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My Father was a Paratrooper in Vietnam

by Maria Masington

He trained at a base in God-knows-where, Texas
to parachute out of airplanes,
without landing on cactus,
or the pink stucco hospital, where I was born.
He rescued my teenage mother each evening.
Scared of the scorpions invading our house,
she covered them with shoes boxes
and waited for him to remove the problem.
He flexed his "Don't tread on me" tattoo
and told how he'd fought off a rattlesnake
with only a pen knife - the bravado of
a young man not old enough to buy beer.
He repeated the only rule in our odd world,
"Bite the bullet, all ways, and always."
No crying allowed, but we could throw
back our heads, and howl like the wolves.
When my husband insisted that I tell my parents,
the humiliation was almost unbearable. A hidden
weaknesses that needed to be confessed,
"I just need you to know, I'm sick."
When they reacted, it was almost physical,
obviously struggling for an appropriate response.
"You'll beat it kid" he said, as my mother whined,
'"Why did you wait so long to tell us?"
When we knew damn well, the real question was,
"Why did you have to tell us at all? "
True alpha females put the pack first,
and slink off into the woods, to die alone.
I have him drop me off outside the hospital,
because no parent should have to watch their child
go through this, and I know there isn't a shoe box
big enough to contain my disease
I feel the sting as the drip enters my vein.
The chemical serpent squeezes my chest -
but the old man can't fight this enemy.
It's my job to win this war, for us all.
I have been trained well, so I tell him I'm fine.
Driving home, he burrows into his olive Saab,
marking his territory with cigar smoke and talk radio,
protecting himself from my nausea and fear.
I bite the bullet, until my teeth crack.
I ignore the metallic taste in my mouth,
as I jump into the free fall of my private hell.
But tearless, Daddy, all ways, and always.

Maria Masington is a writer from Wilmington, Delaware. Her poetry has been published in The News Journal, The Red River Review, Damozel Literary Journal, Wanderings (co-editor), and by the University of Colorado's Laboratory for Atmospheric and Space Science. Her first short story "Impresario" is in Someone Wicked, by Smart Rhino Publications. Maria is a member of the Written Remains Writer's Guild, the Wright Touch critique group, and participated in the 2012 Cape Henlopen Poets and Writers Retreat. The first Tuesday of every month, you can find her at the Newark Arts Alliance, where she emcees their open mic night, for writers of all genres to share their work.