by Ruth Draves
An internee explains her life and how words and ideas have impacted her and her family.
I once told my parents I remembered the words printed in the biggest, boldest type on the posters as if one was hung two feet from my face. They chuckled and reminded me I was only two when the posters first appeared, I must have somehow added those words later into my memory. “IMPORTANT NOTICE” and “MANDATORY EVACUATION” are not words any toddler could read. But I was adamant, demanding to know why they did not believe me. I had read those words as they hung on the streets of our neighborhood, not later in my “patriotic” history class.
My father sighed over his weak tea when I said this, and nodded toward the makeshift barrier of surplus blankets that served as the walls of our unit in the barracks. The camps had many ears, and privacy was not the only concern.
This was before he would be taken to be “questioned” about his “loyalty,” never to return. It was the closest we ever came to an argument.
My brother, almost a lifetime older than me, was one of the first to volunteer for military service for the country that deemed to necessary to lock us away in the middle of a desert. Many times I believed he went off to fight a war he did not believe in because of our father. Maybe his bravery, courage, and, most importantly, loyalty, would convince our benevolent captors that we were as American as they, right down to the apple pie.
My mother, already aged by quasi-widowhood of her husband's disappearance, took to her cot the day my brother reported for duty. She stayed there for a week, not noticing the kind women in our barracks who brought her broth and made sure I was clean and fed. After a week, she rose as if nothing had happened, combed her now-gray hair, and went about her daily business.
After the men of our family were gone, my mother and I settled into a routine. Each morning, she would gently shake my shoulder until I could no longer fall back to dreaming. During the winter, we would bundle up before braving the washrooms, though the summers we could get by in our wraps. Breakfast was either leftover rolls from the previous night's dinner or, if we had time, something hot yet bland in the cafeteria. Then I would head off to school and my mother to the camp administrative offices, where she had a job as a bookkeeper. Evenings were spent doing homework and mending after supper, then we would comb each other's hair, sitting on her cot, working at the knots that seemed to breed on my scalp no matter how tightly I braided my hair. My mother's hair shimmered with strands of pure silver as the brush glided through it.
Many news organizations came to the camps to “document” our “happy” lives. Dances, dinners, and concerts were all lovingly filmed to reassure the nervous public that we were not being mistreated. They did not show the frostbite, the dust, the overflowing toilets, or the growing graveyard. Whenever one of the eager crews showed up with their cameras and microphones and encouragements to “Smile, look happy!” my mother and I retreated to our quiet unit. You will not see us if you look through any of the archived footage.
If my mother had been somewhere other than a camp, I would not be on this bus. She may have gotten an earlier appointment with a doctor when the coughing started, may have had the x-rays needed to diagnose the real cause, the pills to kill the infection before it ravaged her body. Her funeral would not have been in a snow-swept desert under the watch of ever-present guard towers. I would not have gotten caught up in a group of angry camp kids if my brother had been there to steer me away from their hateful rhetoric. My father would have sighed over his tea and asked me if I really was going to turn us all into the caricatures the rest of the country believes us to be – subhuman, violent, and espousing hate – making my instantly regret my involvement.
My presence on this bus, wearing a vest lined with plastic explosives and filled with nails and ball bearings, will be blamed on my religion. Some will blame my parents, though they were never radicalized and were barely observant. The camps will be blamed as “breeding grounds” for terrorism, and calls for reforms and relocations will rally some in the public, for a while. Groups I never heard of and never been a part of will seek glory as they claim responsibility for my actions. Investigations on how I obtained the materials and forged papers will be both praised for thoroughness and derided for their lack of preventive foresight.
But I am the one who is going to detonate this bomb, and no one will ever know what I blame.
I blame the posters. The signs that reduced me, my family, my faith, to a line item in a war that is not about lands or borders, but oil and money. The words that fractured my family with hate and fear, multiplied by politics and rumors.
This is my notice to the world. Wars against ideas have no treaties or memorials. The true casualties are those like my family – the men who disappear, the women who grieve, the children who grow up as refugees in their own countries.
I will not be reduced to an idea any longer.
Word count: 993.