Civil Acts

Cut to downtown small town Little League baseball field. Carolyn Thompson, mother of Aaron Thompson, sits on wooden bleachers badly painted. She stares out over an empty field. She looks like Cindy Sheehan. A US mom.

Dissolve to Kuwait, just south of the border with Iraq – sandstorm – two soldiers walking in uniform between tents – Aaron Thompson and his best buddy, Juan Garza. It is the month before the March 2003 US ground invasion of Iraq.

Hollywood knows how to do war scenes, or at least loves to. Let Hollywood do it. Tents and camouflage the color of sand in light and shadow. Sand the color of sand.

Windstorm, sandstorm. Gets in everything, up your nose, in your eyes, cracks your skin, bites like gravel in food.

Aaron and Juan talk about Kuwait, their camp near Iraq, as moonscape, as Mars. They wonder what they are doing in the military, in Kuwait.

Cut to blown-up Humvee. First days of the invasion, southern Iraq. Aaron in blood, his heart exploded. Juan who sat next to him in the troop transport miraculously survives. Aaron miraculously dies. Before the body bag is zipped shut, Juan pulls a plastic baggie of papers out of Aaron’s small arms protection I jacket, pulls it from one of the torn open pouches containing ceramic plates.

Stashes it in a pocket to inspect later.

The US launches the big thunder run into central Baghdad designed to break the back of the remaining resistance. It works. Juan is scared and determined to blow up everything in sight. He is the main gunner on top of the truck. They pass palm trees torn in half. Tidy houses scorched and crumpled. They pass a small car smashed, a family. The father crying and weeping. His children ages 3, 4, and 6. One with his fingers cut off. The other with one arm smashed half off his body. The other dead.

This is the war the US decided it had to have. War? That is, massacre. Just clearing out the prairie. Going for that black gold.

Cut to New Mexico. Juan Garza standing alone on top of a mesa. He has Aaron’s baggie and papers in his hand. He reads them aloud and at length, articles describing the many dangers, radioactive dangers of depleted uranium spewed by US artillery throughout southern Iraq during the first Gulf War, the possible main cause of Gulf War Syndrome, long denied by the US. It has helped to create an overall casualty rate of about 1 in 3 of all US soldiers who served in the first Gulf War, Juan reads. These are US government figures, underreported – probable cause denied. Now he too has been fighting and living around depleted uranium all this time in Iraq.

Juan screams at the top of his lungs, on the mesa. His scream goes unheard – the sound is cut except for a barren wind that fills the world. The camera pulls back from Juan and the mesa.

He composes himself. Begins the trek off mesa.

Cut to Carolyn Thompson. She is sitting in the bleachers of the Little League ballfield staring across an empty expanse.

This whole time – from the very start, from Little League, to Kuwait, to Iraq, to New Mexico – there is a drum solo. Sometimes loud. Sometimes soft. On the mesa there are Navajo chants that set the scene and strike the chords. Strike them all.

From here on, occasional drums.

II.

Cut to Carolyn Thompson – mother of Aaron, Mike, Ruthy, Ellen – on the front stoop of her home. Husband Glenn at her side. An army of cameras and journalists face them on the yard. Vans, SUVs, cars fill the long gravel and dirt drive. Aaron is one of the first US soldiers killed. A big story.

CAROLYN THOMPSON – “He died for all of us.” As soon as it passes her lips she does not quite believe it. She does not let on.

There are many questions from the journalists whom Carolyn and Glenn have come out to meet. Mike stays inside. Ruthy has driven into town for pain reliever. She goes to the gas station convenience store near the Little League ballfield. An excuse, really, to leave the house for a short while.

Carolyn is the focus. Glenn adds a few words of his own. Mostly he is there on the stoop to support his wife, to help her through the moment, though he looks as if he needs comfort as much as anyone.

CAROLYN THOMPSON – “He died for all of us.”

The reporters ask questions. Simple questions. Where was he? How long had he been there? How did he feel? What did he think and say? What did he see? How often had they heard from him? Afterwards, all Carolyn would remember saying – “He died for all of us.”

She and Glenn return inside. Cameras whir, snap, buzz – hard plastic and steel like guns. The journalist army remains encamped, a family besieged.

Mike has been listening through the door. His mother hugs him.

MIKE – “I wish you would have let me run them off.”

CAROLYN – “This was for Aaron.”

Carolyn and Glenn go into the kitchen. Carolyn sits at the table, stares across. Glenn putters at the stove. Heats water in a stainless steel pot. Looks like he doesn’t know what he is doing. Glenn prepares tea.

CAROLYN – “No military funeral.”

GLENN – “I don’t know that we get the choice.”

CAROLYN – “No. Military. Funeral.”

GLENN – “Why not let them take some of the blame?”

CAROLYN – “We’ll do it ourselves.”

Glenn and Carolyn remain back to back. Glenn stares out a window. Camera angles reveal little or nothing outside the kitchen.

CAROLYN – “I wonder what it’s like in Iraq.” She would like to visit, see the spot where Aaron was killed. She would have to be transported there and back instantly as she could not stand the travel. Not mentally, she thinks.

GLENN – “A mess.”

CAROLYN – “It’s an ancient land, a holy land. You don’t have to read the Bible to know that.” Carolyn has not much read the Bible, or the Koran. Sometimes she goes to church. She has done yoga for her back.

GLENN – “A mess.”

CAROLYN – “Where’s Mike?”

GLENN – “I don’t know.”

CAROLYN – “He died because of us. Not for.”

GLENN – “What?”

CAROLYN – “Because of everyone. Not for.”

Glenn seems gripped by the view beyond the window.

CAROLYN – “We all went to war. Didn’t we?”

Glenn looks to the ceiling above the window.

 GLENN – “No.”

CAROLYN – “And for what?”

Cut to Mike or walk camera through the house to a room on the opposite end. He is looking at a picture of Aaron and himself in their Little League baseball uniforms posing for the camera. A phone rings. He looks at it. It rings again. He picks it up. A reporter.

They talk about Aaron, Mike does. Mike’s views on the war come out. His understanding is that the invasion of Iraq is illegal and immoral. He has not been outspoken about it, until now. He goes into detail now. He never knew Aaron’s views. It was not talked about. Mike sent Aaron the big Stephen King novels he asked for. Aaron joked he could strap them on his chest to stop tank fire.

Ruthy enters, back from town. Mike hangs up.

RUTHY – “Where’s mom?”

Mike nods toward the kitchen. “I think the Joneses are here.” Their neighbors, and longtime family friends.

RUTHY – “I heard Mom on the radio.”

MIKE – “I tried to stop her. I just got off the phone with a reporter myself. Told them the war is illegal and immoral.”

RUTHY – “You did that?” She sits down on the couch, at an angle.

MIKE – “I felt I had to.”

RUTHY – “God.” She doesn’t so much say it as breathe it and she isn’t thinking at all about any god, or even the war. She is simply, utterly fatigued. For the moment she doesn’t care what Mike says or said.

She looks toward the kitchen. She settles back into the couch. Then stands and goes into the kitchen. She comes up behind Carolyn, squeezes lightly her mother’s shoulders and then the hands that rise to her own.

RUTHY – “Town’s busy.” She greets the neighbors. “You braved the crowd outside.” The neighbors have brought over warm food.

JUDY JONES – “‘Neighbors – coming through’, that’s all we said.”

BOB JONES – “I told them to clear out. I’ll see to it when we go.”

RUTHY – “They’re all over the place.”

JUDY – “We just kept moving, Honey. Pushed right through.”

The couple stay another twenty minutes or so, trying to cover the awkwardness with admonishing comments about the reporters. When they leave, Mike comes into the kitchen.

The family sits around the table just as they had the previous evening after receiving word of Aaron’s death. Carolyn turns a mug of hot tea around in her hands. Glenn stares at the steam, looks again to the window.

CAROLYN – “Ellen should make it back from college this afternoon.” The youngest child.

Mike gets up from the table.

Ruthy leans forward. She laces her fingers together. She feels a gathering inside herself.

RUTHY – “The US attack is criminal. That’s what Mike said to a reporter on the phone just now.”

Mike stops at the kitchen exit. Has she meant to wound him? Does she mean to hold him? Is she angry with him? Does he have any right to leave the table? Is she trying to keep the family together? Trying to pool all their thoughts? Trying to put everything out in the open?

GLENN to MIKE – “What’s the point?”

MIKE – “It’s what I think, is all. Like I told Ruthy, I felt I had to say it. I think I do. It’s the officials and leaders, it’s their fault.”

GLENN – “Does that do anything for Aaron? How does that help us?”

MIKE – “I guess we could have talked about it earlier, the war and all, I don’t know. Maybe we were afraid.”

GLENN – “I’m not afraid of anything.”

CAROLYN – “Michael – “

The doorbell chimes.

The phone rings.

Carolyn sits still in chair. Glenn leans over tea. Mike goes to the door. Ruthy reaches for the phone.

III.

Cut to the office of Senator Sam Washburn – cousin of Carolyn Thompson. They grew up together. The senator’s position on the Iraq invasion has been made to appear complex. In reality, his votes support the war, provide its funding. He bought it, he owns it.

The date is yesterday, so to speak – just after the March 2003 launch of the US ground invasion.

Sam’s daughter Jamie walks into his office with a look in her eye that all but accuses him of the killing of Aaron Thompson – the US soldier from Senator Washburn’s district who has not survived the first weeks of the invasion. Aaron is not just any soldier, of course, he is a relative, their cousin Carolyn’s son, the brother of Jamie’s cousin and friend, Ellen. As an intern, Ellen worked with Sam’s staff the previous summer, an efficient young woman to whom his daughter has grown close.

JAMIE – “Aaron Thompson is dead. Rocket propelled grenade. Roadside ambush.”

Sam knows. He learned of Aaron’s death earlier that day from a military buddy who sent him a confidential heads-up.

SAM – “How again?”

JAMIE – “RPG.”

Sam is tempted to crack a Brazil nut. He likes to snack on them in the afternoon. He takes his time peeling the shell, tossing it bit by bit into the trash.

SAM – “Carolyn…” He trails off. He will have to call her.

JAMIE – “It will wipe her out.”

SAM – “I doubt that.”

JAMIE – “It’s a horrible thing, any way you look.”

Sam directs his gaze to the miniature titanium globe on his desk. The globe is a gift from a Nigerian oil executive who works for Texaco.

Sam’s Vietnam War medals hang on the wall behind him.

SAM – “Bomb them.”

JAMIE – “Excuse me?”

SAM – “Nothing.”

He spins the globe absently with one finger. The globe whirls on the greased axis. The axis fits precisely into a semi-circular frame, the continents a blur, the axis invisible.

Jamie closes the door and sits on the other side of the desk, beyond the Brazil nuts, beyond the titanium globe.

JAMIE – “I need to make a change.”

SAM – “Is now the best time for that?” He pushes the globe a few inches to the side.

Jamie has problems with a number of his positions, Sam knows. In fact, Sam understands that long before the death of Aaron, Jamie struggled with whether or not she should continue on in her present capacity as staff aide. She could easily get other work around the capital. A couple environmental organizations have expressed interest in bringing her on board to lobby the Senator.

JAMIE – “You don’t want to know why, I bet.”

SAM – “It has to do with policy, I assume.”

JAMIE – “Policy.” She may as well have spat the word.

Sam eyes the Brazil nuts, thinks of picking one up between the tips of his fingers. He does that sometimes when thinking. But there does not seem to be much worth thinking of now.

SAM – “I would like to support you in whatever you choose to do.” The ambiguity seems necessary. It pleases him a bit, though he suspects the words are perceived by his daughter as distant, and distancing. “If you would like to work in some other capacity around the office, or as consultant….” He trails off. He is being rejected, he knows. His policies, that is, he reminds himself. His policies are being rejected.

JAMIE – “You won’t reconsider, and reverse course on Iraq?”

SAM – “Consider, of course. But change is another matter. I respect your point of view, you know that. And I respect your decision to move on, if that’s what it is. There’s no question, you’re welcome to continue here, or to return at some point, should you choose. The decision is yours.”

JAMIE – “I’ll let the others know.”

Now Jamie and Sam’s glances fall everywhere in the office but upon one another. No mention of Aaron.

Jamie leaves.

IV.

The back deck of the Thompson family house. The one year anniversary of Aaron’s death.

Aaron’s buddy Juan Garza will not show the Senator the papers he found on his friend after the RPG ended his life. Aaron’s older sister and brother Ruthy and Mike will not press the Senator on the fraudulent nature of the invasion and occupation of Iraq. Aaron’s father Glenn does not want to question the Senator closely on anything for fear his wife would find it inappropriate. Aaron’s younger sister Ellen intends to speak her mind but to the Senator’s daughter Jamie, who is already aware of her line of reasoning. Everyone is rather clear on where everyone else stands, as they do, in small formations on the deck. There seems to be little if anything more to say, and even less to be done here in the privacy of the Thompson residence, until Carolyn’s mother Joanne approaches the Senator.

Joanne speaks in her typically strong and clear voice.

JOANNE – “We’re so proud of you, Sam, for your work as Senator. The whole family is proud. And we’re honored that you have taken the time to be with us today.” It sounds as if it could have been read from a script. It is fawning, modulated by a tone that attempts to sound as if it is not.

Carolyn has been cutting homemade bread at a table of refreshments. The knife falls out of her hand. Perhaps she drops it on purpose.

The knife clatters off the edge of the cutting board, skips from the table, smacks onto the deck.

CAROLYN – “That’s ludicrous.” She speaks to the bread.
Joanne begins talking to fill the void, but Carolyn cuts her off, speaking again, speaking louder.

CAROLYN – “That’s ludicrous.” She looks first at her mother and then trains her stare on the Senator.

 Joanne attempts to say something. Carolyn cuts her off.

CAROLYN to SAM – “It took some real guts for you to show up today. The war on Iraq, and the occupation, is an obscenity. And you supported it and still do. I don’t respect that. That ought to be made clear.”

As if to help hold his tongue, the Senator looks at the deck. Finally, he nods at Joanne.

SAM – “I thank you.” Then he speaks to Carolyn. “I’m sorry that politics come between us.”

CAROLYN – “Are you?”

SAM – “I’m very sorry for the loss of Aaron.”

CAROLYN – “You’re sorry.”

SAM – “It’s a terrible thing. I can’t imagine, of course.”

CAROLYN – “Do you want me to help you understand? Aaron is dead. Can you understand that?”

GLENN – “Carolyn.”

RUTHY – “Mom.”

No one comes over – possibly because of the steel it is easy to sense exploding out of her – as she looks steady and strong.

CAROLYN – “You destroyed a country, Senator. And tens of thousands of Iraqis, so far. And you enflamed sentiment against us all over the world. Aaron is dead. Iraqis are dead. More are dying. And now our whole country and the whole world is less safe than it was a year ago. And poorer too. In every way imaginable. Most people do not support the occupation when made aware of the facts and did not support the invasion in the first place. And you – you’re doing your job the way you choose to do it and feeling ‘sorry’. That’s nice.”

No geopolitical problems are going to be solved this afternoon on the deck of the Thompson family house. Perhaps. In the meantime, at least one personal situation is will its day.

CAROLYN – “I’m going to ask you to leave, Senator. Please do so. Your wife and daughter are welcome to stay.”

Cousin to cousin, Sam faces Carolyn.

SAM – “You’re kicking me out?”

CAROLYN – “Why don’t you go find another country to represent, Senator? You’re certainly not representing this one.”

SENATOR WASHBURN – “We have a different understanding of the facts.”

CAROLYN – “I wonder.”

After a moment, Carolyn picks up the knife from the deck. She wipes it off with a napkin.

She continues to slice the bread. It is good bread, good crust, with a hearty texture inside. Good ingredients. Good flavor. Nutritious. It is the best bread there is, Carolyn can not help but think, the best she has baked in a long time.

When she finishes cutting the loaf, she serves herself the first slice, takes a bite. It tastes like paste. It smells wonderful. She just can’t eat.. She looks around. Sam has gone. Everyone seems subdued.

Carolyn makes a quiet announcement, one that carries.

CAROLYN – “It’s good bread over here. Made it myself. Please help yourselves.”

Carolyn picks up a drink. There is movement toward the table. Carolyn goes to the railing at the highest part of the deck. She looks out at the contoured shades of charcoal that are the bare treetops near and far, framing a valley into which she has gazed often this past year. She imagines all the way into Iraq where Iraqis are being killed by American troops and by American policies, and where American troops, many of them young, all of them misled, are dying. Where her son was killed. She can all but picture the spot. She has looked for it in the glimpses of war she has seen on TV.

Carolyn feels Aaron to be close by, now – and so far away it guts her.

Her name is not Washburn, it is Thompson, but maybe she should put that name in play the next go around – or support some name like it, some name that stands for what is worth standing for. Maybe her name could play well enough to make a point at least, or to rally support for the organizations and voters and positions that ought to be supported. She will have to see. She will have to think about strategy – time and effort, resources and consequences.

Carolyn stands at the railing and looks into Iraq. Sees the great slaughter.

And then Carolyn sees only Aaron.

She is host this afternoon, she remembers. Let others now speak of Aaron to the extent they might. She will listen. And she will look all the way into Iraq and beyond and continue to think things through.

She sent the Senator off the deck and out of her home today, cousin or no. She will think about that too. 

Cut to downtown small town Little League baseball field. Carolyn Thompson sits on wooden bleachers and stares out over the empty field.

She sits in the shadow of the church and the old school on the hill just beyond the creek, not far from the supermarket on first base side, next to the car dealership in foul ground off right field, across the street from a bank, bordering a gas station and convenience store behind center field, an auto parts store on the other side, and car wash and used car lot across the road from the elderly housing beyond the curving creek behind left field. All these establishments are located along the route Aaron’s school bus took him each day to school, a block from the center of downtown.

Carolyn doesn’t remember now Aaron when he was older and playing organized ball on this field before her. She remembers him when he was 2, 3, and 4 years old come to watch his brother Mike play with the team, Aaron come to traipse about the bleachers in the grass and weeds, come to clamber up and down the old planks. Come to watch and grow and cheer. Carolyn remembers Aaron at that age. And she remembers now as she will every day for the rest of her life why this son of hers died in Iraq.

Later she remembers again to do something else. But for now –

Carolyn sits in the bleachers alone. Cars and trucks motor on the road along the outfield. Town is busy behind her and all around.

Credits roll. Drums.
——————————-
condensed, modified from Homefront

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