It is so much harder than I ever imagined. I'm just now trying my hand at something I gave no thought to over the years, ever. And now here I am faced with the demons scratching my back. "No excuses." This was my push comes to shove moment that was do or die, make it or break it, shovel the sh#t aka dirt, and the plethora of swears just finished off the stress of the moment. Why am I harboring so much guilt and hate? This art therapy is matching my pain. Is this how everyone trying their best to be a so-called artist starts out by kicking themselves over and over? And for what gain? Does everyone go through the same thing when the tool in hand doesn't do what it's told?
"I'm out!" I got up, kicked over the chair, clamped my jaw shut and strode through the room. The others looked at me with no surprise at the outburst and either nodded in agreement or banged on the wall in unity and understanding. Suddenly, my gaze saw lights from the hill, a memory that created fresh havoc as I paused to remember the strong smell of napalm and close combat our Infantry unit fell into. I bent over crushing my eyes into my fists in frustration. HEY! GET A FLIPPING GRIP! It was done, over and so long gone, but I continued to struggle hoping and praying to let the past be the past with war time in Nam. These moments happened often, if only briefly, but I broke apart and crashed backing away from the therapy offered to aid my life and that was in the form of all things ART. I faltered. One of my buddy's escorted me to the door. "See ya in a few." I knew, and he knew, how long that would be given the weather. It was a day like no other, with screaming cold hitting me sideways and a wind chill up the wazoo. I took the pack out of my jacket, scrambled for one cig and tried to light it. As my hands shook with the rainbow of dried paint covering my knuckles, I felt myself stagger sideways. The match fell and I followed, dropping to my knees. The wind made an unbearable sound and one that clicked from days spent on the mountains. It was a sound hidden beneath my jacket, through the layers, and into the depth of my core. The flashback hit hard.
We all nearly perished or got smashed up in the battle on Hamburger Hill during Operation Apache Snow. It turned into an unplanned encounter on a fateful mission during a combat assault. I lived, some of my brothers did not. It was a senseless loss of many for little gain. The flashback was a sign, a memory, from days gone by that never leave but show up when you least expect it. To this day, regret will always be my middle name. I pulled out another match, got it going and lit the cig, crammed myself into the edge of the building, where I inhaled a couple of strong tobacco clouds and cursed myself loudly spewing venom with everything I had. No one was around. A few minutes later I suddenly felt a stillness come over me. The moment passed, I crushed the cig between my fingers, and put it in my pocket. Never leave any trace behind.
First reflection: I answered a time of need to serve our country for the good of making life better than it had become, mine included. But, before that pivotal moment, another one called my name into a whole different club.
The so-called friends I hung around were grabbing my soul and changing those letters into a lousy me. I did not know anything better at the time. We had nothing else to do after graduation from high school since jobs were not on the priority list. These dumb clowns had their own idea to make money. How I got away from being responsible was not in the cards. I was dealt a hand with only the jokers in it. It became one long road into the dark side of trouble from the get go. Here we are in the land of plenty of run down vehicles. Joe T., aka, J Tooner would grab a wrench from the random stash bag of confiscated items from one of the many old cars in the neighborhood 'graveyards'. Then used his skills to permanently 'borrow' whatever car or truck we saw as a money turnaround. Until the day came when our number was up.
It was midnight and the mighty club of 'do nothings' had piled up the stash of the latest cleanup. We had a bounty of the most money makers of catalytic converters, GPS devices, batteries and number plates. A few tires added to the top of the pile and we were hot on the mark. We met our connection with our dilapidated, 'borrowed' truck in a location behind a rundown warehouse. And just like that a screaming set of police cars came blazing in surrounding the area. We were had. It seemed that someone had seen someone doing something to someone's pricy limousine in the back alley of a side street in the nearby town. The GPS stolen was activated and that's how it all ended.
Second chance: I was collared and put in the slammer for an indefinite time. Since we were young and stupid, it was my public defender who threw a couple of ideas at me to switch the path I fell down. "You can do this. No doubt." It was the one he highlighted given the time our country was falling apart and to do the right thing. I opted in, packed a bag and was sent to Tiger Land aka Tiger Village. Fort Polk, Louisiana was the Army combat infantry training site for the Vietnam War in Southeast Asia. We were now involved in a country most had never heard of. The site was set up as a real village with everything you could possibly imagine for the attack missions, patrol tactics, field training, etc. The NCOs were villagers who were either your friend or enemy. This became my new life and I welcomed the challenge with a strong purpose. The past was erased, shoved in a box and buried in a dumpster. With my new brothers we had good times when allowed to party in rare moments. Roaring laughter was shared and a rare Heineken was the top brew of the hour.
Time went by in flames. Safe times occurred with and for each other. Other moments saw the enemy get catapulted into a complete wreck. Glad times and sometimes troubling catastrophes brought this young nineteen year old face to face with death on more than one occasion. And soon enough the C-130 swooped in and brought us to Taiwan then back to the states. My time in was over and done. Life after became a whole different story. The riots and hate parades had us sink to a level we never felt before now. I was swallowing so much anger until a surprise beyond surprises happened one day. My sister found me living in filthy swill under the bridge down by the river. "You're coming with me - NOW!" And before I knew it, this strong arm led me to a better living space. Then she kept going and going. In reaction to her demands I nearly hit her in frustration. With quick thinking she grabbed a huge book off a nearby shelf and held it close. "Whoa! Back off." She didn't panic as she knew me better than anyone. This would be a defining moment as it was an old Vincent Van Gogh encyclopedia of his life with art.
The wind had calmed down so I opted to walk around the block. What was I doing? My pace picked up, the strides got longer until I was back at the old mill building. The door creaked open and to my surprise there stood my sister. "I missed you." She smiled and batted her eyes at me, then flagged me in. "Get over here and meet your new friend." I paused for a second with some doubt but followed her into the open back room walking past a couple of my brothers. "Hey - break's over!" One of them yelled like we were back on a mission. That was exactly the calling I felt I needed to get back in the game. "Here." My sister handed me the book she nearly clocked me with, Vincent Van Gogh. "He will not let you down." She looked me in the eye and I felt her kindred spirit. "Do it." The book brought me to a level in a playing field I never felt until now.
Slowly, she had me turn into a reserved corner where an art canvas awaited. Someone had seen the need to do this as a gesture of camaraderie. The paints and brushes were scattered as I had left them. In a sense of fun, they felt I needed to pick up where I left off. Without hesitation I set up my space and began to let those brushes speak loud and paint with purpose. Colors mixed and blended with abandon as my inner self pulled new resources from within. The bold expressive brushwork created a vision of myself, once lost but stronger today. It was a portrait of who I saw as my self. I am now someone who is focused, confident and has the look of being intense, somewhat cold but fierce with a never say die attitude. The Eye of the Tiger.