Jenny Boully
War Baby

I myself was a war baby; so it would seem that I should be indentured to this machinery, but I had already refused during first period history to say the pledge of allegiance. My teacher scolded me and said that we should, all of us, be willing to die for this country, that his brother died for this country. Climbing milkweed was overtaking the sky, and I walked home through alleyways, ditches, a cut in chain link. I called a suicide hotline that night: I did not want to allege myself to anything, not even life. To grow cruel and dark, a feral underling: that was my adolescent calling. The walls of my room, covered with punk rock posters and concert flyers and anti-war slogans were growing with it. The time came for loneliness; from the record shop by the college campus downtown, I took the flyer but could not attend the anti-war rally, which pledged that there should not be any blood for oil. My best friend and her best friend deserted me. Somehow, I arranged a date for myself with the college radio DJ and he let me drink beer with him and his friends in the new club that opened, but then I saw my old best friend there and she scratched at me and told the bouncer that I was drinking. I kept saying I was with the DJ and they let me go. Small complication: I was only fourteen. College DJ thought I was seventeen. I let the world go on while I, using the address in Ann Landers, I sent the letter; she and her sister were always urging us to write and send care to the soldiers out there who were giving their blood for oil. The camouflage now was different from my daddy’s. The new camouflage was made for this war in a desert, not the rainforests of Asia; still, it was made for a world where everything looked so similar to everything else that you couldn’t see what might be happening right in front of you and so the camouflage made extra sure. It was the loneliness that had set in. I sent the letter with my fourteen-year-old self, her words and her picture, a picture that showed a girl wearing a tight, black mini skirt, thigh-high stockings, lace-up boots up to her knees. A man from that war wrote back. He said a buddy of his had picked up my letter, saw my picture, and passed it on to him, saying I might be the one. I wrote back immediately; I needed love; all I had was my diary. There were rockets in the sky. Teachers at school were shocked: “You could see it on TV.” But I was not shocked or even surprised. Those flickers of light did nothing to unnerve me even though I kind of had a man there in that land of sand who might or might not have been close enough to see those rockets firsthand. They illuminated green on the screen, but I was not moved; after all, I had, always, seen everything on TV. It was, I thought, a beautiful thing, my reply in its pink envelope and flowery stationary, but I had included another complicated thing: I told the man that I was merely fourteen and sent a photo of me in fishnet stockings. He never wrote back. I did not yet know that love had its limits within its seemingly empty dimensions. I did not know that sometimes, for whatever reason, people lose interest. A year later, my mother came back to me, and, for her, I let my hair grow out as it should be, put away the clothes that got me in trouble. I got perfect As in school and began building difficult puzzles. The ones with 1000 or more pieces were the ones that, being so impossible to complete with so much sky and forests of greens, kept me hidden at home and made it impossible for the boys to find me.

Jenny Boully is the author of The Body: An Essay, The Book of Beginnings and Endings: Essays, [one love affair]*, and other books.