Heather and Mark Davern
24″ x 20″ • Acrylic on canvas
Two brothers in arms; perhaps the same conflict, perhaps different wars and different times. They meet at a favorite place to enjoy each other’s company, swap stories and to silently understand the hurts and triumphs they have experienced.
The Marines outside the windows are personal memories, indelible in their minds and spirits. Some memories good, some not so much.
The obvious tangent between the Marine emblem and the hanging lamp is on purpose. Life is full of tangents-where one object seems to be touching another, yet they are on different planes. Could the opposite be true in life?
by Joseph Roussell
Sean Lowe had ordered four slices already; his meet-up would was five minutes away. With his stocky six-one frame and groomed beard sanding out his rugged aesthetic, the Marine Corp veteran had loveable, approachable presence, yet his eyes were hardened, his physical frame weary yet strong – trademark of anyone who served. His bark gray hoodie sported an eagle globe and an anchor on the front, a mustard brown pair of windbreakers and a pair of Air Force 1’s – comfortable yet presentable. Appropriate for this meeting with a very influential figure in his life. The four pizza slices were cheese; the two soft drinks, Coke. Plain and simple. But special, nonetheless.
Ninety-nine cent pizza has always been a staple in Manhattan: a simple place of connection for people from all walks of life, to get “good enough pizza” on a budget in a city that requires two jobs minimum just to make the rent – provided the jobs aren’t minimum wage, and one can find a roommate or five. But ninety-nine cent pizza, for its lack of sitting space and keep-it-simple-stupid selection food, was the perfect place for everyone:
The well-to-do Sales Executive and the low-income passersby blessed with $3, the business consultant who just closed a deal and the college student taking a break from final exam cram sessions, Police officers from all over the borough, and Veterans from out-of-state who frequent the area for that New York experience, have all passed through the hole-in-the-wall staple of the big apple.
And this day was no exception.
“Semper Fi, Lil Brother!” called an older, deep voice from the entrance to the pizzeria. The older man had on a blue short-sleeved tee with an NYPD logo on the front, beige khaki’s and black combat boots, and on his upper arm he sported a eagle globe tattoo with an anchor.
“Semper Fi, old man.” Lowe nodded. The older man – a police officer whom Lowe met years prior to his time in the Corp, walked into the shop and greeted his younger Corp brethren with a massive bro hug.
His guest had arrived.
“I got you,” Lowe said. He handed two slices, arranged on paper plates to his friend. “On me. As a thank you.”
“Brother, I didn’t do anything, save for the right thing,” The officer said. “It took a shitload of years to learn how to call em,’ and in my career, I didn’t always make the right calls. I didn’t always do the right thing. But the moment I saw your ID from the Delayed Entry Program, I knew. You had a break ahead of you. There was no other choice to make. Except –”
“– To do the right thing.” Lowe nodded. He grabbed at his shirt. “And then there’s that promise you held me to, fam.”
“Damn right,” the elder man said. “And we’ve got some crazy ass war stories to trade, as I see it. Brothers lost, others found, sins committed…” they laughed for a few seconds before he continued, “…lessons learned. I want to hear all about it.”
They grabbed their slices as Lowe replied, “I’ll be here for a week, so…”
“I got time. But not on an empty stomach.”
“Fuck I’ll eat to that,” Lowe said. The two men grabbed their slices, lifted them in an unvocalized “cheers,” and began to eat.
A few moments of silence pass before the officer asks, “So, take me back to before I met you back in your troublemaking days…” Lowe laughs at this, and clears his throat before the chewed-up pizza bits in his mouth can asphyxiate him. Once he finally stops laughing, the man asks, “Where are you from originally?”
“Yeah, I grew up in a melting pot called Lakewood, New Jersey,” Lowe said. There was a drop in his voice as he said it, his chin lifted slightly higher, his back a little straighter. “Real deal, you know. I didn’t grow up with that ‘too much melanin, or lack thereof, defines your worth.’ We had them all: Polish, African, Rastas, Italians, Puerto Ricans…like, it was a hood, it takes all kinds, and that’s what we had.”
“Just like the Marines. It takes all kinds,” The officer said. “And this was years ago, obviously. How is it now?”
Lowe took a deep breath and said, “Largest Yeshiva in the world if my math is right. But then, again, I always cared more for Sociology than math.”
“Oh okay, okay.” The officer laughed. “Not necessarily a bad thing, but it’s not the same anymore, right?”
Lowe confirmed with a quick nod of his.
“So, Manhattan was just next door. Okay, so…why the Marines? The officer asked.
Lowe smiled without showing his teeth, he lowered his head as he nodded slightly to the left. I knew that was coming. “Military recruiters came to my high school in my senior year. To homeroom. They gave us all sheets to fill out, told us they’ll contact us, gave us the usual song and shit.
“I filled out the Marine one.” Lowe continued. “They were supposed to be the hardest. I played ball. Football. I battled. It’s just who I was. So, it fit me. After college ball was no longer an option, I was at home with my mom for like 2 or 3 months, and I got the call.”
“From the recruiter?”
“Yes, the recruiter from the Marine Corp.” Lowe said. “We had a whole conversation on the phone and shit. I’ll just sum it up by saying that it had me thinking about doing something more with my life. I grew up loving G.I Joe. But I made my choice. Don’t recall it being too long after that I went in, took the aptitude test for the Military. I scored high enough that I could’ve gotten a lot of jobs in there, but Like I said before, I’m an athlete. I battled. So, I chose Infantry. They recruiters tried to push me toward, like, the tank, or something else. I basically said no. Like, I knew I could handle it.”
The officer laughed. With a nod, he said, “And look at you. You handled it.”
Lowe reached for his second slice. “Yeah, man. I handled it. All of it. The good and the bad.”
The officer tore his second pizza slice in half as Low bit into his. “The good and the bad.”
There was a unison in their voices that echoed as the words “good and the bad” left their respective mouths. A pride in one’s service that cannot be undermined, but also heaviness of surviving the battles that brothers-in-arms who served didn’t. The echo warranted a pause. An obligatory moment of silence. The two mutually put down their slices, wiped their hands, and bowed their heads.
Two minutes passed before unspoken permission from both was given to break the silence.
“We don’t have to get into it today,” the officer said. “You’re here for a week, so we can unpack it a little at a time.”
“No, I’ll get into one today before we go.” Lowe said. He popped open his soft drink and downed the can in one long draught. “Let’s see…which one?”