Dear Mr. President

Dear Mr. President

by Gabe Hudson


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Everybody’s Gulf War Syndrome is a little bit different. Or so believes Larry, who returns home from Desert Storm to find his hair gone and his bones rapidly disintegrating. Then there’s Lance Corporal James Laverne of the US Marines, who grows a third ear in Kuwait. And in the audaciously comic novella “Notes from a Bunker Along Highway 8,” a Green Beret deserts his team after seeing a vision of George Washington, only to find a new calling—administering aid to wounded Iraqi civilians; he’s hindered only by the furtive nature of his mission and an unruly band of chimpanzees. Together these narratives form a bracing amalgamation of devastating humor and brilliant cultural observation, in which Gabe Hudson fearlessly explores the darker implications of American military power.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9780375713408
Publisher: Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group
Publication date: 11/11/2003
Series: Vintage Contemporaries Series
Edition description: Reprint
Pages: 176
Product dimensions: 5.20(w) x 8.00(h) x 0.43(d)

About the Author

Gabe Hudson received his MFA from Brown University, where he was awarded the John Hawkes Prize in Fiction. His fiction has been published in The New Yorker and McSweeney’s. He has received the Sue Kaufman Prize for First Fiction from the American Academy of Arts and Letters, and was a PEN/Hemingway Finalist. He lives in New York City.

Read an Excerpt

Dear Mr. President

October 17, 1991

The Honorable George Bush
President of the United States
The White House
1600 Pennsylvania Avenue
Washington, D.C. 20500

Dear Mr. President,

I remember it like it was yesterday, sir. Yes, the day we met will always shine bright in my mind, like a beacon as I sail through the stormy waters of my life. I remember the first words that I spoke to you, and I hope that you remember them, too. I was standing in formation, and I said, "Cheddar is better, sir!" (You had found out that I was from Wisconsin and asked me if Cheddar was better.) And then I half smiled at you, and you winked, and I knew that we'd made a connection, that you were someone who understood the real me.

I am sorry. I just want to say I'm sorry for how messy this letter is because I just now had to wipe some bird poop from it with a wet Kleenex, and as you can see it smeared a little when I wiped it. One second I was rehashing our "cheddar is better" moment, and the next second some bird poop dropped on this letter. I guess I shouldn't be so surprised, given that I'm having to write this letter to you from up here in the tree. All I can say is imagine what this letter would look like if I didn't have the wet Kleenex!

Anyway, there's not a single person in my family or at my Reserve Unit who doesn't know of our first meeting, and you can rest assured that I will pass our story on to little Jimmy, Jr., just as soon as he is old enough to understand the significance of it. But just in case First Lady Barbara Bush or your son George W., down in Texas—I saw the 60 Minutes special on you and your family ranch called Western Crusader—haven't yet heard the story of your friend Lance Corporal James Laverne of the United States Marine Corps Reserve, I've enclosed a copy of the picture that was taken of us (it's paper-clipped to the top left corner of this page). That's you wearing the gas mask. I'm not wearing mine because, as you know, the corpsman gave us experimental anti-biological-warfare pills every day so that we didn't have to wear gas masks. Boy, I took more pills over there than I've taken in my entire life. But don't get me wrong, those pills could have saved my life if Saddam actually had used biological warfare. If Saddam's biologically laced Devil Air had ever come and tried to crawl down our mouths and noses and into our lungs, the red pills would have been there to say, "Hey there, Saddam's biologically laced Devil Air, don't even think about it. There's no way you're getting into this American nose and mouth. Nuh-uh. Don't you know that America is the greatest country on earth? You might as well go back to where you came from and try to crawl inside the nose and mouth of the Devil himself, Saddam Hussein. Now scram, Devil Air."

Do you remember the other things you said to me over there in Saudi? Let me refresh your memory. First off, you arrived on one of those fiery days, so hot your brain could cook inside your helmet, like an egg, and some of us had just buried what was left of a couple of ragtag Iraqi border soldiers we'd killed with a mortar attack. What a mess we found when we arrived at that scene, sir! If only you could have seen it. When we jumped down from the Hummer to inspect the damage, it looked like one of those N.E.A. modern-art projects from New York that you see on the news—just a black hole in the ground filled up with charred wood and smoking body parts and blood and hair and sand, and I have to confess that the sight of it made me consider what a long and strange journey life really is.

Anyway, that afternoon I was just hanging around on my rack, writing Mrs. Laverne and little Jimmy, Jr., a letter, telling them about the mortar attack, when some Marine suddenly ducked his head in my hooch and shouted, "The President's here! The President's here! Come on, crazies, the President's here! Fall out in formation, Devil Dogs! Double time! Double time!" I could not believe my ears. I had dreamed of meeting you for so long, sir. I flew out of my hooch with my gear flapping around me and fell into formation so fast it was like my feet had grown wings. I was the first Marine there, that's how fast. And then, in a heartbeat, the rest of my platoon fell into place, and we all stood proudly as your chopper came down, kicking up all that sand and wind so that we had to squint and cough and spit and, eventually, turn our heads. Do you remember how, the first time your chopper tried to land, it came down right on top of our formation, sir? And how we had to scatter at the last second, so that we must have looked like one of those herds of zebras you see on the Discovery Channel, running away from the lion?

Then you hopped off the chopper, and Captain Griffies saluted, and the two of you went into his tent. Now, I don't know what you and Captain Griffies talked about, but it must have been top security because you were in that tent for close to two hours, and of course we all stayed standing at attention, and I think I can speak for all of us, sir, when I say that I had never been more proud to stand at attention, knowing that the President of the United States was hashing out high-priority war strategies not thirty yards away. And when you came out, well, what can I say, that's when you demonstrated your unbelievable leadership skills. You could easily have hopped back on your chopper and sailed away and nobody would have thought anything of it, but that's not what a brilliant leader does, is it, sir? No, sir. I'll tell you what, sir, Sun Tzu could learn a thing or two from you! Because, instead of sailing away, you made your way through the ranks, boosting morale, stopping at each Marine to talk to him, and, boy, did I start to get nervous when you got close to me. My heart was beating so fast! And suddenly there you were, President George Bush, standing right in front of me, Lance Corporal Laverne. In case you were wondering, sir, yes, your voice did sound a little fuzzy, but that's because you had your mask on the whole time. I mean everybody sounds fuzzy when they have a mask on. But not everybody sounds like Darth Vader. No. And that's what you sounded like: Darth Vader with a drawl, only in a cool way.

Anyway, I was standing at attention and you came over and said that thing about Cheddar. Then you said, "Relax, son," and you asked me if I knew why I was over here, and I said, yes, sir, I sure as heck did! I said, "We are over here to defend the citizens of the United States of America." And you said I was damn right, and then you leaned over and whispered, "You know what I want you to do, Marine? I want you to go into Kuwait and kick Saddam's butt!" I said, "Yes, sir!" I said it so loud that you jumped back for a second, and your two bodyguards rushed in and stuck their pistols to the back of my head, but, sir, I only said it so loud so that everyone else would know I had just confirmed an order given directly to me by the President of the United States. Maybe I was being a little too proud in front of the other Marines, but we had just made that special connection, and, besides, guess what? Well, you already know what. We went into Kuwait and kicked some major towelhead ass!

I know you're probably busy right now ruling over the Free World, sir, but I just want to give you a few details of that glorious day when we liberated Kuwait—how we rolled out like the cavalry, barreling at top speed through desert lanes that had been swept clear of mines and onto the Main Supply Route for the final approach. Overhead, the Apaches and Cobras were firing missiles at any Iraqi foot soldier or tank or vehicle that made the grave mistake of crossing our path, and there I was, Lance Corporal Laverne, sitting in the high seat of our Hummer, bouncing around as we sailed over the dunes. We were all wearing our War Grimace, with our weapons ready, because who knew what lay ahead, and, off in the distance, we could see the first oil wells burst into billows of fire and black smoke. I felt for a moment as if this were truly World War III, or, more precisely, Hell, and here we were, endowed by God Almighty—Manifest Destiny come back to the Holy Land to cast out the Prince of Darkness himself.

As we approached Kuwait, we kept getting spot radio reports about a firefight at the airport, and my squad was dispatched to provide support. In our three Hummers, we smashed through the wire fence that surrounded the airport and stormed down the runway, and that's when we heard another report, this one about a sniper on the roof of the airport, so Private Breeks and I dumped our Hummer and sprinted through the chaos and into the main building. The door to the roof was locked, so I C-4'ed it open, but what we saw when we stepped through the smoke onto the roof took us by surprise, sir. Breeks said, "That's no sniper. That poor thing's going to get hurt." And he was right, because all there was on the gravel roof was a dog, a beagle, with a stick in its mouth. Then just as Breeks darted over to the dog, I remembered those stories about the Vietcong kids who ran up to G.I.s with lit sticks of dynamite in their butts, and I shouted, "Breeks! No! No, Breeks!" But Breeks scooped up the beagle and turned to me with a grin on his face, and I saw that the stick in the beagle's mouth was just a stick, and I breathed a sigh of relief. And that's when we heard a clatter, and a grenade bounced across the roof and came to rest against Breeks's boot. Breeks, still grinning, dropped the dog and was blown straight up into the air. You have to understand that this all happened really fast, sir. In a couple of seconds, really. Breeks's body twisted in what looked to be a perfect triple gainer, ripped in half at the waist, and landed in pieces on the gravel roof. Private Breeks had been torn in two like a movie ticket.

Well, I charged over to the far corner of the roof, where the grenade had come from, and there was this Iraqi soldier crouched behind a plaid suitcase, with half of his bushy-haired head peeking over the top of it. I whipped out my Beretta and shouted, "Hold it right there!" and that's when I thought I heard Breeks calling out for help: "I'm broken, Laverne! Oh, Christ, I'm broken, Laverne!" The Iraqi soldier was suddenly up and inching sideways along the edge of the roof with his hands over his head, and I could feel the situation starting to get away from me. I shouted over my shoulder, "Breeks? Breeks? Is that you?" But when I glanced back I saw that what I'd thought was Breeks was just the stupid dog, barking its head off, "Ruff! Ruff!" and then the Iraqi bolted and dived through the door. Sir, I didn't know what to do. I felt dizzy, and my mind went numb. For a long moment, my head seemed to be shot through with a hot white light, and then, as if my body were acting without me, I lunged at the dog, snatched it up by its hind leg, and bashed its head against the ground. I did this over and over and over and over. Then I unsheathed my K-bar and went to work.

A few minutes later, someone came up behind me and said, "What the hell is that, Marine?" I could tell by the voice that it was Sergeant Muller. So I spun around with what was left of the dog in my hands, and gasped, "I just killed this enemy here, Sarge!" Muller looked around for a second, and then he said, "No, not that, Laverne, you idiot, I'm talking about that," and he pointed at my stomach. I looked down and said, "I don't know what you're talking about, Sarge." Then Sergeant Muller said, "There, Marine. Right there. Lift your shirt right now, Marine. Laverne, if you don't lift your shirt, I'm going to kick your ass right here in the middle of this war! Is that what you want? Do you want me to kick your ass right here in the middle of this war?" So I lifted my shirt, because it was common knowledge in my unit that Muller was crazy and that people who got on Muller's bad side had a nasty habit of ending up in the hospital for weird stuff, like pulling the pin on a grenade and then falling on it or waking up in the middle of the night choking on an M.R.E. that they didn't remember opening.

The other guys from 1st Platoon had arrived now, and the instant I lifted my shirt I heard someone say, "Holy shit!" Then someone else said, "Goddamn, what the hell is that?" And they all just started laughing. This was some really deep belly laughing. I mean I have never heard people laugh as hard as those guys were laughing. They were laughing so hard that I forgot all about Breeks and the enemy I'd just killed and the firefight that was still going on down on the runway, and I couldn't help smiling a little, because this was the kind of laughter that makes you want to join in. Then we were all laughing together. I was laughing so hard I felt dizzy again, as if all the air in my head were lifting my body up off the ground like a balloon.

But when I glanced down I immediately stopped laughing. Because there, on my second rib up on my left side, was a perfectly shaped human ear. And suddenly I couldn't hear anything, not the deep belly laughing or the rounds going off. Not even my own breathing. All of Kuwait had gone silent. Whole years seemed to pass as I stared at the ear on my second rib up on my left side, growing right out of my skin. It was technically my ear, I guess. My third ear. Looking down at that ear, I felt a wave of nausea wash over me. And that's when Sergeant Muller said, "Jesus, you've got problems, Laverne. I'll tell you what. You stay the fuck away from me, Laverne. I swear to God, Laverne, you come near me, and it will be the last fucking thing you ever do. You hear me?" And then he turned to his guys and said, "Let's get the hell out of here."

Well, sir, I stayed up on the roof for the next two hours, as the sky slowly turned black with the smoke from the burning wells. But by then I wasn't paying attention anymore, because for all that time I never once took my eyes off that ear. I studied the ear. I touched the ear. I even tried to lick the ear. And then, when I finally heard the city-wide Chemical Alert go off, I shook my head, dropped my shirt, yanked my MOPP Level 4 gear out of my ruck, and scrambled into it. (In case you don't know, sir, MOPP 4 gear consists of a heavy coat and pants, rubber gloves, rubber boots, and gas mask—thus the nickname "body condom.") And as I hightailed it off the roof and caught up with the Marines from my squad, with whom I would go on to kill four more Iraqi soldiers, the only thing I knew for sure, right there in the middle of that war, was that the difference between this new third ear of mine and the two ears on my head was that this one didn't have a hole in it. Yes, sir, this third ear of mine was deaf.

I was over in Saudi for another seven months after the cease-fire, pulling different duties, running a checkpoint on a highway between Baghdad and Basra, patrolling the DMZ near Umm Qasr, breaking down tent cities in places whose names I can't remember, and for those seven months I tried not to think about the ear. I forced myself to forget about it. Which was easy, because I just didn't look at it again. Out of sight, out of mind, is what I was thinking. And I'll tell you what, sir, it worked. I mean, how many times do you need to look at your second rib up on your left side anyway? After a while, I just forgot about that ear. And if by some strange chance I happened to touch it with the inside of my left arm while I was toting my M-16, or if I snagged a sheet on it while I was tossing and turning in the rack, or if I accidentally ran my hand over it when I was soaping up in the shower, well, I would tell myself that it was a dream. I'd say, "Lance Corporal Laverne, you are dreaming. You think you just touched an ear growing on your second rib up on your left side, but you did not, because you are dreaming. Dreams are stupid, and they don't mean a thing." Then I would pretend to wake up. No matter where I was, I would stretch and yawn and scratch my head. And, in this way, the ear ceased to exist, sir.

The ear certainly didn't exist when I arrived back in Madison, on that first day, when my unit was ushered straight to the WE'RE-GLAD-YOU'RE-HOME-NOW-FIND-YOUR-WOMAN (AND-IF-YOU'RE-GAY-WE-DON'T-WANT-TO-KNOW-ABOUT-IT) ticker-tape parade that was being thrown downtown. And, as I stood at the center of the Got Oil? float in my dress blues surrounded by strippers with red, white, and blue streamers hanging from their nipples, I didn't once think about the ear. As the sounds of the marching band and my fellow Americans' cheers filled my head, all I could think about was how happy I was to be home. I was grateful to be able to buy a Snickers bar, to be able to do the little things that are my God-given right as an American to do. I waved like crazy when I saw Mrs. Laverne in her red dress. She had Jimmy, Jr., on her shoulders, and he was waving a tiny American flag and clutching a red balloon. It was one of those sunny, cool Madison days, so beautiful that you feel blessed, and this was one of the greatest moments of my adult life—out among the people of my hometown, feeling all that love. Because when it's all said and done, what it boils down to, sir, is love. Isn't that right?

But after I got home from the parade that night, and kissed little Jimmy, Jr., on the head as he was sleeping, and went into the bedroom, Mrs. Laverne took my shirt off and saw the ear and threw up and fainted. And that's when I thought about the ear again, sir, and I knew I wasn't dreaming anymore. The ear was real. Yes, sir, as Mrs. Laverne lay there twitching in her own vomit, I looked straight at my second rib up on my left side in the full-length mirror and saw that that ear had now officially made its way into reality.

We went to the V.A. hospital a couple of days later, and Dr. Dunard told me what I had suspected all along: there was nothing wrong with me. He said that the ear was benign, and that there was no connection between it and my service over in Saudi Arabia. He also said that I was probably suffering from post-traumatic stress syndrome and that he wanted to put me on Prozac. When Mrs. Laverne heard this she got very excited, as women sometimes do, and she started throwing chairs and files around Dr. Dunard's office, screaming, "If there's nothing wrong with him, then what the hell is that? What the hell is that thing? Are you telling me that my husband is a freak? My husband went to war in the Persian Gulf and he didn't have this ear on his stomach, and now he's back from the war and he has this ear on his stomach, and you're telling me there's nothing wrong with him?" As I said, sir, she was pretty excited. And I started getting excited, too, what with everything she was saying, and I didn't know what to do with this excitement, sir. I was getting all hopped up and jittery. But eventually Dr. Dunard gave her a shot of something and got her calmed down, and we drove home in silence.

That night, the house was very quiet, except when I heard Mrs. Laverne sobbing in the bathroom and later when I woke up in the middle of the night and Mrs. Laverne was screaming at me. She was saying, "Saddam used biological warfare, that's why you got that third ear. I saw it on CNN! You stupid jarhead freak! The government doesn't give a damn about you. Your so-called good friend George Bush doesn't give a damn about you. You're nothing but a jarhead to him! I want you to call a lawyer first thing tomorrow, and we're going to take this to the Supreme Court!" Well, sir, I knew that she was in a state, what with all the excitement of my coming back home. That can be hard on the wives of soldiers, and I didn't want to rile her up any more than she already was, so I said, "Sure, hon, I promise I'll get on the horn just as soon as I finish building that tree house for Jimmy, Jr." But, of course, I never did make the call.

Instead, I built Jimmy the best damn tree house you can imagine. I installed a rope ladder that he could raise up and drop down. I built a little deck with a telescope on it and painted it with Thompson's WaterSeal. I built a kitchenette with a sink and a microwave oven. I put in a makeshift toilet, and I hooked up a power generator so there was electricity. And I put a TV and a shortwave radio up there. I wanted nothing but the best for Jimmy, Jr., plus the work kept my mind off things.

The truth is, I didn't really care about the ear, and I was sad that Mrs. Laverne couldn't love me for who I was. Besides, I was starting to get highly pissed at her for all the trouble she was causing. What's one ear more or less, anyway, sir? It's not like it was causing me any pain. I mean, sure, if I accidentally touched it, grazed it or whatever, it felt like a burning-hot coal was searing through my skin until I put an ice cube on it, but other than that it was fine. Don't get me wrong. If I had my choice, I would rather the ear weren't there, but it wasn't a big deal. What I like to do is think of the ear as a flower. A sunflower that has bloomed on my body and is growing. People come home from war a lot worse off than I did—missing arms and legs and teeth and eyes. People come home dead. In fact, if you think about it, I gained something, as opposed to losing something. That makes me a winner is what I kept trying to tell Mrs. Laverne.

Then about a week ago, for no reason that I could tell, I woke up in the middle of the night. And I happened to glance over at Mrs. Laverne lying there asleep with her head buried in the pillow, and I saw a tiny shining thing buried in the thick black hair on the back of her head. A glint of something, caught in the moonlight. I was half asleep, and in a distant part of my mind I was thinking, What the heck is that? But I was drowsy, and before I knew it I'd closed my eyes and drifted back off into never-never land. The next night the same thing happened. I woke up, and, for no reason at all, I rolled over, and there was this shiny thing on Mrs. Laverne's head. I sure wish I had gone back to sleep again, which is what I should have done, because of how completely exhausted I was. But, instead, I reached over and parted Mrs. Laverne's hair to get a better look.

It took me a second to realize what the shiny thing was. It was a tooth. A perfect shiny white tooth. One of many teeth, two rows of teeth, to be exact, set inside an honest-to-God mouth, with lips and everything else that comes with a mouth. I reached out and touched its upper lip. It was soft, sir, really soft. This was a real mouth, on the back of Mrs. Laverne's head. A tongue darted out and licked the spot on the lip I had just touched. Then the mouth said, "Hi, Laverne." I froze. The mouth said, "Hey, buddy. What's happening? What do you think? Not too shabby, huh?" The mouth had a high-pitched squeaky man's voice, and I certainly didn't like the tone it was taking with me. So I asked it what the hell it was doing on the back of my wife's head, and who the hell did it think it was talking to. And the mouth said, "I am talking to you, Laverne. What—are you kidding me? Come on. You're a real class act, Laverne. Like you don't know who you are, huh? Hi, my name's Laverne, and I don't know who I am! Hey, Laverne, what do you think Mrs. Laverne is going to do when she finds me on the back of her head, huh? Do you think she's going to brush these teeth of mine, Laverne? Because I'll tell you what, Laverne, I am definitely into oral hygiene. When you've got a set of pearlies as beautiful as mine, you want to do everything you can to keep them up." Then the mouth curled its lips back and bared what I have to admit was a beautiful set of teeth. "Not too shabby, huh?"

I was starting to get pissed, and I told the mouth so, and I said that it would be in its best interest to answer my first question in regards to what the hell did it think it was doing on the back of my wife's head. And the mouth said, "Hey, cool your jets, Laverne. Calm down. I'm here because of you. I'm here because you went over to Saudi and fought in the war, Laverne. What am I missing here? Come on. How could you not know this? You'd better wake up, Laverne. Get a grip." And that's when I knew that this new mouth on the back of Mrs. Laverne's head was a goddamn big-time liar, and I told him as much. Then the mouth said, "Laveeeeerne. Now, it doesn't look like my pants are on fire, does it, Laverne? No, I don't think my pants are on fire. I am not lying, old friend." Well, what could I do, sir? I mean, what would you have done if you woke up in the middle of the night and First Lady Barbara Bush had a mouth on the back of her head? One thing was for sure: I couldn't do what I wanted to do, which was punch that mouth in the mouth, because that would almost be like punching Mrs. Laverne. Instead, I put a big strip of duct tape over the mouth, and went back to sleep.

The next morning, everything went haywire. I woke up and saw Mrs. Laverne standing in front of the full-length mirror, trying to pull something off her face with her hands. She was jerking this way and that, and for a second it seemed like she was a mime giving a performance that involved trying to pull her face off her head. Then my vision came into better focus and I understood: in my drowsy state the night before, I must have accidentally taped her normal mouth shut.

Mrs. Laverne whirled and faced me, and when I saw the look in her eyes, for a split second, I thought just maybe it was a good thing that her mouth was taped shut, given the things she would likely have said to me at that moment. I didn't have long to consider this though, because then she hurled a bar of Dove and tagged me square in the head, knocking me back on the bed. I was seeing blue stars. And, through the blue stars, I saw Mrs. Laverne rapidly advancing with a curling iron raised over her head. And I was thinking that this was definitely not the way I wanted to die, when little Jimmy, Jr., came walking into the room, rubbing his eyes, with his blanket draped around him, and said, "Daddy? Daddy? What's going on?" And we, Mrs. Laverne and I, both stopped and turned to look at our little boy, and I said, "Oh, my God!" Because there, in plain sight, was little Jimmy, Jr., with what was clearly his normal face except for one thing: his nose was gone. His face was flat as a pancake. And there were no little nostril holes. My little Jimmy, Jr., didn't have a nose. Please, sir, whatever you do, don't take this the wrong way. Even as I watched Mrs. Laverne carry her suitcase and Jimmy, Jr., out the door I maintained my position, which, of course, is your position: Saddam Hussein did not use biological warfare in Saudi Arabia. If there's one thing I hate, it's a whiner. I hate all these so-called Desert Storm veterans with headaches and hair falling out who go around saying that they have something called Gulf War Syndrome. Like Corporal Hale, who lives down the street. He can't walk. He has to sit on a skateboard when he wants to go somewhere, and he comes over to my house with pus spots on his face and wants to blame the United States government. The other day he tried to get me to sign a petition, because a couple of weeks ago I made the mistake of getting drunk with him and showing him the ear. Hale looked up at me and said, "Come on, Laverne. Don't be so gung-ho. We're all in this together. You deserve better than this. Think of little Jimmy, Jr." At the time, I was up here in Jimmy, Jr.'s tree house (where I have temporarily taken up residence), and Hale was down in my backyard. He was waving a piece of paper over his head, and I could make out the words YOU WANTED OIL AND WE GOT IT FOR YOU, NOW HELP US! typed at the top of it. So I calmly pointed my Beretta down at him and said, "You would do well not to mention my son's name again, Hale. In fact, you would do well not ever to think about my son again, Hale."

And that's when the idea about flying kicked in. As Hale wheeled himself out of the backyard and down the driveway, I leaned out to watch, lost my balance, and fell to the ground. I landed on my back. For several minutes, I thought I was paralyzed, because I couldn't move my limbs. Then I must have blacked out. When I woke up, the stars were strewn across the night sky, and a copy of Hale's petition was taped to my chest. That was four days ago. Eventually, I got back up here, and I haven't been back down since. My back is killing me, but it hurts less when I stay hunched over. That's how I'm sitting now, hunched over. And, with all these birds around, a thought occurred to me: Maybe the pain in my back wasn't from the fall but was some sort of growing pains for wings that were about to sprout on my back. Like when a tooth hurts before it comes in. I figure that's not too much to ask for. I figure if you can get an ear or a mouth, then it's possible to get a set of wings. And, of course, if I had wings I could fly out to my mother-in-law's house in Seattle, and I know that if Mrs. Laverne looked up in the sky and saw me flying with my new wings, she would get over the ear and mouth and nose thing. Who could turn down a man with wings? So I've been checking for them every morning, but they haven't come in yet, and I feel like I'm running out of time. That's why I was wondering if you could do an old friend a favor and write Mrs. Laverne a short note to tell her that she should come home with Jimmy, Jr., so that we can be a family again. I know we have some problems, but they're nothing that our love can't overcome. Could you tell her that you are proud of me and that I served my country honorably? Could you tell her that I said she should come back so we can start the healing? I'm afraid she just won't listen to me anymore, sir. She won't even talk to me. The last time I called over there, she put the mouth on the phone and the mouth said, "Jesus, don't you ever give up, Laverne? Don't you think we know it's you that keeps calling in the middle of the night? Can't you take a hint, Laverne?" and that's when I hung up. Because I definitely wasn't going to sit there and take that from that lying son of a bitch.

I sure would appreciate you writing that letter, sir. Please send it to 381 Bengal Street, Seattle, WA 98122, which is my mother-in-law's address. Then maybe I could start to get my life back. I mean if a man doesn't have his family, what does he have? I miss carrying Jimmy, Jr., around on my shoulders and playing Dinosaur, and the only company I have is the birds up here in the tree. Winter is coming on, and the leaves are falling off. Soon, even the birds will be gone. I know you'll understand, sir. And I know Mrs. Laverne will listen to you. Please give my best to First Lady Barbara Bush, George W., and Jeb. Yes, sir. Tell them I said hi and that I think of them often. And, as always, it is an extreme honor to serve under you, sir.

Lance Corporal James Laverne

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