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SURRENDER when we pick up our fake rifles

Explosions shook the ground and the walls all around us, I ran into the room with the rest of my squad, we were all yelling. Two women lay in a filthy bed in front of us, clutching at one another. I couldn't shoot them with my M-16 because the sergeant next to me had just shredded their heads with automatic fire. She pushed them apart with the barrel of her rifle, there were unexploded grenades in their arms and between their bloody legs. Very close physical contact with each other and with our victims. The girls in my squad were killers. One saved my life.

That morning we had all been reading the Sunday New York Times in various parts of the City and planning what subway to take to get to the show. Orange juice and maps.

This was the new Off-Broadway sensation "Surrender", directed by an Iraq Shock-And-Awe veteran and a veteran theatre conceptual artist. We were 16: 13 girls and 2 boys and me, dressed in real uniforms and boots, having been put through 1.5 hours of intense basic training in how to fight in Iraq and how to save your buddy's life and cover your ass. There were four squad leaders, in the pro-company and rehearsed cast of 24, who led us newbies into combat. And when those of us who survived, when we got to Kuwait for "intermission", and free beer and sex, our war was far from over.

The next act was re-entry into Amerika. One of our troopers faced reconstructive surgery on her deeply wounded left leg. She lay in anguish in a wheelchair. The operations failed. The OR nurses explained gently that the only way they could save her life and avoid gangrene poisoning her whole body was to amputate her leg. She was 21. Only a little older than Kiota.

Then she said:

I spent months learning to walk on my prosthetic leg.
I lived in a germ-free white room.
My bandages were all white. Red and white.
Then one day I realized after all that time I could not stand on my leg.
I was standing on somebody else's leg.
Then I could not feel my right leg anymore.
Even though it was right there.
My right leg belonged to someone else too.
I couldn't feel my tummy anymore. Nor my breasts.
They were somebody else's breasts.
Then one night I couldn't see anything but white.
I couldn't feel my teeth or my mouth or my lips.
Just white.
I was being swallowed and eaten and digested by white bandages.
But I wasn't wearing any bandages.
Then my eyes turned to white.
I called for help but I had no voice.
Just me and the room were left.
Then my eyes turned to white.
Then there was just the room.....

If you ever needed any explanation of what PTSD is and does and how it kills your mind, it was right in front of us. A sergeant not from my squad, but I knew her and I'd helped her over some combat obstacles while we were clearing enemy rooms. Dead. In the hospital.

Surrender triggered something else, too. Looked it up, from parts of her post on November 24, 2003. She had been 14 and a few months.

Kiota never was drafted into the Israeli military. So she never fought in living combat ....


"If you're reading this, I've probably died. ... this is my choice. I don't want you to suffer for it.

I kept myself alive for a long time for that reason -- to keep you from suffering. I didn't want to hurt you. I lived for others. Sometimes it was alomst too hard, to hang on, to keep living.

I love you very much. I don't want to hurt you, make you suffer, make you feel guilty. I didn't want to hurt anyone. I just wanted to end my own pain. A selfish act. But I couldn't, anymore. It hurt too much, inside. I stayed alive a long time, fighting it, and it beat me down, and at last I surrendered.

It's over and done with. I'm sorry."


Again: that was November 2003.

Now, six months after April 2008: sitting there emotionally paralyzed, watching a wounded girl as her mind dies before her body, trying to reach her [as we all were], as she slumped in her wheelchair in a psych hospital.

Wait a moment! SURRENDER is a play, right? I get to take my uniform off, right? Isn't that her up on stage, taking a curtain call? Two good legs? Applause? Her eyes are smiling and alive? The show opens this coming Wednesday? With a full cast, right?

Sometimes there are shows called interactive theatre that plunge you right into the middle of the illusion you are supposed to be seeing up there on stage. In all my life or lives, never as much as this show, SURRENDER, has done. It's called "breaking down the fourth wall."

Sometimes there are interactive lives that do that, too.
Plunge you.
Into lots of places you never had gone before.

It all happens so damn fast.

You should be right out there on patrol.
Maybe you shouldn't.
Some of you have been, already; I know at least one Friend.

Maybe you are not so far from New York as you think right now.

It's not over and done with as much as you might have thought, either.
We don't just leave our real memories in our locker when we pick up our fake rifles.

As long as we are breathing, that is.
And possibly after that too?

Combat, of many kinds, is not just confined to last Sunday afternoon at the Ohio Theatre at 66 Wooster Street in SoHo, Lower Manhattan, NYC. As we all know.

Some of us know that each day.
Don't we.

Bism'Allah arachman arahim.


( 7 comments — Leave a comment )
Oct. 28th, 2008 04:22 pm (UTC)
I left out the part when I played the love scene on the bed with my girlfriend. They called me up out of the audience [others of us got called up onto the stage to play other scenes.] I was in full battle dress and she was in almost nothing.

Total lack of communication. We could not reach one another.

On the other edge of the bed was another pro actress playing an Iraqi woman. She had no lines. She just smiled.

She was not really there. Was she?
Oct. 28th, 2008 04:48 pm (UTC)
Actually this woman looks exactly like Nadia.
No wonder I totally lost my voice.
Oct. 29th, 2008 04:19 am (UTC)
Ever wanted to say something, but you just don't know what? A loss for words. I guess the best I can come up with to say is... this entry intrigues me. I'm not sure why. It just does. I can imagine myself right there in the midst of that play. Can imagine every detail of it so vividly, too. You're a great writer, you know that?
Oct. 29th, 2008 03:44 pm (UTC)
O Caylen thanks for the compliment, and because my bedroom scene was totally scripted AND SUDDENLY the teleprompter which was feeding me my lines went out, totally black, they couldn't fix it, I improvised dialogue for the whole thing! My {white} girlfriend ran off the stage [on cue] and was all indignant that they had planted a pro actor in the audience and it was me --- and they said, "We have no idea who Brad Butler is, he just showed up and did it all!" My Muslim girlfriend just sat there on the bed smiling the whole time and afterwards told me she was all WTF who put this new scene in here and didn't tell us??

So: yes, I was at a loss for words, literally: but when that happens and the show stops as a result, you get to think reallyREALLY fast!

Maybe you compliment me too much, though --- just like you do, and all the rest of the -- what, 15 million? -- of us on here do, I write what I feel ....

More about the show: http://www.wowsurrender.org/

It will really wrench you about eleventy-seven ways, too: first of all, you're female. And so were 85% of my squad that night and so are most of the pro actors playing Iraqi mothers and teenagers and insurgents.

So: want me to meet your plane?

Make a hell of a research project for you [in all your spare time, I know :( ]. There are mountains in Iraq, toooo!! :)

It's a total transformation: turning yourself from an individual with your whole personal life and beliefs --- transforming you into a cog in a big mean green killing machine, responsible for not only protecting your own life but the lives of all your combat buddies as well. Which is what the real life army does. In every country, not just ours. Israel, Palestine, Canada, wherever ...

You'd never forget it. Which is the whole point.

My friend Karina, who's a pro actress and singer, had gone through the first act a few days before me ---- and was totally outraged, at a Q+A afterwards with the writers she let them have it. I told her she should come back to the whole show and go through the re-entry to America activities.

What *that* did to me is still something I'm figuring out .... especially the experience of the wounded girl in the wheelchair, I was right in there with her.......

Edited at 2008-10-29 03:57 pm (UTC)
Nov. 1st, 2008 01:32 am (UTC)
I found this whole post very, very moving, Brad.

Wow. To be able to participate in something like that. I am quite frankly jealous -- I would love to be able to do something similar. And not just the stage part of it, but how you actually entered into the experience. Then related it back to Anna. Yes, Brad, PTSD is exactly like that. Wow, beautiful AND mind-blowing.

And somehow, reading this post, I don't feel so far from New York anymore either. You've made it come alive. :)
Nov. 7th, 2008 11:00 pm (UTC)
It's not much of a stretch these days, Meow. Directly or indirectly, lots of things in my life right now relate back to Anna.

Forward to her, too.
Nov. 8th, 2008 03:48 am (UTC)
I know they do. I know they do. *hugs*
( 7 comments — Leave a comment )


kiota too late for the stars
Moonfire Marion Bridge / Brad

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