Today my friend Anne is on the receiving end of all sorts of criticism for the post I shared with you yesterday in which she bravely considered a future when her son might cross a line despite her best efforts. You see, Anne realizes that even though her little boy is two years old now and loves his mother more than anything, one day he will experience–as we all do–a need to go his own way and take his cues from sources that do not love him with all their hearts and want him to be and have the absolute best.
I have known Anne less than a year, but in that time (in addition to getting to know her personally and coming to call her a friend) I have read many of her posts on The Belle Jar and have been at turns moved to tears, anger, nostalgia, a strong sense of simpatico, and fits of giggles. Her ability to bring herself–her personal stories–to her constant struggle to contribute to the greater good means that her work (on TBJ and elsewhere) reaches more and more people every day. And that means that in addition to the thousands of people who need her stories and words–either because they weren’t quite awake and she splashed their faces or because, like me, they’re out here fighting the same fight and desperately need the solidarity and ideas and perspectives and common vocabulary to do what we do–there are those who will tear her down.
Some of these people just don’t get it. Others are on a crusade to expose the evils of feminism. As for the former, I can only hope that some seed has been planted and germinates even now in the depths of their brains. But the latter? Allow me to submit that they are the true measure of the impact Anne is making. I don’t envy her the negative attention, the stress, the bad feels that I know even now are making it hard for her to do the important work she’s doing. But I, for one, want to say that I’m counting on Anne to take what strength she can from all of us who love her, love what she does, love her stories and her strength and her courage, and remember that what all of this means is that she’s doing something right.
And I’ve known that all along. <3
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by Amy Sisson
Author’s Note: “Patriot Girls” is my response to news stories showing that statistically, our wars have a disproportionate impact on poor and uneducated young men, the ones for whom the military may be the only viable option. But what if our wars outpace enlistment? What if twenty or thirty years from now, even a draft doesn’t provide enough soldiers for whatever wars we may find ourselves in whether we want them or not?
Tuesday, May 16
IT’S HARD TO BELIEVE, but by this time tomorrow I’ll be a Patriot Girl. Ma tried to talk me out of it, and begged me to finish the school year at least, but I’ll be sixteen so there’s nothing she can do. I told her I have the right to do what’s right for my country. And besides, everyone who’s anyone is a Patriot Girl.
Me and Alicia are taking the bus to Austin to register tomorrow. You get free bus fare when you join up. Alicia turned sixteen a month and a half ago but waited for me so we could go together. It was really nice of her, especially since her sister Mary has already been a Patriot Girl for a year and a half. So I printed my birth certificate off the net and packed one small bag, which is all they let you bring. You don’t have to take much, because they give you clothes and everything else you need.
Friday, May 19
I’m a Patriot Girl! We took our vows the day before yesterday, but they’ve kept us so busy I didn’t have time to post until now. First they had an orientation assembly for the new recruits. They explained that our main duty is to support the Patriot Boys who are about to go off to War. These boys are already heroes because they give up everything to defend our freedom, and we need to let them know how much we appreciate it.
One girl, Callie, I think her name was, asked how many of the Boys will come back. She said she heard that most of them don’t last more than six weeks. But Sarge Grayson said that was just a rumor, and it didn’t matter anyway because a Patriot Boy is a hero no matter how long he survives. I thought Callie was dumb to ask that. Everyone knows that our Boys are smarter than the enemy, and they’re gonna come back when the War is over and we can all settle down.
Alicia’s sister Mary, her Boy’s been gone a year already, but he sent her a letter last week saying he’s safe and will be back in a few months. Right now she and little Ben live in one of the dorms for Wives on the other side of the campus, and she keeps busy helping out with the new Girls and taking care of the little ones.
They told us there’s a dance every Friday where we can meet the Boys. Me and Alicia are about to go get our dresses and then get our hair done. I hope I can find a green dress, but I heard that the newbies get the leftovers.
Saturday, May 20
So last night was our first dance! I was a little nervous, because I haven’t been around boys for ages, and I wasn’t sure what a real Patriot Boy would be like. But the dressers fixed us all up to look nice and even gave us perfume. I don’t think I’ve ever smelled anything so pretty before. The dresser who helped me was a little bit older than us. She said I had beautiful red hair, and she even put a flower over my ear, and then she said I should just be myself and I would be fine. When we were all ready, the Sarge called us together and told us to have a good time, and then we got on the bus to the dance hall across campus.
Alicia was nervous too. I’m glad I had her for company! Some of the new Girls didn’t know anybody else when they got here so they’ve had to make friends fast, but I’m lucky because my best friend is here with me. I even got a green dress! At first when I tried it on it was a little too big, but they fixed it for me by the time we got dressed. Alicia got yellow. She looks good in yellow, but thank God I didn’t get that dress, because no Boy would ever look at me twice in that color.
When the Boys got there, I just about had a heart attack! They’re so good-looking! They all stand so straight and tall in their dark green uniforms, and they looked proud but a little nervous too. They stared at us like they’d never seen girls before, and I guess maybe they hadn’t for a while. Alicia grabbed my hand, and I could tell she was as excited as I was.
One of the officers introduced the band. Can you believe it? Our first Patriot Girl dance and we got Faith Rock!
Alicia and me were standing together by the punch bowl. These two Boys came over and told us their names were Nick and Jason. Nick asked Alicia to dance, and Jason said he’d like to dance but wanted to talk to me first. He said to call him Jase. He asked me where I was from and I told him I grew up in Galveston before we all had to evacuate, and now my Ma lives in Spring, on the north side of Houston.
Jase told me he’s from San Antonio. His father was a Hero who died when Jase was only five years old. Jase has an older brother who’s already overseas, and a little sister who’s nine who can’t wait to be a Patriot Girl. It sounds like he has a real patriotic family, which is more than I can say. After the War is over, he wants to be an aircraft mechanic. It was kind of hard to hear him over the music, but it was fun talking to him just the same.
I was glad when he was finally ready to dance, though. There were some Chaperones on the dance floor, older ladies in gray uniforms. They had minibooks, and I wondered if they were taking our pictures or something. One of them said something to Alicia and Nick, but it must not have been anything bad because Alicia still looked happy. She and Nick went back over to the sidelines and got some punch. I tried to keep my feet out from under Jase’s. He’s cute but maybe not the best dancer!
Then a Chaperone tapped Jase’s shoulder. “Having fun, kids?” she asked.
“Yes, ma’am,” we said together.
“If you want to take a break after this dance, there are rest areas where you can get something to drink and sit down for a bit. Just through that door,” she said, pointing.
Jase looked at me and I nodded, so he took my hand and led me through a doorway at the end of the dance hall. My heart started beating faster. One of the male officers was standing just inside the door.
“Hi kids,” he said. “Names?”
“Jason Stewart and Margie Campbell,” Jase said.
“Right,” said the officer. “311 is free—fourth door on the right. There are refreshments in there, and it’s a little quieter so you can hear each other talk.”
We went in, and boy, they weren’t kidding! They had all kinds of drinks and snacks—lots better stuff than I get at home. There was a flatscreen in the wall showing music vids with the sound turned down low. Jase asked me if I wanted a drink and I said yes, so he got me a Coke out of the wall fridge. Then we sat on the couch, which was long and all comfy, like you could sink into it and disappear. Jase put his arm around my shoulder and played with a piece of my hair.
“You’re awfully pretty, Margie,” he said. I was happy but kind of embarrassed. We talked for a while and had more drinks, and then Jase was kissing me. I was worried at first that someone might come in, but Jase said he could lock the door from the inside. I don’t think I was ever so happy in my whole life. And no, I’m not going to tell you all the details!
Thursday June 1
I meant to write this weekend but I ended up going to a special picnic on Saturday to welcome another batch of new Girls. On Sunday afternoon I tried calling Ma but I couldn’t get a good connection, so I t-mailed her instead. I haven’t heard back from her yet.
Jase and I went to the dance again last Friday. That was the first time I’d seen him since the last dance, because he’s been tied up with training and the Girls have been busy with all kinds of med and psych tests. Nothing that hurt, just lots of hypos drawing blood and stuff. And all kinds of silly test questions, like what do these pictures remind you of, and what weighs more, a pound of lead or a pound of feathers. Anyone could get that one!
This time I had a kind of silvery dress for the dance, and one of the dressers helped me put my hair up. Jase said I looked beautiful. We even got the same room as last time to take a break from the dance, so Jase joked it was our room and I should think of 311 as our secret code number. I can’t wait to see him tomorrow night!
Sunday June 4
I was really happy yesterday, because Jase and I had a great time at the dance again, but then this morning I found out he’s shipping out. He sent me a t-mail and said he would miss me, but he’ll be back on furlough in a few months and he can’t wait to meet me in 311 again. He signed it Jason instead of Jase, and I laughed because I’d almost forgotten that’s his real name. But then I stopped laughing because I’m scared I’ll never see him again.
I ran to tell Alicia, and she just heard that Nick is going too. He and Jase are in the same unit, so it makes sense, but it’s such bad luck. I told Alicia that we could keep each other company at the next dance. I mean, I would maybe dance with another Boy since they need us to help them take their minds off the War, but I’m not doing anything else until Jase comes back.
That girl Callie bugs me. She said one of the Girls who’s being sent home for breaking curfew told her the Boys always say they’re coming back for furlough and then they never do.
“Well, duh, it’s a War and their schedules get changed sometimes,” Alicia said. “Anyway, Janice said her sister Linda’s Boy came back home to Oklahoma just a few weeks ago.” Callie said maybe but she didn’t look convinced. I don’t know what her problem is.
Saturday, June 17
No dance for me last night after all, and I didn’t get to go last week either. Alicia got to go both times, but last week Sarge told me they needed me to help organize some events for the Wives, and last night they wanted me to be here for another Orientation, to welcome some new Girls coming in from the west side of the state. I was kind of bummed. I’ve been down about Jase being gone and I was looking forward to the dance just to get out for a while. I’ve written to Jase every day, but I know I can’t expect many letters when he’s in the field.
Alicia said she had a good time last night, even though she still wishes Nick were here. She met someone named Brent who she said was nice. She says she didn’t do anything with him, but I’m not sure I believe her.
Monday, June 26
Today I found out why I’ve been getting called for more med tests than the other Girls. The Nurse told me this morning that I’m going to have a baby. I was so scared I started to cry. I thought they would send me home for sure, and my Ma would be so ashamed of me.
The nurse was sweet. “Don’t worry, Margie. Everything will be fine,” she told me.
“But I don’t know what I’ll do,” I cried. “I don’t know if my Ma will even take me back. I didn’t mean to do anything wrong!”
The nurse looked at me like she wanted to say something else, but she didn’t. I came back to the dorm, and before I even got a chance to tell Alicia, Sarge came with a letter from Jase. And can you believe it? He wants to marry me, and he doesn’t even know about the baby! He said he misses me so much, and he’ll be able to handle being out there in the field better if he knows he has a Wife waiting for him back home. I showed the letter to Sarge right away and she said she had to check some paperwork, but she was pretty sure we’d be allowed to get married. She said that the Head of the Patriot Girls is something called in loco parentis, like a legal guardian for the Girls under eighteen, so I won’t even need Ma’s permission to get married.
I wish Jase could get back for the wedding, but the timing just isn’t right. His letter said he got emergency orders to deploy to a new location, and he doesn’t want to wait to get married. But he said not to worry, because intelligence found out if they strike at this one spot right away, there’s a good chance the War could be over in a few months. That means Jase should be back before the baby comes. I can’t wait to write him about it.
Sarge says I’m special, because not many Girls get a proposal after only a couple of dances. I remember back when the recruiters talked to us in school, they told us the best thing a girl can do is get married and have children so we have real families in this country instead of mobs of people who only think about themselves. Even after I told her about the baby, she said she was real proud of me. She said that Jase’s proposal proves that God wants us to be together.
Alicia and Mary and all the girls from the dorm are coming to the wedding next week. I t-mailed my ma a little bit ago to see if she’ll come up for it. After the wedding I get to move into the Wives’ dorm. Mary said she’ll help me settle in. Poor Mary is being a really good sport, considering she just heard a few days ago that little Ben’s father isn’t coming back. She’s proud he’s a Hero, but I can tell she’s sad. She said her Sarge told her she’s still young and she can move back into the Girls’ dorm and go back to the dances if she wants. They can take care of little Ben in a special kids’ dorm to make it easier for her, and Mary can see him whenever she wants.
Tuesday, September 12
I haven’t written in ages because things have been kind of dull, but today I found out I’m having a boy for sure! I was hoping for a boy because I think that will make Jase happy.
The only other thing that’s happened recently is that Callie went AWOL. I heard a rumor that she’s pregnant, but I don’t know if it’s true or not.
Friday, February 2
The other Wives are throwing me a baby shower this Sunday. They’ve been teasing me, asking me if I’m sure it’s going to be a boy, and saying they’re going to bring pink baby clothes just in case. They said they don’t get enough chances to buy pink clothes because not that many of the Wives have had girls lately.
The bad news is that Jase probably isn’t going to be back before the baby comes in March. I wish he could be here. I get a letter every couple of weeks, but it’s hard not being able to see him.
I’m also kind of worried about Alicia. I don’t see her that often since she’s still in the Girls’ dorm, but I talked to her a few days ago and I can tell she’s kind of depressed. I think it’s because she keeps meeting these Boys and then they leave. Thank God I have Jase! I don’t want to be mean, but I wonder if there’s something about Alicia that keeps the Boys she meets from wanting to marry her.
Alicia’s going home to visit her mom for a few weeks. We were both going to go home for Christmas but there was a fuel shortage and they had to cancel all non-essential travel for a while. So she’s going for her Ma’s birthday instead. She told me that Sarge said the dorms are a little overcrowded right now so Alicia doesn’t have to come back right away, and they may need to postpone her re-enlistment a little while until they get the housing shortage figured out. I don’t know what Alicia’s going to do with herself back at home.
Thank God I don’t have to leave. I mean, it’s a little dull right now and I miss the dances, but once I have the baby I can at least go and help the Girls get ready and watch the dances from the sidelines. But I’m a Wife and I’m about to be a Mother, and that’s more important than anything else. And when the War is over Jase can get a job as an airplane mechanic and we can get a house and we can watch little Jase grow up. It shouldn’t be too much longer now.
“Patriot Girls” originally appeared in the End of an Aeon anthology now available from Fairwood Press.
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