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Issue 10 - A Journal of Letters and Life
Memorial Day
by Wotan
Ever since the first U.S. cargo planes started landing at Tuzla field and the first American convoys started rolling through the bombed out streets of Bosnia, people think the biggest threat to our multi-national forces are the dangerous hazards of the former warring faction's munitions, land mines and unexploded ordnance.
     But that is not so. I have got news for you, it is one Serb and one Serb only and his name is Genc Sokolajc. He knocked my baby sister up in 1990 while she was waiting tables and he was a busboy in Tulsa, Oklahoma. I'd warned her about going to the big city but did she listen? First thing she does is find herself a Serbo-Croatian busboy smoking clove cigarettes and talking with a accent, about the most exciting thing that's ever happened to a Oklahoma farm girl and I know what she was going through - I been on tour in Korea; I understand a foreigner's appeal. She's one week out of high school and waiting tables at the Ear Inn, which is really just Bar/Inn but the plastic yellow B in Bar is busted and the slash is long gone so as it reads Ear Inn now and he's setting down his tub of dirty dishes to help her tie her little apron on and telling her he's from some god forsaken place she's never heard of called Tuzla and that's why he picked Tulsa, cause the name reminds him of home, all the while twinkling his big brown eyes down at her and twirling her around to present her in her new waitress apron, complimenting her on the cute look in his Eastern European way and handling her with an overall deftness she has never seen the likes of in any of the clodhopper boys back home. Next thing you know, she's knocked up and he's telling her to get an abortion.
     You know what the only phrase he taught her in Serbo-Croatian was besides Kako ste? and Dobro (How are you? and Fine) was? I'll tell you what it was, it was I love your dick. Now that is no kind of thing to be teaching a 18 year old girl. A good church going girl. Talking about abortion isn't either. She didn't believe in abortion but she was scared. He pressured her. Course there was no one there to talk sense to her, my parents up north on their farm oblivious and me way over in Fort Bragg. So she goes ahead with it and he leaves her, good as for dead. More on that later.
     Come to find out, he raped her in a weird kinda way, too. I mean, not that she was unwilling to have the sex but she told him to use a condom and he really fought her on it, pressured her on that account first, then acquiesced, only to slip it off mid-act, only for her to discover later, the condom on the floor besides the mattress attracting ants like a god damned ant cup.
     She was knocked up just like that, the first week. It constitutes a new kind of rape, in my mind, good as her saying no right from the start. I've been wishing him dead from the moment she called me up at Fort Bragg that Memorial Day to tell me what he'd done, crying and wrecked from the experience. It therefore did not surprise me that war broke out in the, by now, former Yugoslavia shortly thereafter, after the pregnancy tests, after the AIDS test, after the abortion, and after that bastard's deportation. Neither did the reports of repeated rape and any matter of bad ass stuff going on over there surprise me because that is just the kind a guy he was and what kind of people must he have come from anyway? You figure it out.
     Seven years have flowed under our feet since my sister's call that Memorial Day. It doesn't help that it was on Memorial Day. There's no forgetting it. I've been wishing him dead these seven long years and marking each Memorial Day like an anniversary. And my sister? She mourns each Memorial Day worse than the one before, for the unborn child. She has let herself go completely, quit church and put on close to a hundred pounds since then, though she's still a young woman, determined to sabotage her own future and any hopes of meeting a nice guy. No such thing exists and anyway how could I ever trust a man again? She thrusts herself up into an easy chair for the day with a remote in one hand and a 16-ounce Hershey's with Almonds in the other, determined to maintain her body in a state of perpetual pregnancy, carrying around not only the weight of the pregnancy itself but the weight of a 6-year-old child at this point - 40 or 50 pounds over a pregnancy weight - so that at the rate she's going, by the year 2008 - when the kid would have been graduating from high school and would be 115 pounds, if a girl, and a solid 150, if a boy, she will be in the area of 200 pounds overweight. Mordantly obese is how the doctor puts it.
     So when the call came you can imagine how happy I was to board the plane that would take me to the land of retribution. Without even asking about hazard pay, I just jumped on it.
     First thing I did after receiving my orders and settling in was to check out the orphanage. All these kids over here without homes, laying in cribs; I had the idea I could send one home to my sister. I thought it might be good for her, give her something to live for since the abortion was a mistake, she only had it under duress, under his evil influence, to save their love, then he dumped her anyway. Initially she was attracted to the pictures I sent back of these kids with their Eastern European looks, with their round heads flattened out in the back like they'd been smashed with a shovel - it's from just lying there - now she's repulsed by the sight of them. I don't want one! she screams at me at the mere mention of the idea.
     So now there is nothing left to do but track him down. I got a picture of the scumbag; Genc Sokalajc I'm talking about again. I ripped my sister out of it but you can still see her hip and some of her hair in my half. He's standing there in his busboy apron, standing there in front of the bar at the Ear Inn with one arm missing (it's around my sister's shoulders and long gone from this photo). When I get done with him he'll be missing more than an arm. He'll be wishing he was frozen in time back at the Ear Inn all right. He's smiling like a fool in it which reminds me - anyone with a gap in their teeth sets my sister on edge too, now. He has one. It's a classic thing I find over here with the men and women hardly distinguishable from each other after a certain amount of years, the same gapped teeth, the same dirty brown curls to the shoulders, the same big carriage, broad, slumped shoulders from a hard life. My sister has decided to adopt these people's stance, instead of one of their babies, even though she doesn't know she's doing it. She can't see these people, can't possibly know what their demeanor is, yet she's adopted it, as if Mr. Sokolajc's grip extends across the ocean to her. As if to say I don't want you, but no one will ever have you again either. She's a ruined woman. I tell her, "Buck up. Get yourself to a church social, meet a nice man." She says how can I ever face that God again? by which she means that this crises in faith, this abortion, has lead her down her own path to spiritual enlightenment which does not employ the God of our youth. For this I blame not only Genc Sokolajc and the abortion; I blame our Protestant upbringing.
     Congregational's just too darn wishy washy if you ask me. Instead of addressing these things head on like the Catholics across town, our minister always kinda side-stepped the issue of premarital sex and birth control. And forget about my parents - as tight-lipped as puritans on the subject. Looking back, I can see it was a too much of a Live and let live approach. My sister needed reigning in. Needed to be sat down and told Look. This is the way it is. No sex without marriage and a whole host of other things, Missy. As it is, she hadn't fully formulated her feelings on the subject before it was there in her lap staring up at her. Only had a vague sense of what was a sin and what wasn't; which, as it turns out was enough to kick in and do her in after the fact. Now she's making up for it double time, embracing a whole slumgullion of religious beliefs: no pork and a whole separate set of dishes for meat and dairy from the old testament, lighting up incense sticks - something I told her about from my tour in Korea, worrying the long coveted rosary beads and sporting the little paper and felt tags of the risen Madonna of Portugal - this alone enough to make my parents turn over in their graves.
I seen a gal on the street today clutching a crucifix. It reminded me of my sister. When she seen my GI uniform she picked up the pace and hurried on by. This is a country full of Catholics. I'm amazed the people over here still think that can be any help to them - faith, I mean. They oughta recognize that our presence here is the only thing that'll help now. She always was drawn to the Catholics, my sister - used to envy her little friends on their first communions with their lacy head dresses and new white palm sized good books and shiny beads with the tiny suffering Christs dangling. What was that compared to the dried out palm frond we got handed once a year afterall? She yearned to genuflect at our pews, tap her forehead with holy water such as she'd seen her fancy friends do, smear a thumbprint of ashes across her forehead once in while. Our lack of ritual hurt her. She needed the drama. In our cow town, religion was the only show playing.
     But not at our church, so pinched and pure - all white clapboard with plain plank pews and not even stained colored glass in the windows. And the messages so dry and irrelevant week to week; all the while she knew those Catholics were strumming guitars and breaking bread together just a few streets over. We weren't even allowed to partake until we'd growed. And then it was only given a few special times a year, country frugality extending even to this. Whereas the Catholics were drinking the blood of the lamb each week, renewed and refreshed, my sister was starving! She went on a hunger strike, even took to Lent - hoarding chocolate bars all winter, voluntarily depriving herself where our faith did not require it. She's the only kid I ever knew who wanted a nun doll for Christmas. I can't help thinking now, how she'd be okay if only she'd been allowed to go that route. But my parent's wouldn't hear of it, as proud of their Congregational roots as they were of living on the land. And now she's gone completely haywire. I'm afraid to see if she's embraced witchcraft - is off sacrificing her menstrual blood or some such thing. It wouldn't surprise me. She had tendencies. And now she's all over the map. Even has a crucifix over her kitchen dinette. If that's not testimony to a rapid conversion, I don't know what. She tapes a Happy Birthday balloon over its head at Christmas. Which would be okay, in my opinion, if she wasn't also setting up altars of pyramids and crystals in the other corner next to the TV. She relates to Jesus not so much as a personal savior but on a human level as a fellow sufferer. The My God! Why have you foresaken me? thing. She does not feel the embrace of an all loving father.
     So she throws everything into the mix; I guess she's entitled, after what she's been through. And from what I hear, New Agey people are picking and choosing more and more these days, taking what appeals and leaving the rest. My sister invented the technique.
     As for me, I'm no believer. I've seen too much on this end; I'm in the Army, in case you forgot. Seen too many deaths, too much destruction and my sister herself is the ultimate proof that God has long since flown the coop. She was a good kid, guilty of the need for a little drama maybe, but that's all. For me, the teat of the milk of human kindness dried up seven years ago. I can't do anything about the G word or the lack thereof. I can only do something about the mortal who set off this chain of reaction. Mr. Sokolajc. I don't know if I can release her by destroying him, or even a whole country while I'm at it, but it's my moral obligation as her brother to try.
     That bastard never even walked her home from the clinic. She bled for weeks, developed an infection, wound up in the psyche unit. The doctor called it post traumatic stress syndrome, says it's what the Vietnam vets all have. And I guess he's right about that because she's no different now than those poor saps down at the Vet Rec. Center in their wheelchairs, unkempt and rattling a cup, a wilted poppy in their grizzled lapel. And instead of moving on in life and having new babies or just even adopting a little war orphan, she'll be laying a wreath at the tomb of the unknown child this Memorial Day and making an offering of a pack of Crayolas and some gummi bears or some such thing in all likelihood although I've told her it's a only a fish of a fetus angel baby - not a full grown child that's maturing with each passing year and in need of kindergartner supplies.
     I seen him today. On the street outside the bombed out embassy - Genc Sokolajc, big as day. Seen him right after I spotted that gal with the crucifix. That's what tipped me off it was him for sure. Like a sign of my sister's sent from God. I'd know him anywhere - that photo of him burning a hole in my fatigues. I don't know many details of their brief affair; I only know about the aftermath, on both sides. I followed him a while, saw him slip into a house. I would not be surprised at all to have it revealed to me in some divine way that she has caused this war, however indirectly, because I know she has powers.
     I know this because once in the 2nd grade, Freddie Peterson opened the back of her guinea pig cage when she was pulling it along in the mutt parade in our wagon. She was wearing a coon skin cap and waving a little American flag with a little gold painted wooden finial such as they used to hand out to the children on Memorial day before they got too cheap and smiling out across the crowds so as she didn't notice her pet hop out - Apron she called it, for its white underbelly and the strings of white that came up over its red furred shoulders and seemed to tie around its neck - and get squashed under the tire of the John Deere tractor bringing up the rear. She had it in for Freddie Peterson after that, after Apron got ironed onto Convent Hill and not long later, Freddie Peterson came down with leukemia and died. Then there was the time my sister was mad at Grandma visiting and making her wash dishes when she wanted to go out and race around with me after dinner. She was standing there fuming with her hands plunged into the practically scalding suds when we heard the clack of the metal walker against the staircase and a sickening thud on the landing. My sister felt real bad about that. Going to Confession maybe could of alleviated her guilt but, once again, the Congregational church let her down, and ever since then, she's tried to harness her powers but this has brought it to the fore again because she wishes him dead and so do I and look where I am now.
     Would I possibly be here in the former Yugoslavia if it were otherwise? That she did not have powers? I'm here to tell you the answer's no. But this is not just one mischievous kid or an elderly matron; I'm talking about A Whole Country here. If I can just personally get a hold of this guy, I can stop the madness. Innocent people are suffering. And seven years is enough I say. So I have a personal mission so to speak. I have my army duties and I have my filial duties. You don't believe me? I can see you doubt her powers. Hey, I think, just look at the Jews. Six million Jews had to die for Hitler. Had to die for a madman. You think it can't happen just cause she's some fat chick from Oklahoma with a shrine for dead babies? I got news for you. The appearance of helplessness can be very deceiving. You people have been underestimating three things: Women, in general, alternative religion, and the mentally insane, for years.
     The funny thing is when she told Mr. Sokolajc that her brother was a military man, he told her his fondest wish was to be a soldier too. Well, I guess he got his god damned macho dream come true.
     When NATO's Peace Implementation Force transfigured into the Peace Stabilization Force, these force-protection hazards and unexploded ordnance (I'm talking mines, old bombs left over ) that I mentioned up front continued to pose a threat to all peacekeepers assigned to Bosnia. And serious threats against these multinational forces require serious action. Action which the Explosive Ordnance Disposal teams from all nations take very seriously.
     I am an EOD technician. I am conducting bi-lateral training and when I'm down on an incident I am not opposed to adopting another army's techniques if you get my drift. During a recent incident, the Swedish EOD unit notified us about an unidentified piece of ordnance. I teamed up with a Swedish soldier and drove down to the location in one of their SISU Armored Personnel Carriers which was a treat after traveling around in a Humvee.
     The SISU is fully protected and amphibious; I'd like to see it become part of our inventory - the smoothest ride I've ever experienced. BMW? Don't want one. When I drive down the interstate, I'll take a SISU any day. Don't know what it stands for - Swedish something or other - don't need to know. It's the ultimate crew-served weapon. A tank on wheels. Immune to chemical agents and all manner of assault. Traffic jams, no problem, just drive right over them.
     When we got down there, I took ultra-sonic measurements to determine the thickness of the bombshell. By using this data and the portable microfiche reader which as a soldier of the 2nd EOD, I carry with me, I concluded it's a German 50-kilogram bomb dropped during WWII. They've asked me to dispose of it; I'm their man. It lies within Mr. Sokolajc's home range, just outside the American sector. I've got him in my sights. You might think this is a little too pat, my being sent down here to this exact spot, a little too convenient, but you underestimate my sister's powers, that's already been established.
     On this type of mission it is customary for both units, both nations, to watch as the 50-kilogram German antique is detonated, since the Americans are the only ones with an extensive library and knowledge of ordnance and munitions dating back to the first and second World Wars. Other countries stand to learn a lot from us, especially about the bigger ones like flying bombs, 1st Lt. So-and-So tells me; he's 2nd in command. But they will not have the chance this time. Having that knowledge will only ever help them win half the battle, anyway, I know. The other half will have to be won by me and me alone. I've gotta work fast; Clinton's threatening to pull our troops out. I have the power to stop the madness. I am not thinking of the consequences. I have tracked Mr. Sokolajc down; forget about your war lords. He's the key to ending this mess.
     By the end of the day the bomb will have to be moved by a special high-explosive containment truck to an approved disposal area and destroyed. The platoons waiting at the safe-disposal area are going to check their watches, shift their weight and stare out across the ravaged wasteland, wondering what happened to me. Believe me, I can hardly wait.

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