There'ês a special smell at the VA Hospital. Of course, hospitals always smell like hospitals — disinfected hourly, bubbling with chemical extracts, running with pus — but the veterans hospital bears its own terrifying sensuality.
It'ês the smell of poverty, piss, and plastic clothes; of post-desperation resignation. Here you may experience a tour through one of your possible American futures. Do you notice how there are more and more of us drifting out of our fog and into your comfort zone, violating the personal airspace of your gentility?
Get used to it. We'êre not only your fellow citizens. In this hospital — this particular road to Hell fully staffed by the well-intentioned — we'êre also your warhammers, your clear-eyed hoplites, your guardians. Prior to our rheumy declines into twitchy, muttering, gimpy dissolution, we were something else: strong, resolute, arrogant, fierce.
Trained to a high order, we were committed with our lives to preserve your ordered calm at the cost of lives — some of our own; many of theirs. We saw ourselves perfect and invincible and set out to prove it to you, our soft-bellied regents, for your indulgence and for the smiles of your smooth-limbed daughters. These delusions fired our distant, fitful dreams between the thudding, brimstone blasts.
They never stopped. We hear them still.
You don'êt expect us to strap on weapons now. We'êre no longer allowed to be your weapon, and that takes everything away. Still we stare past you, hollow-eyed, watching hands and eyes and movement patterns for proximate threats. Listening for attacks, we are inundated by auto-booting, massive attack viruses composed of combat video loops that play again and again, asleep or awake, continually throttling up the engines of our obsolete machinery so that we shake and shudder, whining like leashed dogs with our need to rush once more into the night and bark, bark, bark at your fears.
Who wants to look at that? Americans are a proud people. In the land of the free, few visit the home of the brave. People have better things to do than sit with old ones on their ice floes, floating away into frozen dreams. No one told us that Valhalla would smell like this, but for God'ês sake don'êt you tell anyone. We deserve to be remembered strong and young, indefatigable and undefeatable — not mutilated, bent, scabrous, hollowed thin, wheezing, chair-bound, addicted, obese.
Standin'ê tall and lookin'ê good, oughta march through Hollywood. The timelessly romantic image of good-looking corpses on the hoof, not dying slowly behind closed doors. Who we were is more important to your story than what we have become.
We, who subsisted on pride, wish not to tarnish yours.