I loved to see him standing at the bottom of our driveway, head down, right foot scuffing at the asphalt while he listened to a friend talk. Imitating a body stance and movements I’d seen his father do during Saturday afternoon lawn mowing beer breaks.
Thursday, January 5, 2012
WAR IS A BAD THING
Many thanks to Eunoia.
War is a Bad Thing
by MaryAnne Kolton
War is a bad thing. I’ve always known this. I whispered it to my children on the day they were born. I crooned it in lullabies,
printed it as a PS on I Love You notes inserted in their lunch boxes and, as they got older, reminded them to wear their seat belts, not to talk on cell phones while driving . . . and, that war is a bad thing.
War games, fighting, rubber knives, toy guns and grenades – also bad. When Ben was in grammar school, he nodded in agreement, said “yeah mom”, and ran off to play with the very things that were forbidden at our house. I called his friends’ mothers and asked that they please supervise this aspect of our children’s games.
“Listen, I hope you’ll understand and even it you don’t it’s just real important to me that the boys aren’t engaging in any kind of war play. I’m going to trust you here, and I know you’ll respect my wishes.”
They all assured me they would and then sat farther away from me at PTA meetings and whispered “overprotective” behind my back in the aisles of Bed,
and Beyond. Bath
I didn’t care if I lost every friend I ever had if it meant that my children would never think of taking part in war; the mechanics of which had extruded a stranger to take the place of my husband, their father.
A once lovely and loving man, Charlie, came home wounded in body, mind and spirit; crying out orders and warnings to the men in his command during his worst nights in our sweaty, conflict-filled bed.
Our husband and father - so caught up in the aftermath of his experience and the net of stray shrapnel bits scattered throughout his body that one morning while I was at the grocery and our babies were at daycare he made the decision to cease existing. He had been home two weeks and three days.
War had given him the reason and the means to discharge himself completely from our lives.
So I knew about war. War is bad, but my children were safe with me. No one else was going to war on my watch.
Carissa was such a girl, a golden butterfly swooping and gliding delicately through life, so I eased up little on her, but still found ways to remind her war is a very bad thing, indeed.
“Hi honey! How was school? War is a bad thing.”
I could care less if they ignored me or thought I was crazy. As long as neither one of them even considered taking part in any war, anywhere.
“Like, aside from our Dad and all that, why do you have to be so paranoid about this war thing, Mom?”
“Because war hurts, Ben. Innocent people get smashed and trampled in so many ways. Some times for no reason. Focus on the people, Ben. And, I’m not going to discuss the politics of war with you or the state of my sanity. Just repeat after me, war is bad.”
If I could keep this up neither Ben nor Carissa would ever be involved in any kind of armed conflict.
Since I was raising the children by myself and insisted war was bad, I tried to give them alternatives to deal with the world they would face. I prompted peaceful discussion of divergent opinions. I led them to try to find the good spot in everyone.
“Even the worst person in the world has one,” I said.
“Even witches?” chirped my then six-year-old daughter.
“Even witches,” I advised. “You just have to look harder in witches to find it.”
I preached loving kindness until they tuned me out.
Ben churned himself slow and steady into a gentle soul. He studied, worked after school at an animal shelter, ran 10Ks and shot hoops with his friends. All to the pulse of whatever music was injected into his head via ear bud.
A neighbor would stroll over, hand Charlie a beer and he would stand and scuff and listen. Always more listening than talking.
Ben couldn’t know this, but there it was. His father’s genes coursing along inside him. A blueprint for his gestures and tics for the rest of his life. War is a bad thing.
He had also inherited his dad’s shy, unknowing sexuality. Girls purred like kittens for Ben. There were all kinds of girls. One very troubled girl that caused me to hold my breath and pace circles through the house in the middle of the night.
When Ben could no longer handle her manic outbursts, and told her they both should move on she sliced at her wrists with a box cutter. He spent the following days with her family. Nudging her toward the help she needed. Then he came home and stayed in his room for three days.
I still couldn’t breathe. Even Carissa was afraid to interfere.
For Carissa, Ben was a god; the ultimate big brother who included her in his life, never pushing or shoving. Just being there for her. He introduced her to his friends, encouraged her in all things humane and respected her for her artistic skills and ability to tap into an overblown side of life which he found inaccessible.
Never one to waste words in unnecessary conversation, when Ben finally came out of his room after the girl’s suicide attempt, he talked even less. Afraid to tip whatever balance he was trying to find, I waited until he was deep asleep to sneak into his room and whisper “War is bad, honey” onto the side of his face.
I stopped grinding my teeth at night when Ben graduated from college with a teaching degree and started imparting equal parts English and empathy to junior high students. He seemed grounded in compassion and a sweet love of life.
Even though he shared a house with three friends, he came home often. I teased him about it. Surely, he was the only person on earth that could hear a lasagna pan being pulled from a cupboard seven miles away.
Carissa was working hard on an Art History major and her own oils at a local college. She chose to live at home and attend school, I think partly to keep an eye on me, and I tried to respect the reality that she was no longer a child.
She talked about going away to work on her Masters. I think she wanted to give me a fair amount of advance notice: time to feather the soon to be empty nest with projects or a career.
‘War is bad’ had become a mantra for me, said silently with each heartbeat. I no longer found it necessary to speak it aloud. We had somehow slipped through to the other side. For now.