I’m hoping you’re having a good weekend. I touched a firearm for the first time in my life, an M16 A4 rifle. I was expecting the M4, like the ones you used during your Basic Training. Can you imagine most of these people have been shooting since they were kids? Only drug dealers have guns in Puerto Rico: only they think they have something worth defending.
When I was a child, I noticed this small and strange object inside my mother’s car. It had an icon that revealed its purpose. I pressed the handle like any other button. A red ring lit up around the terminal and I knew I started something I didn’t understand, far from my associations with the color red. I took the object out, touched the beautiful bright red circle inside and burned my index. So that’s what the icon meant, I thought. However, why would adults use these things? I was scolded for it, as if I burned their finger instead. I learned that there are some things you can’t undo. Fire and adults are terrible playmates.
I used to live in a closed access neighborhood with no children. An old couple lived in the corner of the street and took care of me sometimes. They had a daughter named Vanessa who was in college and rarely visited. I lived in love with her photograph of her quinceañero, infatuated with what the picture evoked in me, more powerful than when she was physically present. That house was boring but I always found something to play with while I meandered aimlessly, chasing ideas between the palm trees.
One day I found a black cat sitting on a small table, like a statue. I didn’t know who owned the cat, but who really does? He didn’t fear me or acknowledge my presence in any way; his indifferent, peaceful demeanor came across as invasive to me. Therefore, I placed my left index close to his face so he could lick it as dogs do. He bit me, as dogs do. I told my mother about the unfairness of the unfriendly feline but deep down I felt guilty. I ignore cats now and my mother thinks that cruelty only comes to you when you provoke it.
I took all of mom’s ink stamps, opened all the ink pads, and filled countless white sheets with dates of all colors, using them for anything except what they were meant to. Ink and paper were my weapons to avenge existence way before I understood why weapons are needed. I dipped my left index on the blue inkpad and made digital prints all over a piece of paper. Why did those repetitive patterns I saw on my finger make me so unique? My mother told me I was special. I later learned how that would get people caught and canned, but that day I saw my own patterns and felt nothing special. I immediately despised the stain on my finger and began to play with an old typewriter until the first story I ever wrote came out of it.
My female friend was the first to own a Nintendo system in the last neighborhood I moved into. That was my first non-Arcade experience. The controller had only five buttons, enough to confuse my young mind. Not much after that, my parents bought me a Nintendo to play with and share with my father’s regression. One night he left a game on pause for 10 minutes and I reset his game fearing that the thing would catch fire. My father was not happy and finally lost interest in video games, but never failed to remind me they were a distraction when all I needed was to practice basketball and become an athlete. Shortly after, life got complicated enough and the games were over.
Remember when you dragged me out of the arcade room next to the movie theater? I fought with the claw crane and lost $7 after; could’ve been more. Then we went with forty something tickets to claim a prize. It surprised us that machines count and give prizes nowadays. It didn’t let me get you a ring even though I had the necessary amount of tickets. I wanted that ring for you, to give it all: this time, to you. I hope you are doing well at boot camp.
I hope you return to me soon. I’m starting to hate the Army for making you fire and stay away from me.
All they talk about is these rifles. Where does the Soldier end and the rifle begins? I’m still hurt from yesterday’s team building course. I’m icing my hand while I write to you from the laundry. I’m using a piece of plastic wrapper that I found on the trash to hold the ice together and disguise it from the Drill Sergeants. I don’t want them to doubt my ability to shoot. I’m so scared of not completing the next tasks and getting holdover status until the next cycle begins. From here, I dream about what you’re doing. I miss your words.
I sent her a goddam picture of my injury to shut her nag about last night, minutes after I got it at a friendly football game during physical training. The doctor said “bilateral fracture” on the index fingers. With my time remaining in the Army, there was no way I’d move up rank. I got discharged.
The Police report said “domestic violence” but since I wasn’t injured after she pushed me, the judge didn’t grant me a restraining order. I should have fallen harder. She was sorry the morning after, but forgot the whole event when I chose to divorce her.
I’ll never know where this love with which I caress my daughter comes from, but it’s truly, completely hers, because it doesn’t fill me at all. I think I’ve never owned my body and by now it doesn’t matter.
Luis Jefté Lacourt (he/him), born in San Juan, Puerto Rico, is a veteran based in New Jersey, USA. His published works include poetry, short stories book “El Origen de los Murciélagos y Otros Cuentos” (2015 National Prize, Institute of Puerto Rican Culture) and the graphic novel “(A)diós”.