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I Played Army

Tanya Whitney

My memories are aging as I am.

Six kids in silver plastic helmets like the ones soldiers wore. Eight years old, crouching behind sienna-toned trees, hiding from the enemy, our burnished wooden guns pointed toward each other as we yelled, “Bang, bang, you’re dead.” These photos pasted into a crumbling album remind me of days past.

Playing army in the backyard with my friends, I always wanted to be a soldier. Watching the real thing on television at night did not deter me. I remember the news reflecting images of combat in another country, the make-believe blood of our play during the day becoming the reality of wounded and dead men at night—and of civilian men, women and children getting caught between armies fighting for and against an abstract ideal.

Even then, those who served, to me, were heroes. I could imagine the colors of the soldiers’ stripes and medals even though I only saw black and white.

Six women in olive drab Army steel pots grin for the camera, their faces painted in camouflage of greens, browns, and black. Brown branches, their leaves shades of emerald and jade, surround the young faces of innocence.

Images of military life capture our playing army for real. Multi-hued uniforms, crisp with starch. Shiny black boots. I reveled in being Army now, my mosquito wings glinting against my uniform. I remember graduation day, where the light bounced off the brass and metal of my dress uniform as we lined up on the parade field. Dress right dress and eyes right as they passed by in review. These vibrant images would repeat themselves over the years as I gained more stripes and more ribbons, went to more schools and received more training.

Then, one day, they were gone. I could no longer physically continue being a soldier and was put out to pasture. The uniforms, ribbons, and medals are now stored away in monochrome boxes. They are foreign to the world in which I now exist; in this chapter of my life, so dull and so passionless, there is no color. I have no reason to get out of bed, to dress myself, or even to talk.

Once, my youthful days playing army were replaced with the multi-hued pictures of my service. They recycle through my mind on a constant loop as the days go by. Little by little, each loop erodes the imprints where it’s gathered. My memories are aging as I am. The years run together to the point of not knowing what is real or a figment of my damaged brain and body. A life embedded in the vibrant shades of experiences and people encountered is now filled with hazy greys of uncertainty and impending death.

Days of hoping for the colors to return lessen. I don’t know if they ever will.

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Tanya Whitney retired from the Army in 2010 as a Master Sergeant after serving over 27 years both active duty and in the Louisiana National Guard.  She served in the Aviation branch and worked on both Army fixed wing and rotary wing aircraft. From Sorrento, LA, she returned there after retiring with her husband and two children.  She began writing poetry a few years ago as part of her PTSD therapy. Her poetry primarily deals with her military service, but she has also written other pieces.  In 2018 she was selected as a Gold Medal winner for the National Veterans Creative Arts Festival in the Creative Writing poetry category. She has won several poetry competitions and has had individual poems published. She recently had two short stories accepted for publication, one in a local anthology and one in an anthology being published in England.

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