Saturday, Oct 14th, I opened snail mail to read this typed letter that arrived in a typed envelope with a Purple Heart stamp:
You need to move! You should be out of our country within 30 days.
You got the money, get out!
You hate our country. You hate our flag, you hate our government! Your articles show your hate for our country and our people. You write about how ignorant and cruel our policemen act and you condemn our men in blue while they keep you safe and die for the safety of others.
According to you, our country and our people are responsible for everything bad that happens in the world.
SO GET OUT!!
You run down our streets of our country like an anorexia featherless bird flapping your boney arms. Your chimpanzee’s face with your clown smile, saying LOOK AT ME!!
The thing that makes people sick of you is your hurtful words about our country and the people who serve. Having all this hate must be a heavy load for you, SO GET OUT!!
Do you even know what our flag represents, what it stands for and the tears behind a folded flag?
In thirty days pick your country and get out of ours.
I paused after the question about the tears behind a folded flag. Paused to answer this question with a yes. At a molecular level, my family members felt/feel fall-to-the-floor pain. My sister Laura’s words over the phone when she told me our nephew Chase had been killed by a vehicle-borne IED, that Mark, my brother asked her to call me. Asked her to tell our parents because he couldn’t. He was too anguished and he knew their anguish would be like his. I am crying now as I write this. So, yes, I know. My father sobbed. My mother’s face changed with Chase’s death. She lost her smile. Her opera-quality voice was silenced by grief. And I. Well, that morning, I collapsed on the bed, phone in hand, and said over and over, “Oh, no. Oh, no. Oh, no.” This is my family’s tragedy. Chase, so young. And then the wait for his body to come home as he was assessed for funeral view-ability. Because that explosion blew off his face. My brother received that folded flag instead of a living, breathing Chase when George Bush was sneaking dead troops home in the dark of night.
Months later when I was speaking at rallies, speaking opposition to war, Mark called to relate that someone came to him while he was working, offered condolences, told my brother he should be proud that Chase died fighting for freedoms, protecting his country. Mark responded, “No, Chase did not die protecting his country. The suicide bomber that killed Chase died protecting HIS country.” I spoke my brother’s words the next day at a peace event in D.C.
I’ve written many articles about what the American battle flag represents to the rest of the world: the deaths, maiming, devastation, DNA-altering weapons banned by international law. Let’s not overlook another meaning: that the USA is directed by warmongers for the benefit of other warmongers and their uber-wealthy cronies. Furthermore, the countries the Military-Industrial-Security Complex targets for resources, waterways, and land access belong to the people of those areas who pay an unfathomable price for the insatiable greed the Deciders cloak with words like “humanitarian intervention” and “fighting them over there so we don’t have to fight them over here.”
I wrote and then deleted that I wonder about the anonymous coward that penned the threatening letter to me. There is no wondering. This person believes our troops are fighting for our freedoms yet would deny mine—my freedom of speech, my freedom to dissent.
I’ve disagreed, engaged in spirited exchanges, with many people about political issues and still have maintained friendships, obviously because most of my friends and acquaintances believe that each of us is protected by the First Amendment, and I would defend anyone’s opinions and right to express them regardless of how far they deviated from mine.
Composed by someone unhinged, the letter is sinister, especially the ultimatum: “You should be out of our country within 30 days.” What’s understood here is the unexpressed or else. What else? What action is this person going to take if I don’t move? And it is sinister and cruel with the personal attack on my appearance, this someone who admits to seeing me running “down our streets of our country like an anorexia featherless bird flapping your boney arms. Your chimpanzee’s face with your clown smile, saying LOOK AT ME!”
Yes, this is evidence that the writer knows me, my routine. I do resemble a chimpanzee. My children have referred to me as the spider monkey. I do smile at people who nod to me while I’m running and at neighbors from my condo community. I am thin and I do pump my arms when I run. I do all those things.
This person has demanded I leave this country because I’m a small, smiling primate who dares to exercise my rights.
The letter is filled with hatred and sickness. How sad that there are people like this—people who twist the meaning of a piece of cloth to glorify the deaths of fellow human beings, deaths that serve the interests of the wealthy. The hatred and sickness throughout the letter is the same hatred and sickness that lead to an acceptance of demonizing immigrants, anyone who is different. The same hatred and sickness that lead to an acceptance of dropping bombs on the Other. The same hatred and sickness that separate us from our humanity.
Missy Comley Beattie has written for National Public Radio and Nashville Life Magazine. She was an instructor of memoirs writing at Johns Hopkins’ Osher Lifelong Learning Institute in Baltimore. Email: firstname.lastname@example.org.