We are Built upon the Bones of the Dead

All of us are built upon the bones of the dead. The experiences of loss are part of what make us who we are. We talk about survivors, but if the tragedy is large enough, painful enough, traumatic enough, then the person who walks into the room isn’t the same person who walks out of it. In a way, none of us are survivors, because the person we were dies on that floor, on that road, in that moment, with the people we lose. We walk away, we’re still alive, but everything we thought we were is brought into question if the loss is big enough. 


 The Vietnam Women’s Memorial in Washington DC. 
Memorial day was originally Decoration Day, to remember the Fallen from the Civil War. It was a war like no other that America has fought in because of how much it divided our country. Brother fought brother, father fought son, families literally met each other across the battlefield lines time and time again. We lost 620,000 people, which is still the largest loss of American life in a single armed conflict, before or since. We needed a way to mourn all our dead, those that fought on “our” side, and those we loved that fought on the “other” side. So Decoration Day was born, and then there was World War I, where Europe lost, from best estimates, 15% of it’s men between the ages of 18-30. An entire generation of men and countless civilians were lost across the face of Europe. Americans came to fight, to bleed, and some to die, but we did not lose the number that some of our European allies and enemies lost, because it wasn’t our fight at first, and it was never fought on our home soil like our Civil War. It was supposed to be the war that ended all wars because it was fought at such a terrible cost; but we all know that it wasn’t the last war.


World War II came and this one didn’t kill as many soldiers but it still made us pay in a loss of life that no one expected. The soldiers that helped free the concentration camp victims would tell stories of horrors beyond imagining. One of the reasons it hurt the consciousness of Europe, and us, is that we considered the Germans civilized. Germany wasn’t the idea of a barbaric nation, which was still something that people believed sincerely then, that the poor, uncivilized savages could be forgiven atrocities because they didn’t know any better; “we,” meaning the civilized world, hadn’t taught them our ways yet. The Germans had given the world Wagner, Brahms, Beethoven, and Handel, Goethe, Rilke, Heine, and Schiller, the Dusseldorf school of painting, Cornith, Caspar David Friedrich, Franz Marc, and Albrecht Durer – they were “us.” For the soldiers who freed the camps of WWII in Europe, and those who would come later to help gather evidence of the crimes committed, the thought that seemed to bother them the most was that the people who did this evil, and it is evil by any definition I am aware of, were fellow Europeans, and for Americans there was still this ideal that the Europeans were more cultured than we were. But what was behind the barbed wire, written in meticulous detail, was barbarism on a grand scale. Let me add that America interred Japanese Americans in our own camps. We didn’t do the experiments and atrocities that the Nazis did, but it is still a black mark on our country. There were Japanese Americans that fought on our side in the war while the rest of their families were prisoners. So much horror, so much gone wrong; for some reason I thought this was when Memorial Day became an official three day holiday, but I was wrong.


It was 1971 when then President Richard Nixon made Memorial Day a national three day weekend. It wasn’t WWII with it’s more clear cut rights and wrongs, but the Vietnam War that gave us the holiday as we know it. I was totally puzzled for a few minutes as I reviewed the history, and then I realized that if ever America had needed a holiday to remind us that our soldiers had given their lives first in the Revolutionary War that made us a country, through two World Wars, the Korean Conflict/War, and others, it was then, during the most unpopular war that we had ever fought. 1971 and the Vietnam War was part of what would forever change our country and how we viewed a lot of things. It was the end of an almost childlike faith that America had, that we were the good guys. We would come out of this time in our history far less sure of many things and out of that confusion came Memorial Day. 
I wish that I could stop this blog here in the ’70’s, but the losses have continued. We have sent hundreds of thousands of our men and women to foreign lands for one conflict or another since then, including the on-going conflicts in the Middle East and elsewhere around the world. This is the weekend to remember those who never came home.  


Veterans Day on November 11 is the anniversary of the Armistice of WWI. It’s the day we thank the men and women who have served our country. Hug a vet, shake their hands, say thank you for your service, on Veterans Day. It’s a day to let them know we appreciate them. Memorial Day is for remembering the Fallen, those that gave their all to defend the Constitution of the United States of America, because that’s what their oath is to; not the President, not any of the politicians, but to the document that formed our country. They fight and die for our freedoms, not just freedom, but specific freedoms guaranteed us in the Constitution and Bill of Rights. Soldiers can have as many issues with our politicians as the rest of us, they didn’t give their oath of fidelity to the politicians in Washington but to the very concepts that forged our nation. They gave their word they would defend their country from all enemies both foreign and domestic, and for some men and women their word is still their bond, honor is still a real concept and not just a pretty word in a speech. Truth, honor, respect, these words should still mean something to all of us.


While you’re grilling that steak, or watching your kids play in the pool, remember that this weekend is to honor and remember those that couldn’t come home. The men that aren’t there to grill for their family. The children that are motherless because their mother gave her life for her country. Those that couldn’t come home to their wives, their husbands, their loved ones. You can disagree with the politics that sent them to war, and trust me a lot of military men and women do, but they do their duty because they took an oath to do just that.  


This weekend is for the Fallen, regardless of politics. It is to honor those who truly gave their all in service. If that’s not worth a moment of silence and prayer, I don’t know what is. 



Why I Threw Out Everything I Wrote Yesterday

So many of you wrote in and feared for the lovers in Anita’s life. They are in peril. This promises to be a very hard book, but two days ago it wasn’t that kind of trauma for Anita and me. She did her duty. She stayed at her post. She made the hard call in the midst of death and violence. She was a good cop, a good soldier, a good . . . she did her duty. She did not panic. It ended up with her in the hospital and it cost her the life of someone she valued. It also cost the lives of good men and women who stood shoulder to shoulder against the great bad thing. There are losses that aren’t about romantic love. There are losses that are about a different kind of love. The people that will go into the bad place with you and not panic, but stay at your side shooting, fighting, risking it all for the goal, the objective, the mission, but there will always be moments that come down to just surviving. The men and women who stay with you through something like that – you love them. They love you. It’s not romantic love, but it is a bond that will make you answer a phone a decade later and say, “What do you need? What can I do?”
It’s also the kind of emotion that will make you not answer the phone ever. It is a level of pain and trauma that makes you want to forget. You don’t want to relive it. You don’t want to look at it, or talk about it. You want to move on; forget. sometimes in that effort to push it away you will destroy everything in your life to avoid the pain of it, the truth of it.
I have had the privilege of knowing men and women who have served their country, worn the badge, and come away with the real deal. I have dated, and been friends with men that are still haunted. I know when they share their stories with me in any way that it’s a privilege to be trusted with those moments of truth. a lot of them are told with laughter, but every once in awhile their eyes grow haunted and the pain comes too close to hide.
Anita had one of those moments and I spent the next twenty-four hours trying to ignore the pain. I was willing to blow up my imaginary world and throw all the hard work that Micah and Jean-Claude had done to bring together the preternatural community so that we could have a crisis and Anita and I wouldn’t have to deal with what was really bothering us. We were willing to ruin our relationship with Micah. Willing to ruin our relationship with other lovers. Anita and I tried to sink ourselves into sex. Nothing worked yesterday. Some of it was good pages, but really I was blowing up my world, destroying books and books of relationship building. It was my husband, Jon, who told me not to do some of it, that it made no sense. I was angry with him, though we didn’t fight, because I knew something was wrong with me and how I was reacting.
This morning when I woke up I understood what I’d been doing. I also knew what I needed to write today. I have to look at what happened in the shoot out. I have to let Anita feel the pain of what she had to do, and what it cost her and others. I was willing to blow up my world, Jean-Claude’s world, Micah’s, sacrifice Damian, hurt Nathaniel, or try to just skip to sex and comfort. I fought with myself all day and at midnight I called it, because I didn’t know what the hell was going on. I just knew it I wasn’t thinking right.
This morning it was so clear, even logical. I’ve spent twenty years writing Anita. I’ve interviewed people about what it feels like to take a life in the course of their duty. I have been blessed and trusted with the stories, without them this series would have been so much weaker. I wouldn’t have understood, and there are things that I will not understand because this is fiction for me. I’m not there. I’m not going through the real doors. I’m not having to look down the barrel of real guns and make choices that will be irrevocable. In real life there is no rewrite, more’s the pity.
Today Anita has to wake up in the hospital with that moment of confusion of “where am I, what happened,” and then the memory will return. She’ll remember the moment. The gun, sighting down the barrel, pulling the trigger and watching him drop. She would make the same choice, but that doesn’t mean she won’t be haunted by it. You can be right. You can be brave. It is some comfort, but in the end the people still died, and you couldn’t save them all, and sometimes killing the killer is just one more trauma.
There are losses that make you weep, that drive you from sleep to pace the darkened house, because sleep is full of dreams, nightmares, or sometimes it’s just too quiet and alone with our thoughts isn’t that great. I should have remembered that yesterday, but it took me time to work it out – to remember.
I’m just lucky that what I do is fiction. That I didn’t ruin my actual relationship with the man I love, and I have a chance to rewrite the fictional mistake. That I didn’t blow up the political structure of our country for real, but just on paper and I had a smart man to tell me, “This isn’t logical.” Thanks, my husband. Lucky for me, and for Anita, there is a do-over today. It won’t be pleasant, in fact it will be emotionally pretty horrible, but when she’s faced it, worked some of it through, then she will still have the loves of her life, the men she depends on, and the careful political structure that Jean-Claude and Micah have worked so hard to make will still be working. I am dreading writing this, but I feel strangely peaceful about it, too. This is what comes next and the days when Anita would destroy her love life, her friendships, to avoid the pain of what she’s had to do in her job are past. I’ve had better therapy than that, and so has she.
As I write today I will think of my friends who have done, and are doing, this for real. To the men and women who put on a uniform and do their duty, thank you for your service.