This morning, I woke to the usual peaceful sound of my community. Since I always wake early, the sounds of my street consist of birds chirping and wind sweeping through the trees.
This morning’s wind appears to be gentle. I like the sound it makes. I like the way birds announce the sunrise, as if to prove they know when the sun is on its way and that today arrives with a new promise.
My home is also quiet. The only noise I hear comes from the moving water in my fish tank, which stands against the wall in a room that I consider to be special.
This room is not unlike any special room in any house. This is my sanctuary. This is where I come to write, or sit and think. This room is where I sort things out and maintain my sanity.
I have bookshelves for my books. I have paintings on the wall and a few masks that remind me of the first vacation I ever took with my wife.
Above my desk, which is catty-cornered against windows with the blinds slightly opened to allow a source of morning light, and hung on the wall above my computer, monitor, and the printer is a small board with some memories I keep pinned to it.
There is a picture of my daughter when she was very small. I have a Father’s Day card that was drawn by her. There is a picture of my blue and gold macaw Oscar the Parrot, a few other tiny pieces I keep for different reasons, along with a broken drumstick from a local show I like to remember.
The view from my window is a perfect caption of suburban life. My middle income town is clustered with modest homes and well-kept yards. From my window, which faces the northwest, I can see the trees that stand tall above the rooftops and the power and phone lines that string between the telephone poles that serve us.
The springtime has replaced all the empty trees with leaves. The bush which lines the fence between mine and my neighbor’s backyard has green leaves with white flowers blossomed at the top. Yes, spring has arrived and this weekend acts as the unofficial start to the summertime rush
There is peace to the silence of morning. There is beauty to the vision I see from my window. However, this vision did not come without cost. Like any homeowner, I work hard to pay my mortgage. I work to feed my family as well as fuel, keep, and maintain the two cars in my driveway. Each day, the mailman walks up to the mailbox on my front stoop, opens its little door, and slides in a pile of mail.
More often than not, the pile of mail consists of bills, or letters about politics, and daily adds from the super markets. Less often are the letters from family and postcards.
My house is in the middle of the street. Mine is not the biggest or the smallest. My neighbors know who I am and most of them smile and wave when they see me.
There are a few homes with children on the block. I smile when I see them because they are still young and it is nice to see young kids playing or learning how to ride a bicycle. It is nice to hear them laugh and it is nice to see mothers and fathers watching as their children play in the front yard.
My town, aside from the minor instances, is a good place. There are some troubles, but the troubles are small in comparison to other places in the world. I call this a community. It is no different from any of its kind that spread across our nation.
My home is not perfect—but it is mine. I do what I can to improve it. Over the years, I have painted walls and made some changes. The washer and dryer need to be replaced—but they work. In fact, I repaired the dryer myself. I repaired the washing machine too; however, none of the pieces fit back as well as when I took the machine apart, so it tends to bounce during some of its faster cycles.
There are things I would like to change in my home, but I would never leave or destroy it. And firmly, I believe in the right to protect it as well as all who dwell in it. There are things I disagree with in my community. There are homes that are less kept, but I still love where I live, and I would never stand for or allow anyone to come along and tarnish, destroy, or damage my neighborhood.
There are neighbors who are less than friendly and there is a small few on my block who I would rather see move, but nevertheless, this is my home. These are my neighbors and this is where we live “Together.”
Several years ago, I kept an online journal. It was read, but not by many.
Most of my readers were involved with the tattoo community. And since I, myself, am heavily tattooed, I saw my online journal as a perfect outlet for me to write to and interact with good, like-minded people.
One reader commented often. I never knew his full name.
I only knew him as Erik.
Erik was stationed somewhere in a country I knew little about. All I knew about Iraq is what I saw on television. Erik was a Marine and he had been stationed there for quite some time.
He asked me to send him messages describing my town and telling him about the local spots.
He expressed, “I’m tired of seeing what’s around me.”
“I don’t like it here,” he said. “I want to go home, but I can’t right now.”
“Soon,” he said. “I’ll be home soon enough”
“But for now, and if you don’t mind, next time you write something, see if you can write about your town.”
Erik asked me to write about, “Punky,” my daughter.
“It always hits home when you write about your little girl,” he said.
Erik wrote, “I want to read about the country I’m fighting for and forget about where I am.”
As requested, I wrote to Erik and described where I live. I described my town and the restaurants and fast food chains that line Hempstead Turnpike. I mentioned the town pool on Prospect avenue, which alone, comes with several crazy stories from my wild teenage years. I described the streets in my neighborhood and the sound of the ice cream truck as it drove through. I wrote about the three elementary schools and their playgrounds. I told Erik about the junior high, and high school. I wrote about the difference between Merrick Avenue when I lived there as a boy and the way it looks now that I’m grown.
Then I described Eisenhower Park and the man-made pond where I used to catch sunfish when I was a little boy. I sat along the concrete edge with a small fishing rod and line dangling in the water with a red and white float bobbing on the pond’s rippled surface.
Men and women walked or jogged on the cement path, which surrounded the pond that was shaped in the form of a large, misshaped oval.
Standing tall above this at the north side of the pond was the American Flag that stemmed from a dedicated spot for the Korean War monument. There were also a monuments for the men and women lost in the Vietnam, as well as World War II. Of any places, I felt this best described the freedom Erik chose to fight for. I told him about the two clasping hands and how beneath it were the words, “All we had was each other.”
I described this area to the best of my ability. I defined my childhood to Erik as well as the childhood of my daughter, whom I refer to as Punky in much of my writing.
To get a better picture for detail, before writing I decided to take Punky to Eisenhower Park so I could look around and send Erik something truly descriptive. I detailed the large, grass fields, which at the time, some of them were in use for a soccer game. I told Erik about the 18-hole golf course, and the picnic grounds with wooden tables, benches, and barbeque pits.
I wrote to him about a little place called Safety Town, which is a small town inside Eisenhower Park used to teach children how to, “look both ways,” before crossing the street.
I told Erik about the only tall buildings around us and how they stand across the turnpike from a place called The Nassau Coliseum where the Islanders played hockey and where I saw my first real concert.
At the end of my description, I invited Erik to my home whenever he reached stateside. I informed him that so long as my home stands, there will always be an open door and a hot meal waiting for him.
Erik thanked me.
Here he is, fighting in a country that hates us, and he thanked me.
I could not imagine where he slept or the things he saw.
I could not imagine the days or nights in the land where Erik was stationed.
I could not imagine the smells or the aromas of battle.
But worse, I could not imagine the unforgettable smell of burning flesh and death.
America, I have not forgotten you.
I have not forgotten the dignity I was taught or the pledge I said on a daily basis. I have not forgotten the cost of life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.
I will never forget the words to your hymn, The Star Spangled Banner, nor will I ever allow anyone, either foreign or domestic, to come and take this land from me or anyone in my community.
But America, I am afraid.
I am afraid of what will come.
I am afraid of losing the dreams I have and the comfort you have given me.
I am afraid and outraged over the insults I see against you.
The other day, I watched video clips of someone doing a “Flag stomp.”
What that means is a man or woman who lives within your shelter and freedom—stomps on your flag.
They stomp on your precious threads, which embodies the freedom you offer to allow even people like this to have the freedom of speech. But yet, these people fail to see the terrible irony in this. Instead, they trample your colors of Red, White, and Blue under their boots.
I cannot tell you how much this action hurts me, but America, I can assure this will never happen in front of me. So long as I have breathe in my lungs—I will defend you.
It amazes me.
What have we become?
Where has the dignity gone?
But more importantly . . .
What will be of our future?
I have a certificate, which has been signed by the President of the United States.
This certificate acknowledges my father’s service in World War II.
But I wonder.
I wonder if the men and women who fought in that war, or Korea, or Vietnam, saw what we have become; would they be proud of what they see?
Or would they ask themselves, “Is this what we fought for?”
America, same as my house needs improvement and same as my community needs its share of changes, and no different than me deciding to love, stay, and fix this; know that I will never walk away or turn my back on you. Same as there is a cost for my home; I understand there is a cost for freedom and the glory of my country. And same as I work hard to support what I own, I will work equally as hard to protect what you have given me
It is said the most common final word of a dying man is, “Momma.”
I wonder what my friend Erik said when he died in action while serving this country.
I wonder what his wife and little girl said when they heard the news.
Stand down, son
You’ve done your job well.
Written in remembrance of all who served.
I will always remember
I will never surrender
United We Stand