Title: Playing Soldier
Author: F. Scott Service
As an only child isolated within a troubled family, F. Scott Service found solace in fantasy and imagination, until a fateful day led to the discovery of his father’s Korean War field jacket hidden in a closet. What began as innocent emulation and approval, eventually spiraled into the calamitous loss of everything he had built as an adult. Faced with a grievous divorce, post-traumatic stress, homelessness, substance abuse, and the failure of everything he had willed himself to believe was truth, one night communing with a loaded pistol became the mechanism for self-clarity. From that darkest time, only elemental deconstruction and reconstruction of identity would allow him to forge a reclamation with his true, original self. Visceral, with breathtaking candor, Playing Soldier powerfully captures the unlearning of expectation, the celebration of individuality, and the nourishing of self-acceptance once buried by cultural stamps of approval and societal convention. Braided with humor, courage, fear, despair, and hope, his unflinching, evocative story of passage into adulthood, the Iraq War, and beyond, speaks to anyone who has confronted adversity from without and grappled for their dreams from within.
Watch the book trailer: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=i7RzJmPeDlY
I have on my Winnie the Pooh pajamas, but feel naked to the wrath.
In the living room, lying on my stomach, a frayed copy of The Crab with the Golden Claws is before me on the thin, sand-colored carpeting.
And I hear her coming down the stairs.
Stomp, stomp, stomp... stomp.
My stomach jerks.
Turn the page.
Tintin, Captain Haddock, and Snowy, stranded in a lifeboat, are being shot at by an amphibian plane full of bad guys. Wicked grins as they hunch over the controls, pressing the trigger of their wing-mounted machine guns.
Rat, tat, tat... tat.
Thud. Her suitcase lands at the bottom. Thud. The other.
My lips quiver.
Turn the page.
Now, they’ve stolen the plane. Tintin surprised the bad guys, erupting from the churning sea after he brought them down with a lucky shot from his pistol. After he swam under the choppy surf to where they were checking the engine. After the Captain tied them up and they were stowed in the back.
A jingle of keys, then stuffed in a pocket. My mom yanks at the front door as my dad bursts in from the kitchen.
“Where are you going? When are you coming back?” he demands.
A sharp turn of her neck. “I don’t know, Fred. Maybe never.”
“Barbara, look... please, just don’t leave.”
My hands tremble.
Turn the page.
The spine of the book cracks.
“Great snakes,” exclaims Tintin.
They’ve crashed the plane. Broiling fire bulges through the cabin. Smoke billows from the crumpled fuselage as Tintin pulls the Captain and bad guys out. He can’t let any of them perish. And outside, under the white, hot sun, poor Snowy’s fur is blackened with soot. He barks, worried for their safety.
The suitcases go into the night with her. The door slams so hard it rattles the gold inset, wood-framed picture on the wall―two smiling faces cradling a chubby-faced newborn, five years ago. Silence now, except for an ornate, wooden pendulum clock hanging on the wall above me. A gable roof with a chimney tops it, mimicking a home. Below, the disc swings like a dream.
Smooth. An unblinking cyclops always watching.
My shoulders tighten.
Flip the page.
“Well, here we are. Do you really think this looks like Spain?” Tintin asks the Captain. The cooked wreck of the plane smolders behind them. Haddock’s tapping his chin in wonder as their smudged faces look over endless, rippled dunes. And Snowy just found a bone from a dead camel.
My heroes are in a tight pinch. I hope they get out of it.
I look up. My dad is staring at the door. He looks worn, diminished.
He turns, and his eyes are engulfed with stabbing, furious fire. Without a word, he does an about face and marches upstairs. I don’t see him again until morning.
As for my mom?
She leaves for a few days.
Am I in the way? Do I belong here? Do they want me here? Do they like me? Love me?
The unblinking cyclops is staring at me.
Why don’t they like each other?
Shy little boy. Alone.
I bite my lip. Flap my fingers through the air.
But not in the book. In this museum of words and pictures and dreams, I can go anywhere by land or sea or air. Do anything, be anyone. I can voyage around the world, while wearing Tintin’s clothes, and my friends will always be with me.
Comfort. Assurance. They’ll never leave.
My stomach, lips, hands, and shoulders feel at ease.
Flip the page.
As I near the end, Tintin, Captain Haddock, Snowy, and me are triumphant. “... and it is thanks to the young reporter, Tintin, that the entire organization of the Crab with the Golden Claws today find themselves behind bars.”
Teeth brushed. The lights are out. I crawl into bed feeling like I want to hide under the covers from the shadows of my bedroom, the cavernous expanse of the house, the chilly, darkened street and sleeping town.
Warm. Covered and safe.
My eyes close and a flicker show of images stream before me. My whole body clutches and cradles them. Nothing could be more clear as I see myself in a car, a boat, a train, a plane, traveling to the Congo, the Sahara, to the Red Sea and Tibet. The moon and back.
Anywhere but here.
I want to make my own story, create a world and write about it. I want to make-believe with each peck at a letter that I’m a daredevil, a big gun beyond compare, taking on villains. Battling the forces of evil. And winning. I’m yearning with enthusiasm and infatuation as I sink into the celestial space of dreams, mind breathless with the endeavor of inkscape fancy while sitting at my synaptic typewriter.
I’m a blossoming creation.
An author and I’m going on my new adventure.
Bad guys beaten. Hooray for heroes.
A lot of war stories begin with heroes.
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