Still Counting

Minneapolis based writer Tami Mohamed Brown provides personal reflections prompted by the 10 year anniversary of our nation at war in this story for the Minnesota Women’s Press:

Sept. 11, 2011-Oct. 7, 2011 marks the 10-year anniversary of our nation continuously at war. This hadn’t even occurred to me until a friend sent me an emailed call to action for artists at: www.10yearsandcounting.com.

10 Years + Counting invites artists and others to take this time as inspiration to use the power of creativity, to use the weeks of this anniversary of devastation to advocate against war and for peace via the arts and community engagement, a commitment to expose the true costs of war and work towards peace.

I’ve taken this charge seriously, thinking beyond my everyday routine and my own comfortable life. As a writer, I’ve been considering the costs of war and realizing just how removed I’ve been-how removed many of us, perhaps, have been lucky enough to be.

And I’ve been considering war over not just the last 10 years, but over the course of my own life, how it’s shaped my own thoughts and attitudes and actions.

I was friends with a boy in high school. One warm, May evening before graduation, he told me he had enlisted in the military-signed on to see the world. I was disappointed; he was so smart, so talented, I expected that he would go on to college. I never really comprehended that financially he had no opportunity to do so. He left in June and wrote me letters later that year from a base in California, and then, later yet, from the Persian Gulf and the heart of Operation Desert Storm.

He wrote to other former classmates, too, I recall, each of our young selves already having gone our own respective and separate ways.

One friend was incensed by his letters and involvement in the military. She sounded self-righteous, amazed that he would even keep writing.

Another friend simply never acknowledged the war, but answered the letters with jokes, a much more appropriate response, but I believe probably still lacking in what he was looking for-a connection with his life back home.

I myself am ashamed to say I did not answer his letters.

And when that boy came back from Iraq and sought me out, I couldn’t help but notice that he spoke differently, he moved differently. “The things I seen,” he drawled to me in his new voice, which sounded much more Mississippi than Minnesota. “I tell ya, the things I seen …”

He started to tell me of the ringing in his ears that never went away and the fact that he couldn’t get a good night’s sleep to save his life. I am even more ashamed to say that I stopped listening, that I found him as annoying as the lazy, late-autumn mosquitoes that buzzed around us. Instead, I made a lame excuse to get home, away from him and his rambling. I climbed into my car and promptly drove into a telephone pole, which led me to cry inconsolably for hours, although neither the vehicle nor I were physically damaged.

I thought I’d seen enough on TV that year to understand war, watching it, across time zones, live, like some crazy video game and never fully realizing that so many people-that whole nations-were aching.

It’s far more than 10 years later and I’m still counting. I’m still ashamed that I never asked him about the things he’d seen.

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