combat writing badge C O M B A T
the Literary Expression of Battlefield Touchstones
ISSN 1542-1546 Volume 05 Number 03 Summer ©Jul 2007

War in the Garden

          Men and women really are different. I don't just mean the obvious sexual dimorphism, or even the ostensibly discrete mating rituals, but the fact that homosocial humanity is fundamentally and essentially divided into different warring camps ... in the ways they think, problem solve, rationalize, even perceive.

          Humorists and feminists (excuse the redundancy) make a great deal about these differences, by emphasis and deemphasis, isolation and exaggeration, but buried beneath that reeking heap of pig swill and offal is a precious pearl of truth. Or, as my husband would say: "Where there's smoke, there's usually some jerk trying to burn something down!".

          A case in point is sensibilities ... even liberated nymphomaniacal women are credited with sensitivity and discrimination, no matter how promiscuous; but men are agglomerated as a gross genotype of indiscriminate and insensitive priapic satyrs! Or, as my husband would express it: "Sexual sensibility for women is all about sensibility, and for men is all about sex!". As a daughter, sister, wife, and mother of males, I can attest that men are not subtle ... and when they try to be, they become devious or treacherous. I've heard the psychobabble about conditioning boys to become more sensitive men, but my experience is that when you give a doll to a little boy, he punches the stuffing out of it! And if, as loving and concerned parents, you don't buy your little boy a toy gun or play sword, then he'll make a slingshot or a spear ... real ones that injure playmates ... and will gleefully terrorize the neighborhood!

          It's not about logic or ethics ... it's about genetic coding. It's not about acculturation, but predestination.

          Not long ago I returned home after visiting my sisters and our nieces ... something we call a tea party, and my adoring husband characterizes as a hen party ... and I discovered him busily multitasking ... watching two sports broadcasts (something he calls picture in picture, and I call confusion) while reloading ammo and drinking a beer. I asked him if he'd watered my garden as I'd asked him to do while I was gone, and he assured me that he'd done it everyday. I politely protested that he hadn't needed to water daily, but that it was very considerate of him to give so much care and attention to my plants. After carrying my suitcases upstairs (as he would've said: "They're your suitcases, and I am really busy.") and changing out of my traveling clothes into some comfortable working togs, I ventured forth into my backyard garden ... and encountered the remnants of a battle! ... all my beautiful green babies were tattered and the soil was scored and gouged! It was heartbreaking.

          A closer look revealed that some plants had been uprooted and were wilted while others had been exfoliated and might regenerate from their stems. Not only were branches broken throughout the once serene garden but nearby shrubs and trees showed vacancies where there had formerly been twigs and leaves. Trellises were either denuded or splintered. All of this damage could not possibly be due to simple watering! ... there must've been a cyclone or an airstrike.

          With the wrath of Artemis avenging the desecration of her sacred offspring, I confronted the boorish oaf who'd waged war on these innocents over which I'd labored so long and hard! ... tilling and spading, weeding and pruning by hand ... doing stoop labor, that no peasant will abide in the modern era, until I was bent and blistered and burned. And he had blithely watered my garden into another war zone!

          With a deadly calm voice that would've incised titanium, I inquired of my doting darling, "Just how much time did you actually spend watering each day?" To which thrust he parried, "Umm, not much." "Obviously," I countered. "Huh?" he blocked. At least I had his attention ... well, some of it. I'd have to be naked to attract his complete attention, and so I briefly imagined the many ways to slay him in such a distracted state as retribution for his heinous ministrations.

          Using a dulcet voice to slip past his defenses and drive the point home, like a left-hand stiletto plunged into the heart of one's foe while at sword lock, I amiably asked, "What did you use? ... a fire hose?! What part of sprinkle don't you understand?!" He actually turned away from the twinned sports broadcast (but without relinquishing his death-grip on his cherished beer!) to reply, "Yeh, sort of ... it's a nozzle intensifier called H2O-Blaster that was on sale at the hardware store ... 'twas a really great bargain ... you can even chip old paint with it!" I knew I'd made a tactical error by asking him two questions, because it left him free to answer the one he preferred, and ignore the other. Detecting my pincer movement, he intuitively foiled encirclement by assailing my weakest flank ... so by evading my major sally, which was naturally the significant one, he would compel me to parry his unimportant defensive swordplay until I could thrust again with the real issue.

          "There's no paint in my garden!" I asserted. And interrupting his mumbled retort I continued, "There's no paint on our house either ... it's brick!" "Yeh, I know, honey," he mitigated, "but did you see how clean the brick looks? ... of course I had to replace a couple of basement windows that got broken before I got the pressure properly adjusted, but you've been nagging me for years to clean the basement anyway, so ...." "And I supposed that everything down there is as water damaged as my garden?" I countered. "No, not at all, precious ... I got a new wet-dry shop vac and sucked up all the dirt and debris and broken stuff ...." "BROKEN STUFF?" I flailed. "Honestly, it wasn't too bad, and you said that you wanted to get rid of that old stuff anyway." he uttered while dancing out of range.

          Something vicious and vile must have shone in my countenance as warning, for he extenuated further, "And besides, that new H2O-Blaster kills varmints too ... I got two rabbits, a stray cat, a squirrel, and positively crippled a groundhog and a raccoon! ... the 'coon was the real challenge, waiting in low light with a high pressure hose leaking all over me ... did I tell you that I bought a new heavy-duty steel-reinforced hose? ... yeh, works great, and it's not much heavier than the old one that burst on the first night of stalking." This assault momentarily distracted me with memories, and I almost quit the field of combat. Years before, in my wifely naïveté, I had appealed, like the proverbial damsel in distress, for the big strong man of the house to rescue me from the depredations of cute little bunnies gorging themselves on the produce of my garden. I don't know what miracle I had expected, perhaps a magic spell that prevented predation like an invisible fence, but what happened was carnage! Given license, he took his .410 pistol, firing shot pellets, and blew those little fuzzy creatures into bloody fur globs! ... there were bunny parts under bushes and on the lawn for days. The bird feeder, stocked with expensive sunflower seeds, was ignored while the trilling passerines glutted themselves on freshly slaughtered bunny scraps. I was stunned as he explained that "Rabbits are just rats with good PR!" He later said the same thing about squirrels, car salesmen, lawyers and politicians; but I don't think that he's been given license to begin actively hunting the latter ... at least he hasn't brought home any trophies yet.

          "Cat?" I asked. "Yup," he opined, "took him clean, right behind his front leg with a crushing chest shot. I know how sensitive you are, and he didn't suffer at all. That'll really teach him not to wander into your garden." "Squirrel?" I asked. "Yup," he mused, "got him on the jump and smashed him into the tree on the far side of your bean patch ... although I think he had a broken leg by the time I drove him into the clear." "Raccoon?" I asked. "Yup," he commented, "either broke his back or both his hind legs ... that sucker could really drag himself along on those front legs ... really impressive." "Ground hog?" I asked. "Yup," he said sententiously, "you know how they like to lay down to eat, and look like they're wearing pajamas? ... damned lazy buggers ... well, I was trying for a head shot and got him quartering away, and then he went down his damned hole like a VC escaping into a tunnel complex!" I groaned. An enemy tunnel complex in my garden. No wonder it looked like it had been strafed.

          Recalling a time early in our marriage, when I had invited my untarnished mate to visit my garden where I would proudly display my artistically fructifying nature in a dazzling arrangement of blossoms and leaves in a myriad of colors and textures. My garden looked and smelled wonderful, and I wanted to share it with my soul mate. Taking longer than I'd expected, he finally strode forth garbed in battle regalia! He wore a bush hat with a mesh head net, a neck scarf and gloves, fatigue blouse and trousers, combat boots and web gear. He'd encircled both ankles and wrists with flea/tick collars, and he reeked of insect repellent ... a squeeze bottle of which was tucked into his shoulder harness. He had pesticide and insecticide tucked into his side pockets, and a herbicide pump hanging from his pistol belt. He had a pistol loaded with snake-shot holstered on the opposite hip. He had a gas mask strapped to his harness. He held the nozzle of a backpacked propane tank in one hand and the spark igniter in the other hand. He walked like he was the point man on a recon patrol into hell! ... I would've laughed at his preparations but I was afraid that he'd use some or most of those things on me! ... after all, I was standing in the garden that seemed to threaten him so much.

          Ignoring the igniter, I took my spouse by the hand and led him through my garden, following all the safe paths and identifying all the growing things. His interest was divided, sometimes on the foliage, sometimes on the ground, sometimes scanning the air around us and beyond ... as if watching for an ambush. He let a few bees bumble around the flowers, escorting them with his eyes, and I became very nervous when a hummingbird darted in like a missile to drink nectar, but he didn't attack. His trepidation had communicated itself to me, and I was now nervous in my own garden of delights ... I'd caught his combat itch. Surely, I amused myself, the reason that he didn't react to the hummer was because it was just too fast for him. As I directed his attention to some roses, he espied a complacent bug feasting on a petal, and whipping out his applicator, had dosed it before I could speak or restrain him ... slow he was not. Some tree peonies lined one edge of the garden and I gave their habitat little thought as we moved to that end. He spotted the ants on the peonies, and for all I know, he may have also noticed the aphids that the ants farm, but he quickly scanned the row of plants, making a combat decision ... the quick or the dead. His improvised flamethrower was lit in a heartbeat and the entire row of showy shrubs, together with their parasites, were crisp toast in a few moments!

          I asked him why he'd destroyed my pretty flowers and he replied that "Nature is a jungle ... kill or be killed. It's the survival of the fittest!" He was convinced that he was doing me a good service, and he did not understand my disappointment. Years later, he hadn't changed, and neither had I. That truism, in a nutshell, is the story of civilization.

          I really should've learned my lesson a long time ago. This man had captured my heart with his fervent and steadfast beliefs ... he'd nearly died for his convictions and dedication. He was generous and thoughtful to a fault, and it was not his fault that such often obtruded upon my faults. He was a warrior, and I was acting like someone who wanted him to respond to commands, like a trained guard dog. He tolerated my home, making concessions to share it with me, because he wanted to share my life, not my possessions, not my indulgences, not my preoccupations. He was a good and loyal person. And if he'd let me turn him into a hen-pecked wimp, then I would no longer admire him ... even though he would've become exactly what I, an heir of Delilah, had wanted him to become: a malleable drone. Hasn't civilization learned anything from the past? ... isn't the epic of Samson's destruction of the Philistines [Judges 13-16] a precaution for the modern era? I looked at him, a very large boy who played a little too rough and unintentionally hurt me ... whose enthusiasm had ruined my mud pie party and wrecked my sandcastle dollhouse ... and I forgave him for being so quintessentially different. He was so much a whole man, and so very much unlike me. I sheathed my verbal dagger and hung up my mental sword. He, like the other proud beasts of the wilderness, might realize he'd been wounded in a few days, and then we'd have a chance to console one another. I'd kiss his boo-boo and make it go away, and he would help me in the garden that he considered a free fire zone.

          "Sweetheart, would you mind going to the hardware store and buying me some composted manure and potting soil?" I queried. "Not at all!" he volunteered ... abandoning his reloading and sports broadcast, as if he hadn't been busily multitasking. I could get started on the replanting while he was out, and as soon as he returned, he'd labor beside me like a navvy till dark ... because he loves me and wants to help me, no matter how ridiculous it seems to him.

          He once told me that a dog will be incredibly forbearant, indulging all of our human foibles, none of which he understands or appreciates, for the occasional consideration rendered him as an indulgence of his nature. That dog will endure hours of loneliness and boredom and inactivity for the few moments of affection shown by petting or feeding, walking or playing together. Most of us consider dogs to be lesser species obligating our care, but it was not long ago when all dogs worked for a living, earning their place in our homesteads by their competent performance of necessary deeds. It is only in these modern times that dogs are primarily pets, and the analogical comparison to emasculated males in a pacified society is apt. I don't have to understand my husband, nor he me; but we took vows to honor and cherish one another ... not to remake each other in the other's image. This simply means that we should have the courage to reach out across the chasm to hold hands as we walk our separate but parallel paths toward our destiny.

          And it does take courage. The edge is frightening, the abyss is terrifying, and the way is uncertain. Our handclasp is a comfort in this travail.

by Maggie Duncan
... who is a nurserywoman and freelance writer, married to a combat disabled veteran; her writing has previously appeared in this periodical.

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