I've been thinking about this boy I know lately. I used to work with him, he worked at the restaurant where I work now until they cut our hours, economic slowdown. He just graduated from high school, it seemed like he was on the fast track to being a fine chef one day. Now he's decided to join the military.
He comes in sometimes to say hello, and I think he likes the attention. The ladies, the servers, we flutter around him, hug him, kiss his rosy cheeks, slap him, knock his hat off, rub his heartbreak head, tell him dirty jokes, act like his mom. He basks in our chicken fluff, our sweaty flirtation. What nineteen year old wouldn't like that? To have the attention of a full female waitstaff all moving quickly, shouting orders, hair trailing, white arms encircling his waist, we are a tornado of woman to this boy, all of us older than he.
Chef says, "Join the military during wartime? So stupid."
We all cajole this boy, ask him if he wants to kill, ask him if he believes in this war, beg him to stay home, go to school.
He talks about the money. He talks up the adventure, makes me sick. He thinks he's grown, he thinks he's had all the adventure this town, this country has to offer. He's slept with the girls, the pretty high school girls, he's tried the drugs, he's played in the band, he's had the job and he thinks he knows what's what and all the whos and who cares, oh he's so bored. Thirty thousand dollars (he says he'll buy all us servers dinner out one day) and the adventure of a lifetime, my god his life is cheap.
At what price a life not yet lived?
It's not just the possible loss of life or limb or skin, it's what he will see and do that can't be undone. We ship them off after training them for two years and there they see death, and there they see rape and there they see what chemicals and bombs and bullets and bravery do to a human body and maybe then they know how cheaply they sold their souls. For nothing, for a mistake, for a bloody shameful tangled mess of politics and jingoism.
Those eyes, they kill me when they get back. They have those eyes that have too much in them to focus on what's in front of them, those eyes are broken and we do not take care of them when they come back.
When I was his age I bought a truck and lived in my truck. I saw snow in the desert, I saw redwoods and gypsies. I jumped in hot springs naked and ice cold oceans in my long johns. I stalked an author. I joined a circus. I met my lonely. I camped with strangers. I got lost and found. I drove up, I drove down, I got tired and I slept.
I told him all this and said that there are these adventures, that you don't have to go on someone else's preplanned war story, that you can make your own. But how can you tell a young man so full of hot blood and salty semen that the far-away look in my eyes, of what I have seen and what I have done does not make dumb the feel of soft flesh beneath my fingers and hard wood floors beneath my feet? That love is there, how do you tell him that love is there, when he will sell his soul for thirty thousand dollars and the empty promise of a gun?