THE HERO OF TAL AFAR
Lee A. Jacobus
(GINNY walks sharply from the
Womans Room to the Mens room)
Raymond? You ready?
(SHE waits a moment, knocks on
Raymond? People are getting anxious. Raymond. I'm coming
Christ sake, Lady, this is the men's room.
(SHE runs back in front of the
Raymond, where are you?
(He emerges from the coat room.
He is wearing his coat)
Leaving? You can't leave. I have 40 women out there.
Well, tell them the bisque gave me the runs.
Runs? You've got the runs? You mean you're running out on
I'm not running out. I had the lunch. I talked with that
Cilla woman next to me. And that other woman who wouldn't
stop talking. I don't know what the hell they expect of me.
They look at me like I'm . . . . I don't know what, but like
someone I'm not. What the hell is it that they think I am?
They made me feel like I was some kind of specimen.
They don't think you're a specimen.
I'm out of place. Listening to all those women. They're
like nothing's ever gonna bother them. You can see it, they
are . . . I don't know, what? Like happy. They don't need
me. They're happy people. I don't fit in with happy people.
Don't you see what I mean? What the hell did you ask me here
Raymond, you're a hero. They are thrilled that you're here.
You know I've told them all about your awards. How they gave
you a medal for getting rid of some bombers. They came
especially to hear you. You're the speaker. They expect a
Then you can speak. Say anything.
But I'm not the hero. They don't want to hear from me.
Maybe I'm not a hero either. In fact, right now I'm
absolutely sure I'm not a hero.
I photocopied the articles in the Times. And in the
Register. You saw them. I gave them to all the women. All
that stuff you did in Tell Afar.
Tal Afar. (BEAT) I don't ever want to talk about that.
(HE begins to belt his coat.
SHE comes up to him and pulls
the belt loose)
Raymond. We went over this. Remember? You took our check.
Not that that's the thing. I mean, it wasn't that much, but
that's like a contract.
Well, like a contract. I'm not sure it's a real contract,
but it, you know, resembles a contract.
Resembles. (BEAT) That's a good word. For this. Like that
painting. What's that resemble?
I don't know a lot about paintings.
Yeah, well, me neither. But I'll tell you something that you
can take to the bank. I'd really much rather have stayed
here and made that painting than ever go to Tal Afar. Who's
the dude who had the time to make that painting? Why didn't
he go to Iraq with me?
I think it may have been a woman painter.
Who cares? We got women with M16s over there. No, really
think about it for a minute. You got people just like me
here in some fancy school who get trained to do shit like
this and I get trained to kill people. I grew up not far
from here and I can paint things, too. I was good, they
said, and when I was little they had one of my drawings up in
the goddam Arts Council offices for a while. Yeah. Said I
You could have been a painter.
That's what I'm saying. I wouldn't paint nothing like this
dude,though. Like I'm saying, what's this resemble and what
do I resemble now? You telling me it's all a matter of
resemblance. I resemble a hero is what you're saying? Or
maybe that's what I'm saying.
(SHE turns toward the
Oh God, that's Ruthie-Jean. She's supposed to introduce you.
Was that her hitting the wine glass?
Yeah, I like the word "resembles." That's why I'm getting
out of here.
No, no. You can't leave yet.
Actually, I can. In fact, I have to leave.
What? What? Is this some kind of moral superiority thing?
Where the hell did that come from?
I know, I know. You're the hero of Tal Afar and you're
probably bored with having to talk to a group of ladies, but
you know -- I told you when we first talked -- these are
smart women. Good women. They all teach in the local
schools and in the high school Some of them could have been
Shit no. I was in juvie in high school. They shipped me out
so I wouldn't be a local problem. I showed up in Pendleton
when I turned eighteen and my first tour was four months
later. None of these women would have talked to me if they
had me in school.
Raymond, that's not true. They would have loved you. I've
only known you for a few hours, I mean except for our phone
conversations and all, and I think you're wonderful. I can't
believe you had troubles when you were young. Was it serious?
(HE snickers. HE touches her
arm and looks around.)
No, it was bullshit, but it was a real education.
You went right into the army?
Marines, lady. Company K, Third Battalion, First Marine
Regiment. Captain Lucas M. McConnell.
Yes, of course. Then you were in Iraq right away?
You better believe it.
See, that's it. We don't know anything about Iraq. We just
see what's on the news, 6 minutes or so every night. How can
we tell what's really going on there? We need you. Don't
you see? A real voice from someone who's been there. An
Authentic voice, eh? That goes along with "Resembles." So I
resemble an authentic voice. (BEAT) Yeah, I been there and
I don't mean it that way. (BEAT) Died? Why do you say
Did I say Died?
Yes, you said died there. Who died?
Jesus. The question is who didn't die there?
(HE seems confused for a
You didn't die. You're here. You were one of the lucky
(HE gives her a look)
Fuck me. You think I was lucky? Just because I got back?
Jesus, what do you know about it?
Right. That's exactly right. I don't know about it. All I
know is that you went over there and they don't tell me much
about it except that our boys get killed and a lot of the
Shiites or Sunnis or somebody gets killed and all that blood
gets spilled for some reason that I just don't understand at
all. Don't you see what I'm saying to you. For God's sake,
I want to understand it and none of the sons of bitches
higher up can make sense out of it for me and yet they want
me to stand proud for America and salute a flag and be a
patriot and thank them, whoever the fuck they are, for
sending thousands of guys with guns to kill people in my
name. In my name. And they don't even let the newspapers
cover it because it's sensitive or secret or some kind of
shit and I'm supposed to be pleased to stay home and wave the
stars and stripes on July 4th, and now I'll tell you I'm sick
of it. That's why I wanted you here. I need to know what's
going on. Is that asking too much? And now you're just like
those bastards I'm talking about who won't tell me what's
happening. Now you just want to put on your coat and run out
on me. You don't want to tell me how it was in Tal Afar and
what I should know that I don't know and . . . .
Hold it. Jesus. Hold it. You want to know. You really
want me to tell you what a shithole I was in, what I had to
do to get out of there? Yes, I died there. I didn't know it
right away, but yes, I died there and I don't have to die
again, at least not that way.
It's a small town way out, up north. Jesus. Bombs. They
drove a truck into the town and staged a traffic accident, so
the kids all ran down to see what it was and the fuckers
pulled the switch and all the kids were vaporized, shot all
the crap all over the market and I was knocked down, but I
caught a glimpse of a guy in a window. Just on the second
floor, not high, but across the market, almost out of my line
of sight. He showed up at the window to see how much damage
he did and he had something in his hand. I could see it. A
detonator. Sophisticated. And this guy must have lived
here, I thought. He must have known all those little kids and
the women at the market. You gotta realize this wasn't the
first time I saw car bombs and blood. Not at all, but I was
pissed now and when I saw that guy I got up and ran for the
building and when I got there he wasn't alone. There were
three of them and they had no idea I was there until I killed
the one nearest to me. I heard him scream and I was glad.
You have no idea how glad I was, how good I felt. I nailed
the second guy as ran for his AK, but the third one. The guy
with the detonator was just standing there still holding the
thing in his hand as if he was going to blow me up too. So I
didn't shoot. I went up to him with my hand out and he
didn't know what to make of it and I took out my neck knife
and stuck it in his stomach and tore it up as far as I could
until the blood made it hard for me to hold on. Then I took
it out and shoved it in his open mouth and silenced him. I
waited there for him to die. I wanted to watch him die. By
that time I realized I had a real taste for killing. I liked
killing. That was what they trained me to like and I liked
it. I probably would have killed anyone else in that house
no matter who they were. When I turned around with the knife
in my hand, I . . . .
(SHE takes HIS hand and moves
HIM back toward the room)
Wait. Wait. Hold that. That's what you've got to tell
them. They've got to hear you the way I just heard you.
You've got to tell them what happened. You have to make them
understand what happened to you. What it means to be a hero.