My first conscious feelings of terror, doom, and the apocalypse came from watching SCUD missiles and fighter jets fly through the air on our push button Trinitron T.V. I knew that there was a war going on but it wasn’t until I saw the images of the Gulf war that I understood what war might be.
That night I lay in my bed wondering when the bombs would start falling and seriously considered my death and the end of everything I knew. I was ten.
Ten years later. My cousins entered the Army to pay for college. I was slightly jealous, or perhaps nervous that the family would see them as men, doing men things, doing their duty, while I, only half-Puerto Rican, went to college and did soft, unmanly things.
My cousins, twins, my age, finished school and were shipped off to Korea and Iraq. I finished college and moved to Oregon to work in public service. Family reunions were yellow-ribbonned affairs with lonely fiancés talking about the future plans for their soldiers. News of the twins traveled around the room. They continued their tours and I continued living my life.
Frequent e-mails from my aunts about how to support the troops conflicted with my feelings that they shouldn’t be there. One of them came home from Korea. The other was wounded in
My family seemed to glorify his experience as a triumph and a sign of the right thing to do. But months later as his brain broke down, pondering the meaning of jumping into cesspools and following orders that lead to the death of his friends, I could see that his journey was no glory to him. His wife asked if I could talk to my ex-girlfriend’s father, a congressman, about getting him help for PTSD.
My family struggled with their own misunderstanding of what had happened. The war did not seem to make him into the theoretical man that emerges from battle. Hollywood was wrong. The actual man went through life wondering about its meaning, and wishing war had never come.
Separately, he and his brother called me to say they wished they had parts of my life, mostly the part where they didn’t go into the Army. We talked about living on one’s own and what freedom was like. They wanted my advice on how to figure out their new lives as civilians. We were 26, but they had just got out of college.