The Story of a Photo of a Soldier

This free-verse stemmed from a free-write exercise at dVerse Poets Pub and it grew into a a poem from a post I had seen at the nonprofit Facebook Page “22 too Many.” It was about a young Veteran who lost his battle with Combat PTSD. This is in honor of him and his wife, Emily.

 

Photo by Caitlin McFall

 

 

His arms look sculpted–tattooed sleeves, wrapped around
Emily. It is a collage picture, this is the one on top, in black and white,
and I wonder if it was taken before or after he returned home from service. Curtis.
Curtis Johnson, US Air Force.

In the left corner of the collage they are together again, younger, sun
in their faces. He wears shades and pinches his slim face, and she
leans into him, this Emily, with a look on her face only women who have
found their match understand—that mischievous wisdom
and peace. Tattoos and piercings.
Two forces you can tell by the looks of them—two
perhaps strong-willed individuals who found sanctuary in
each other, as if they’d been through enough.
Curtis and Emily Johnson.

The bottom right corner is Curtis, alone on his bunk
in his uniform, a healthy weight gain, his tattooed arms
stick out from rolled up sleeves. His face is somehow
childish looking, maybe because it is rounder, but there
is no expression. It’s an empty room. And him.
Curtis Johnson. US Air Force.

Scroll, scroll, scroll through my news feed. My thumb slides the screen
up and up and up, a carnival of friends’ faces, recipes,
memes and epic fails, cats the goddamned cats, news bits-
pictures of dust explosions, Arab men and women, cops,
black lives matter, white lives matter, Muslims matter
new groups fill up and rallies are happening all around us
amassing members who share one thing in common: hate.
And if it’s not a group it’s family and friends fighting
against each other on right and wrong, separating
ourselves and each other only to strengthen
a swarming media we eat up in the comments.
All are offended. All have rights. All sit and slide the screen.
“Another shooting at Planned Parenthood…tonight on…”
“A white police officer shot an unarmed young man…more…”
“…ISIS? The terrorist’s had this planned
since before they married…all messages on their cell phones
are encrypted, making it difficult for the…”
“How many school shootings are there…” Gun Control.
“Syrian refugees…” commercial commercial, “Paris…”
scroll scroll scroll
zooming through the feed past the stories I can’t
do anything about–believing that the
news–these unconnected far away stories–exist only in my
bright screen that lights up my face at night, as I get
a “ding” on messenger and hope it’s so and so. Thumbs up.
Politics. Trump. Obama. Hilary’s emails, BBC, Huff Post Weird News, scroll. Pit-bull discrimination…?

OK, time to put it down,

but then
there is a lovely picture collage of a young couple, and I stop,
because this is the “22 too Many” page—
a non-profit organization honoring fallen heroes
who lost their lives to suicide, Combat PTSD. I expect
to read a snippet of where he served from the woman in the
picture, covered in tattoos as well.
“Curtis Johnson, US Air Force,
took his life December 5th, 2015 after his battle with PTSD.
His wife, Emily Johnson,
followed the next day, December 6th.”

And I can’t stop looking into his face, into her eyes, into the pictures
of him alone on the bunk. And there are tears coming because
I don’t know what he sacrificed or what he saw over there, what he
had to do…because I am part of the generation off path pavers
for social media time wasters, because I am on Facebook reading updates and
blurbs about news in chosen flashes
Not reading, not questioning, not asking
humbled into my own opinion by a large angry crowd full of rights
and I don’t know my history, and we don’t know our present
and there he is

Curtis

who came home from a war in a land I bothered to look at once
who gave every part of himself away to be plagued and tortured
by his body memories and flashbacks.
Tears, because I look down to the right corner picture
where he looks like a child, a lost man alone on
foreign soil. Throat hurts, because he looks younger than me
and I can’t imagine his hell of body memories and flashbacks
and madness—a hell no one can enter or leave but yourself
if you’re lucky.
And Curtis couldn’t leave. In this country that opportunes me
everything I need and the tools to achieve and improve my life,
Curtis flew “over there” and fought for such freedoms, at the
expense of putting himself in the bottom of that well,
never to breathe freely again, never to feel a warm wind on his face
without slipping back into what took him, what reached down into him
and took out his insides, replaced them with a talking shadow,
and sent him home to die. And that “it” that took him,
that was Hate.

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