Conscientious Objector
by April Salzano

For years, I bought into your theories, your
godless sense of higher purpose, your
we-are-not-the-kind-of-people-who logic, Buddhist
anarchist, minimalist views. For years
we worshipped at the temple you.

I do not remember drawing a line, but I do
recall running through traffic crying into
the phone leave me the fuck alone more than
once in the relationship you and I
were having with you.

We came back from London, no money. We had
sold our cars, drained our bank accounts
and thrown away whatever clothing wouldn’t fit
into our allotted two pieces of luggage. I had my degree,
but the future loomed shapeless and fluid. Adulthood
seemed to require a plan. You, not a soldier, joined
the Army and the ranks of the bald and compliant,
those for whom chevrons and rockers meant respect. Signals
Intelligence Analyst must have been
stamped on those enlistment papers somewhere,
or maybe it just read 98Charlie and Specialist E4.
The super top secret
security clearance must have come later, along
with the code word you were never to utter aloud.
But you did. Of course you did.

They taught you to salute and march
while you studied propaganda and crowd behavior behind
their backs. Boot camp made you cry. There wasn’t
time to read or write and your roommate jacked off
every chance he got. He could do it, he said, without
touching himself. You had to threaten to kill him more
than once before he stopped, and because your veins
bulged through biceps so taut they threatened to tear
the skin, he believed you, even though
your voice was barely a whisper. Or maybe because.

It was me for whom you saved the real
manipulation. It became my responsibility to relieve you
of your rank. The letters begged with a fear I had only
seen in Nam movies, boys who’d been drafted,
boys who did not support the cause, children, afraid
to die. Phone calls were spent devising a plan: Hardship
discharge, Exceptional family members program, call
your shrink, tell him to write a letter. Say you can’t
be without me. Blame the panic attacks, you still have them,
right? I would do it for you. Get me out of here. I was
given my orders and I acted. I had to
save you. But I broke. I aborted mission.

Call it conscience. Call it duty. Maybe it was
the freckle faced E-5 you started calling
by her first name in AIT, somewhere between
Fort Leonardwood and Fort Huachuca. I stopped
trying to save you. Right then
and there, I surrendered my arms and withdrew
from a battle it would take another decade to lose.

* * * * * * * *
April Salzano teaches college writing in Pennsylvania and is working on her first several collections of poetry and an autobiographical novel on raising a child with autism. Her work has appeared in Poetry Salzburg, Pyrokinection, Convergence, Ascent Aspirations, The Rainbow Rose, The Camel Saloon, The Applicant, The Mindful Word, Napalm and Novocain, Jellyfish Whispers, The South Townsville Micro Poetry Journal, The Weekender Magazine, Deadsnakes, Winemop, Daily Love, WIZ, Visceral Uterus and is forthcoming in Inclement, Poetry Quarterly, Decompression, Work to a Calm, and Windmills.