Wednesday, January 11, 2006

'arson' first bit

Sorry that I am late getting stuff on here, it's taking me a long time to get this one out. Any thoughts appreciated.

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In her own day she was one revered, and that she was a woman and in better shape than most of her male counterparts helped her transcend the usual fear that her position inspired and become something else entirely: terrifying and alien, unnatural. I suppose it probably seemed to the recruits under her charge to be some sort of cruel joke, that they had entered such a manly world as the military to be dominated by an indomitable woman. She never spoke much about that era to me, but I saw the expressions of the men on the base as my mother and I made our way from the small clapboard house we occupied to the on-site grocery store, or to the mechanical building to borrow a jeep to go into town. The faces of young recruits: clean, closed, brash, strangely frightening with crew cuts that made their eyes seem beady and calculating – such were there expressions when on duty. A remarkable change, though, as we passed: the faces opened and the eyes grew fearful. Or not that they opened, on their own, exactly: there was no blooming in the presence of my mother. Rather it seemed as though as she passed her aura came out of her and peeled away their faces like oranges, dug deep into the new layers of flesh and revealed the old boyhood that the recruits wanted so desperately to keep below the surface. Whether the power to make men into boys rather than the other way around was perhaps counterproductive to the base’s training goals was, I later came to understand, constantly at issue in brass meetings, but because my mother’s power extended equally to transforming the fat and hairy commanding officers into their boyish past lives, the discussions always ended in her favor.

I spent my life growing up on the base, living with my mother and making my transitive friends as they came. Two years or four, sometimes a career-man but even he would be off for advanced training after not too long. I learned to make friends for utility, rather than soul mates. The base was large enough to operate its own small school, which my mother favored over city schools I suspect in order to set an example for the recruits and young officers with family of their own. Certainly there was nothing glowing to say about the education itself, officiated by one aging vet with belt-concealing paunch and a bald head that lost flakes of skin the size of quarters.

Most of my time was spent with recruits on break, either on their way from or to the city, or otherwise with some free time. We played football, and I learned about its great men, and even at a young age could feel that something about those heroes was what motivated the man-boys I tried to play with. Season after season elapsed, and teams grew and changed. Recruits aged out and went to school or war or another base. I and the few other CO kids did what we could to maintain our own legends of the immortals we had seen: Joe Santiago, the unstoppable runner; Jefferson Cole, one of the only players to ever have developed coherent and still-used plays for our informal games; and Charlie-Come-Lately, whose nickname I did not understand until I was old enough to hear about his travails with a visiting senator’s daughter, but who in any case was the only known player to have climbed up and leapt off the roof of the small supply shed next to the football field in order to catch (successfully) a wild pass – also the only player to have attempted and failed this feat two more times. My own private history of our pickup heroes actually begins earlier, with an unremarkable player named Mason who was the first man I fell in love with, though at the time I was too young to understand it.

My understanding of my role with these energetic and generally friendly men grew and changed with my understanding of their role with my mother. It was for a long time a point of great pride to see the woman who took care of me rule so effortlessly over men who had only moments before ruled over myself in similar fashion in games, either by running over and hurting me, or picking off my pass with their towering frames, or the cruel rejection of being sidelined early on for being too young.

As I grew older, though, I began to resent her intrusions. The long green field, kept in excellent shape through all but the deepest winter by the grounds crew, lineless (always two completions for a down, and particular trees for touchdowns and touchbacks); the light woods bordering its far side, a maintenance building and supply shed the closer one; cloudless sky and the cool afternoon of North Carolina at its best: this scene became the staging of countless battles and betrayals. And always she won. The men opened their boyhood to her and folded, jogging off to resume duties wherever there was work to be done, chastened. And I, a boy of 14, after years finally having become enough of a man to be similarly undone, sullenly hunched and walking back to the house to take care of some pitiless task. From me she never received more than a glare, and though I have no doubt that the men’s fear of her was in its way more intense, I likewise do not doubt that mine was in its way harder to overcome.

At home we changed roles. Where I had once been talkative she found my enthusiasm, and where once she had been stoic I found refuge in silence. My anger is directionless but it feels righteous. Do I hate her?

4 Comments:

Blogger sb said...

I really like this. There's an omnious tone, to it, and some of the imagery, (peeling like oranges), is luminious. Is this the beginning part of a story?

11:04 AM  
Blogger Max said...

yes. it has two different settings with their own tones, and the first section of the other one is finished. seeing now the average like length of these posts I probably should have put them together. if this feels ominous then its goal is met.

12:34 PM  
Blogger sb said...

The only criticism possible with this, is that the other part's still missing. It really is good shit!

1:06 PM  
Blogger Sam Spid said...

The language is clean and controlled, the characterisation is fresh and the pace is well-set so it's a bit hard to give feedback.

Especially... "It was for a long time a point of great pride to see the woman who took care of me rule so effortlessly over men who had only moments before ruled over myself in similar fashion"

Mmm, there is such as weerd mixture of detachment, vulnerability, objectification and exploitation in that line. I like.

Please post the other piece when it's ready!

1:48 AM  

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