Archive for August, 2008

August 29, 2008

war.

by la rebelde

“Uncle Sam did this,” my tío said, as we stood around the hospital bed where my grandpa lay. I was glad my grandpa’s younger brother came by. Because my grandpa needed to look at someone else besides the four of us who’d been taking shifts, sitting with him all day and all the night. So he wouldn’t be alone when he woke up, so he wouldn’t be scared to be in an unfamiliar place with unfamiliar faces. “It wasn’t as bad for me because when I was in Korea, I wasn’t infantry,” my tío went on, the tears welling. (Los most machos are the biggest llorones, I’m learning.) “But your grandpa and my brothers? They are suffering because of Uncle Sam. Uncle Sam did this to them.”

My grandpa is one of 11 children, the oldest boy of 8, the first of 5 to go into the service. The ones who are still with us in this world are sick too. He was 17, just out of high school. Too many mouths to feed at home. A real familial desire, passed down through generations, to be considered a part of a country that had occupied our land starting a century before. Conquest continues. War is bad. My grandpa has told me this since I was a little girl. And the soldiers are not often taken care of as promised, he’d said (especially the brown ones–and by brown, I mean not white).

He has been talking a lot about his experiences in the Pacific—more so as he’s gotten older. According to the doc, it is common that WWII vets don’t often get diagnosed with post-traumatic stress disorder until they are older—not like Vietnam vets or the vets coming back from Iraq now. When asked what he worries about, what he thinks about, what his concerns for the future are, my grandpa answered them all the same: War. War. War.

PTSD is not why he’s in the hospital—not directly anyway. But it is, apparently, what got him veterans benefits—health care that the vast majority of people in this world have no access to. I must have known my grandpa suffers from PTSD, but I don’t think I really thought about it until the last couple weeks. Sure I knew about his shoulder injury—when an enemy soldier hit him with the butt of a rifle. And the shrapnel that’s still lodged near his spine. And the missing lengths of intestine and spleen from when he was shot. (When I was small, I thought it was so cool that the scar on his abdomen can predict the weather!) Over the years I’ve heard a lot of stories more graphic than any war movie I’ve seen. His physical ailments right now have to be medically treated alongside the psychological–body and mind. Familia and comunidad is there for the soul.

I’ve read about PTSD in magazines, newspapers, and books before, but it was somehow abstract, distant from me and my world. I hadn’t realized—not really–that it’d been a part of my life since birth, a part of my grandma’s life since he returned to NM. Maybe I’d been avoiding thinking about it. Because I can’t fathom the kinds of things that run through his mind on the day-to-day. Because it makes me so angry–about my grandpa’s situation and all the young brown folks who get lured into fighting wars for Uncle Sam. Like bell talks about–“the killing rage.” Only this time it is really about the immediacy of life and death and global imperialism, not just some white girl acting a racist fool on an airplane.*

Who counts as a “casualty of war”? Seems like some are still living. And not all were in the service.

*Okay, I get how these things are related–global imperialism and institutionalized (US) racism. And I’m not saying that racist white girls on airplanes don’t piss me off too. I just don’t have the energy right now to break it down.

August 16, 2008

31.

by la rebelde


“I’m tilting! I’m tilting!” was all I could say as I gripped the handlebars of mis amigas’ lowrider…I mean, recumbent…bicycle last weekend. Tocaya jogged alongside me on the bike path as I tried to stay upright, both of us laughing our asses off. Since I never learned to ride a bike, my amazing amigas—who I’ve known since our first year of college when we were roommates in the “Latina quad”—decided they would be the patient ones who would teach me…before I turned 31 the following Monday. I’d had other lessons before. A few years ago one my colegas rented a bike for my birthday, but they didn’t have any small enough for me, so I left that parking lot with bruised shins and bruised crotch. Ay.

In the springtime before I turned 8 years old, my parents got me the best bike ever! It was pink like strawberry milk, with a white basket in front and red, pink and white tassels on the handlebars. Strawberry Shortcake—my favorite—graced the basket. I rode it up and down our street—a dirt road with a dead-end—but I was afraid to take off the training wheels. A few months later I got real sick and spent a week in the hospital. “No climbing trees, no riding bikes,” said Dr. Pinkerton who looked like the Pink Panther. “Not until we’re sure you are better.” The next summer we moved and I wasn’t allowed to ride my bike on the street because, for some reason, cholos liked to have their drug deals go down right in front of our house. And, well, I was a girl. My brothers got to explore the neighborhood in ways I never did, even though they were younger. In the meantime, I got to read books…lots of books. So I never learned to ride and Strawberry Shortcake sat, rusting in the shed out back.

Last weekend, mis amigas and I decided that if I learned to ride the recumbent, we wouldn’t have to rent one. And besides, it’s the only one mis amigas had that could adjust to my very small stature. After a brief trial run, we changed our minds and headed to the rental place where the hipster dude recommended a cute little pale blue bike—just my size.

I’m not sure how much time passed—maybe 2 or 3 hours. But I learned how to ride. I had great teachers. And while there wasn’t enough time for me to master the ability to ride in a straight line so that we could hit the bike path, I felt the wind in my hair…as I rode circles and circles in a parking lot. I almost fell off a couple times, but I never once fell on my ass!

31 is different than 30. 30 is exciting—it’s almost not even not-twenties. 31, however, is definitely, firmly in the thirties. It’s sort of anti-climactic really. But 31 is going to be a great year, I can feel it already!

* This photo was taken from Mount Tom in western Massachusetts. I don’t have a photo of the bike path, but I took this photo looking toward the bike path. I know…I really think ahead with this blog thing.
**I am, of course, reminded of Cindylu’s love for the number 31. I wonder what she will write when she turns 31.