PRISONER OF WAR
Dad, I donít know what to do about him.
I havenít been in a prison camp. I have no idea what it's like. I think he might have talked to you a lot there and it would really help if you'd tell me what he said.
Youíd know how to talk to him, Gram almost does. Mom can at least make him smile. Frank, well, Frank has wanted to be a father for almost as long as Sergei has been looking for one; it was inevitable that they'd connect. But none of them have been in the wars. None of them have the words.
Mac says I'm obsessing and to give him some space. She may be right. Sometimes I think she is. Then I wake up at three in the morning, when he locks the door behind him and goes off God knows where. By the time I get up, heís been back for a while. The kitchen is spotless and coffee is ready. And he sits at the table, looking like death and staring down into his mug as if he expected to find answers there.
I warned him against wandering DC at night and he laughed. It wasn't a happy laugh. Then he sobered up and promised me he would be careful and not kill any unlucky would-be mugger. That's what it's like to be a vet. And these are things youíd know about. Not I.
Clay pulled a few files for me, sparse, short accounts of suffering and hell. The escape wouldn't have included Sergei if he hadnít been the only helicopter pilot in the camp. He was grabbed from the barracks by four other prisoners. He still doesnít know their names. They shot their way out of there, shielding Sergei with their bodies, not out of the goodness of their hearts, but because he was their only hope. And once they reached the chopper, he delivered.
They made it back to the Russian border, but only three of them were alive when they got there. Hell of a ride, flying under the radar, with two men dying in the back. Reason and training would have told Sergei to dump the bodies; thatís the pilotís call, but I know he wouldnít as long as there was a choice. Because of you. Because hope doesnít die until you see for yourself that thereís no life, no breath.
The night Sergei arrived in DC, I took him out to celebrate. I figured he'd want to get smashed, but like Mac, he only had tonic. When I asked if he wanted to get something else, he looked away and told me that if he did, he might not stop. Mac shook her head at me, to let it go. Less than twenty-four hours on American soil and she already knew things about my brother I didn't.
Mac would argue the point, saying that I know the important things. She does that with me, she argues because itís what we do, automatically covering all angles by opposing each other. With Sergei, she speaks more softly, often in Russian. Neither of them will translate for me. Mac smiles her smug, infuriating smile and Sergei shrugs. There may be things you can only say in your own language.
Frank set up a trust fund for Sergei. Enough to see him through college if he wants to. More than enough to go to ROTC. But he doesnít want to, not really. What he wants is to go back there. It hurt him when Clay said no, when Sokol said no. Clay relented a little, saying maybe when the media blitz has died down.
I called it a dirty war and he looked away. My duty, he said and I could hear your voice in his. That's what you told my mother and what you told me. Never mind the tapes where you talk about how much you love and miss us, you left us. You made your choice and if you were here, I bet you'd tell me to let my brother make his, because you were a real jackass that way.
He does tell me some things. That there's nothing longer than a Russian winter. That his mother could spin a story so well that they'd both forget about hunger and cold. That it was the Army or the mines and that a teacher's recommendation was the thin difference.
As for Chechnya, it's all rubble and dust in his memories. The dust never settles. The taste of iron and copper, fear and blood, never goes away. When he sleeps, he's still there or in the camp.
Fuck you, Dad, why do you have to be dead? Your son needs you and for once, I donít mean myself.
But we'll make do without you. You weren't there for either of us, so we certainly know how to do that. I've found my brother and I won't lose him.
This morning, he mentioned that no matter where he goes, he always seems to end up at the Wall. With you. I guess I'll wait until he gets here.