by Ben Kline
That August we traveled east in our maroon ‘86 Caprice wagon with the backward backseat,
making too many stops at lookalike scenic views and tchotchke shops along the Skyline Drive,
when Saddam Hussein invaded Kuwait and Dick Cheney betrayed us the fourth or fifth time.
We bothered counting then, before the new American century was upon us like neo-con locusts,
when gas yet hovered under a buck fifty and voguing was way mainstream yet still very queer
by motions so loose they defied macho statute. We watched high tech American-made tanks
cross wavy beige desert under black billow skies on 16” hotel televisions. Back home we did not
have cable TV. We watched Tom Brokaw and disliked Dan Rather. I did not lust for Arthur Kent
or see Herbert Walker vomit in Japan. I read Updike, McInerney and Oates. I memorized old maps
curling between rosaries hung over roofing nails on my grandmother’s mauve parlor wall.
That October we were baling soybean stubble in the far west fields while many of my former
classmates prepared to deploy. They had enlisted to escape working coal, timber, part-time retail or
fast food. Many worked third shift at Food Lion off the interstate where we parked our parents’ trucks
on Saturdays, blasting Depeche Mode, Garth Brooks and NWA. Saddam did not seem to see it coming.
Neither did those guys after all the no-name inoculations and uranium weapons. They all died
years before Y2K and dodged the microwave sea we still call sky. They died despite sins confessed
years after at football games, lumps protruding from their skulls as they described a sunless desert
of mangled bodies covering the sand, black plumes transforming the horizon into a wall through which
they could not see and did not wish to cross. They feared sleep. They asked for blowjobs by the strip mine
waste lake in the back of their little sisters’ Chevettes. Their cum tasted like peroxide and stained upholstery.
By December sleeping trees revealed snow on the limestone, and fearing what I did not know,
I sought new knowledge. The H volume contained only facts, few hints and sporadic truths.
I took up my pens and wrote stories about hillbilly secrets and skyline dreams. From my desk, I cut
trees obstructing my view. A writing scholarship paid for freshmen year. FAFSA was a four letter word.
I did not want to fly over Kuwait. I kept my A’s straight and worked three jobs. Those dead boys cried
when they came, reminded by the scent of their acidic sweat that they lacked enough hate to reconsider love.