You put your right leg in,
you hear a shot ring out,
your eyes well up with tears,
and you scream a violent shout.
Your shin bone blows to pieces,
and you plummet to the ground,
here comes a-no-ther round.
They’re scowling. I must’ve been screaming again.
Yep. The piss in my lap confirms it. Another night, another night terror.
I’d ask for a little sympathy, but these poor bastards are no better off than I am. Homeless shelters weren’t made for people with pleasant pasts. They’re holding pens for society’s most forgettable members: the alcoholics, the drug addicts, the mentally disabled, the emotionally disturbed, the socially inept, or in my case, all the above.
I can’t find a clock, and I don’t even know why I bothered trying. My urine-soaked mattress and the adrenaline of memories made falling back to sleep about as likely for me as running a marathon.
I pull my soiled ass up into my wheelchair and connected the dots between the beams of moonlight leading to the bathroom. I strip down, rinse off and make a trail of water droplets from the showers to the communal closet. Behold, all the shit that even the Salvation Army couldn’t get rid of.
I wheel out of the room wearing a light-blue dress with roses embroidered from the neckline to my nubs. Why? Because it was within reach and why the fuck not? Shoving what’s left of my legs into a pair of pants makes about as much sense as volunteering for war in the first place. Proud of me now, Papa?
The kitchen table is littered with day-old baked goods; throwaway pastries for America’s outcasts. I grab as many stale bagels and croissants as I can shove up my skirt and coast towards the front door. My momentum is interrupted by Lucille, the fat bitch who enjoys her false sense of superiority more than the minimum wage she’s probably earning.
“Not so fast,” she said, wrapping her sausage fingers around the handles of my wheelchair.
“Where do you think you’re going?”
“Wherever I WANT. It’s a free country, thanks to pawns like me.”
“You know I can’t let you out of here without a reason.”
“I’m job hunting.”
“In a dress?”
“Call me Tootsie.”
“I’m not letting you go out like that.”
“What am I, your daughter?”
“You’re the one in a dress.”
“And I’m gonna stay in a dress. It’s summertime, and my balls enjoy the breeze.”
“Fine, but you need bandages.”
“I don’t need bandages. You just need to hide my scars from all the squeamish SOBs outside that door.”
“You’re a real piece of work.”
“Yeah? Well you’re a real piece of shit!”
After wrapping each of my legs in an ACE bandage and stealing three of my bagels, Lucille finally lets me roll on.
“Don’t get arrested,” she yelled from the stoop.
“Don’t go into cardiac arrest,” I answered.
I stick a croissant in my mouth and wheel down the sidewalk like a squirrel carrying a nut up a tree. I alternate between bites and thrusts until I reach the Army recruitment offices about a mile from my temporary housing. Just in time for my first target.
“Excuse me, young man?”
“I’m sorry, Mister. I don’t have any money.”
“Of course you don’t. Why the fuck else would you be signing up for the Army?”
“I ... I ....”
“Let me guess, you want a free education? You want to make your daddy proud? You want to let freedom ring?”
“Yeah, all that.”
“Yeah? Well so did I.”
I lift my nubs to my chest and the prick is halfway to a hippie commune before the bandages hit my nipples.
“Well if it isn’t Sgt. Cock Sucker.”
“What’d I tell you about talking to the cadets?”
“Then why are you still doing it?”
“Freedom of speech.”
The red-faced recruiter flings open the door and picks up the phone sitting on the front desk. Any minute now a cop will pull up and tell me there’s no loitering. I’ll tell him to lick me. He’ll tell me he’s going to arrest me. I’ll dare him. He’ll cuff me. I’ll hock a loogie in his face. He’ll throw me in jail. I’ll sing little ditties until they toss me back to the streets like an undersized fish to the sea. The world keeps spinning.
You throw your left hand up,
you put your weapon down,
you cry and beg for mercy,
till your pants start turning brown.
They drag you to their bunker,
and proclaim a victory,
wish I had legs to flee.
The guard summons a college student wearing a vomit-stained polo as I wheel into the holding cell. Society would probably consider this a favorable trade. Who am I to disagree?
The next jailbird to fly the coop is a middle-aged man in a well-tailored suit. His lawyer—and potential fashion consultant—loomed over the guard as he turned the lock. I wasn’t sure what the man was in for, but I could tell the arresting officer was about to get into some legal trouble of his own once the Brooks Brothers were done with him.
Before long, it was just me and the menagerie of minorities: skin tones ranging from deportable to charcoal. You name it, any jail in the country’s got it.
We sit quietly on steel benches like Life’s last-round picks. Well, they do. I’m off to the side in my sweat-soaked wheelchair, trying to remember what it felt like to be wanted. Uncle Sam wanted me when I was willing to take a bullet for Old Glory. The media wanted me for photo ops once they brought me home. And now, they just want me to disappear.
You put your whole life in
to make your country proud,
you follow every order,
till your legs cannot be found.
You get a purple pendant,
and they tell you not to pout,
that’s what it’s all a-bout.
Photograph by: Pekka Nikrus