Difficult Choices (Short Story for Critique)

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  • #346787


    This Must Write Thursday article was delayed a day due to family obligations around the holiday season. Plus this one took some time to really think through because this one struck a few chords for me.

    She yelled down to her boys who were arguing over the one swing left in the tiny playground. This pitiful existence was not what she had in mind when she started her family, but this was all she could muster.

    Nobody cares if the slums have miniscule and under maintained playgrounds. Society disregards the poor like a cancer on their otherwise normal lives. Why care about those who won’t help themselves right? None of them cared how we got here, just that they did not want anything to do with those who are here. Us impoverished and pitiable fools without education enough to know better, nor the opportunities to propel us out.

    They might be embarrassed if they knew they grouped a veteran in this group. I served four years as a marine before getting pregnant. My husband had six years in when my first boy was born. Back then life was simple, easy even. I left the service to raise the boys and his pay rate would take care of us. We thought we had it all figured out.

    The IED that killed him and tore apart three other families happened while I was pregnant with his second boy, they never met. Worse, was that now we are a no income family with nothing to fall back on.

    The whole world said they would help us, but they always fell short of real help. The mortgage came due and there was noone to help keep us in our home. When the car loan came due and we were left wanting for the help we need. I sought gainful employment and there was none for a lowly veteran with two children to feed.

    They promised to help and left us to our own devices with only ourselves to move forward. My youngest never knowing a father, my oldest without memories of the most wonderful man I ever knew.

    Seven years have passed since we were forgotten. We make due with what we have but we have each other and that is a lot. I could change our lot in life and make life better for the three of us, but I would be sacrificing the only thing that we have always had.

    I watch them share the swing and play like the beautiful children they are. I wish for so much better for them but I cannot bring myself to sacrifice the one thing it would take to save us from our station.

    I take a walk through the house and carefully avoid stepping on the few toys the boys have strewn about the apartment. I struggle to ignore the arguing neighbors screaming at each other and restrain the urge to scream at them to be quiet. Is this the kind of place a child belongs?

    I take a look into their room they share and stare at the blank walls and simple beds of the tiny room. No posters of heroes, no artwork expressing their view of the world. They have no outlet for them to express themselves and it was all because I failed to be the kind of mother they deserve.

    I want to do the right thing and give them the opportunities they deserve. Would they understand the time away to give them the simple things that they lack here? Can anyone be happy here? What on earth is the right thing to do? In my heart I know that the only thing that matters is caring for these to boys. Am I doing them harm by staying here when they could be better off?

    They don’t know there is a better life out there, that life could be better. God bless their innocence. Someday, somehow, they may come to blame me for not providing for them like a mother should. Maybe I should be a better example?

    I have only one choice in the end. I may not like the option, but if I am ever to do better for my kids then there is only one call to make.

    I know the number by heart at this point. I have dialed it every day for years. Just dial the numbers and stare at the phone like a snake in my hands. If I send the call the snake may bite, but if I don’t it will always hold power over me.

    Bite or no bite it was time for a change. I press the button and let it ring, a single tear flows down my cheek. “Recruiting, how may I direct your call?

  • #655516


    In the Marine Corps, at least in my time, a differentiation was made between stories told by military members and those told by civilians. It went something like this: What’s the difference between a sea story and a fairy tale? A sea story begins with, “This is a no-sh*tt*r… “, and a fairy tale begins with, “Once upon a time… “ and neither one is based on fact. Best bet is to begin this one with “Once upon a time… “

    Shifting from third to first person POV is a bit disconcerting. Consider keeping one or the other throughout?

    Paragraph 4: Who never met – her husband and the IED? Might help to clear up any possible confusion.

    Paragraph 5: “noone” should probably be “no one”?

    Rather than pick apart, paragraph by paragraph, each inaccuracy in the portrayal of USMC Killed in Action (KIA) Marine’s widow, I’ll try to make factual statements without (too much) editorializing.

    Up until recently, female Marines were not permitted to serve in direct combat specialties – rifleman, machine gunner, mortar team member, etc. but they all receive some sort of training in addition to recruit training (boot camp). But even those specialties teach salable skills. There is a plethora of specialties, and every Marine gets to train in one. If that Marine stays in the Corps for four years, he/she probably receives advanced training in that specialty. Point being, anyone who completes a full enlistment (minimum of two years) that person has learned salable skills, and in today’s society almost universally gets preferment for employment. The former Marine described should have no trouble finding meaningful and decent paying employment.

    A widow of a KIA is the recipient of a rather impressive gratuity ($100,000) and life insurance policy lump sum payment (up to $400,000), is eligible for employment as well as educational, and other assistance. They are often eligible for low interest loans or outright grants for things as mundane as daily living expenses, or as complex as student or even legal aid. There are numerous veterans’ groups ready and eager to help widows of veterans, especially those KIA. The Navy Marine Corps Relief Society stands ready to help at any time and anywhere. Those widows and widowers are not forgotten, and no one reneged on any promises made.

    It’s true, many young widows who married their Marine the day after he/she graduated boot camp and were widows a year later, divorced themselves from the military, but if they need help, help is available and not difficult to attain.

    In fact, support for those women – and men – is stronger today than it was “in my day”, and that’s saying a lot. These days many communities staff veteran assistance offices or provide office space for veterans’ affairs ombudsman. “Veterans” includes family members and surviving family members.

    Military recruiters are the cream of the crop, are proud of their branch, are some of the most motivated young men and women in the Services, and would answer a phone following required protocol, which is nowhere in the ball park with what is portrayed in the last paragraph. Call the nearest recruiting station to hear how it’s done.

    So, the critique includes pointing out some writerly mistakes and correction of what can easily be seen as truths by anyone unfamiliar with the issue.

    How writers write about veterans is an issue close to my heart. Next year will mark the 50th anniversary of my first enlistment, so I am part of the generation of veterans that writers wrote lies about, without consequences, to sell books or magazines or newspapers. Or to push political agendas. We weren’t all drafted, drug addicts, baby killers, or ear collectors. We didn’t all come home to become alcoholics and kill our coworkers 5, 10, 20 years down the line in a PTSD induced rage or end up in a homeless shelter. Same is true for today’s veterans and their dependents and/or surviving family members.

    Writers have a responsibility to write the truth, especially when writing fiction – readers trust writers to be honest the way they used to trust journalists. “Poetic license” is no excuse for slander.

    Amazing, isn’t it, how a piece of flash fiction can instigate such strong feelings in a reader? Good research practices, including verification, can make a piece of fiction tug the heartstrings of readers, but lack of such practices often raises the ire of readers who resent the inaccuracies.

    I apologize to anyone who feels I’ve been overly harsh.

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