You learn more from your mistakes than your successes.
So here I am to try, and to fail, so I can learn.
Paul Fail. For The Win!

04 July 2010

FridayFlash: An Immortal Question

Friday Flash
An Immortal Question
©2010 D. Paul Angel

It was a Hansen family tradition.  They'd BBQ behind their old Brownstone, load up their plates, then come inside and watch whoever happened to be playing the O's that day.  Grandpa Tyler was sitting in his chair as a singer wholly unknown to him, some Lady or something, sang the national anthem.

His oldest granddaughter, 15 year old Stephanie, announced in a challenging voice to all present, "Well I think the Star Spangled Banner is simply too violent a song to represent a country that claims to be peaceful.  I think America the Beautiful would be a much better choice.  Don't you Grandpa?"

He met her eyes and considered.  A mere 6 months ago she would be looking to him for validation.  Now she was steeling herself for a challenge.  The tie-die top, torn jeans, and the peace sign belly button piercing had taken root since then however.  (The last had sent his daughter-in-law into apoplectic fury, but, however unmentionable it was, it had remained.)  He wondered if he might have judged her a bit too quickly, afraid of yet another disappointment.  She had a strength and determination far beyond expectations.

"Well Grandpa?" she asked exasperated, "I mean I know you like fought in Vietnam, but wouldn't that mean you've seen how idiotic War is?"

"Give your Grandpa a moment, Steph," said his son, whilst arching an eyebrow at him.  These discussion usually just happened, contemplation was for after.

True, he had served honorably in Vietnam.  They just didn't know he had served before that, too.  He had fought in almost every major action the US had fought, including the Revolutionary War when the US was more of a thought than an actual country.  Before that he had been everything from a Viking raider, to a King's Guard, to a mercenary, to that single wrenching cruise as a Conquistidor.  War saw humans at their very worst.  And he'd seen centuries of it.

For an Immortal, however, it was the easiest way to leave one life and start another.  The physical pain he was immune from had not given a pass to the psychological terrors he had eventually accepted.  Knowing that every woman he had loved would die.  Along with his kids, grandkids, and great-grandkids, ad infinitum.  Couple that with survivor's guilt and it was a wonder he hadn't snapped after raiding the Incas with Pizarro.  Some of the guys he fought alongside would make it home.  In fact, most of them did.  But he alone knew that he would.  Always.

So he remembered back to a spot not too far from where he was now.  Is that why I always seem to make it back to Baltimore every century or so? he asked himself.  He remembered the field.  The poorly white-washed fence and the lonely herd of cows methodically chewing their cuds.  The crisp smell of grass that punctuated the field at the start was replaced by a butcher-yards stench at the end.  Unlike the last century of warfare, with bullets constantly whizzing past, the Revolutionary muskets fired either as volleys or in small, isolated clusters.  The bullets then were big enough and slow enough that you could catch sight of them sometimes going to and fro across the field.

What he remember most was the men.  The line of young Americans had started the day almost giddy.  They didn't know about the horror of war.  They thought the British arrogant and stupid for parading around in bright red shirts, not realizing that red shirts also hid any blood spilt.  Most of them suffered enormously that day at the hands of the greater disciplined British.  But thought the individuals suffered, their overall sacrifice for an ideal led to a Nation's birth.  The Grand Experiment.  He'd fought for land, women, cattle, minerals, and Gods.  He'd fought for the noble and the greedy, he'd watched atrocities happen and committed some of his own; but this was the first war he'd ever fought in for an idea.

The War of 1812, in which he'd watched D.C. burn from a Frigate, had been the last direct threat to her soil.  Those were the rockets above Fort McHenry of which Key so eloquently wrote.  It was he felt apt, and told his granddaughter such, leaving aside his reminisces and demons.

She looked at him and considered.  It was a counter-view, but not one steeped in the mysticism of "patriotism," nor merely knee-jerk reaction.  "I will consider it," she said with deeply abiding gravity.

"Good," he replied with a new twinkle in his venerable eye, "I look forward to talking to you about it in much more depth one of these days."

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