An orange glow lingers on the horizon where the sun set minutes earlier. A couple of neighbors are grilling and the smell of pork chops from one yard blends with onions and peppers from another. Sybil, Jack, and Eddie have finished their own supper and now sit on the porch with bowls of Rocky Road, Eddie’s favorite. He’s on the top step, long legs stretched out as he goes at that ice cream. Sybil and Jack have reached their compromise pace on the swing, slower than she likes, faster than he does. Ordinary? Nothing could be more ordinary. Then, “I’ve got news.” Eddie lays his empty bowl on a lower step, clasps a hand over each knee.
Sybil and Jack, just this morning, were debating whether Eddie has stopped growing. Some children add inches into their mid-twenties and already their son is taller than Jack. A big, tall, strong boy. But now, a twitch starts at the base of Sybil’s palms, gathers momentum until the strange pulsing reaches her fingertips. She’s gone a long time without one of these episodes, her hands thrumming a beat that says something big is coming. She can’t tell good or bad, just big. Her appetite disappears and she abandons her bowl to the floor where the ice cream melts in the early summer heat, the air heavy with humidity.
Fireflies flit over the porch and past Eddie, the boy who once trapped their ancestors in jars. Back then, after he went to bed, Sybil had sat on this very swing, light spilling out the window from the television Jack watched. The bugs huddled together, only a few bold ones springing up now and then. When she released them, they lit the air, relieved to escape and oblivious to how safe they’d been, away from bats and birds and the hypnotic temptation of light bulbs. Safety isn’t a priority for bugs or boys, but Sybil doesn’t get that, even after all these years.
“A guy has to think ahead, think about the future.” Eddie plays back the words he’s heard from Jack and keeps his focus on his father, who will side with him on that much. Never a mistake to start with Daddy in your corner.
Right now, Eddie works as a gofer for his Uncle Paul, same as he’s done previous summers. There’s a chance of the temporary job, repairing machinery for offshore rigs, extending into something permanent. If he’s interested, he has to let Paul know and soon. Jack has been pushing about that since last month’s graduation. Jobs keep drying up and if Eddie wants this one, he better jump on it.
He’s still shop-bound, doesn’t know enough to go offshore, but once he gets more training he’ll be assigned to a crew and scheduled to repair rigs on site. Even if he avoids the riskiest tasks, he can’t avoid all danger. Deepwater Horizon, still steadily spewing oil after two months, tells the world all it needs to know. Eleven dead and buried in the Gulf. Safer jobs are all over Louisiana. His mother’s been after him to find one of those or pick up other skills and get a job like his daddy’s. No one ever got hurt working with jammed locks, but Eddie has no interest in locksmithing. He’s also told her he’s done with classrooms, told her more than once, but she’s managed not to hear him.
“You signed up with Paul,” Jack says. “About time.”
Whatever he’s done, it isn’t as simple as agreeing to work with his uncle past the summer. Sybil is certain of that and suddenly wants to cover her ears, no matter how childish the gesture might seem. Instead, she clutches each elbow with an opposite hand and wills herself to listen.
“I signed up but not with Uncle Paul.”
“Don’t tell me.” Jack might not boast her instincts but is often quicker to grasp what’s actually in front of him. Nothing much gets past Jack, his mother used to say, and the woman wasn’t one to dish out compliments.
“What?” Sybil says. “Tell you what?” The tips of her fingers prickle and she tightens the grip on her elbows.
“Marines?” Jack asks.
That quickly, Sybil knows too.
“Army,” Eddie says.
“Army’s okay,” Jack says.
“Why?” The word never sounded this harsh, but in one jolt her son has drained the honey out of the evening. Eddie, Eddie, not for you, she thinks. This is not for you.
He passes a thumb inside his bowl, licks the finger absentmindedly, taking his time as if this were just another evening, just another conversation like the thousands that preceded it on this porch.
“You get lots of training,” he finally says. “Free,” he adds, the bonus an incentive they can all applaud.
“We’d pay for any training you want. You know that.” Her voice has the high squeal that annoys her family, annoys her too. Jack rests a hand on her thigh. The swing is still, but neither of them notices.
“Whatever,” Eddie says. “Save you money.” He grins, shrugs, keeps grinning.
She digs a nail into her left elbow, the discomfort a reminder to stay calm, not start a protest sure to drive Eddie deeper into army arms. Maybe he’ll change his mind. This boy isn’t ready for anything like the military. Didn’t the recruiter see that?
“Not a bad career for a man. See the world. Isn’t that what they promise?” Jack thinks maybe that’s a navy promise but is certain you can see plenty with the army too. “A good pension waiting for you down the road too.” He’s of the age to see the glimmer of retirement and can’t come up with any other explanation for what he just said.
“He hasn’t started working and you want him to think about quitting?” Some days she doesn’t know where her husband’s brain goes.
He starts the swing again, closer to her speed than his, a small concession to her being right. “Nothing wrong with protecting your country, serving the Stars and Stripes.”
Let somebody else serve, she thinks, but the words are too selfish to say out loud. All she’s given him? All of that to lead to this summer evening? There’s a war going on. Two of them. Plus all those “trouble spots,” whatever that’s supposed to mean. Doesn’t he understand? Doesn’t Jack? Don’t they see where he could end up?
“I thought about it for a long time,” he says. “Really since last fall.” Not true. The truth? He’d been celebrating the baseball team’s regional championship, most of the team wasted before they landed in somebody’s backyard after the Honeysuckle closed. A couple of juniors started bemoaning the team’s prospects next year with so many players graduating and that prompted seniors to say what they were doing after high school. “Army,” he’d said, not a moment’s hesitation before the word was out of his mouth and that had been that. When your posse starts calling you “captain,” what can you do? But he wants his parents believing he thought this all out, gave the matter as much consideration as they’re convinced it deserved.
Fall, she’s thinking. Start of his senior year. Parties and good times. Soccer followed by basketball, spring baseball, his best sport. Classes, different each semester to mimic college, practice for classmates who already knew they were heading to UL or LSU. Why not him too? Why not Eddie strolling a campus, flirting with sorority girls? The whole while, had he been considering this day, had he already drifted so far away that she had no inkling of the ideas playing in his head?
“It’s too dangerous,” she says.
“Hey, Mama, you saying I’m dumber than most, would step on a land mine quicker than another dude?” He shakes his head in the exaggerated way he’s perfected as frequent accompaniment to his comedy routines. “You saying I’m dumber than the next guy?” More head shaking, even more exaggerated. “Mama, Mama, Mama.”
Playing for a laugh, that’s always Eddie’s way. But doesn’t he understand nobody on this porch has a laugh to give him? The boy has made a mistake. No doubt in Sybil’s mind. Even Jack, who rather likes the idea of his boy in uniform, understands this is serious business.
In bed that night, Jack names sons of two acquaintances who signed up. Air Force, not army, but same idea. They love their country, he tells Sybil. Eddie does too. They should be proud of him. Those boys are fine. Eddie will be fine.
“How do you know?”
“You worry too much.” He yawns and will be asleep in less than a minute. For all the years of their marriage, he’s been able to fall into a deep sleep almost instantly.
“And you?” she asks, eager for reassurance before he loses awareness. “You’re not worried?”
“Go to sleep, Sybil,” he mumbles, nearly gone.
“The army, Jack.”
Nothing from his side of the bed but the familiar snuffling, half snore, half chuckle as if he just heard a joke.
She envies Jack his easy relationship with sleep, his ability to shut down a day’s worries until tomorrow comes. She twists to her side, away from him and towards the rest of the house. The familiar position is best for hearing what’s going on out there. Right now, the only noises are coming from the kitchen. Eddie, scooping Rocky Road and scrounging for cookies, she’s sure. When the kitchen rumblings stop, she shuts her eyes and hopes for sleep.
Back in his room, door shut, Eddie’s playing a computer game, texting his girlfriend, and listening to music. By 1:30, he’s down to the music, earbuds keeping his playlist rolling. The girlfriend’s still texting, but he doesn’t answer. Instead, he stretches on the bed, head resting on his folded arms, and tries to contemplate a future he’s not sure he can imagine.
MARKING THE DIVISION
“Jacqueline Guidry's Marking the Division is an essential book of our time, a novel about how war penetrates and harms not only those who fight but those who love them. By telling the story of young Eddie Delchamps through the eyes of each member of his family, his girlfriend and others, Guidry leads us to get to know and care about Eddie, which makes it all the more poignant when he comes back so profoundly changed by war that everyone around him is changed, too.”
Professor Helen Benedict, Columbia University
Marking the Division was a finalist in the Faulkner/Wisdom competition.
Awaiting placement by literary agent:
151 West 19th Street, 3rd Floor
New York, NY 10011
From the moment 18-year-old Eddie Delchamps enlists, his family and friends are forced to re-examine their images of the boy they thought they knew. Using multiple viewpoints, Marking the Division studies the impact of war on a soldier and everyone around him. As the novel unfolds, Eddie remains the center of tumultuous events, but the ramifications ripple in broadening circles to affect his immediate family, friends, and casual acquaintances.
The summer after his high school graduation, Eddie’s life looks like this: working a temporary job alongside his uncle in Louisiana’s oil field industry; hanging out at Pizza Square; making out with his girlfriend at a favorite spot overlooking the Vermilion River. An okay life, but not much more than that. No deviation from what everyone thinks he should do: find a permanent job and after that, marriage, a house, kids. Not how Eddie sees himself. Not what joining the army announces about him.
In high school, Eddie saw himself as invulnerable, but as boot camp nears he begins to worry he isn’t ready for what’s coming. While he wants to escape the shackles of an ordinary life, he also wants to keep rocking in that familiar cradle of comfort. But he has set his course and ignores his doubts as well as those of others.
During Eddie’s Afghanistan deployment, his doting mother Sybil and his girlfriend Monica develop a supportive bond forged over shopping trips and lunches at burger joints; this new relationship surprises them both, given their earlier, cool exchanges. Eddie’s father, Jack, always believed he was as happy before his children were born as afterwards but now discovers how wrong he was. Eddie’s sisters, already in high school when he was born, are lifelong sparring partners who can’t escape the ring. Like her mother, Susan worries over the dangers her brother faces, all the while searching for ways to make her own life more challenging. Dana, having already steered her family through her marriage, divorce, and re-marriage to the same man, insists Eddie will master army life as easily as he has everything else.
His family diligently nurtures the space where Eddie once fit, making sure it’s ready for his homecoming. Recuperating from injuries, he returns home, a place he no longer recognizes. Carefree, pre-war Eddie emerges rarely, supplanted by an Eddie battling to escape the horrors he carried home. His family doesn’t recognize the boy they love. Everyone wants to help Eddie, is eager to slip him back into the place they’ve held for him, but no one knows how to give him what he needs.