We’re on the F train, on our way to a wine bar somewhere on Delancey. I haven’t told him I don’t drink wine and when he says, “If you like this place, I can take you to another place I know… maybe sometime next week,” I realize I haven’t told him I’ll be in Iraq. On the train he talks loudly and his eyes are focused on the windows, making sure we don’t miss our stop. Although the AC is on, he’s sweating. I can smell it and when I look at him, there are beads of perspiration above his lip.
He’ll be the last man I sleep with before I leave. I chose him at the party I’d been to a few days earlier because he reminded me of Adrien Brody: tall, long, and the way he stood with a slight bend forward reminded me of a sexual proposition. I wondered what he would think of me if I simply asked him to skip the drunken courting he had in mind and go to his place to fuck without the AC on and then order Chinese takeout, something spicy with cashews. I’d turn on my iPod and play Spinnerette’s Ghetto Love, while he’d open the window, letting a light breeze sweep in and pick up the smell of our sweat and his dirty sheets.
I go to tell him my plan, but a little girl gets on the train and sits across from me. The train car feels small and even whispering sounds like yelling. The little girl is given a piece of chicken, white meat, by her father. The fried skin makes her small fingers greasy and she takes large bites, leaving her cheeks bulging and her chewing slow. She reminds me of when I was a little girl and my father used to take me on train rides. We’d travel to Brooklyn to visit my grandmother; sit around a small television, yelling the wrong questions to the answers on Jeopardy!
The little girl is still eating the chicken when we get off. We head to the wine bar where he orders a bottle of wine for the both of us and I ask the waiter to bring me tap water. I think of the girl and how I should’ve asked her for some of her chicken, or at least where she got it. When will I eat a big piece of fried chicken in the next couple of months? My dad told me that when he’d been in the army, a guy he knew stole a whole slab of bacon from the mess hall. Was going to eat it raw had my dad not convinced him he’d get sick. They were in Germany and it was snowing. While my dad cooked the bacon in the guy’s helmet, the guy went off to steal a loaf of bread. They finished off the bacon and cleaned the helmet with snow. I wonder if the guy smelled like bacon the next day. I wonder if it ever gets cold in Iraq.
I take a sip of wine, but I don’t taste the subtle notes and stick to my tap water. Dad has told me that while I’m over there I should keep myself hydrated and keep my boots dry. He didn’t mention anything about keeping my gun clean, but has told me to keep mace under my pillow and to pee in my helmet at night. He told me this while we watched M*A*S*H together. As my date pours himself another glass, I imagine he is Adrien Brody, and rather than explain the wine to me, he is telling me war is kind and you just have to stand on your mark. Even with the explosions all around, if I stay on my mark, I won’t get hurt. Before I left on my date, my dad was putting on another episode of M*A*S*H and I told him that Adrien Brody would make a good Hawkeye. My dad laughed. I laughed too, relieved.
My brother’s angry with me, although I tried to explain to him that war’s the best route for me. My father has said it’ll keep me tight lipped and I usually tell him to shut up, but then I apologize because everything’s different now. My brother told me war, especially for a girl like me, isn’t the way they make it out to be on TV, but my father said for some people it might be. I asked what does being a soldier feel like and my dad said, “You tell me. Aren’t you one?” But I don’t feel like one. Maybe it’s cause I’m in civilian clothes, and because I’ve been away from the base.
But even then, I feel like I’m pretending. Like I’m a female version of Alan Alda, holding a martini glass filled with water and wearing a dirty robe asI pretend that there’s fighting going on outside my tent.
All the people in my unit will be real soldiers, afraid of Iraq because Iraq means the possibility of dying. I told my father I wasn’t afraid of dying and asked him if that made me a bad soldier?
He told me it made me a good soldier, but a stupid person. I told him I could live with that. I didn’t tell him I was afraid of killing someone, or worse, of someone dying next to me. A soldier who was a father, who was a husband, who was a son. I didn’t tell him because he was laughing at something Hawkeye said and I too wanted to make my dad laugh, but I’m bad at jokes. My brother assured me my sense of humor wouldn’t get any better, but my father told me it’ll get so good, I’ll be the only one laughing.
My date asks me what my plans are for the summer. I take another sip of my water. I imagine I can taste the residue of the pipes.
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