The space beneath his hip joint
I tell the tall, slender 30-something white man that this was a protest where we bared our breasts, proclaiming women’s bodies are NOT indecent, breast are NOT indecent: war is indecent, killing, torture, rape are indecent. So we arrested the marines for being indecent, for killing, torturing, raping. Thus the juxtaposition “arrest” and “breast”.
He responds “Going to Iraq is indecent”. Then he tells me some of his story. He’s in the gas station panhandling- for the first time in his life - he casts his burnt toast brown eyes in the same loop as his leg, desperately searching, for a generous soul? for understanding, for clarity how he ended up at this station?
He’s standing here, on U.S. asphalt sucking up petroleum fumes while trying to get enough money to buy gas so he can return home for the weekend. He’s in school, truck driver’s school. He’s trying to find a way to support himself and his family. He has a child.
He has lost a leg. In Iraq. And the V.A. didn’t do right. Oh, they patched him back together, gave him a leg alright, but that’s it. He has no job, he had to find this truck driving school, and they don’t help him pay for it, pay for his 50 mile one-way trip to see his daughter, his wife on the weekends, help him keep his apartment, food on the table. So he’s pan-handling. To get home. He thinks he needs to get home.
I can't keep the tears trapped in my eyes when I tell him how sorry I am about his leg, his agony, his struggles, he continues to look at me expressionless, shrugs a little, and tells me it was a long time ago – as if walking funny, slowly, stoically was the least of his worries.
I know he wants money from me. I tell him I only have caring and information to offer him – and my commitment to try to prevent other young men from committing indecent acts.
We talk about IVAW – he’s heard of them but isn’t sure they can help him. He doesn’t talk much. I imagine the others don’t talk much either. I try to convince him of the value of just being with folks who’ve shared experiences in common.
I hope he will reach out to IVAW. I hope we won’t read about the man who thought he was fighting to defend his country, gave his leg, and took his life, unable to piece that lost life back together, empty as the space beneath his hip.