Wednesday, April 13, 2011

The Convict – James Lee Burke

It’s tough sometime to do the right thing. Burke illustrates that point beautifully in this short and Carver sticks to his words from his introduction:

... I lean towards realistic, “life-like” characters – that is to say, people – in realistically detailed situations.”

“I deliberately tried to pick stories that rendered, in a more or less straightforward manner, what it’s like out there. I wanted the stories I selected to throw some light on what it is that makes us and keeps us, often against great odds, recognizably human.”

Back in 2002, M and I were placed in a situation where we, as a couple, had to make a decision…the right decision and in doing so; we assume we caused a family to flee the country.

As I sit here and write this, it seems so long ago. I can clearly picture our old apartment, the smells, the light and the tension of that day.

I worked hard after returning to America to help M adjust to life in the States. I thought that she would enjoy meeting others from Romania. I encouraged her to seek out Romanians in the area and to set up meetings with them where she could…well… discuss life.

I didn’t fully realize that M was doing a fine job adjusting to life here, and that meeting other Romanians was probably the last thing she wanted to do. That was her old life. She was fully committed to embracing America…and doing it her way, and that way did not include involving others from her old homeland.

Sometime in mid- 2001 we met a couple of Romanian families. One family lived in our city and the other in the city across the water. The husbands of both families were in the Navy. Both families came to the States in the late 1990s. Soon after arrival, they joined the Navy as a way to – make money – to support their families, to have children and to have healthcare and housing for their wives and children.

Think long and hard back to the late 1990s. Life was VERY different then. The world was relatively peaceful. Life in the Navy wasn’t too taxing. Sure, you may be stationed aboard a ship – but it’s the Navy…what did you expect?

September of 2001 pretty much changed all that.

Our new Romanian friends shared all the worries that most of us had after the attacks.

The husband in one of the families was due to get out of the Navy in a few months. He had no intention of re-enlisting. He saw what was on the horizon and knew that his life would be severely altered if he remained in the service.

Now the other husband had a bit more time to serve. He also had a 1 year old American born daughter and a wife who during her husband’s previous routine 3 month deployment was pretty much housebound due to fear and depression. M and I assisted her in her shopping and errand running while her husband was gone. We even included her in some of our larger family celebrations.

The War in Afghanistan begins and this husband’s ship receives no orders to deploy. The family breathes a sigh of relief. The months in 2002 march along and we see that things start to get interesting in Iraq. I think it was pretty clear to everyone that we would soon be involved in a conflict in that country as well.

We meet the family one weekend evening and the husband and wife are looking pretty washed out. They sit in our apartment…on our futon/sofa and begin to tell us of a plan that they are hatching.

Quickly, it seems obvious to M and I that they are desperate. The husband has received orders that his ship is to deploy for an unspecified amount of time in several days. We can sense that there has been much tension in their house.

Our “friends” ask M and I to be accomplices in a plan to keep the husband from having to leave.

They were going to lie to the Navy and hide.

M and I are asked to hide and shelter the wife and daughter while the husband tells his superiors that his wife has run away and left him alone to care for his “sick” daughter.

Husband hoped that the Navy would see that there was no one to take care of the child and that the husband would have to remain in the States.

When we were presented with this plan, I think I was the first to pipe up and shoot them down…pretty much without hesitation.

My answer to them was followed with several minutes of them pleading and even a few tears from the wife.

We explained our reasons further…(as if we really needed to) and our meeting ended shortly thereafter.

As they were leaving, we asked what they were going to do. The husband couldn’t give us an answer but he said that there was no way he was going to deploy.

The following weekend, M and I drove into their neighborhood for a little drive-by of their apartment.

I suppose we weren’t too shocked to see that the window shades to their apartment were wide open, and that the apartment was bare. Absolutely empty. Just days after our last meeting.

We never found out what happened to that family. We could only assume that they ran to Romania. I’m sure that the husband’s name appears on some sort of watch-list as a deserter. Their baby…well, she was an American citizen. Perhaps she is now a Romanian citizen.

M and I did the right thing. We had to protect our future. It was tough to face that family, in an obvious state of need and panic and tell them that we could not help them.

So, Carver in picking this story by Burke in fact did offer the reader a true picture of what life is like. Burke had his convict…and I suppose we saw three sitting on our futon one evening back in 2002.

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