When I was 17 years-old, Abraham Lincoln became the President of America. I lived in Pennsylvania, in a modest shack-like house with my 6 younger sisters, 2 younger brothers, and my parents. I could see the shell-shocked look on my mother’s face as the news made it’s apathetic passage through the household.
“Did he win?” My dad suffered from a loss of hearing, and the doctor said it ain’ t comin’ back any time soon. That wasn’t the only thing, he had an awful cough. Sometimes me and lil’ Lucy (my younger sister, she was 13) would bet on how many coughs dad would do in a day, I would always bet less than 50, she would bet less than 75; she always won.
Maybe, I always bet lesser in the hopes that it go down one day.
My mother rushed to get supper ready and evaded dad’s question, that’s cause he did win. And she knew exactly what that meant. I didn’t ask to be born poor, in fact I doubt anybody did. I quietly ate my supper and tried to leave as Lucy sat patiently counting today’s coughs, 62,63,64…
To be honest, that’s all I remember of that day…
October 12 1863, also known as my 20th birthday. My mother was hopelessly prancing around the shack getting my old t-shirts together and fiddling in my drawers for my hair comb. With Dad already sent off 3 years ago, Mom was always tired and empty, and dear God I didn’t want her to go through it again…I prayed for the war to have ended by then. Sometimes things don’t go your way, especially if you’re poor.
“All men, ages 20 and now to 45 shall be legible as draftees for the war”
I remember taking my sorry excuse for a luggage and drudging it past the semi-constructed road. I barely remember the conversation two women held in a shoppe nearby.
“I heard Jameson’s son turned 20 today”
“Poor boy, my husband was lamenting on and on about how he only wished he could give 300 to the poor folk, but you know our son is at the age of 17 himself, and you never know how the circumstances might…”
Those were the last of my memories as I sat by a building ten times my size, but as equally broken as me. Shot in my legs, bullets wedged right in the knees, I sat waiting and counting. I would be lucky, they said, if I found my father in the battlefield. I disagree. Seeing my father on the dust ridden earth floor, abdomen throwing up more blood than the deer we hunted in the summer of ’54, I disagree. He coughed. One, I counted. You didn’t hear a single other thing out of his mouth.
“Lucy, you’ve finally lost.”
Maybe that day, I realized something. Maybe I realized how I’d become the slave to a country whose aristocrats boasted of abolitionism, but enchained the poor to bid their dirty work instead. Maybe, right before I was sent home from the War of Freedom due to the complete immobility of my legs, I realized that I was finally free from it.
“Three hundred, or your legs” I responded to the women in the shoppe, 2 years too late.