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Acts of War: Iraq and Afghanistan in Seven Plays

Acts of War: Iraq and Afghanistan in Seven Plays

By Karen Malpede (Editor); Michael Messina (Editor); Bob Shuman (Editor); Chris Hedges (Foreword)

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The Crucifixion of Tomas Young

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Posted on Mar 10, 2013
Claudia Cuellar

Tomas Young at his home in Kansas City, Mo.

By Chris Hedges

(Page 3)

He listens, when he is well enough, to audiobooks with Claudia. Among them have been Al Franken’s satirical book “Lies and the Lying Liars Who Tell Them” and Michael Moore’s “The Official Fahrenheit 9/11 Reader.” He was a voracious reader but can no longer turn the pages of a book. He finds some solace in the French film “The Intouchables,” about a paraplegic and his caregiver, and “The Sessions,” a film based on an essay by the paralyzed poet Mark O’Brien.

Young, when he was in a wheelchair, found that many people behaved as if he was mentally disabled, or not even there. When he was being fitted for a tuxedo for a friend’s wedding the salesman turned to his mother and asked her in front of him whether he could wear the company’s shoes.

“I look at the TV through the lens of his eyes and can see he is invisible,” said Claudia, standing in the living room as her husband rested in the bedroom. An array of books on death, the afterlife and dying are spread out around her. “No one is sick [on television]. No one is disabled. No one faces death. Dying in America is a very lonely business.”

“If I had known then what I know now,” Young said, “I would not have gone into the military. But I was 22, working various menial jobs, waiting tables, [working] in the copy department of an OfficeMax. My life was going nowhere. Sept. 11 happened. I saw us being attacked. I wanted to respond. I signed up two days later. I wanted to be a combat journalist. I thought the military would help me out of my financial rut. I thought I could use the GI Bill to go to school.”

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Young is not the first young man to be lured into war by the false sirens of glory and honor and then callously discarded by the war makers. His story has been told many times. It is the story of Hector in “The Iliad.” It is the story of Joe Bonham, the protagonist in Dalton Trumbo’s 1939 novel “Johnny Got His Gun,” whose arms, legs and face are blown away by an artillery shell, leaving him trapped in the inert remains of his body.

Bonham ruminates in the novel: “Inside me I’m screaming, nobody pays any attention. If I had arms, I could kill myself. If I had legs, I could run away. If I had a voice, I could talk and be some kind of company for myself. I could yell for help, but nobody would help me.”

For Young, the war, the wound, the paralysis, the wheelchair, the anti-war demonstrations, the wife who left him and the one who didn’t, the embolism, the loss of motor control, the slurred speech, the colostomy, the IV line for narcotics implanted in his chest, the open bed sores that expose his bones, the despair—the crushing despair—the decision to die, have come down to a girl. Aleksus, his only niece. She will not remember her uncle. But he lies in his dimly lit room, painkillers flowing into his broken body, and he thinks of her. He does not know exactly when he will die. But it must be before her second birthday, in June. He will not mar that day with his death.

And though he is an atheist, though he believes that there is nothing after death—that, as he says, “the body is like a toy that runs out of batteries, only there are no replacements”—his final act honors the promise of Aleksus’ life. As he spoke to me softly of this child—it hurts, even now, he said, to know she will grow up without him—I wondered, sitting next to him on his bed, if he saw it, the glory of it, his final bow not before the specter of his death but the sanctity of her life. The resurrection.


To read Tomas Young’s “Last Letter,” click here.


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