Give Me Liberty

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Status: Finished  |  Genre: Literary Fiction  |  House: Booksie Classic
A woman is giving birth under extraordinary circumstances. A little story that explores the social forces that led up to it.

Submitted: January 14, 2015

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Submitted: January 14, 2015

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Giving birth is one of the more difficult things a woman endures, and it is immeasurably more painful if you are shackled to the bed. Kim, with disheveled hair falling on a perspiring countenance, writhed in agony, biting her lips as the labor pains convulsed her. The steel cut into her swollen ankles, the contractions rippled across her in an undulating wave, the wrists almost came off the cuffs as Kim tried to roll into a more comfortable position - to no avail.

 

When Kim had pledged to serve her country, not in her wildest dreams did she hope to pay a price this steep. Growing up in rural Mesquite, she had a fair understanding of military life. Her friend Julia’s older brother had come home in the Spring of 2005 with both legs shattered. Rob, who used to date her, now on his sixth tour of duty, was only a shadow of the man she recalled. Always preoccupied with a sense of doom, other than muttering darkly about nightmares when he got drunk at the pub, he mostly kept to himself. Kim’s own sister was beaten so badly by her husband, Tom, home for a week, that for two months she hobbled on crutches.Needless to say, she was relieved that Tom went back on his fourth tour of duty. “I hope the son of a bitch dies in that hell hole, I could sure use the money,”  she had confided in Kim one evening when pain from the abuse had made her delirious.

 

The platoon sergeant, Darrel, had warned her what to expect if she was caught by the enemy; all soldiers of the 704th Support Battalion had been specially trained to not break under torture - “This ain’t no walk in the park. If ya’ll think you can just take that eight thousand dollars, wear them uniforms, strut around a bit and go home, well ya’ll in for a rude shock.” A small, tough man who did not discriminate based on gender, he was specially hard on those with a less than stellar physique. Kim had been overweight for the military, and had worked hard for eight months to shed the pounds. Darrel picked on Kim, pushed her to the breaking point, and seemed to glean a certain satisfaction as he watched her crawl in mud under razor sharp wires way into the night.

"Bet he can't do half of what he makes us go through," Jess would say one night, as she half dragged an exhausted Kim to the showers. Jess, a soft spoken, tough woman from Iowa had become Kim's closest confidante.

"If the whole platoon was like you, maybe he'd kill himself,"  Kim muttered between breaths.

"Wouldn't you like that, now."

"I don't wish for that, but maybe he should get laid more or something."

"Are you offering?"

"Well, if I had the guts. Couldn't be much worse than this."

The nurse tending to Kim moved like a machine, checking her vitals, adjusting the instruments, her thin slitted eyes betraying no emotion. Having a few years on Kim, she would have been more compassionate under different circumstances. But the situation she found herself in, now for over four years, demanded she steel herself to her daily routine. There was liability in empathizing with the victim, a sure way to depression, anger and eventual punishment. Over time, she had learned to look down upon the women strapped to the bed as lower than the patriotic soldier, lower than the civilian who after all never signed up to serve the nation. Now, dressed in a white coat that blended into the walls and the fluorescent light, she worked with the clinical detachment of a technician testing drugs on guinea pigs.

 

A scream escaped Kim’s lips despite her best efforts, as the pain shot through her in a blinding arc causing her to double over only to be checked by the cuffs. She dared not show any weakness in this place, even under such impossible conditions. Closing her eyes, she tried to picture her children’s faces at the dinner table, their laughter ringing in the kitchen as the four of them played soccer in the backyard.

 

Christian was weaving in and out with the ball, with Rebecca close on his heels.

 

"Hey, no pushing. Foul!" Rebecca crashed into the unsuspecting boy's back, sending him sprawling face forwards.

 

"Ouch, little brat. I'll get you for that."

 

But by the time Christian picked himself up, Rebecca was safely inside the kitchen, showing mom the slight bruises on her ankles with a pout on her face and an accusing finger pointing out the window. 

 

An angry Christian kicked the ball hard against the fence, and in an instance, the scenery changed from that sunny Texas evening to the arid desert by the Euphrates river.

 

The soccer ball was turning into a severed head, and the children morphing into her colleagues in the 704th battalion. Kim opened her eyes gasping for air, trying to blot out the memory. They had come across the dead Iraqis, after a week of raids. She could not remember how it started, everyone was tired, angry, sick of everything. They were all very young, hardened in a few months beyond their years, struggling to remain sane in a world that turned everything they knew or thought they knew upside down.

 

“You will be rebuilding, giving these people hope. You will bring the Iraqis freedom from oppression, a reason to live” - these were the words that had given these young men and women a sense, that behind all the madness of war, there stood a larger purpose. It was this ideal that they tried to turn to in the darkest of times. But each night as they raided homes of frightened people who possessed nothing more dangerous than a couple of kitchen knives, as every civilian came to be  seen as a potential terrorist, as road side bombs killed and maimed their fellowmen, as orders were given to shoot indiscriminately on such occasion, as the measure of destruction they were wreaking became clear, and complaints were bound to be treated as insubordination, a grim determination to see it through set in.

 

“You have to make the hajjis more scared of us than the terrorists. So when they see someone planting a bomb, they’re more likely to stop them. If a bomb goes off, shoot everyone on site.” The platoon commander’s words had grated on Kim’s ears, a God fearing Catholic, but it was nothing compared to what she had seen on the ground. Every night, when the rest of the platoon had gone to bed, Kim stood up praying, trying to calm her nerves. Her hands started to shake when loading the M4 rifle. She stopped carrying it, and when they found out, everyone in the platoon, except Kim, was asked to carry their rifles high up and run ten miles in the scorching desert at noon. Next, Kim stopped loading bullets, and the platoon commander had each soldier in the team slap her while she stood straight, trying hard not to cry. Some of her team mates, genuinely sorry for her, later comforted her. But there were others that interpreted Kim’s actions harshly, and acted accordingly. Kelly, a native of Louisiana, a foul mouthed high school drop out, openly spat on her face, following the slap with a solid punch that sent Kim reeling back against the wall.

 

“Can you give me something?” She gasped but if the nurse heard her, she made not a sound, rustling in her white robe past her like a silver ghost. Closing her eyes once more, she forced herself to breathe deeply, until the contractions ebbed. Eight thousand dollars had seemed like a lot of money back then, it had been an escape from poverty and her minimum wage job at the Walmart.

 

“We sure could use the money,” her husband and co-worker Mario had reluctantly agreed, as they lay in bed one night and pondered about their precarious financial situation. “We gotta save for a place for ourselves.” 

 

They did not make enough to afford a place to live, and Kim was at her wit’s end shuttling the two kids between her and Mario’s parents. Kim’s mom, Juana was a strong woman, and under less pressing circumstances, would have had no trouble helping out her daughter. But now she was the sole bread winner with mounting medical bills to pay on her husband’s behalf. At the munitions factory, he had been filling shell casings with ammunition when a blast from below had sent a stream of shrapnel through his kneecaps. Now he sat on a chair by the window with a bottle by his side, looking vacantly out and not saying much. Juana started working twelve hour shifts for an insurance company, calling people who were behind on their payments. “I can’t do all this and support you and your brood too, you can see how it’s like, can’t you?”

 

Mario took the brunt of Kim’s frustrations. “What kind of man are you, making me go through all this? Can’t you find something better to do? I’m going crazy every day, and you just sit there! Do you think any man would  let his woman go get herself killed, but you, oh yeah! That is all fine by you!” 

 

The angrier she became, the quieter reigned her husband. He was afraid to face her wife’s wrath, being dependent on her family and lacking the will to join the forces, although he put it down to an inability to lose weight. Truth be told, being a peaceful man who was scarred by the violence in Guatemala to which he had lost his father and all five brothers, the mere thought of the army tied him up in knots. They were run out of the family farm by the Mara Salvatrucha, whose demands for cash could not be met. Eventually, when the gang caught up with them, Mario was hidden by his aunt, and with her he lived until on one moonlit night, she bade him a tearful goodbye and saw him vanish around the bend on top of the La Bestia. He was just twelve. On the train, the Zetas had robbed him, leaving him with just his shirt and pants. They took the five hundred dollars, his spare clothes, the jacket and his only pair of shoes. On this nightmare journey , he saw two women, only a few years older than him, raped before his eyes, and one man killed, hardly ten feet from where he slept. It had taken Mario a little more than a year to make it, in no small part due to the kindness of the Mexican family that put him up. 

 

Kim, grasping intuitively that no help was forthcoming, was also influenced by the church. She believed that it was her duty as a God fearing Christian to protect the message of Jesus from the harmful ideology of Islam. When the end times were upon them, her deeds would be rewarded by the savior, who would bring her into the Kingdom of God. She listened with growing disquiet as the pastor described God’s chosen leader Gideon, who saved Israel from the Midianites:

 

“God appeared as an angel and said - ‘The lord is with you, mighty warrior.’  But Gideon doubted our Lord, and asked ‘Lord, how can I save Israel, my clan is the weakest in Manasseh.’  God said to him - ‘I will be with you, and you will strike down all the Midianites, leaving none alive.’ ”

 

Now as she writhed in agony, Kim wondered desperately if God approved of all that she had done. It did not seem like they were fighting a righteous War, she tried to console herself that God would forgive her for her sins and look upon her actions since then favorably. The white light ricocheting off the white walls blinded her, but when she closed her eyes, the residue light bounced around her head in angry flashes and bursts. There was a small mouth, disheveled hair and large eyes, large and terrified eyes. It was the girl at the gate, the same girl who had been in her nightmares ever since.

 

On that fateful Sunday morning, the FOB Loyalty gate, where she served, had its usual share of Iraqis coming in to meet the Americans. They each came to plead their individual case, asking for reparations in lieu of the destruction of houses, killing of family members, burning of crop and livestock. Kim would frisk them, and would find nothing, except skin and bones in malnourished bodies under threadbare garments. However much the danger of the job had been stressed on her, Kim’s heart sympathized with those who came, broken and in despair. There was something deeply disturbing about how a defeated people were made to beg at the altar of the victor, so she thought, wondering how she would feel if the roles were reversed.

 

The Iraqi man that stepped towards the gate had a face devoid of expression. His thinning hair was plastered onto his broad forehead with a mixture of dust and grime. He took each step like a man in a trance, while his left arm fiercely gripped a young girl against his hips.

 

She had on a light purple dress dotted with blue flowers, and her shoes were dusty and well worn. Her jet black hair had been combed and tied in the back with a thin blue ribbon. At a glance Kim could see that care had been taken to groom her, while the man looked like someone who had just been bombed out of his home. His blue eyes looked straight ahead and he wouldn't release his vice like grip on the girl.

 

“Sir, you need to step this way. Let go of the girl, Sir!” she tried to keep her voice on an even keel, while an interpreter translated. The man’s eyes fixed on the Iraqi in a baleful stare. Translators were often seen as traitors, and roundly despised, especially by those who had suffered mighty blows in a war that had come upon them like a bolt from the sky. He did not let go of the girl, and Kim knew the next step in standard procedure was the forcible separation of child from man. Not wishing to cause more pain to this man than she absolutely must, she hastened to prevent this outcome. Sitting on her haunches by the little girl, she tried to make eye contact.

 

The girl hid her face inside the folds of the man’s loose garb. Out of the corner of her eyes, she could see her partner Dave, growing impatient and fingering his rifle. Dave was a young man with a troubled child hood. He had almost killed his step father before the army found him. He was the proudest after a raid, when he would come back to base to boast about the terrified Hajjis as he turned their homes upside down.

 

“Hey sweetie, I got you a little something here,” she held out a piece of candy, on the palm of her outstretched left hand, reaching out to touch the girl’s shoulder with her right. It was as if a shock had been transmuted between the two. The young girl turned to face her and in the split second they stood looking into each other’s eyes, Kim saw Rebecca, her second child back home. In the next second, she noticed the wild look of pure terror in the child’s eyes. Refusing to believe that it had been the sight of her that brought out such a primal fear, with motherly instinct she took a step closer to her, both arms outstretched. The child let out a terrific wail that was punctuated by racking sobs, holding even tighter to her father, but never once taking her eyes off Kim.

 

The earth opened before Kim, the world reeled in front of her, and Dave quickly moved from behind her, a dull gleam in his light gray eyes. Brushing past Kim, he picked the child up without ceremony and set her down in front of Kim, pinning her hands down in a tight grip. “Search her, private!,” if there was mockery to the voice, Kim did not hear it, her heart still pounding like a sledge hammer inside her chest, the world was starting to go black. Practice made her reach out to the girl, to pat her down and get it over with. Get this nightmare over with. Each time she looked at her, she was seeing Rebecca. The ground swayed before her, and as her fingers again made contact with the child, her wail returned, now with redoubled force. Kim gritted her teeth and quickly ran her hands down the scrawny arms and legs and nodded to Dave, who seemed to be shimmering in the desert heat.

 

She felt, more than she saw what happened after that, the world quickly spinning outside her conscious realm. Dave's hand clamping down on the girl’s mouth, his sharp cry of pain as the little teeth sunk into him with desperate strength, a little bundle of fear running headlong into the base, a shot, followed by a dozen more.

 

We can live a lifetime, doing things which we believe in, not because we as individuals know our actions to be true and just, but because the world we live in has pronounced the last word on such matters.  “Who are you, insignificant spec, to know what is right and wrong?” Society, with its social weight, whispers in our ears.  The tradition of all dead generations weighs like a nightmare on us. And must we not be the strongest of men to resist such time honored norms? But then, just like that, in one instant, we may come to know that something was fundamentally, irrevocably wrong with it all. And this realization, while it may appear to occur suddenly, spontaneously, out of the blue, if you will, is nothing like that! This life we live in is in any event full of contradictions, and we go through with it, as the contradictions mount, all the while feeling that dread, the inkling that the ground might at any moment slip beneath our feet - and then one day, if we are lucky, it does.

 

Kim spoke to the chaplain, explaining to him best she could, her conflicted emotions. Ben Steeler, the chaplain, was a kindly man of around fifty, who had seen the trauma of war through the soldiers he prayed for. Through the detached lens of the close observer, whose worth to that institution was measured in his ability to keep the solders enlisted, he chose to patronize with her, reminding her of the reasons for her decision to join the army. Understanding the deep religious beliefs held by Kim, Ben lost no time in diving into scripture, bringing out the just nature of the war. “Your sacrifice is being recognized by our Lord. He is deeply saddened by what all of us go through daily, but he understands that within such sacrifice lies our salvation. My dear child, God is leading us all to the Ministry. This is his way, and we must respect that and have faith.” He was inclined to believe that a slightly stronger faith in the Lord would help guide these lost souls.

 

Coming home on a two weak leave, Kim decided to not return to Iraq. Bundling the young family into their compact Geo Prizm, they crossed the border, ending up in Toronto, where the War Resisters Support Campaign would offer them housing and help integrating to their new home.

 

But now she stood wrapped in labor pains at the Balboa Naval Medical Center, an example to all other soldiers who might think of defecting.

 

“Your honor, I strongly recommend you give private Rivera the maximum sentence possible, so that it will prove a deterrent to all others who may seek such an easy escape from their duty to our nation,” such being the concluding remarks of the prosecution.

 

They would not let her nurse the new born, taking her back to the Miramar brig two days later, before the scars on her wrists and ankles had time to heal. As they put her on the five point restraint and led her out of the hospital, Kim felt for the first time, perhaps, a deep sense of vindication. “These are supposed to be my people, hell, I served in the barracks for them.” As the wan wintry sun shone through the twenty foot glass walls and shone on her face, Kim stood straight, willing her feet to walk without dragging on the chains. The young face, aged beyond her years, weary from her ordeal, still held a sense of peace that grew from her understanding of life that had come to her through all her disillusionments.

 

“Three more months. I know the rules now. I’ll take whatever they dish. Then I will go home to my children,” So she held her head high and walked while on a television mounted on the wall, the commander in chief paid tribute to all the young men and women serving the forces:

 

“Our flag is still there because you served in honor in dusty villages and deserted streets…” “Our flag is still there because through this long war, you never wavered in your belief that people deserved to live free from fear, over here and back home…” “Our flag will always be there because the freedom and liberty it represents to the world will always be defended by patriots like you…”


© Copyright 2020 thushara. All rights reserved.

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