A Creative Expression written by Kim Oakley, Mother of Severely-Autistic Son. Let me encourage parents of autistic children and adults to WRITE. Just WRITE. It's cheap therapy.
Title: Things Largely Ignored
Title: Things Largely Ignored
Southeast Asia, 1969, air is wet, salty and peppered with blood. As Sky Raiders blast incoming Vietcong, it floats to the edge of his mind—and hovers like the Jolly Green he’s loaded into. Eyes guarded with gauze, he sees it now. The Spanish Colonial his father built after WWII. House is heavy, romantic, with golden yellows, rich reds, wicker chairs and shaker tables. Outside, vines bearing pendant bunches of fruit and a courtyard where he once played with his cousins. Cousins gone now: One taken by opium, one shot along the Mekong Delta, another crushed by an H-46 Sea Knight. Thump. Whoosh. “Going home man,” says a voice behind him. He begins to fade.
Dirt labyrinths had been his home for two years. Tunnel Rats, they called them. Soldiers with iron nerves and sharp senses, summoned to flush out VC below the dank, dark soil of South Vietnam. Armed with only a flashlight and knife, he had served months on bended knees, sabotaging supply routes and slitting throats…until a booby trap blew him back to the jungle. Even with the bang, and smell of flesh, he had no desire to return.
There is a fire in his chest, needle in arm and bags of blood. Then a rush of feet—a makeshift hospital, morphine, bamboo walls; chatter that becomes a fog of obscenities, a room with mosquito netting, pain and more painkillers. Breathing turns audible. “Going home mate?” asks a soldier with a British accent.
Upon arrival, there is no public welcome. His father waves, his mother clicks a camera. “You’re home,” cries the mother, rubbing his hand. As a Catholic afterthought: “Thanks be to God!” His mother, who was never thin, has now a slender look about her, and her eyes, always young, have half moons stamped under them. It’s been three years since they’ve ridden together in the Pontiac. Raindrops Keep Fallin’ on My Head, by B.J. Thomas, plays on the radio. St. Jude, taped to the glove box, forever rides shotgun.
Above and beyond foreign subterranean. A world not quite real, but real enough that tunnels turn into highways that turn into wide lanes that become narrow and wind among hills, sloped pastures and tilled fields in geometric patterns, until the car coasts through towering redwoods and pulls into a pebbled driveway.
He’s wrecked all night. In his dreams, he moves under fields and villages, crawling over bodies, evading traps, pressing towards more space. He has become an animal of unknown origin. A screech owl awakens him. In the deep of evening, everything takes on a suspicious hue. He arises, stumbles into bathroom. For no reason apparent to anyone that would be watching, “Toilet paper! Canteen!” he shouts and startles a family of deer mice.
Dusk comes and when it hits something like lighting stirs and explodes in his head and settles in his skin. He does not move from the cold floor or extinguish the cigarette burning on his chest. On a dresser, facing the bathroom, a clock his grandfather took during the taking of Berlin ticks softly. Eyelids flutter and close. He dreams of Cobras, Kraits, Punje Sticks and Bamboo vipers. “Wake up, darling,” whispers his mother. “I’ve made breakfast.”
As he eats, blackberry jam and scrambled eggs fuse and become brains. “You look pale,” says the mother. From behind a newspaper, “See a doctor,” suggests the father. The doctor, a former Navy Corpsman, administered Atabrine to 1st Marine Regiment soldiers fighting in the bloody, mosquito-infested sands of Guadalcanal.
Doc prescribes Dexedrine and Librium, assuring antagonistic agents will suppress antagonizing thoughts. They do not. The man’s brain craves adrenaline: Motorcycles; Hookers; Jack Daniels; A bit of blow— Colombia’s best—found in Strip Clubs, here and there.
“Take up a hobby,” advises the doctor. The man buys a pool stick. At a local pool hall, he argues with a con artist and cracks the stick over the charlatan’s skull. “We don’t need no bad asses here,” says the bartender. Ten Tequila shots later, he swaps spit with a flower child he knew in high school, swipes her pack of Kool Menthols, and disappears into the night.
Winter tumbles into spring. The man meets a woman. “A stone fox,” his bar friends call her. They get married and it’s a big deal, because it’s a big year for wine, so the man’s family throws a big wedding and when the priest gets sauced and falls into the salad, this is largely ignored because the veal is baked in a creamy oregano sauce and the family sells Syrah to the town’s wealthiest men who rely on things largely ignored.
The man and wife move five miles from town, into a small home with a gabled roof and covered porch. The wife takes up painting. To everyone’s delight she is strikingly gifted. One evening, after a supper of Fondue and Salad, she paints a seaside jungle with colorful tangled roots of mangrove trees, solider crabs, dog headed snakes and mudskippers. “C’mon try it,” the wife pleads, placing a paintbrush in the man’s hand. He kisses her forehead. Sets the brush down. Takes a gulp of Tang with Vodka, and turns on the TV. Blue eyes fixed on the black and white TV all night. As morning shadows get shorter, sunlight sends the man into a blind rage. With one punch, he shatters the window. Ambles into the kitchen, smashes the toaster.
When briefed of behavior, “He’s acting like a hoodlum,” remarks the father, and bites his lightly buttered toast. “Get him back working the vineyard.”
The man’s family had crafted wine for centuries. Like the Vietcong, the man has a strong attachment to his ancestral soil. Unlike the Vietcong, he lacks focus and self-discipline. Bill collectors and bankruptcy drive him deeper into despair, and he begins to shift. During a half-moon, a Sheriff coaxes him from a drainpipe near Tony’s Hardware store. He surfaces, ears pricked, scanning for trip wires. “C’mon son,” says the Deputy. “Let’s get you home.” The wife is not grateful when her husband returns. That night, she paints a sunken ship with parrot fish nibbling the red, blue and yellow coral growing on the wreck. Butterfly and angel fish swarm divers looking for treasure. The wife wants to help her man, but this is a time when problem behavior is largely ignored, so she continues to paint.
When the man discovers his father has cancer, he threatens a renowned doctor at a renowned hospital. A Korean security guard— who smells like American after shave— escorts him out. The man squints and starts to say something. Remembers Koreans were bad asses—fought with US troops and without remorse against the Vietcong. Didn’t believe you could re-educate communists. Korean soldiers delivered lethal kicks, like the one he once saw that practically booted Charlie’s head off. “You go now,” says the guard.
When his father expires, a long rope of anger entangles him, as if emotional ambush has waited for an opportune time to strike. Near unrecognizable at his father’s funeral, the man’s standard cut has grown into greasy brown curls that hang to his shoulders. Mustache and beard cover his once lean, clean freckled face. During the eulogy, he empties a bottle of Wild Turkey in one smooth swig, stands, and with expert marksmanship, hurls the bottle at the Virgin Mary.
In the shadow of his mother’s grief, the man hitches a ride to San Francisco, where he meets a hooker named Karla- though she doesn’t charge him. She buys him Sativa cigarettes laced with coke. On cold nights, Karla and the man make hot, mad love, the kind you make when you’ve been tormented too long without relief. Love blooms. The man is high on hope. Near dawn, Karla disappears in the back of a paddy wagon. For days, he hunts for her, without malice, searching alleys, corners and cars. All he finds are crumpled parking tickets, feral cats and a vodka drinking Vet who was shot climbing the Khe Sanh plateau.
When trees begin to drop leaves, the man drops into a bus and heads home. Head pressed into sticky vinyl, window quarter open, his temporal lobe twitches. He smells pollen and barbeque smoke. Somewhere over a stretch of road, he licks a pink dot. “A happy pill,” said a pink cheeked lady. He’s not happy. His mind begins to dance in unfamiliar moves.
Between bus transfers, the man trudges into a restroom. The floor is covered with brown-stained shirts. “As if toilet paper hadn’t been invented,” says a man holding a syringe. Above the sink, “Peace NOW!” carved into wall. He stares into a cracked mirror, flicks cigarette ashes into his mouth, rolling the taste along the inside of his cheeks, spits the ashy mud into his palms and smears it on his face. A sucking hiss of door and a pat on the shoulder awakens him. He walks.
Along oleander lined roads, a car loaded with Christian Youth spot his faithless face and twitching thumb. His mother finds him hunched in the fetal position on the Welcome Mat, fresh faced, fermenting in urine. “God in heaven,” she whispers. With trembling hands, the man sits up, lights a half-smoked joint.
The mother’s new boyfriend is an old gardener his father fired years ago for swiping hoses, hammers and rakes. Things a man with little shame and much want would steal. “He’s a changed man now,” claims the mother. “He has his own business.” A small store that sells stolen things people sell him.
The boyfriend roams the home, acquainting himself with family heirlooms, as if he’s part of the history. When the mother isn’t watching, he sees the man watch him. He looks at the man with hate and fear, the same look the man saw in Nam, and will never forget.
In late autumn, the mother’s skin grows grey. Her lips turn blue. “Take these my darling,” says the boyfriend and hands her water and pills. As a daily ritual, the mother prays Psalm 64. As a weekly ritual, the boyfriend proposes and makes promises he can’t keep. On an early afternoon, when the boyfriend is at work, the man finds oval pills in a plastic bottle—pills that don’t match the mother’s prescription. He slams the bottle on a fiddle-back chair. Upstairs, he finds the mother in a deep sleep with a shallow pulse. He lays a cool towel on her head, elevates her legs. When she awakens, his heart aches with shame, fury and guilt and he knows what must be done.
The boyfriend does not return home that evening. Nor any other evening, and soon his store is up for sale and there’s a new owner—a French man-- who stocks cedar shelves with Belgium chocolates and Italian Sodas. The boyfriend’s disappearance is largely ignored. Rumor is he has split with a wealthier widow, in a town nobody can name.
Year after year, news of war arrives as bits of reality mixed with unreality. Every year, he wants to pick up the phone and call his wife, but picks up another drink instead. Inside the bar the man religiously sits, hunched over whiskey and watching TV. Above him hangs a prayer: “Dios me concede la serenidad para aceptar las cosas que no puedo cambiar, valor para alterar estas cosas, y sabiduria para discernir la diferencia.”
Winter after winter, the man hears his drinking comrades engage in spontaneous conversation inspired by rhythmic uprising in the news. Impending Economic Crash. Shortage of Gas. Worldwide Inflation. Peace talks in another nation. Politicians promise improvement. The Jesus Movement. Elvis Gets Divorce. End of Special Weapon Center Air Force. POWs Return. Agent Orange Burn. George Foreman vs. Muhammad Ali. So Long Howdy Doody. Unemployment reaches 8.9%. Nixon Resigns. Night after night, Marvin Gaye’s “What’s Going On”, a frequent play on the jukebox.
Across the world, the war has taken a new twist. As Operation Frequent Wind blows hard and fast, the man rocks slowly in a wicker chair, slowly rising, as if tired of rising, and turns on new Heathkit TV. War has come back, no doubt, so he can crawl though this dark again. Stored memories activate. Pupils dilate. Breath backfires in his throat. Thump. Whoosh. Evacuation choppers. Hands wave frantically in the air. Fall of Saigon imminent. Americans flee in droves. US Helicopters depart.
A surge of tears flood his vacant, dry eyes. In a state of euphoria, “Ma!” he yells. The mother races into the room, stares at the TV with belated shock and joy. “Thanks be to God,” she says and crosses herself. There is nothing more to see. He makes frantic phone calls to the estranged wife. For the first time, his hands don’t twitch. The mother calls a priest. He calls out a prayer. Minutes later, “Thank you Father,” says the mother and she hangs up the phone.
Creative Expression/Honing Theory:
Creative Expression/Honing Theory:
©2012 Kim Oakley. All rights reserved