At the time Paul asked me to contribute to Exiles I had just finished reading Ron Kovic’s powerful Vietnam memoir, Born on the 4th of July. I was also knee deep in submissions for another charity anthology; Zelmer Pulp’s Bruce Springsteen inspired noir magnum opus, Trouble in the Heartland. Those two things came together like a head on collision to provide the inspiration for my story.
Springsteen had his say on America’s treatment of its returning war veterans with his monster 80’s hit, Born in the USA (possibly the most widely misunderstood song of all time.) The B side to that single was a little known track called, Shut Out The Light. That also became the title of my Exiles story. Both deal with a solider who has been traumatized by war coming back to find that the home he was fighting for no longer exists, at least in his own mind.
The idea of a man struggling to come to terms with the fact that he is an outsider in his own life took hold of me and it wouldn’t let go. I wanted to show how a war being fought in a far off country could result in casualties thousands of miles away, and a blue on blue conflict between two brothers over a girl seemed to be the perfect catalyst for this weapon of self destruction (there’s always a girl, right?)
The story is written from Joe’s point of view, the brother of a disabled Iraqi war veteran, Tommy. The physical damage borne by Tommy is plain for all to see, but his mental scars are not so easily discerned, although they are just as devastating. I have tried to capture a sense of the torment and pain that leads Tommy down the dead end street of addiction and violence, and ultimately to murder. Maybe Joe can still save his brother, maybe not. Either way, just like the ink on Tommy’s knuckles, blood doesn’t wash off.
I am not attempting to make any cutting social commentary on the rights or wrongs of war. This story is merely an exaggerated fictional portrayal of the personal price paid by some of the men and woman who fight them. And I don’t think there is any moral to be found here, apart from perhaps the realization that no matter how far you fall there is always a little further to go.
Huge thanks to Paul for letting me be a part of this fantastic and worthy project. I hope my small contribution doesn’t suck too badly.