The Loss of Innocence Store" included in MLR's anthology, "Honorable Silence," published in 2010. The subject matter of the anthology was comprised of storytelling related to the U.S. Military's "Don't Ask, Don't Tell," now-defunct policy. That policy posited the notion gay and lesbian soldiers, Marines, and sailors were surely welcome to serve their country--even to die in battle for their country--but were not welcome to reveal or exhibit or engage their sexual nature during the course of their military service.
MLR has now issued "The Loss of Innocence Store" as a stand-alone from the anthology.
"The Loss of Innocence Store" is, perhaps, more about a man's discovery of himself within the structured womb of the U.S. Army, rather than a treatise on the "Don't Ask, Don't Tell" policy. Indeed, the storytelling provides a time and place--the Vietnam era--where D.A.D.T. was not policy. No, during those dark and dangerous times when the American Eagle was ravaged by a senseless war abroad, and a home front besieged by the rage of a people for whom the promise of America had been too long denied, the gay and lesbian soldier, Marine, and sailor served their country without even the benefit--or curse?--of a D.A.D.T. acknowledgment. The possibility that queers existed within the military at that time was unthinkable. And if the unthinkable did emerge the response was unequivocal and immediate: a dishonorable discharge, in some cases accompanying prison time.
An excerpt: "Now I'm gonna warn you that Fort Polk is the A Number One Diarrheic Asshole Of The World. If there is any little pecker standin' here thinkin' he ain't gonna have to keep his shit straight, them lemme tell you somethin'. This here, A Number One Diarrheic Asshole Of the World, don't give a rat's ass about little turds like you and will crap you outta here so fast it'll make your sweet little peckers turn blue."
Drill Sergeant Rock's eloquence flowed that first week at Polk where I had begun to wonder if I hadn't stepped off the plane into some immense insane asylum. It appear the sickest, most obscene, foul-mouthed, beer-gutted, and fat-assed sons-of-bitches were absolutely in charge and we, many of us having just completed four or more years of college, were indisputable inmates with as much clout as maggots squirming about in that oft-mentioned pile of shit called Polk. The thing about it was, though, that the maggots were in their element at Polk. We weren't.
I remember we had a kid in Company D from Lubbock, Texas, of all places, who repeatedly went AWOL and was repeatedly caught. Not that Lubbock is any different from most southern American cities, but it's just that you'd think anybody from the seedbed of Apple Pie, Motherhood, and the Flag--Texas--would really get into the Army.
It was the early seventies and the all-volunteer concept had permeated most of the armed forces. Consequently some things about the Army metamorphosed into a strangely incongruous series of non sequiturs that most of us didn't even try to figure out. I mean there were things going on that didn't make a whole lot of sense.
...So this kid from Lubbock kept going AWOL. After catching him, they'd return him to the barracks and stick him right back in the program with the rest of us. The last time they brought him back before they discharged him, he sat on his bunk and told us they had taken him to see the base chaplain.
"I told the fucker I'd commit suicide if they didn't get me outta here."
"What'd the chaplain say?" I asked.
The kid smiled. "Well, the chaplain gets real serious, see, and he takes his little reading glasses off and he says, 'Son, if you commit suicide you can't get into heaven.' So, I say to him, 'Well, Rev'rund, the way I figure it, I'm already in hell so what difference does it make?"
The next day the kid was gone. We came back from formation and all his shit had disappeared, his bunk stripped bare, and his locker cleaned out.
The hell the AWOL kid had found himself in was nestled within two-hundred thousand acres, three hundred and eleven square miles of the Kisatchie National Forest in western Louisiana, that had been set aside for the United States Army to make men out of boys and teach solders how to be better soldiers.
The A Number One Diarrheic Asshole Of the World was as enigmatic as was the Army itself. One hell-hot day, without a square inch of shade within miles, I'd be eating dust as I belly-crawled under barbed wire, and the next day I'd be deep in the cool and quiet of the forest, watching hawks soar off the tops of tall Louisiana Pines.
I never did reconcile the paradoxes of the physical Polk.
Yes, the author loading his weapon. Not his gun. His weapon. "This is my weapon, and this is my gun. One is for killing, the other for fun!"