Its been a while since I had any time (or inclination) to write one of my heart-warming memoiry essays. School, work and, more to the point, the quitting of coffee, have all conspired to keep me from pouring my heart out to absolute strangers at the rate I was accustomed. But seriously, one of the main reasons has been the fact that my son joined the Marines, and all of the ugly things that went before that, that put an end to my relationshiop with my family. I just haven’t wanted to write about anything. Well, without further ado, I am getting back on the horse. Here go.
I lived in New Orleans, many, many years ago, when I was a pretty, dumb, angry, mean-spirited 140 pounds of sheer unhappiness. This was a long time before Katrina, when New Orleans was only known for the odd twin notorieties of being the South’s gay mecca and the country’s murder capital. An odd time to be there, indeed. I hadn’t really had any urge to go there; as I often did in those days, I flipped coins and let the vagaries of destiny send me on my way. I lived in a truly horrifying neighborhood. I felt safer living in Palestine under Israeli siege; no exaggeration. In one weekend, four bodies were found in my by-water neighborhood. I worked in a grocery store there owned by a pleasantly debauched trio of muslims–an Iranian, and two Indians. Don’t ask me what they were doing there, but they had been there for years, and had become quite Orleany in their outlook.
There had been a rash of murder/robberies going on for a few weeks a short time after I started there. The locus had been our outer-French quarter nexus of bars and restaurants. A week earlier a McDonald’s a few blocks away had been held up. The robbers took the money and then murdered the staff. Mosen, my Iranian boss came in one night, shortly after, and walked around the counter placing a delicate looking gun on the counter next to the cash register.
“Anyone comes in to rob you,” he said, “you pull this out and shoot him.”
I stared back. “I’m not going to use that”, I told him flatly.
“What kind of Palestinian are you,” he yelled. “We have a friend, a Palestinian, he had a liquor store in the Treme [a neighborhood whose sheer lawlessness made ours seem somewhat tolerable] and some motherfuckers came in and robbed him and they shot him. And with the bullets still in his body, he got up,” he said, lifting his forearm, pointing his finger at the sky as if he was resurrecting the body of his friend himself, “and walked over to the projects and found them. Even he knew these kids,” he added with a scowl, “Can you believe it? And he went and he found them, and he killed everyone of them. With the bullets still in his body!”
The gun stayed there, next to the register, and a few nervous months passed but I never was forced to consider using it. I quit and left for New York a little while later.
Years later my friends from that time, Paul and Helen were the victims of a home invasion that left Helen dead. Paul and their son survived–and I have to say it seems like a miracle that they did. Paul was shot three times. I’ve been thinking of that gun, and I think of Paul and Helen, and I think of my own son, who recently joined the Marines. I was hoping I’d never have to use that gun because I didn’t want to become a person who had killed. There is something that separates people once they’ve killed. Later I learned that there was something that separated people who had been subjected to horrifying acts of violence. Violence and death separate us, we become killers and we become victims and there is everyone else, just watching. I’ve been thinking of how to face my son, when he comes home–if he comes home–if he has killed, if he has been injured, the great divide that will separate us. On one level I despise him for doing this. I lived in a place where people with guns and artillery callously whittled away at people’s lives. I hated them. I hate the soldiers in this war, too. And he’s a soldier in this war.
And I guess this blog ended up going in a really different direction. Like the world. How did we get here? In a place where I can mourn the deaths of friends, where my own son signs up to be a killer, where the rest of us sit idly by and watch it all happen?
And then I started thinking about how this did happen. I was in New Orleans when my son was just three. I went on to New York from there, I was never really a part of his life, apart from some visits, a few letters and emails, presents on Christmas that I thought would give him the right outlook. We had a need, both he and I, to exist as father and son. I know it was very important to him, and though I never wanted it to be, I must admit that I’ve always wanted to be a part of his life. Except for the bringing him up; I was busy being an activist, changing the world. And the saddest part is not how little I changed, but that I actually added to the world’s woes by not being there to guide my son, a Palestinian-Native American-Colombian who’s off to invade another country.