With These Arms …


I hated not having arms. I was all right with not having legs. Not having arms takes so much away from you. Even your personality. You talk with your hands. You do everything with your hands, basically. And when you don’t have that you’re kind of lost for a while.

~~Sgt. Brendan Marrocco

Twenty-six-year-old Brendan Marrocco is a veteran who left all four limbs in Iraq. On December 18, 2012, in a 13-hour operation, he received two new arms, not prosthetic arms, but two human arms, from a deceased donor.

I lay in bed unable to fall asleep, imaging Marrocco, not just as he is now, what he is now, but also when he returned stateside, his body, the way he felt, wondering about the way his parents felt. The way I would feel if he were my child. “Not having arms takes so much away from you. Even your personality.” These sentences interlaced my thoughts.

Did his mother and father say, “He lost four limbs doing what he loved?”

Or did they scream, as I would, “He lost four limbs supporting what the military security complex loves? Really, would I say this? How could I know?

I had been reading articles about unmanned aerial vehicles earlier, one detailing the formal inquiry into US droning. Usually, I scroll through the comment sections, as if I’m taking a pulse, conducting a survey. Here’s one opinion, the judgment most likely of an American who supports his/her country’s exceptionalism: “I would rather inadvertently kill children via drone strikes than risk one American soldier’s life trying to kill terrorists in the UN-approved way.”

So, I tossed. Turned. Plumped my pillows. And personalized, wondering about my sons. What if one wanted to join the military? Would I hope he’d work from a cubicle, thousands of miles from the physical danger of roadside bombs, like the improvised explosive device (IED) that ripped off the limbs of US Army Sgt. Brendan Marrocco? Want my son to control a joystick—instead of deploying overseas?

The selfish Me said yes. The better me reconsidered. Maiming. Marrocco. Safety. Drones. My children. Your children. All children.

I imagined my child as drone operator. Far from injury.

Yet close to inflicting it.

What if he called a strike that vaporized a child?

What if he committed this murder repeatedly?

At least he wouldn’t be maimed or killed by an IED.

But what would he BE? What would he become?  “… kind of lost for a while”? Forever? Psychically distorted?

At peace rallies, I’ve heard parents speak about their sons who’ve returned from war altered forever by what they’ve done, what they’ve seen.

Staring into the eyes of the “enemy” before slaughtering him.

Blowing up cars, families, children. Witnessing the death of children.

Participating in the crime of war. Watching their buddies explode in rage or apart.

Brendan Marrocco lost more than four limbs to an IED. He also lost his personality. His words imply that new hands, the gift of gesture, restore that loss.

Now, right now, I look at my hands. I feel the keyboard. I reach out and then back to place a hand on my chest, my heart. But I also see the hand that curls around the remote to vaporize a wedding party.

I consider the Socratic dialogues, specifically, whether it is better to suffer and injustice or commit an injustice.

I think too about families in the countries we terrorize, in the countries we drone—human beings who love their children just as much as I love mine. As much as you love yours.

Missy Beattie lives in Baltimore. Email: missybeat@gmail.com

Missy Beattie has written for National Public Radio and Nashville Life Magazine. She was an instructor of memoirs writing at Johns Hopkins’ Osher Lifelong Learning Institute in BaltimoreEmail: missybeat@gmail.com

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