I remember hearing or reading the phrase “The opposite of love is not hate, it is onions” once. I have searched for this, but been unable to remember where I heard it, or something like it. If you have any idea where I might gotten this from, please let me know. If not, then it very well might be something I made up years ago on one of my rants and found it so profound that I forgot I said it. It is profound. Take my word for it; I know these things.
This story is inspired by a cluster of onion seedlings that I found in the path between two of my garden beds. When putting in seeds a few weeks ago, I must have laid down a package on onions which spilled without me realizing it, because the seedlings were all tightly together right where the seed packets had lain.
I hate onions. You might be saying, “Kitty, if you hate onions, then why were you planting them?” This is a reasonable question. I am glad you asked. Mostly I plant them because my partner likes them. But there is another reason: they are good in their absence, such as in a mirepoix or broth. You get some of the flavor out of the onion and then remove it, so the memory of onion remains, but you don’t actually have to eat it. No crunch of fresh onion assaulting your mouth, little landmines of anger. No slimy bitter corpses of onions broken down by the heat of culinary battle. Only the spirit of the valiant onion that once fought here remains.
I am not a big fan of hate. Hating does not feel good; it does not make things better; it does not bring joy (or at least I hope not). But maybe, like onion can enhance the flavor of a soup, little doses of hate from time to time fuel our passion for life and justice. Knowing what you hate might give you clearer focus to hold on to what you love.
“You hear that Danny G. is shipping out next week? You know, Jenny’s older brother, he got called. How many guys we know been drafted? Let’s just enlist. Come on, Frankie, you know we’re going to get drafted anyway. We ain’t in college. We ain’t rich. What ya gonna do, Frankie? Just wait…”
Waiting was its own special hell. The jungle was never totally quiet. At first, Tony noticed every chitter and rustle. Now the ever-present noises highlighted a painful absence of sound, while going unnoticed themselves. The harder he listened, the louder the silence got. A roaring silence of expectation that could at anytime become the whine-boom of dropping bombs or the pop-pop-pop of Charlies hiding in the waxy, steaming blackness. Bullets would light up the dark in fleeting flashes, reminding Tony of firecrackers back home. Bombs set the whole world on fire, like being that point in the sky where they aim the fireworks on the Fourth of July. There was white and there was certainly red. Never any blue. Tony wondered if you might only get blue fire at the very end of this show. Every time, the light show preceded screams.
Screams of “Make love not War,” “Hell no, We won’t go,” and others crashed, layering, morphing, making a wall of voices, punctuated with bongos and metallic strikes. Tony wanted to leave, to run from the sound like he had run from the bombs. Crowds, open spaces, and noises all freaked him out now. Sometimes he went back there, running, hiding, unaccountably alive while everyone around him was dead. Tripping over bodies, expecting death.
…death is but the final adventure, to a man who has had so many,” said the perfectly groomed minister. Tony wondered if the man had known Frankie alive, or if today was the first time they met; a clean, calm-faced man shaking hands with an old man’s corpse. The minister kept talking, mentioning the places Frankie had been, the people he had helped, the lives he had touched, the family he left behind. Tony zoned out, the words a soft murmur, cool waves on an empty beach. Tony decided that the man had not known him, that he was just reading out Frankie’s life, some punk performance artist reading the phone book.
No one knew Frankie like Tony. They had grown up in the same neighborhood. They fought side-by-side in the war. Tony had pushed his wheelchair through the crowds of hippies when Frankie got sent home. He had known Frankie when he was a scared kid. Tony had seen him at his best, and at his worst. He had known Frankie with two legs, with one leg, and with a shiny plastic leg. Tony knew the sins that pushed Frankie to do good, to make the world better. And he knew the hero’s soul that would pull a buddy out of danger. He knew that kept Frankie going when so many others would give up.
Give up. There is only one place left to run; might as well volunteer. Your number is going to get called someday soon. Not even Canada will help you dodge death’s draft.
Tony looked around at the people in black, Frankie’s kids, grandkids, maybe even a few great-grandkids. Frankie made something of himself: school, career, charity work. Tony could never even keep a job for long. Frankie used to look up to Tony, a long time ago. Which is why these last few decades being around Frankie made him feel broken and useless. The past, present, and future had danced around Frankie; memory, possibility, regrets, too-lates and never-gonna-happens. He was hard to be around, and when things were hard, Tony ran away.
He should’ve spent more time with Frankie, had more courage. One more should’ve to add to his collection. Frankie was the last one of the guys to die, except for crazy Tony, still unaccountably alive. Tony would be the last one to be planted in the endless field of identical, equally-spaced headstones. No one and nothing to remember him, but a single dot on a field of thousands, a tiny speck of cold white.
White posterboard with “Bring the Troops Home” scrawled on it was propped in Frankie’s lap. “I don’t know Tony; it seems like betraying the guys somehow. Disrespectful, you know?” said Frankie, still clean-cut and military, fresh from the VA hospital.
“Yeah, I know man. I used to feel that way. But I got to thinking. If they came home now, no more would be in chairs like you, or ugly as sin like me. We’re not disrespecting the guys, but wanting to protect them, you know? Wanting to pull them out of the fire. Since we can’t protect them there, we have to try to do something here,“ said Tony, behind bushy beard and hippie hair, grown to cover his burned face and missing eye. “We have to change the world, Frankie. We have to make it better. That is our war now, man. Our enemy is the fucking war that is killing our friends. You might have kids someday. You don’t want them sent over there to die, do ya?”
“Me, kids? I don’t know Tony. What lady would want to marry me? And kids…”
Kids. Fucking children laying in the road, burned crispy, and thank God dead. If they had been alive when Tony ran into the clearing, rolling around and screaming, he would have lost it. There was enough screaming, inside and out, all around him. Screaming bombs, screaming animals, screaming fire, screaming people, screaming ghosts. Fires ate up the trees, black smoke hid everything. Tony got lost. His face and shoulder were in agony, and he couldn’t see anything to the left. The pain was horrible, he was exhausted, but he kept running. He ran to escape the pain, the fire, the screams, but everywhere he went they followed. No matter how far Tony ran, no matter where he hid, they always found him. Tony was only fear. Everything else had burned away. Run.
“..run away, go up north and be a lumberjack? Our number’s gonna get called up. Might as well volunteer. Sign up now, get better assignments that way. What ya gonna do, Frankie? I’m gonna go. I won’t shirk duty. I’m no coward.”