Frailty - End
From what he told me, and he never told me much, the lieutenant wouldn't have changed a goddamn thing. Regret just ain't a part of him. He was born, he served, he killed, he survived. What would've been the alternative? He was born, he defied, he killed himself? Sometimes he'd been an officer's officer, hell, at times we'd believed he must've fucked his wife - if he'd had one - in a four-count movement: (1) mount, (2) penetrate, (3) ejaculate, (4) dismount - HOO ah! But most times he'd been just his own fucking self. And I hope that will be enough. Cause there's gotta be something more than the sad dignity that can belong to a soldier, how he is necessary in the light of all the failures of man - the penalty of our frailties.
From what he never told me, and sometimes he told me too much, the lieutenant was looking for something more in the fruit he canned and the cans he packed; something more in the pond water, maybe an extra glimmer, a brighter knife of sunlight in the water. Brighter and sharper. We exchanged amusing incidents in our civilian lives: a female in a dress, flashed me, lifted the hem, exposing her Valentine red panties, a female flashed him, though not so purposefully, when she squatted to offer food to Queenie and Quackers, both of us had had anti-war demonstrators try to solicit our signatures on some goddamn petition and we'd both winked, smiled and said that we'd already registered our protest, both of us have changed lanes to get as far the fuck away from trash on roadsides (that's where the enemy had hidden I.E.D.), both of us have worked while drunk and behaved drunkenly while sober, neither of us wear anything that identify us as veterans and wonder about the intention inspiration motivation of those who do, and neither of us have fucked anyone, male or female, in the asshole.
Later, at my uncle's funeral, my daddy, rarely sick for a couple days nevermind for a long time, shook my hand, squeezed my shoulder, "Good of you to come, son," and all the other males followed suit while the females kissed and hugged me, my mama and aunt competing to see who could get my cheeks the wettest. Some said I've lost weight, some said I've gained weight. No one said that my face looked the same. Same old burn scars from the same old injuries sustained during the same old war.
We mourned, we prayed, we ate and reminisced. Back on the way home I could have stopped to see the lieutenant again but I kept on driving, saw the industrial center of his employment on the east side of the interstate and wondered what fruit he canned: peaches for Georgia, oranges from Florida, pears apricots cherries pineapple humma humma from the state of _________ and a couple days later, at the grocery store, I picked up a can of fruit cocktail and thought I felt his touch on it, the warmth of his palm, his long fingers, especially the index finger with which he indulged his habit of scratching absently at his chin, a fine noble chin which I regret to believe he will never pass on to a son. He didn't mention a woman in his life. I suspect he's afraid to start anything with a woman because anything started might end with a family, a son. Though his daddy's dead . . . well, when do traditions die? And if they do he probably doesn't want to be the one to kill it. Done enough of killing.
Unlike Cyrus our knowledge, mine and the lieutenant's, come from experience rather than research. That experience was what bonded us. Without it we don't have much to say to each other. I don't think I will ever see him again. I think neither of us want to remember the other as anything other than how we were during our tours: filthy, tired, stinking, lips chapped and fingernails black, eyes blood-shot and B.D.U. blood-soaked, teeth and tongues thick with dehydration and the taste of cordite. Metallic-stinking air in our lungs, gas from bloated bodies that finally erupted probably from the bite of desperate dogs. That is the lieutenant to me and that is the sergeant, me, to him. First lieutenant, him; sergeant first class, me.
Sometimes I miss the feel smell power of a tank, her fuck-off audacity. And I think the lieutenant misses it too. More than me. That was another absurdity of our tours: we were cavalry but we'd done a shit ton of fighting dismounted as if we were infantry.
Now we're both dismounted all the time. Our frailty is as vulnerable as it's ever gonna be. A relief, I think, to both of us, here I am, do what you want to me, but the frailty becomes less and less a penalty, that's what I got from the lieutenant's tone of voice, gaze of eyes, twitch of fingers; and even though neither of us will ever shrug the feeling of being penalized we will, hopefully, endure it. Better than we endured the infliction of it.
From what he didn't tell me, and on this matter he didn't say a goddamn word, the lieutenant is better and endurance than he is at anything else. He's enduring the montony of same shift, same duty factory work, same pond, same gin after work, same nightmare, same goading memory of the same Crazy Kid. And he's still around. He's stronger than me. I avoid endurance by keeping too busy to endure. If I ain't working I'm taking care of the seventeen nonhuman animals in my home, no time to sit and stare at water and endure. Shit, the time I had to write this will have to be made up. . He told his son of the sad dignity that can belong to a soldier, how he is necessary in the light of all the failures of man - the penalty of our frailties. Maybe, someday, a penalty will mean nothing more than the start of football season.