Sixty years now the town of Centralia has been burning. Some folks say it’ll take two hundred years more to burn itself through. The maze of coal mines underneath us caught fire and there’s enough kindling there for centuries and air will always find its way through the cracks of the earth to keep it going.
On 9/11, with the radio transcribing the ongoing events and his white coworkers in the plant nursery going mad as though the place was burning down, all my dad could do was laugh. As far as he knew, the Omaha nursery was fine. The roof was still above their heads. The ground was unmoving. The sky still blue, and most importantly there was work to be done.
At the time of my commission, I did not know all the things this man would do, which means I did not know federal troops would be ordered into the cities, that water cannons would be fired, that there would be dogs, horses, rubber bullets, tear gas, that all of this that had for decades been taking place against civilians abroad would now take place, here, against civilians at home
Address: Papa has a lot of rules and his new rule is that we’d better not tell people where we live anymore. He used to not care, and I was allowed to invite my friends over and give them the apartment number and everything, but ever since that guy followed Mama home in his truck yelling about she’s a dirty commie and she should go back to where she came from, Papa says to just keep it general and tell my friends if they want to come over...
I’d bicycle home after teaching, pumping the pedals so hard I hoped the blurred street would crack beneath them. I’d learned early how to leap—from hotel maid to fine dining server, student to teacher, dying desert town to rain-drenched city. So I left. I filled out applications, fielded phone interviews, signed a contract and flew to Hanoi, sight unseen.