The Girl on TV

soundtrack

(dedicated to all war heroes)

I’m almost four years old and feeling understimulated by my dumb suburban environment. My mother had three kids back-to-back so she has two babies to take care of, and with only two arms, a 300 decibel voice, and no help from her husband, she props me in front of the TV for hours and hours, and rewards me for sitting still with sugary treats. Whenever I fail to stay still, she smacks me until I cry, or throws something at me – and then locks me in her room as solitary confinement.

My brother and sister are lucky to have a father. He spent the first years of my life overseas doing mysterious but important work to get some quick money to buy a small Ford convertible. He was a chopper pilot over there, and now he sure loves driving that car. By the time he got back from his car-enabling war, he had never bonded with me, and we never got attached our entire lives.

One Tuesday while I’m watching ‘my’ late afternoon game shows, the old man comes home with his Korean War buddy Pookie MacDonald. I don’t understand a lot of what they’re saying, so I ask “What’s a war?” and they laugh at my ignorance.

My old man turns to Pookie and says, “When people who don’t know anything ask me what I did when I was over there, I just tell ‘em I was shootin’ rats in a garbage dump.” And then he and Pookie smile knowingly at one another.

Pookie’s a born-again Christian, so he adds that God himself killed all the evil people in Sodom and Gomorrah “like they was rats too!”  This gets both of them laughing. My mother grins and says she finds Pookie clever. My father’s smile disappears when she says this and he stays in the  bathroom instead of saying goodbye when Pookie leaves.

Once his too-clever guest is safely gone, my father goes to get ready for ball practice and a news program comes on TV.

The news usually bores me – and then I misbehave and get punished. But this time, there’s a picture of a child as the first story. It’s a little Vietnamese girl who’s had all her clothing burned off by chemicals dropped from choppers by the American military during the Vietnam War. The girl on TV is crying, and other kids are also walking on that same road, crying their hearts out as well. The girl on TV is one year younger than me.

When my dad emerges for two seconds from his bedroom, I look at his rat-shooting, chopper-pilot face, and then back at the girl on TV. I will soon look a lot like that little girl myself as my self-esteem will be burned off with a potent cocktail of neglect, verbal abuse, and corrosive levels of mass media consumption. Sighing as my daddy walks out the door without nodding or saying goodbye, my destiny is being sculpted in molten iron and I will soon be the Steel City Fruit.

(Note. Any resemblance to real human beings is unintentional. This story – like other Steel City Fruit stories – is purely fictional.)

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