The following is an excerpt from the upcoming book, "The Desert Warrior".
A few days after I arrived back in Jacksonville, I had to start narrowing down the details of the wedding. Writing about Iraq was helping, but it was also robbing me of my sleep.
My mother asked if I could cut down the overgrown plum tree in the back yard after another sleepless night. I agreed and got into my desert camouflage trousers, boots, and a t-shirt, almost like I was dressed in Iraq, and began cutting down this unwanted tree. I started with chopping at foliage, climbing upon bare branches to chop at the top third. I began muttering the names of people who've wronged me, persecuted me, and generally wanted me silenced and disposed. I spoke in a low voice of people, atrocities, and events that repulsed me not because I was worried about neighbors thinking I was a homicidal maniac, but because this was my struggle, and I didn't want to allow any room for judgment. The top third fell.
Next was a thicker part of the tree. I began swinging the hatchet and burying the blade deep within the flesh of this tree, and it manifested itself, in my mind and being, as the enmity I felt. The swings of the blade became increasingly furious and merciless as I dismembered branches and dug deeper into the trunk, swearing and professing my deep hatred for those who tried to falsely imprison me in Iraq simply for telling the truth and saying no to the abuse.
Almost screaming in anger at the injustice, I instead growled and hit the tree harder, this time including my fists intermittently with wounding it with the hatchet. I was bleeding, and so was the plum tree. I mangled the main part of the trunk until I was able to kick it over onto the ground as a lifeless entity, a corpse.
The danger of coming home with war is that you return home with a poison, a concoction of chemicals now permeating the brain compiled of the things that you did or didn't do. That's what will kill you if combat didn't - if you have a conscience that is. It doesn't need to kill you as it can be fought. However, no one tells you that it'll be a fight every day for the rest of your life.
Finally, I reached the bottom of the trunk, a helpless stump. I imagined the demons of my past begging for mercy as I swung the hatchet as hard as I could upon the center of the stump of this amputated plum tree. I felt it move in the ground; it was loose. I put down the hatchet and started to pull at the roots, wrestling with the remaining, yet most important part. I pushed and I pulled, then stood up and kicked as hard as I could, taking delight in every movement that loosened the tree stump even more. The roots from one side began to surface, then with one hand on a bulky root and the other on the stump, I ripped the last part of the plum tree out of the ground. I felt eyes on me. Immediately, I turned and scanned the perimeter of the fence line, but no one was there. Then I turned to the house where I noticed the side of a curtain instantly close. Someone was watching.
After dusting off my hands, I stepped back and observed what I had done. I'd be lying if I said it didn't feel exhilarating to put my hands on the wrong in my life and destroy it – or at least something I could project my ills. Carefully, I began cleaning up the debris and collecting them for the yard waste bin as a killer would in meticulously cleaning after a homicide. However, I felt a brief sense of peace after this bout of tension-reducing mania. Upon completing clean up, I returned to the back door of the house where my mom stood. In few words, she thanked me for ridding her of the tree, but she looked at me differently.
In Chamorro culture, it is believed that spirits dwell in trees and the clearing of overgrowth and debris is part of keeping negative spirits and energy out and away from one’s home. Perhaps my mother was hoping the ghosts of war would be transferred to this tree in the midst of recounting what plagued me, and by destroying the absorbing tree, maybe part of me would return. Or perhaps she was tired of waiting for my brother or sister to do it.
Dispatches from an itinerant and irreverent artist.