Warrior Spirits

A brother comes home from Iraq, and his sister mourns the unspeakable damage

| Utne Reader May / June 2007

Two days after he came home from a nine-month tour of duty in Iraq, my older brother showed me some pictures. 'I just bombed that building,' he said. In the photo, children in Fallujah are clustered beside their broken school.

During his first two weeks back, my brother, the demolitions expert, plied me with photos of the carnage and mayhem wreaked by his platoon. Fifteen memory cards worth of bizarre and disturbing photos -- half-naked soldiers dancing in the desert, a severed goat's head in a noose, Marines dressed in traditional women's clothing found following a house raid.

I wanted to hit him, banish him, to create a giant dent in his soul. But he wouldn't care, wouldn't budge. This is what the Marines have trained him to do -- warp, destroy, and believe it is for good.

My brother can be as sweet as sugarcane with a laugh that pours loudly into your ears. He has a clumsy way of showing affection, like when he comes home drunk and knocks on my window to tell how much he loves his little sister. He remembers my lopsided pigtails, my chicken pox, my first kiss, my love for manatees, and my favorite vegetarian food. We are scarcely two years apart, and our experiences are parallel and echo one another, even our experience of war.

We used to play war together. He would dress me as a soldier, paint my face in camouflage, and hunt me down before dinnertime. While we are both part Cherokee, our mother says our warrior spirits have gone in different directions. My brother first became my enemy, my pain, and my conflict when he enlisted in the military while he was struggling in high school.

When recruiters came to take him, I howled, groped, twisted, and shivered at the horrible separation from him. At a young age, long before I recognized politics, my spirit understood many things. I knew that if he joined the military, our kinship would be severed, and it has been. It saddens me when I am unable to hug him because he cannot tolerate affection. Our mother recalls that my brother could only be comforted by his GI Joe toys. Lying in the top bunk, while I slept on the bottom, he would watch a sky of little green men dangle from the ropes he tied to the ceiling.