Excerpt #101 (Made It Through NANOWRIMO, Successfully!), ROCKING-CHAIR MOON

Beer-Fueled Text to Carly, 2:23 A.M.
—Ben

I’m not behind the plow.
Too late for second-guessing.
I’m in the army now.

 

Fifteen Minutes Later:
Remember Me? Your Sister?
—Carly

I’m still
waiting for that
call, the one you swore you’d
make if the bogeyman ever
came back.

 

Voice Mail, Five Minutes Later:
I Already Called You
—Ben

I made a call, an imaginary one, sure,
not quite like this one, but close.

We had a long conversation,
and it seemed so real I was sure
you could hear my end of it.

I told you about the return of
the red-eyed bullet-toothed man
in a new but all-too-recognizable incarnation
and my solution for losing him.

You tried to talk me out of it.

This time it didn’t work.

 

Burnt Toast
—Ben

It’s all relative, someone said once
(and lots of times since then),
and here at this place
with the misleadingly innocent name of
boot camp,
where everything—sleep, food, freedom,
compassion, individuality, intellect,
everything except the monotonous excesses
of physical activity and foul smells
and fouler language—
exists only like faint shadows
of what I used to take for granted
in the real world,
I’ve discovered the truth
in that overworked saying.

I remember complaining about sarcastic,
hard-ass professors, nine a.m. classes,
dorm food, separation from my family,
from my friends, from Katie,
but all of that was nothin’.

The bullies who run
this little getaway resort
might come up half-armed
in a battle of the wits,
but they’d eat a lefty professor for lunch
and two more for dinner
and three puke recruits for dessert,

and they’re happy to get us up at four a.m.
for a sleep-deprived interminable round
of aimless marching in the dark and cold,
and when we finally get back to the barracks
our reward is another march,
to the mess hall this time, for runny eggs
and vomit on burnt toast
and a few expletives aimed at
anyone who dawdles,

and sometime in the day,
when we finally get a break
from the tramping
and cursing and soul-searching,
I have to spend time with a bunch of guys
who are just as lonely and empty
and jumpy as I am,

and even if we had anything in common
other than our misery,
no one is in the mood to talk,
and all we can think of is cherishing the days
behind us and counting the ones ahead,
waiting for the hours, minutes,
seconds to pass,
wondering what will come next.

But when the lights finally come up
on this endless production
and I step off its shit-stained stage at last,
I’m afraid I’ll look back at this purgatory
as a peculiar oddball kind of heaven,
as a more-or-less-pleasant jumping-off place
for my descent into hell.

After all, when everything is said and done
and dissected and examined,
you could almost say nothing is absolute.
You could almost say it’s all relative.

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