When the kid walked up his driveway, Johnny recognized him as Randall Berry, who had moved to Boise with his family from Seattle last month. That didn’t surprise him one bit. Johnny got up from where he was sitting on his front porch as Randall approached. “Evening.”
“I see you still have that symbol of hate flying,” pointing at the American flag mounted to the right of Johnny’s front door.
“I see you had the nerve to back up that threat you made in the anonymous note you had the audacity to tape to my front door.”
“You should have done what I told you to do and gotten rid of the flag. I promised you a fight where you would lose.”
“Take your best shot you motherf-cker.”
Berry aimed a karate swing kick at Johnny’s face, but the Marine ducked, grabbed the leg and twisted. It was over in a few seconds with the attacker on the ground nursing a couple of cracked ribs and what was probably a broken nose.
“You ready to talk?” Johnny was smart enough to stand several paces away from Randall’s prone form just in case the kid had anything left.
“Talk about what?” The new arrival from Washington tried to sit up.
“Stay on your back and I won’t have to hurt you anymore. Did you honestly think that karate shit was going to work? I’ve kicked the asses of guys twice your size, and who knew a hell of a lot more about fighting than you.”
Randall settled back down on the grass in the front yard. “You’re everything that’s dividing this country, you and your hate symbol.”
“That flag, my friend, is what unites us as Americans, no matter who we are or where we from.” Johnny pointed at the flag unashamed.
“It’s a symbol of institutional racism, sexism, and homophobia, and if you rednecks fly it, then you obviously are supporting everything your Nazi leader Trump is doing.”
“Yeah, I saw that in your note. You said that because I have pickup trucks, I must have voted for Trump. That is the most ignorant thing I’ve ever heard someone say, and I’ve known some pretty stupid people in my time.
“It’s a symbol of hopelessness.
“It’s a symbol of hope, and that flag is not coming down tonight, tomorrow, or for as long as I live here, which will probably be the rest of my life.”
“It’s disgusting. I thought people in Boise were better than this.”
“Where the hell do you get your information? This is Idaho. We’re Americans and proud of it. The people living in this city are from just about every place in the world. We’ve had a refugee center here since I can’t remember when, and I work with people from Iraq, Ethiopia, and Syria. We all get along, and you know something else? They’re not only glad to be here, they fly the same flag in front of their homes, too. It’s a symbol of their freedom from oppression.”
“They’ve been brainwashed and exploited.”
“Not by me or anyone I’m aware of. You’re the ony one with a brain full of bad wiring as far as I can tell.”
“Why would they want to live here? In Seattle…”
“Yeah, let’s talk about that. If your liberal ideals and Seattle are so cool, why the hell did you move to Boise?”
“My Dad said it was getting too expensive, and that the cost of living here is a lot better.”
“How old are you?”
“Shit, when I was nineteen, I was serving my country in Afghanistan. I was wounded twice, nearly died once. Your big move was to try to threaten me and knock my head off because I fly the flag. You’re pathetic. Go back to Seattle where you belong.”
“I wish I could. I had to leave all of my friends behind, everything I ever knew.”
“No you didn’t. You’re nineteen. You can leave home anytime you want. Go back to Seattle. Get a job, a place to stay, do what you want, but don’t tell people what to do with their own property, or you’re going to get hurt again.”
Randall’s face twisted in anguish, as if Johnny’s words hurt him more than his fists.
“Look. Stay right there. I’ve got a first aid kit inside. Let me take a look at your nose.”
The boy nodded mutely.
A few minutes later when Johnny came back out, Randall was sitting up, holding his nose to stop the bleeding.
“Popped a bleeder, huh? Now I’m going to try to help you, but if you take another swing at me, I’ll finish the job on you I started, got it?”
Randall nodded again, still pinching his nose which made his right arm go up and down, too.
“Let’s see here. Take your hand away for a sec. Yeah. There. I think it’s stopped. Doesn’t look broken. You got off easy. If the ribs still bother you in a day or so, get them X-rayed.”
Johnny finished cleaning the blood from Randall’s face.
“Why are you helping me?”
“Because I’m not a bad guy, and like I said, I believe in unity. I believe in different people coming together. When I was serving in the Stan, I worked with every kind of human being you could imagine.
“In boot, right on the first day, my DI said he didn’t want to hear any of our racist shit, he didn’t want to hear about straight guys not wanting to shower with gay guys or any of that, and he promised to kick anyone’s ass who mouthed off. We learned real quick that if we were going to survive, the only thing that mattered was that we were all Marines.”
“You know I’m gay.”
“Not until this moment. Is that supposed to make a difference? You expect me to freak out or something?”
“I expected you to hit me again.”
“Why? Because my flag is a symbol of hate? No, it’s not. Without the example of all of the people who have fought and died defending that flag, I would be a much different person than who I am today. What do they call you, anyway? Randall? Randy?”
“I’m Johnny. Pleased to meet you, Randall. Welcome to Boise.”
The neighbor’s face lit up with surprise as he shook the Marine’s hand. “Thanks, Johnny.”
“Now let me help you up.”
Randall groaned as he rose, leaning against Johnny.
“You want to come in for a while?”
“I probably shouldn’t. I told my Mom and Dad I’d be out just for a little bit.”
“Well, I’ll help you home. You don’t look too steady on your feet. I’ll give you a ride in my truck, that is if you can stand to be seen in one.” Johnny laughed.
“I guess I could try it out.” Randall smiled and still looked like he only half believed that Johnny could be a Marine, fly the American flag, and still be a good person.
After Randall had settled in the passenger seat and Johnny got in and started the truck up, “Look, the next time you come over to my place, why don’t we sit down over a couple of cups of coffee and talk things over. It’ll hurt a lot less.”
“I’ll have to think that over for a bit. I mean, this didn’t turn out at all like I expected.”
“I’m not such a big racist, homophobic son of a bitch after all, huh?”
They shared another laugh, but Randall’s was tentative.
“I’ll get you home. You can tell your parents anything you want, but remember, I was defending myself, and you were in my yard.”
“I just want to get past that part, okay?”
Johnny pulled out of the driveway, and turned toward where Randall’s house was at the end of the block. “That’s just fine by me, neighbor. That’s just fine by me.”
The idea is to take two pairs of opposing words and use them in a poem, short story, or other creative work. They are:
- unite and divide
- hope and hopeless
I bolded those words in the body of my tale so the reader could pick them out easily.
I based this story very loosely on a story and video called VIDEO: Neighbor Demands Veteran Remove ‘Symbol Of Hate,’ Doesn’t Go Over Well.
The facts of what I wrote are basically true, except the person flying the flag is an Air Force vet living in Bozeman, Montana (pictured above). He did find a note on his door the day of July 12th of this year referring to his flag as a “symbol of hate.”
You can read the story and watch the video to get the full details, but I have no idea if anyone showed up at the end of the day to try to remove Justin Schroeder’s flag. I hope not, because he didn’t sound like he was going to put up with whoever wrote the note.