Sunday, December 27, 2009
After the house of cards has fallen.
Watching the large screen mounted on the far wall of the seedy little Mexican bar I liked to hang out in you would have figured that the final cessation of hostilities called the Second American Civil War would have drawn more attention. I know it wasn’t the same as the Chinese manned landing on Mars or the establishment of their first Helium-3 mining facility on the moon but Americans these last few years were having a hard time doing much beyond killing each other. The collection of delegates representing the various new American nations and assorted militias and factions were a study in contrast from smug superiority to casual indifference to barely hidden despair.
The presidents of the resurrected Confederate States, Republic of Texas, and Republic of Alaska stood on one side of the group standing for the photo op along with their various allies. The three new heads of state were clearly happy on ending up atop the burned and destroyed remains of society. In the middle was the monarch of the newly restored Kingdom of Hawaii and the Prime Minister of Puerto Rico, both clearly impatient to get away from those that surrounded them. On the other end were the presidents of California, the states of the Atlantic American Federation, and the Republic of Olympia which was made up of Oregon and Washington State. These two men and one woman at least had the sense to realize what the formal peace treaty meant. They huddled close and could be seen whispering to each other, refusing to even attempt to wear a false political mask and smile for the cameras. None of the assemblied group wanted to stand next the Grand Councilman of the Mormon Republic who was seperated from the others by a few feet. His intent look of disdain clearly showed such distance was fine with him.
But the crowd in my formerly secluded bar seemed to be making a point to ignore the television Ricardo, the owner of the bar, had recently installed showing the proceedings. Most were hidden in the shadows intent on their card games. Piles of Mexican New Pesos, empty beer bottles, and discarded playing cards littered the tables as stony eyed men and women watched for deception from their table mates. A few faced a far corner of the room listening to a young senorita play a sad tune on an old guitar. Others scattered about just stared off into space, seemingly frozen and lost to the world with only a gradually emptying bottle to show they moved at all.
I couldn’t fault them; most were long time American expats living in Tapachula. Watching the horrific comedy that was American politics and society unfold was simply something to be avoided. On the other hand from my point of view sitting at the bar nursing both a warm beer and a very cynical attitude I was proud of how I had long since abandoned the land of the ignorant and the home of the spoiled. What is now a whole other lost era twenty-three years ago I came from a very patriotic family caught up in America’s War on Terror. When I turned eighteen in 2004 I proudly volunteered to serve in the army of the now former United States. When offered a chance to learn to fly helicopters a couple of years later I jumped at it and excelled in my training finding my way inside an Apache gunship.
My service took me to Iraq and Afghanistan several times and later in 2013, Pakistan when the newly elected trailer trash from the last frontier convinced the nation expanding the war would in fact end it. All it did was result in the Pakistani government falling and a nuclear exchange between it and India killing millions. What did the good people of the United States do after causing untold deaths? They elected her Vice President to live in the White House with Congressional inquiries derailed by her party or abandoned by the spineless opposition.
The memories of burned children were forever imprinted on my brain as military commanders sent us into the affected areas bringing supplies to help as many as we could. When my enlistment was up I sought work flying choppers anyplace but the States. To my still patriotic family I became a ghost and for me they became a blank, a part of my life that I refused to think about.
“Please sir”, a voice called behind me pulling me away from my memories and the screen. I focused my eyes on the prime example of the American Diaspora. She was barely twenty, had blonde hair that hadn’t seen any type of real soap in weeks with God knows what crawling around on her scalp. Sunken eyes that betrayed despair and that she was living off far fewer calories than she needed. Her clothes were clean but had the look of hand washing which was a sign of the United Nations ran refugee camps scattered around southern Mexico. It was my guess that five years ago, before America’s ultimate suicide, she was some upwardly mobile suburban kid, her family desperately hanging onto the disappearing middleclass lifestyle, dreaming of marrying some high school jock, while listening to the newest music and texting the latest Hollywood gossip to her friends.
Now at best she was reduced to begging, at best, and at worst she was pulling tricks on the side to make a little money for the family stuck back at the camp. I studied her for several moments wondering which tack she would take with me. Despite my cynical attitude I wasn’t beyond slipping her a few New Pesos nor was I beyond bringing her to my little apartment, cleaning her up, and making her work for the money.
“What do you want Sweetie?” I said smiling, gauging the look in her eyes. The gaunt and empty look of her face could not hide that she had figured out the timeless ways of desperate women knowing they had only their bodies to make a living. Despite her physical appearance and condition a very young woman was standing in front of me and I had been alone for almost two years since my last girlfriend had gotten tired of my ways. It wouldn’t take much to clean off the dirt and fatten her up beyond the near skeleton standing in front of me.
“Well sir,” she said stepping closer to the bar stool a sickly coy smile dancing across her face. My apparent reaction was enough for her to reach for my hand only to lightly stroke it. “It’s not what you can do for me, but what how I can make you feel. What’s it worth? On that I know we can we can come to a mutually beneficial agreement, don’t you think?”
My pulse had quickened considerably and I found myself reaching for my wallet to pay my tab long before my brain realized that the decision had been made. Ricardo has seen the exchange and called me over before I had a chance to leave.
“Luke my friend, are you sure you want to get involved with the ragged yanqui? Look at the green card hanging around your neck, the federales are cracking down on these vermin and all the troubles they have brought with them. You don’t want to endanger your resident status for just a little piece of young pussy do you?
Ricardo was just being a friend and understood my answer as I grabbed the young woman’s hand and walked out his bar. “Vermin?” I called out at the last minute. “Ricardo my friend, if she performs to my liking I may marry her.”
It was close to sundown and Tapachula was coming alive with vendors and street performers greeting the people who were finally coming back out after spending the hot afternoon indoors hiding from the heat. The girl remained quiet not offering a name and me not really caring right then but I couldn’t help but begin wondering about her story.
I figured in my head that she and her family, if she had one, might be survivors from the Rockville, Maryland massacre in which the Southern Free Soldiers of Jesus infiltrated across the Potomac to make a point of killing every man, women, and child they could find in an otherwise collection of neutral refugee camps. The handful of survivors were told to spread the word it was for the greater glory of Southern independence and to teach the vengeful lessons of Christ to the godless masses. A joint British/French team monitoring other camps raced to collect the survivors and get them out of the shattered country. The local Tapachula paper had reported a batch of the new refugees came from those camps.
Once back inside my little apartment the woman was quickly sent off to the shower with two bottles of soap while I washed the clothes she had worn. While she was scrubbing herself clean I made us dinner knowing in my sick head it was the first step in getting her ready for the real reason I had brought her to my place.
After a couple of hours the door opened and she walked out wearing the robe I had loaned her and a towel wrapped around her wet hair. Dinner was laid out on the kitchen table and she fell upon the simple rice and beans like a locust devours wheat, cleaning both her plate and what was left in the pot on the stove. Once that was done she looked up at me with eyes both grateful and wanting more.
I offered her a beer and guided her to a set of chairs next a set of open French style doors looking out upon the city. She took the offered seat arranging her robe to show off her legs. I sat next her dragging a small table over with a tray of crackers and cheeses which she attacked with as much gusto as the rice and beans.
“So tell me your story”, I said stretching out and watching her eat and thinking about what we would be doing in a short time. I found out her name was Jenny, although she said it was actually Jennifer on her birth certificate. At that moment I didn’t give a damn but it became an issue not long later.
Between her munching on the cheese and crackers she began her story. “My family was from southern Missouri,” she said, “and our town was loyal to the state government and in turn the elected federal president…”
I had to laugh right there, not only because she was from the general area of my home state but her use of the phrase “elected federal president.” If there was anyone one particular reason that pushed America off the cliff into the abyss was the 2022 election. After the brilliant light of progressive politics flamed out less than a year after getting elected in 2008 leaving his coalition demoralized and fighting amongst themselves the other party found itself rallying around radicalized policies with talk of purity tests and talking back the country as if it had ever been out of their hands.
The 2012 election was a foregone conclusion with the minions of the newly elected president quickly moving to engineer a permanent majority much like the chief adviser of a previous president wanted to do. Even after the 2013 nuclear exchange between Pakistan and India while Madam President had screwed the pooch far too much to survive politically her Vice President was able to carry the election even as the other party was able to win back enough seats to claim just one house of Congress.
Blatant political maneuvering and sheer cowardice after that kept the country in gridlock unable to answer the major issues that faced it. While the government was mired to the point of ineffectiveness the people became more polarized with lines being drawn and no middle ground to be found. It all came to a head in 2022 when a new and angry coalition was formed promising to change the way America worked. However, the machinery that had been established to protect those holding the reins of power leaped back into action to keep control of the government. But, the victory was so obviously fixed that protests quickly boiled over into street brawls, then riots, then full scale battles which involved the National Guard then the army. The army itself was by this time was so riddled with the same factions that had polarized the country it quickly fell apart along the same lines bringing an end to the experiment called the United States of America.
Jenny was looking at me quizzically, even stopping her relentless eating of a dwindling supply of cheese and cracker on the tray. “Sorry, go ahead," I said.
She looked off in the distance for a moment and started again. “But a band of American People’s Liberation fighters came down from Illinois and burned us out. They overwhelmed National Guard forces and after stealing everything of value set off a bio-bomb inside the town which contaminated the entire county. It was some sort of flu virus that killed my father and grandmother and about two thousand others but my mom, brother, and I didn’t even catch a cold.”
“What happened after that?” I asked drawn into her faraway look.
“We were gathered up into FEMA camps where an old friend of my mother’s, an old guy named Richard Bowers found us…”
The second she said that name I was thrown back in time. When I was a child a Richard Bowers had been a fixture in my county. “Just where in southern Missouri are you from Jenny?”
“Jackson, a small town just northwest of Cape Girardeau,” she said not understanding the weight of my question.
“Jenny, just what is your last name and what were your parent’s names?”
She hesitated like it might mean a quick exit from a place that had supplied a hot shower with real soap, food, and the promise of a warm bed even if it meant her doing certain things. “My father was named Roger Lucas, my mother's name is Carol.”
Roger Lucas meant nothing to me but hearing the name Carol and looking more closely at Jenny’s face I began to feel an impending revelation hover over me like a hammer about to fall. “Jenny sweetie, what was your mother’s maiden name?”
“She was Carol Allen before she married my father.”
The impact of hearing the name of my baby sister and figuring out that the niece I had never seen was sitting essentially naked in my small apartment with me bringing her to it only to satisfy my sick needs did indeed crush both my mind and what was left of my spirit. God knows I’m far from the sickest person living in this town but that moment brought the realization that the degree of my perversion didn’t matter. I could no longer blame others for my disengagement with life and people and how I cushioned it in a cocoon of cynicism.
God and me had been on the outs since I had to fly into medical camps outside the blasted remains of both Islamabad and New Delhi seeing dead children piled up like cord wood as bulldozers readied mass graves. The question that raced through my mind at the time was how a loving God could allow such things. I left the responsibility for such actions at God’s doorstep never once considering how humanity itself could be at fault.
Jenny, not knowing that she had stumbled onto her lost uncle, looked more scared at the tears now streaming down my face than I was surprised at their mere existence. I still doubted if God was even out there but I must admit this circumstance and how it so seemingly happened by accident left even that assumption dented.
Jenny took the revelation about as unemotionally as I thought she would. She had simply been through far too much with her scars running to deep for tears of her own. But she slept soundly and alone in my bed minutes later with me watching the city lights and the people walk along the streets. The next day we headed out to the refugee camp to find her mother and brother.
The filth and desperation at the camps equaled anything I had seen while in the army. Except this time it was Americans living as refugees, looked down and laughed at by the world. It was a surreal and humbling experience and I’m sure those left back in the former United States still a hair’s breath away from resuming the civil war over laughable political differences and territorial aspirations thought nothing of such camps spread out all over the world and in America.
I brought my sister, niece, and nephew back to my place permanently with the intention of finding a larger place for us all. It was not a warm family reunion but both my sister and I knew that we had a responsibility to Jenny and her brother Kevin. And while the rest of the American people had lost sight of their duties to their children seeking only to keep old and imaginary wounds open I could at least do the right thing for mine.