Ten Klicks South of Whiskey - Monologue #8
PAINT THE WALLS [CPT Charlie Grace, Cavalry. Late 40s, wearing his dress greens. Serious but tired look to him. High and tight, but a little disheveled, too. He has a loosely rolled cigar in his mouth. He puts it in his pocket as he reaches the podium, center stage. He reads from a sheet of paper.] I’m Captain Charlie Grace, and I’m here because your principal asked that I come in and say a word or two about serving the country. I did a tour in Desert Storm and served three times in Operation Iraqi Freedom. I’m set to deploy soon to Afghanistan, so if there’s anyone who knows about serving, it’s me. I’ve earned the Combat Infantry Badge, an Army Commendation Medal, two Bronze Stars for leadership, a Purple Heart, and a bunch of other silly medals I can’t remember. [forces a laugh, trying to get the audience to chuckle.] Truth be told, I don’t mind being deployed. My wife left me after the second deployment, so there’s not much else to do stateside besides chase tail. And, at 43, that is officially old news. [again, attempts a laugh. Breaks from reading the paper.] I know it ain’t what it used to be [he points to his body.] but this is an instrument of warfare. I was made for fighting, not loving. [He clears his throat, continues reading.] What can I say about having served in the army for over 20 years? Not much. Just kidding. I have a lot to say, but I can’t always find the words. I was never much for them, words. They seem to muddle things up more than they help. But on my last tour, with the 463rd cavalry, I met one of the most incredible men I’ve ever served with. When they talk about brotherhood, they’re talking about guys like Lieutenant Ty Gage. I’ve never seen a man who was so loyal, so dedicated that it made the people around him want to better themselves. He had this special way of motivating people that I can’t even describe. For example, this one time when we were running late night patrols through Tikrit, the guys hadn’t had hot chow in nearly two months. We took our first casualty that day, an excellent soldier we called Boomer because he came from the Sappers--elite engineer-types--and knew how to use C4 better than anyone on the planet. So the platoon was bummed, and we had to spend the night on recon across the Tigris. Now people think the desert is hot, and it is during the day. But there’s nothing to hold that heat in at night, no clouds, no vegetation, so when you’re camped out on the banks of a river, it gets pretty cold. We rested in shifts, but Lieutenant Gage sacrificed his so he could take a squad to the nearby airfield. He stuffed three field containers with fried chicken and macaroni and cheese. The way his platoon reacted, you’da thought he brought Boomer back from the dead. He had a special way about him. As I tried to figure it out, what was so unique, I think it was that he knew how to face and manage death. Really knew it. It took me years of combat to be as accepting of death, but the lieutenant picked it up quick. And as someone who leads people in a war zone, you have to understand death. [Breaks from reading off the paper] I don’t know if this is making sense. What I’m trying to get at is that part of serving your country is understanding life and death. After Boomer died, me and the Lieutenant were riding from Tikrit to Samarra, and we took some pot shots from this tower right outside the city limits. Our driver was a kid from second squad named Andrew Sullivan. We called him Sully. He said the towers--they were everywhere--they were modeled after the Tower of Babel. I told him I didn’t know what the fuck he was talking about. [His eyes go to the corner of the room] Sorry, excuse my French. He told me it was a bible story about how no one can talk to each other. Well after the war, Sully started writing stories. It made me realize how much influence we had on each other. See, he wrote this one because of me and the things I said. I don’t know, that’s what he told me. And I want to share it with you, because it says a lot of stuff that I can’t really put into words myself. And it’s all about understanding life and death and war. So as you guys graduate [turns his attention to the corner of the room again] what is it? Eighth grade? As you guys graduate eighth grade, you should keep these words of wisdom in mind, especially if you’re thinking about serving someday. It’s called Paint the Walls: I read somewhere that a severed aorta can spray blood up to thirty feet. If I have to die--and I suspect I do--I want my death to paint the effing walls. I want it to be a death worth dying for, some great catastrophe. A bus full of tourists rolls over a cliff and everyone lives except me, the poor bastard standing at the foot of the valley. The Romans crucified thousands, but only one guy is famous for it. My death should give people hope. “Sure,” they’ll say. “My life isn’t perfect, but at least I’m not the poor son of a b---- who found out just how far a broken power line will arc to reach a swimming pool.” It should give the first responders nightmares, and their kids, too. For they’ll hear a thousand times the story of the man who fell thirty feet into a manhole, survived, climbed out, only to be decapitated by his ambulance. If I can’t take my body with me then I want it destroyed. I want to go the way of the Gladiator, the Spartan, the novice bear wrestler. The only worse fate would be to die in a nursing home where nurses nurse me with the illusion that it matters to nurse an old vegetable left in the sun with hair sprouting from weird places. The fantasy of dying quietly in my sleep is not appealing. It is for the meek. And the foolish. How terrible not to know if you are dead or dreaming. I want to look death in the face: a violent creature the same size as me with teeth like shards of porcelain and claws like volcanic glass, ripping me from this world. That’s...that’s it. Congratulations, and enjoy high school. [Exits]