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Army Barbie: Chapter 2

Written by Heather Penn

The next morning, I feel like I haven’t slept. I check my watch and see that it’s an hour before wake up. I lie awake looking up through my mosquito net at the ceiling and think about home and who I used to be. My name is Tally Irene Murphy, I am 18 years old, from a small suburb in Massachusetts called North Andover.  Massachusetts seems like a different world, one I am no longer a part of.  Gone are the days of hanging out with my best friends Krysta, Neva and Cheese in Harvard Square or taking the “T” to Faneuil Hall.  How I took all that for granted. It seems strange that life is continuing as if I didn’t exist.  Not that I thought it would stop but maybe I just thought my absence would have a more profound effect, though to what effect I cannot name.  Everyone is moving on with boyfriends, college and well, life.  My mom just sent me a care package with letters from my brother, sister and friends.  I realize how much I miss my old life.  I would give anything to spend one more day with nothing to worry about but my mom yelling at me.  I couldn’t believe I even missed her yelling.  Before I joined the military, I lived with my mom and sister in a suburb of Boston.  My older brother Ian had moved out the previous year after he graduated high school.  Once he left, my mom and I argued all the time.  We fought about school, my boyfriends, the future, college, my brother, sister, pretty much everything.  My mother, the fighting, it was exhausting.  I was pretty sure she was too clueless to understand anything I was thinking.  My mom was always talking about how she was such a popular girl. How guys loved her and she could have any man she wanted.  It was boring listening to her talk about herself and constantly complain about me and my choices.  For the most part I didn’t get into trouble.  I smoked cigarettes occasionally, had tried pot twice and hardly drank.  I was pretty inexperienced with most things outside my comfort zone. My mom is the total opposite of me.  She is outgoing and everyone who meets her likes her.  She is 44 and in good shape.  She is very pretty which she claims is her ticket to success.  She always has guys coming around and the phone is almost always for her.  She isn’t easy or anything she just knows men and men all want to know my mom.  My dad and mom divorced when I was six for reasons I never really understood.  If I ask my mom about the circumstances, she would just get mad and say, “it was just better this way.”  After the divorce, we didn’t see much of my dad. One day he missed picking us up and when my mom called to see if he was coming his phone had been disconnected. I always thought, one day I’d look him up. Maybe we would be alike and he would get me.  I learned to keep that thought to myself after once revealing my wish to my mother and having her cry and bang her fists on the steering wheel so hard the car shifted into neutral.  I think I was about 8 when I said that.  I never stopped wondering where my dad was.  Last, I heard he was in Boston but that was years ago.  I used to wonder how he could live so close but not try and say hi.

I sometimes thought it would be better if he had died because then I could really miss him and let go of the anger I was holding.  My brother and I used to pretend he was coming to pick us up on Sundays, for our allotted dad time like so many other kids on the block.  We would make up stories about what we had done that day with him and how awesome he was.  We had him at least 7 feet tall with muscles so big he could carry Ian and me anywhere, for any length of time when we got tired.  Then we would go home and get our mom and sister and do all the fun stuff we would do before he left, like eat ice cream right before dinner or go on bike rides.  I can’t even remember what he looks like.  I could walk right by him and not even know who he was.  Right after the divorce my mom would cry all the time and it would make me so mad because I thought they divorced because she was always crying.  I used to have this idea that one day my dad would just show up at the door and say come on Tally and Ian, let’s go.  The best part was we would leave my sister behind because she was just like mom, a crybaby. I don’t know why I was so mad at my mom after he left.  I know now it wasn’t her fault.  After all she was the one stuck with the three of us to raise alone.  Luckily my mom is smart, I mean really smart.  She owns her own flower shop and it does quite well and has won awards for her floral designs and ideas.  Though we aren’t rich my mom’s savviness and frugality affords us a nice house and a yearly trip to Lake Winnipesaukee in NH and ski trips in the winter to Sunday River in Maine.  I always told my mom she has the Midas touch as everything she touches turns to gold. I think of her now and all I can see is the sadness I left her with the day I shipped off to basic training. I had blindsided her with my recruitment and subsequent three-year commitment. I was mad and I had wanted to make her mad but when I told her what I had done all I did was break her heart.

My brother Ian is my closest confidant other than my best friend Neva. I miss him the most.  Sometimes I don’t think about him because it makes me so sad. I can’t afford to be sad here. Tentatively I thought of Ian now as I lay in bed. I thought of last night with the tank and the firefight. It was Ian I had wanted to talk to when fear, like the sand berms, threatened to swallow me, pulling me down like quicksand, sucking the breath from my lungs, leaving me gasping for air but left with nothing but sand. The last time I had spoken with him was on his birthday a week after we arrived in Kuwait. A mission had come in to head down to Camp Doha near Kuwait City. Being Ian’s birthday I vied hard to go for I knew Doha had phones. He had answered on the first ring and spent the next 5 minutes asking me if I was okay and was I in danger.  Ian graduated a year ahead of me and lives in Boston.  He does night classes at Boston College because he works as a mechanic during the day.  He wants to open his own auto body shop someday so he is working on a business degree.  Mostly he smokes pot.  He says he can’t smoke with me until I am eighteen but had no problems with me being in the room when he and his buddies did it.  Unfortunately, the day I turned 18 I was already on my way to basic training at Fort Leonard Wood Missouri.  My brother is awesome and life was so much easier when he was home.  He was always a good buffer between mom and me and he could always make her laugh for no reason.  I love when my mom laughs.  Ian came home every weekend to do his laundry and have dinner with us.  Sometimes I think that was the only thing I looked forward to each week.  Ian was always saying you let mom get to you, just say yeah ok mom and do what you want anyway, it’s not like she checks.  I knew he was right and maybe I did pick fights with my mom sometimes but sometimes it’s hard not to.  I think Ian and I are the closest because we think a lot alike.  When we were younger we had the exact same recurring dream about my father.  We were in a van with my mom and dad driving to the court house.  They pulled up to the curb and hopped out.  My dad told us not to touch anything they would be right back.  Of course, once they left we jumped up into the front seats, I in the passenger and Ian the driver.  Ian was playing with the pedals and shifter and the van shifted into gear.  He didn’t know how to stop so he just kept driving.  The van got farther and farther away from the court house.  At first, we were really scared but then it was kind of fun.  We decided to drive to Canobie Lake Park in New Hampshire.  That is where the dream ends.  When my brother gets stoned he likes to discuss the significance of this dream.  He feels that the dream signifies leaving behind something, innocence maybe, and Canobie Lake was the last place we went as a family.  The last place we were all together.

As a kid Ian used to get me to do the stupidest things.  One time he told me if I jumped off the garage with an umbrella I would fly.  Well, I flew alright, right into a concussion.  My mom was so pissed though I didn’t tell her Ian had told me to do it.  Another time, Ian was trying to siphon gas out of our lawn mower for his go-kart and he swallowed a bunch by accident.  He spent the next three days burping and farting noxious gases.  It was so bad my mother called the gas company because she thought we had a leak.  We didn’t tell her it was Ian.  I never liked to see my brother in trouble.  My loyalties have always been with him.  My sister never seemed to care one way or the other.  Even at a young age, truth was very important to her.  Ian and I would spend hours in the summer riding our bikes all over our town, stopping only to eat and pee whereas our sister preferred to play dolls with the neighbor.  When we were teenagers Ian and I went through a point where we disliked each other.  It started when he got his first girlfriend and went off to high school without me.  I guess I felt betrayed.  Not only could I not see him during the day but now he was hanging out with his girlfriend after school too.  I had my friends Neva and Krysta to hang out with, though I did still miss him.  When I am around my brother it feels like he is the only one who knows me.  I wish I could talk to him now.  Ian hadn’t been coming home as much because he was spending a lot of time with his girlfriend.  Her name is Annie and she is from South Boston.  Her family emigrated from Ireland when she was a kid so she has a bit of an Irish accent.  She is so cool. Everyone likes Annie, especially Ian.  I never really liked any of his old girlfriends, I guess mostly because I knew them all from living in the same town my whole life.  Annie once said, we could all go on a trip to Ireland and see where she is from.  I wanted to travel so badly.  I had a map on my wall with places I wanted to visit marked with gold star stickers.  Annie said it’s easy to travel just pick a place, get on a plane and go.  Ian and I were skeptical about that whole idea as no one from here just gets on a plane and flies anywhere.  Our idea of a vacation is Hampton Beach or going down to the Cape.  Annie says it is an American idea that Europe is some goose egg that only the really fortunate get to experience.  She is very smart and pretty and I guess that’s why I like her too.  She was the person I wanted to be.  Last time I spoke to Ian, he was contemplating asking Annie to marry him.  I wasn’t surprised though I acted it for him.  They had been going strong now for almost two years.  He said mom and Katie were all for it.  I was happy for Ian.  He was doing what I should have been, living.

I guess I have always kind of been the square peg in our house.  My sister Katie is little miss perfect.  Katie is two years younger than me.  She is junior class president and was sophomore and freshman class president too.  There were always pictures and posters of her lying around with her slogan or catch phrase there to annoy me.  Katie is an A student and would probably die if she ever got a B.  I love my sister but I definitely didn’t like sharing a school with her.  It was all so irritating.  When Katie was a sophomore she decided to take a vow of celibacy and not engage in sex until she is married.  She sat us all down one night when my brother Ian came over for dinner and told us her plan.  Ian immediately started laughing and my mom had him leave the room.  Since I wanted to hear what else Katie said I swallowed my laughter and put on my best concerned face.  My mom asked her what made her choose this.  Katie informed us that we were living in a putrid, cesspool of casual sex and non-committal.   This was not where her path would lead.  She would find herself first and not be saddled by another, to be controlled and manipulated from her calling.  When the time was right she would commit to a likeminded man and procreate.  Obviously, this was something Katie had been thinking about for a while.  My family was all too familiar with the idea of celibacy.  It is something my ultra-religious grandmother has talked about since we were young.  My grandmother is my mother’s mother.  She lives a few towns over in North Andover.  My mother and her talk very rarely.  She is mean and blames everything on my mother.  She would tell us, if only your mom hadn’t been whoring around your dad would still be here.  Woman are supposed to stay with their men through better or worse.   Growing up my granny would tell my mom she knew she was no good, pretty girls are always no good she would say.  If only my mom had turned to Jesus and let him guide her marriage, we would have had a chance.  Now, she believes we are like my mom, unguided with no direction, mislead, flailing, destined for a destitute life of noncommittal. My mom never speaks ill of her mother but I can tell it hurts her feelings that she thinks that way.  After the divorce, my granny felt we needed the lord so we wouldn’t grow up as non-Catholics and ignorant. My granny suggested she take her grandchildren to church and my mother was supportive.  I think my mom liked the idea of some peace when we were all at church.  Perhaps she thought one of us would soften the old coot up or maybe she was just glad to not be included. So, every Sunday for 4 years we were taken to church.   We would sit through the long mass, rising, kneeling and genuflecting as required but we never wanted to be there.  Ian and I would beg mom to not make us go, but she insisted.  I think eventually we wore her down and one Sunday when we commenced to begging she agreed we could stay home.  Whatever anger my granny had at my mother about not forcing us to become whole, was soon forgotten when it became just her and Katie.

Katie became Grannies muse and could do no wrong.  She once proclaimed that Katie was the daughter she always wanted.  She had said it right in front of my mother and all of us quickly looked to see my mother’s reaction.  My mother hadn’t looked up but her shoulders slumped ever so slightly at that revelation.  I opened my mouth to defend my mother but she was too quick and cut in asking me to take out the trash, giving me a knowing glance as I stomped out the door.  When Granny had left my sister went up to my mother and said, Gran didn’t mean that, you are a great daughter.  I loved my sister so much at that moment.  Needless to say, Ian and I were fine with the new agreement so we encouraged Katie more, afraid that if she lost interest we would be subjected to that institution again. Even mom was ok with it as I think it took some of the pressure off of her. When Granny would drop Katie off she was almost always in a good mood and would babble on happily about this or that from church.  You would think my mother would approve of Katie’s oh holier than now attitude but it is actually the only spot my mother and I agree on.  Katie is constantly telling mom to dress and act her age and if only she hadn’t been so quick to give her gift to daddy they might still be married.  My mom loves to come back with the line here of, “if only your daddy didn’t give his gift to everyone else,” perhaps things may have been different.  Of course, on cue, Katie rolls her eyes and says you’re all going to h-e-double hockey sticks before she storms back upstairs to her sanctuary of purity as she calls it. I didn’t really disagree with her choice, in fact I thought she was pretty brave making that statement to everyone. I just didn’t want her to know that I thought her choice wise in many ways. At that time I had only had sex with one person. His name was Rich and we had dated for two years of high school. He moved away our senior year and though we tried the long-distance thing, it eventually ended. We didn’t sleep together for the first few months but once we did it seemed that was all we did. Though I would never tell her so, Katie was right that sex did complicate things. Sex, in a nutshell is how I got to be in Iraq. Sex and desperation.

About the author

Heather Penn

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