Point Blank Period
So I’m listening to the radio and thinking and writing.
It’s funny, watching the tourists run for cover from the daily deluge. Every day, between 1500 and 1600, the sky erupts, the horizontal rain assaults, the thunder concusses and the lightning . . . well, the lightning strikes. It’s hurricane season. Summer in Florida conjures beaches and coastline and heat. We still got all that, but the sunshine is lacking. Again, hurricane season.
Last year the major one was this sonofabitch named Matthew. Caused enough damage to be retired. There’ll never be another Hurricane Matthew. He is among the ranks of Keith, Allison, Iris, Michelle, Isidore, Lili, Fabian, Isabel, Jeanne, Katrina, Rita: notice something? Yep, uh-huh, uh fur muh tiv and roger that. Females. The majority of retired hurricanes are females. That cain’t be coincidence. What the hell would the trend coincide with? Shit. Hate ending sentences with a preposition. With what in hell would the trend coincide?
Had decided to hunker and wait out Matthew. Got water, kerosene, camping stove, batteries, baby wipes, more water, MRE, and more phone calls in twenty fours than I get on average in a week. Gonna evacuate? He’s a category four, gonna be a four when he hits, he’s headin’ your way, gotta bull’s eye on your coast. Nope, uh-uh, ne guh tiv. First, don’t live in what the fine members of my city council have deemed to be an evacuation zone (just on the fringe); second, okay, that’s it. Don’t live in a bonafide evacuation zone. So, ain’t evacuating. Point blank period. I ain’t a popular guy. All those calls had been from family. Immediate family. To shut them the fuck up I’d agreed to an evac. But – I’d warned – I ain’t coming alone. All nineteen (that’s wan-niner) members of my household were coming along for the ride.
What is usually a one to two hour ride had been a six hour ride. I-10 is a bitch of a stretch on sunny, dry days, never mind when it’s congested with folks getting the hell out of Florida via a west-north route. That’d been me along with nine snakes, seven lizards, one tarantula, one hedgehog, one rabbit, one case of beer, two handles of vodka, one handle of whiskey, toothbrush, change of underwear and a tank full of gas. Somewhere near the Osceola National Forest I’d smelled this subtle, but distinct, stink. The windows had to be up on account of the thunderstorm (precursor to the hurricane) and all I could do was inhale it. Alright, which one of y’all farted? The rabbit pricked his ears. The snakes silently demurred the interrogation. Well, I ain’t done it. Damn it. Nothing to do but inhale, exhale, make the most of the drive. Hot drive. Had to keep the a/c at a bare minimum so as not to discomfort the reptiles, but, then again, the mammals couldn’t get too hot. Fluctuate. Adapt. Adjust. Helluva drive.
When I’d gotten to GA I’d found my daddy gone and my mama goner. The former had been at his job, the latter some fucking where in north GA on a hiking trip. What the fuck? Harass me on the phone and then leave? Daddy advised me to locate the spare key to the house, let myself in, and wait; he’d make an appearance in two hours. Daddy’s a retired full bird colonel: when he says two hours he means two hours, one hundred and twenty minutes. Point blank period. I’d followed his advice. In the drive way, unloading, I’d heard this small, high voice, “Hey, you from Florida?” - the neighbor’s daughter. Itty bitty blonde thing. I’ve humped rucksacks heavier than her. “Yeah.” She lingered, “Come up for the hurricane?” I lingered, “Yeah.” Awkward silence. She’d broke it, “Heard it’s gonna be a bad one.” All I’d been able to muster (terrarium containing tarantula in hand) had been yet another, “Yeah.” I’d seen her many times before. Everytime I’d come up to visit daddy and mama. Entirely too young for me. Wouldn’t even consider her. I’m many things: battle-hardened and battle-scarred, stupidly sensitive about my height – just need that one goddamn inch to be an exact six feet, ultra-sensitive about the (THIS IS A SEVERE THUNDERSTORM WARNING: THE NATIONAL WEATHER SERVICE HAS . . . A SEVERE THUNDERSTORM WAS LOCATED . . . MOVING AT 10 MILES PER HOUR . . . FOR YOUR PROTECTION . . . REPEATING . . . A SEVERE THUNDERSTORM WARNING HAS BEEN ISSUED FOR THE FOLLOWING COUNTIES . . . IN FLORIDA . . . ) let us say, the remnants of battle. Wished I hadn’t turned on the flood lights.
She’ll be uncomfortable.
She’d said something and then goodbye. I’d finished unloading and investigated the kitchen for something I’d be willing to eat. Evidently, my folks cain’t live without meat. Dead flesh. But, what’s this? – at the back of the fridge, a Tupperware container with . . . . yes, collard greens with rice and potatoes and, in another container, succotash. Yummy. My mama is many things: blonde from the bottle and one hundred pounds soaking wet, a Southern Baptist on Sundays and a Presbyterian on Wednesdays, a wonderful goddamn cook. She’d learned to adapt. Adjust. Her husband likes this cuisine, her son likes that cuisine. She don’t question. She cooks. All the meat dishes had been for him. She’d made the vegetable dishes for me as evidenced by tape on the lids of the container: JACK. So she’d prepared for my evac. Left, kept her hiking engagement (and why shouldn’t she?), but had prepared nonetheless. She’d even omitted hard boiled eggs from the collard greens. “Well, “ she’d said, “if you don’t want to eat anything to do with animals – ” “- nonhuman animals –” “-nonhuman animals then I won’t cook them for you. Do you still eat cheese?” ne guh tiv. “My lasagna was always your favorite.” Sorry. “Your father works for Indians. They don’t eat meat. I’ll ask them for recipes.” Wonderful.
Daddy got home and went to his shed wherein a refrigerator and a freezer contained his essentials: beer and meat. Beer offered and accepted. Bud light. I use beer as a chaser. Daddy just straight drinks it.
Like your job?
Your mama’s worried about you.
She’s your mama.
You losing weight?
Step on the scale.
The scale registered me as 180 lbs. Average, guess. Hadn’t felt fat then; don’t feel so now. That’d been a matter of pride for me: maintaining my war weight; guess it’s akin to females keeping their weight at the time of their wedding. Sissy had married at the courthouse. In a dark blue dress. Her ankle tattoo had showed through her pantyhose. My brother-in-law is a lieutenant colonel in the Air Force. I admire you, he’d said. He’d admired me, the soldier in the cavalry who’d never get higher than the rank of sergeant first class. He’d admired me, an enlisted man. He’d graduated from the Air Force Academy, been commissioned, started his career as a 2nd lieutenant. He admired me. Gotta respect the man who admires me, who fucks my sister: ain’t gotta admire his football team: Pittsburg, the poor man’s Cleveland.
Your mama made some food for you.
How long you gonna stay?
Think you’ll lose power?
Heard from your sissy?
Many, many (gonna evacuate?), many, many, many times.
That night I’d done nothing more than wish I hadn’t surrendered to the pleas for evac. Now I’m hearing the thunder, feeling the electricity in the air, waiting for my microwaved burrito to cool, enjoying the fact of my rabbit enjoying her cranberry-orange cookie. Listening to the radio, waiting for NWS reports. It’s Florida. Hurricane season. I think the Ophelia will be the bitch of the year, Franklin, the son of one. The tin roof is being pelted. Storm’s on. Read ya, write ya later. When the storm’s over. Maybe you’ll still be reading? Maybe you’ll still be interested. If not. Understood. This is just an entry from just a guy from nothing more famous than Florida, enduring nothing more important than a thunderstorm during hurricane season and anticipating nothing more intriguing than a hurricane. At some point. Whenever the point comes I will not evac. I. Will. Not. Evac. No matter the calls, the pleading, the (Born in the U.S.A. just came on the radio – 4th of July approaching, you know) reasoning about how no one can predict nature.
BORN IN THE U.S.A . . . I WAS BORN IN THE U.S.A . . . I WAS not born in the U.S.A. , but, my parents both being American citizens, was born the same. Watched a baseball game a couple nights ago (waiting for football season) and when the commercials came on I’d turned the channel and seen on PBS (public broadcasting station: free t.v. in America) an advertisement for an upcoming documentary on the Vietnam War (oh, sorry, the Vietnam Police Action) in which a veteran of that same war (police action) said that he’d written his mom that he didn’t expect to survive his tour, after all, most of the men of his platoon had been killed, and he loved her and he missed her and he . . . his mama had written back that he would survive because he was special. She’d prayed to God. He would make it home. He was special. His reply was that every mama thought her son special; he’d filled countless body bags full with the pieces of special sons.
I’d written a similar letter.
Back in the big sand box.
Turns out I was extra special.
Survived three tours.
Ate the burrito. Rabbit is anxious for attention. I’m anxious for booze. Washed dishes. Scrubbed the tub. A Saturday, another day. Of survival. Shit. Been years.
But don’t forget who’s taking you home
And in whose your arms you’re gonna be
So, darling, save the last dance for me
- just came on the radio. I miss dancing. S. l. o. w. dancing. My hand on the small of her back; my other hand holding one of hers; one of hers on one of my shoulders. Close. Smell her perfume. Close. Smells my cologne. Apart. Smell the storm in the air. Storms are good in that they give me an excuse not to visit mama. Ain’t like I don’t like seeing her. The drive is just, well, goddamn the drive. She doesn’t like me to drive in bad weather.
Whether she’d meant is beside the point. She’d said it. Point blank period. I love you. Turns out she’d loved me before the war, before the sand and the sun, before the weeks without showers, before the shooting – point blank – of women, children – leave it alone, leave it alone, don’t pick it up, leave it alone – and before the fucking. Pure point blank period fucking. Ain’t no making love.
You’re not the same man I wanted to marry.
We don’t live in the same world.
You’re not the same.
The world ain’t the same.
You’re so aggressive.
You’re going back. Again.
For the third time.
The third, roger that.
Why can’t someone else go?
Someone else can go. Someone else with a family, kids, a mortgage. What, you think they’ll just leave the post empty?
Don’t you want to stay for me?
This is my job.
Don’t you want to stay for me?
My job is fighting. The fighting is over there. This isn’t about what I want. This is my job.
The NWS has a helluva job: informing me about what I already know. Again, ain’t no one in Florida (tourists excepted) who don’t know the season and the storms that come with the season and the ain’t no one in Florida (tourists included) who don’t elect to have a drink because, well, hell, storm’s coming anyway.