Wednesday, March 27, 2013

What Did Bagdad Do to Us

NPR is doing a feature of women in combat this week and I was reminded of an old story of mine from SHOTGUN HONEY. Thought I would post it here.

                                                    What Bagdad Did to Us

US Army Specialist, Ronnie Bixby, spent 2004 in Bagdad. She’d become a member of the US Army Marksmanship Unit before her rotation began, but never fired her weapon during her entire stint in Iraq. Guarding Halliburton Trucks never drew direct fire on her watch, and she was asleep in her bunk when one of the trucks was carpet bombed, killing two soldiers.

Ronnie was quartered with women during her rotation and developed a close relationship with several of them. Oh, there were a few men she liked too, but it wasn’t the same. None of her closer female friends were lesbians despite the ubiquitous catcalls. All of them had someone at home, someone waiting for them.
Her CO created camaraderie among the men by humiliating the women. But it wasn’t the sort of hazing that could be grievanced. The CO never laid a hand on a female soldier or encouraged a male soldier to do so. Never used the more vulgar euphemisms that women in some units complained about.

So the women in Ronnie’s company felt like pussies for minding his tactics. Most of them had experienced worse in high school—being the sort of women they were. It was trivial, wasn’t it— the sort of teasing that went on in their unit. It seemed too insignificant to get upset about.

A point of agreement among the female soldiers was that trips to the latrine at night were a risk. Few of the women drank liquids after three in the afternoon so late night urination became a remote concern. It was difficult in the summer heat, but necessary.

Unfortunately, it was diarrhea that sent Ronnie to the john one night. She considered asking another woman to come with her but rejected the idea since it was nearly dawn. Cramping badly, she barely made it to the latrine, and when she exited a few minutes later, someone grabbed her.

“Are you a bitch, a whore or a dyke?” the man asked when she struggled with him. He threw her down on the ground then and raped her. The noise from the idling Halliburton trucks masked any sound.

When he was finished, he wiped himself and left saying, “I’ve had better lays than you out back at Flo’s Escapades in Austin.”

It was dawn by now and Ronnie had gotten a good look at the soldier’s face; thin, hatchet-like, as pale as the moon disappearing from the morning sky. Now she considered the rest of him as he walked away: the height, the build, the physique, a peculiar way of walking. Later, she saw him on the base and managed to catch his name. PFC Loomis. Hal Loomis.

She didn’t report the assault, but filed the information away. None of the women who’d been raped got anywhere with their charges. Two women had died of dehydration in the heat the summer before and still been ignored. Reporting such incidents only brought shame on the tattletale. It interfered with camaraderie and the esprit de corps, one woman was told.

It was after her return to the U.S. that Ronnie fired a gun. It was then that it became necessary.
She didn’t re-up and back in the states, it took surprisingly little time to find Flo’s Escapades on the Internet. Ronnie rented a place iin South Austin, got herself a job cleaning the cages at an animal shelter. She was good at the work, good with the animals. Soon she was offered a better job. But it wasn’t about the work. It was about waiting for the return of PFC Loomis. She knew he’d be back. The directory was filled with probable relatives. She cruised their houses, saw yellow ribbons on a few trees.

It was a nearly a year before Loomis swaggered out of Flo’s,

“Loomis,” Ronnie called from her car. Loomis looked up. “Are you a creep, a casualty or a just a plain dead man?” she asked him.

He looked at her as if she were crazy, which she was. She pulled the trigger on her gun and killed him with one shot, proving her inclusion in the U.S. Army Marksmanship Unit was well-deserved.


Dyer Wilk said...

Somehow I didn't notice your introductory note until after I had finished reading the story. Until then, I'd believed this was actually non-fiction. But damn this is powerful stuff. This is one of the sharpest pieces I've read in a long time. Incredibly provocative and rooted in a societal truth that is as disturbing as it is painful.

Great work, Patti.

Margot Kinberg said...

Patti - This is really well-done. Wow. It shows a really ugly social reality in a way that makes us think...

Anonymous said...

Short but to the point. Nice job.

Jeff M.

Chanwick Rutherford said...

Too bad there wasn't a way to make him into a eunuch, but your solution was good too.

pattinase (abbott) said...