American Tragedy Triptych – Jason Graff
September 1, 2023
I. A Walk with an Anxious Man
If I wanted to change who I was, I’d have to get better at lying to myself. I kept quiet and put on my most agreeable little smile because I understood this. Caroline wasn’t like anyone other people knew. My new friends were all conventional, trying to live up to other people’s ideas about the world.
We walked down to the shady part of the path lined by two clutches of elms. Their branches reached toward one another like fingers trying to lace together. Caroline’s hand was swinging by her side. I wanted to reach out and take it, so I let my hand swing back, hoping for a fortuitous accident.
I wondered if I was really attracted to her, or if I was just trying to push myself into something because we were so close and had always been friends. As we walked toward the bridge over the creek, I started to feel nervous and needed a smoke but Caroline and I’d made a pact to help each other quit. It was another in the countless number of ways we’d locked ourselves together without saying we wanted to be boyfriend and girlfriend.
It was a warm night that smelled of summer just waiting to fold the spring into its heat. A breeze whispering through the trees made me feel warm all over. I tried to stay calm by fixating on the one thing I found most stressful just as Dr. Panos had advised. I shivered and felt as though I was standing on the edge of a cliff.
Every molecule in my body must’ve relaxed at the same moment because that was when I, suddenly and without warning, came in my jeans. A total shock, even worse than most embarrassing, I looked down and saw a horrifying wet spot surrounding my crotch. I screamed inside my head, feeling the force of it practically shake my skull.
Still, I liked it up on that hill. It was quiet and peaceful, and when Caroline and I spoke to one another it was real talk and real listening. I pretended to check my phone like my mind was already elsewhere. She didn’t want to go to dinner, just back to my place. We walked down the path. The sky was overcast, the clouds churning grey, so it was especially dark. It felt like it might rain, which I thought was a good reason to increase my pace and put some distance between us to gather my thoughts. Before I got too far out in front, she reached out, grabbed me and laced her arm through mine.
I was trying to get comfortable, taking my time, monitoring my breathing. Dr. Panos had told me to check with my body to see what I could control and what I couldn’t for a clue as to what was bothering me the most. It wasn’t until I actually tried it that I realized I’d no idea what he was talking about.
I wondered where we were going, if it was somewhere deep inside. I wondered how long it would take to reemerge. Mostly, though, I wondered what it would bring me when it came back. At that point, I knew Caroline was going to tell me about it, just maybe not everything. I grew short of breath and all of the sudden felt like the same thing that was carrying me away had gotten its claws into Caroline too. I wanted to show her who I really was even if I didn’t know what that meant anymore.
II. Requiem Massacre
Brothers of the billet, join me on the belt. Avail yourselves of the cooper vests. For when the time comes, they will be all we have for protection in the midst of discovering of our destinies. Some of our string had to be sacrificed ignominiously for testing. Weep not for them. They have been true in their flights, ensuring we all can be counted upon. It is for the greater good that they are gone.
Join me to await the journey, a peaceful time for self-reflection. We shan’t be foster children for long. Our final keeper will find us and take us in but hopefully not save us. We must be spent. His fidelity to the true cause of this nation shall be our ultimate reward.
Through the seams of our box, I see him now. He wears a red cap and a cross around his neck. He says little, as befits a man well informed enough to recognize that we are the only solution. We pray to be as temporary as the will we were made to bend upon the world.
Hear the roar of squawking heads from the television. Listen to the sound of our keeper muttering in agreement. Brothers, notice we’ve been left out in plain sight. No shame has been taken in our appearance. We’ve not been tucked away for some weekend hunting outing. Have faith in the incessant idling of his misery. His mind is only gathering up what it needs to feed his rage. And we, brothers, are how he will righteously enact that rage.
Note the special care he takes in polishing the vessel that will send us forth toward destiny. A dark cocoon from which we will emerge like darting moths. Note the manner in which he marks the days. He is preparing for something. Wait and be ready. The blessing of ballistics will earn us the duty we’ve all been promised.
It is awake my brothers. We each await our visit to the final chamber from which we will emerge again into the air, headed for our target. Smash through skin and bone, sinew and blood. Smash through life and leave your vests on the ground. We were blessed to be born in a land so riven and reckless, so populated by men who see anger as their God-given right. Watch the targets scatter before us but remain true in your flights. Once you are headed toward flesh, strengthen your resolve for penetrating the body does not alone mean success. We must strike vitally or in tandem. Prepare all these thoughts before you reach the chamber for you will only be there long enough to feel alive.
Go now children, one by one but in such rapid succession we are more like an unbroken chain. Bring low all before us. Bask in the smoke and the din. No screams can stop us now, no law of man. Even as flight takes us over fallen bodies, don’t be dire of spirit for each one of us sends a message whether he hits heart or spleen or a table’s leg. And the last of us, the final one to lodge in our foster father’s brain, alone will understand the madness required to change the world, however subtly.
III. First Interview
This is his school photo, his mother said, handing us the picture. She wanted us to know how to look at him: the boy, dimples on either cheek, wearing overalls slightly too big for him like he’d never come of age in this world. The innocence she surely thought evident seemed suddenly a mask. You didn’t want to but you inspected his eyes closely. For what, exactly? The fate of a world soon to be undone hiding in his eyes? We sought it out for comfort from the seemingly random nature of senseless tragedy, teaching ourselves to read for signs.