take the rest of Sandy’s life for him and his comrades to get the help they need?
“Other than that, how you doin’ buddy?” you asked knowing that it pleased him when you talked like one of the boys.
“Well, Polly PT up at the VA says that I’m going down the tubes”, he answered with a morbid wit that’s characteristic of many veterans. “…and the PCT doesn’t bug out when they see this triple threat!” he continued.
“I was thinking more about your transition into VVSD (Veterans Village of San Diego).” you asserted in a code and cadence that put him at ease. Your well intentioned efforts almost went down the tubes as well when he replied,
“To quote Ann Marie, ‘This is therapy honey!’ ”
You knew that he was just being cruel by other means. You got your mind all tangled up in a moment of jealousy anyway. You fell into his trap. It was just his way of saying, ‘Get away from me! You weren’t there! You can’t understand!’ So you went directly to, ‘I hoped it would be different this time’ But you recovered quickly. It will be different this time. Twenty years after his war was enough. No more being provoked into throwing him out into the streets. His low self esteem was not your problem. Sandy was sick to the core of his being. He deserved something better than retaliation. Sandy was going to make amends to his son for being a poor father.
You don’t need a weatherman to tell you which way the weather had changed as you walked upon the Pacific Ocean over the length of the Ocean Beach Municipal Fishing Pier. No more acoustical sailing Joni Mitchell’s California over the Wall Nuts. No more warmed by the sun, silky ocean breezes caressing the naked skin of the sojourner. No more ‘Just another day in paradise’.
With the lowering sky came the cops, like a bad smell, to scatter the crowd along the seawall, by the veterans’ plaza at the foot of Newport Avenue in Ocean Beach. Was it a noise complaint? A drunken fight? A naked co-ed looking for attention? “Same shit, different day!” Sandy said.
You walked up Newport to get to the Apple Tree market but found the door to the breezeway locked. “What the fuck’s the deal here?!” Sandy exclaimed, not yet used another day of sobriety.
“Let’s go around the alley,” you suggested not knowing what his reaction would be. As you came up the alley and approached the Apple Tree, Sandy saw the ghost. Attached to the wall where the Veterans of Foreign Wars, Vietnam Veterans Memorial Post 1392 used to be, were the signs, ‘Reserved for Customers of the Electric Chair’.
“He always was an asshole!” he said. You were glad to see that sobriety had returned Sandy to his intuitive senses. There was no need to tell him that the property owner had kicked the local VFW out of its home of twenty-seven years because there’s more money to be had from a co-tenant. And you didn’t need to remind him that the owner of the ‘Electric Chair’ had put an ad in The Peninsula Beacon back in ‘01 supporting the Starbucks at Newport and Bacon in Ocean Beach and had taken out ads in the OB Rag a decade later. You weren’t so thoughtless as to remind an unrelenting drunk that the owner of ‘Starbucks Corner’ also kicked their tenant, Java Joes out to get more money as did the owner of the property that housed O.B.’s Police Storefront and as the owner of the apartments at 1984 Abbott Street did when you were living there trying to raise a family.
Gentrification of his home town affected Santiago Moon in a very subtle but personal way. After her landlord had jacked the rent from $750 to $1250, Sandy’s mom couldn’t afford to live in Ocean Beach anymore. Instead of triggering his usual anger Sandy got depressed. Powerless over forces beyond his control he withdrew into himself as thousands of affordable beach rentals converted into condominiums. With family, friends and many of his neighbors going away and crippled with ‘survivors guilt’ Santiago Moon went on his latest run.
You were praying quietly but fervently as you walked into the Apple Tree. When you walked out and were headed to the bus stop on Cable Street at Newport you asked, “Would you do me a favor when you meet again with Sunny?”
“What’s that?” he replied
“Tell him to never join the service.” And as he clutched his munchies and ran to catch a bus that through the windows of the Laundromat would carry him to his new old home at VVSD you shouted, “No eating on the bus!”
Still clutching his bag and with his back to the market; he gave you a one finger salute. You lightened up to the sunshine’s smile, laughed and said aloud, “Asshole”
You laid in bed listening to the lingering storm fall musically into the alleys of Ocean Beach. Allison sees herself in a brilliant expanse of national cemetery where, in its serene landscape, she offers up what reverence there may be to the family of conveniently forgotten dead. Walking on air, in space, amongst rows of headstones and stands of Torrey Pines, she is beyond the blue heaven. Allison is with the father, son and…
How can you get Sandy to make up for his time not being a father to Sundance? Can you get Sunny to accept Sandy as he is? In trying to control the vision, you fell awake.
“Goddamn it!” you shouted “Fucked it up again!”
“What you did?” asked Guy as if in a daze.
“I know they went up to Fort Rosecrans to make it right with the old man. I just want so much for them. But I’m scared! It’s not within my power…” and you began to sob.
“Let’s put on some music.” he suggested.
“Then make love, smoke a whole lot of GOO and ride east in the middle of the night to a place where we can inhale the living earth,” you continued as Guy fired up the music, lit candles and the old men, the young men and the women they love disappeared as a drifting smoke.