OPERATION AWOL
BY DIANE PAYNE
*
"Weíre gonna get called, Brian. I feel like goiní AWOL."

"AWOL? You think this is Nam, Joe?" 

"We could still go to Canada. I didnít think thereíd be a fuckiní war. I just wanted a free education. This sucks." Joe opens another beer. 

"You serious, Joe? You didnít think thereíd be a war? Thatís all our military does. Weíre the fuckiní USA, meddliní all the way!"

"Did you really think the Guards would get hauled to Iraq when we enlisted?" 

"Hell, I was stoned, walking down the hallway, when that asshole stopped me. Said he could get me outta class that day. Next week Iím enlisted. Those recruiters look for stoners."

"The principal probably gave him the pictures of students failing classes."

"Guys who couldnít find Iraq on a map." Brian shoves the deck of cards aside. That gameís over.

"At least we can name this war Operation Weíre Screwed."

"You and I are screwed, but not Bush and his great Americans, best country on this planet. Want to puke whenever I hear him make that speech. Theyíll be watching us fighting on TV, just like Desert Storm. Heard an idiot on the radio talking about the price of oil being stable if we win this war quickly. Just last week this was a war over terrorism. Now itís a war on heating homes for cheap. I thought people were protesting. Saying theyíd wear long johns, walk, picketing the White House. I get so stoned I actually believed Bush would back down."

"He couldnít find Bin Laden. Heís gotta get Saddam. They go way back."

"Who fuckiní cares? You want to split? Head to Canada? My uncle did. Tells me his old man wouldnít talk to him for two months after they were pardoned. Not a word. He sounds like a real asshole. Glad the old man was dead before I was born." 

"Now thatíd be something. The Guards crossing the Canadian border. Leave the war to the Marines. The pilots. Brian, you may be onto something. Operation AWOL. Remember when we had to stand in the airport all night and day? Everyone glaring at us for doing our job?"

"I remember one old lady telling me she felt safer flying knowing we were there. She gave me ten bucks to buy something nice for myself. Bought some nice whisky. Felt like an asshole standing in the airport. Everyone knew we couldnít do a damn thing to stop a plane from exploding. It was a joke. Another joke on us."

"Brian, we should split. Be our way of protesting. Everyone thinks weíre the wimps anyhow. Shit, most of us are only doing this for the tuition. The pay sucks. The weekend duty sucks. And we thought we were lucky we didnít have to go to Egypt. Those dudes are the lucky ones. They spent a year bored to death, but they donít have to go to Iraq. Weíre screwed. Really screwed."

"Weíre almost out of beer, Joe. Think we should get a case? Call the guys?"

"Some of those assholes would turn our asses in before we pissed this beer away. Brothers, my ass, Brian."

"Reed, Tyrone, Thurman, Kenny. Theyíd go with us."

"You might be right."

"This is weird, Joe. Remember that old woman at the airport I was telling you about? She reminds me of someone. An old woman I almost forgot. Riding my bike home from the pool, Iíd see this old woman at the cemetery. One day she was cutting the dead leaves off the flowers, and I hid behind a tree, spying on her. She was telling the dead person he was looking real pretty, assuring him that they were taking real good care of him. I donít know why Iím thinking about that now. Forgot all about her."

"Weíre not going to end up dead."

"Sheíd tell him how much she liked his thick black hair. I heard her tell him how jealous she was over his thick curls. I kept wondering if she did something to him, cut his hair, something."

"Weíre not gonna end up dead! Screw our free tuition. I donít care if I ever drive a car again. I ainít going to Iraq."

"One day I stole one of my sisterís wigs, a black one. Suzie had every costume possible in this big trunk. I was an ass. A real ass."

"Whatídya do, man?"

"I glued that wig to the headstone. I was a dick. A real dick. After I glued it there, I couldnít wait to see her reaction. Then I chickened out. Wished I hadnít glued it there. Rode my bike home a different way to avoid the cemetery. A real prick."

"Maybe she liked it. Didnít you ever check to see if it was there?"

"I didnít go back all summer. Iím a coward. Why did I join the fuckiní Guards? Got my old man off my ass. He kept saying itíd make a man of me. Hell, I can get shitfaced like him without joining the Guard. I really screwed up this time."

"Donít be so hard on yourself, Brian."

"Jimmy says he ainít never been the same since he came back from the Gulf War. Says his nervous system is totally screwed. No one will tell him what chemicals they really used. Says it feels like he has holes in his body. Like heís falling apart. They have him seeing a shrink. Says itís some kind of post-traumatic stress syndrome. Something without a cure. I bet those fuckers are telling him to be a man, get over it, fix those damn invisible holes."

"I ainít worrying about Saddam using biological warfare. Iím afraid weíll use it on ourselves. Screw up big time. Then blame in on Saddam. Bush says the game is over for Saddam. Gameís in our hands now and weíre the pathetic pawns."

"We should grab our shit and get on the bus tonight."

"Yeah. We should. Letís get another six-pack first. Maybe Bushíll change his mind. Call this damn thing off. Iím bushed."

"That a pun? It sucks. Weíll drink the beer on the bus."

"Think about your uncle. This warís no different than Nam. Poets, preachers, probably the Pope is protesting it." 

"Saddam has the refineries rigged. Minute we attack, heíll blow the bastards up. Guards will get the job of cleaning up the oil spill. Every environmentalist will hate us. Forget we didnít blow the damn tanks up."

"We gotta split. How much money you got?"

"Letís have a beer at the cemetery first."

"Youíre losing it, Brian."

"And I ainít even been to war. Iím a loser. A coward."

"The wigís not there, Brian."

"You donít know that."

Joe sees Brianís close to tears and they walk to the liquor store without speaking. It gets like this. Everywhere. 
 
 

[Foreverafter at http://eyeshot.net/payne.html

(*

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