Travelers Welcome

Travelers Welcome

Tuesday, March 5, 2013

Family Feud

by Richard Hartwel

It’s difficult to sleep at night when the booming anger of artillery keeps you up; the challenge and response, the tit for tat, the continuous sparring of retaliation as each side, or all, tries to subdue the raging other by force and volume.  So I enter each day already blurred by the conflicts of the night before.  Yet I am expected to reconnoiter the way ahead, to be alert, to take the point as if nothing is unusual, but tuned for even the smallest violation from the expected.

This no longer reminds me of the war past.  It has become the war present, the war future as far as I can see.  This is not my war, but their war.  It is again someone else’s war in which I am caught up.  But I am no longer so young, so naive, and I’m related to them this time, by marriage and by blood, transported across four generations.

I return from my own skirmishes each day, neither bowed nor bloodied, just worn down further with frustration, slightly bent with age and exasperation.  I pass through the perimeter into a hot landing zone each afternoon or evening, depending on the season.  The warring factions within my own compound are compressed too closely together, rubbing wrongly against one another until the heat built of the friction of their own self-rightness ignites into factional squabbles and squabbles into war.  Accusations fly.  The barely scabbed wounds of past history are scratched open.  The fresh blood of emotion spritzes the atmosphere, signaling to some a need to escalate the attack and close upon their quarry.

By each and all I’m called to bear witness to new transgressions, to recall evidence of old ones, to mediate the use of language as a weapon, to relay non-negotiable demands and refusals to surrender, back and forth by shuttle diplomacy, from room to room and sometimes spilling out of the compound, breaking the neutrality of the neighborhood.

It’s expected that I’m left unscathed by each attack, each thrust and parry.  It’s assumed that the flak and shrapnel and bullets, the fire and concussion of each battle, simply pass overhead.  They don’t.  Each day I add new cuts and abrasions to the scar tissue of my thinly disguised armor, new punctures to my fragile ego, new stress fractures and traumas to this emotionally sated syndrome.

Like any prolonged combat, the waves of heightened action are followed by troughs and trenches of relative quietude.  Like any seasoned conscript, I take advantage and try to cat nap in these valleys of hope, trying to tune out the dull thuds in the distance; turning their dark voices of angry despair into the white noise of peaceful oblivion, before the fatigue of battle etches my soul too deeply with wounds which never heal.

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