Family Planning

Bernard Fisher and Woodrow Schultz sat down at the kitchen table. Bernie poured each of them a cup of coffee and lit up two cigarettes, passing one to Woody. “So you had another one of those dreams?”

“Yeah, poor Brandon. Same thing, always different.” Both men were dressed in plaid shirts and blue jeans. Woody was prematurely balding, shaved his head and had a tattoo of a scorpion on his right forearm. Bernie’s curly gray hair peeked out from underneath a green cap that read “Dong Ha, Vietnam, 25th Infantry Division” accompanied by a lightning bolt logo. Emblazoned on the brim was the reminder “All Gave Some, Some Gave All”.

“Just like that insect,” Bernie pointed to Woody’s scorpion. “It’s not never going away.”

“I got this because I don’t want to forget. Brandon was the brother I never had. We went through so much together. Those dreams drive me crazy but they’re my only connection with him.”

“Still should’ve just got yourself a hat. At least I can always take it off at night.”

“So Brandon and me were driving just outside the base,” Woody ignored Bernie’s attempt to provide comfort and once again retold the introductory link to reality that was basis of his recurrent nightmare. “When this kid runs out in front of the HumVee behind a small herd of goats. I swerve off the road and that’s when we run over an IED. Brandon’s dead on the spot. Fortunately, all I had was a concussion.”

“And I can hear your bell ringing from here,” Bernie smiled. “So what happened next? I mean in your dream.”

“Then I cut my way out of the harness and run around to help Brandon and he was alive, crawls out the window and we both start laughing like it’s no big deal, and he laughs so hard that his head falls right off his shoulders and rolls into the ditch. I go get it and hand it back to him like it was a basketball and he’d missed a free throw but he just keeps on talking so I’m watching his lips that are right next to his belt buckle, the one he always wore that had the scorpion on it.”

“And you got the tattoo,” Bernie added. “Because your buddy wanted to be in the Special Forces.”

“Right, I mean right, in memory of Brandon, but this time he’s got no head. Blown clean off.”

“Sort of like that Ichabod Crane.”


“You know, Legend of Sleepy Hollow. Horseman had his noggin blown off by a cannon ball and it turns into a pumpkin.”

“Whatever. So Brandon’s fumbling with his head in his hands yapping about Pizza Hut back at the base. Trying to choose between the Carnivore Special or Hawaiian Chicken.”

“Fast food in the war zone,” Bernie laughed and tried to change the subject. “Oh man, you fought a different war.”

“Bagram had everything. McDonald’s and Starbucks. We knew the homeland was behind us all the way. Not like Nam, spitting on you when you came back from your tour of duty.”

“Don’t kid yourself. There was no welcoming committee for you either. Just a dead end job and a bottle of comfort. We’re all victims.”

“Maybe you’re right but that’s how I met the love of my life. Getting off swing shift from the warehouse and then seeking out some stimulation down at the club.”

“Like you didn’t get enough of that in the Middle East.”

“But that’s the real difference in our wars. I never saw any action. And I don’t mean at the end of a rifle, but truth is there were no women. Well, there were but they were dressed head to foot with their faces covered. At least you had your China Beach, those cathouses in Thailand and the Philippines where you could sow some wild oats. I missed out on that and now I’m trying to make up for lost time.”

“Don’t complain. Sex in Asia was as dangerous as the battlefield. Every time we came back from leave there was the mandatory shot of penicillin. My arm is still sore from that routine and it didn’t always help. They were inventing new forms of venereal disease over there, stuff the drugs couldn’t touch. Besides in your war you had those enlisted broads fightin’ right alongside you. Real American females, clean as a whistle.”

“No way. There was no GI Jane in my foxhole. ”

“But what about R&R?”

“Our three day passes had to be spent in a hotel in Qatar, heavily supervised leave. Besides those women soldiers were trained killers. Only the Navy Seals dared to get into bed with them.”

“Never thought about it like that. Well, either way, war is hell, whether fighting the red menace or making the world safe for big oil.”

“And now I just wake up with the sheets drenched. Same thing this morning. Knew another attack was coming so I took both a Xanax and a Valium, just to make sure.”

“You look high as a kite. But just imagine what shape you’d be in if you hadn’t quit drinking. Hopefully someday you won’t need the medicine cabinet either. But the sun’s shining, the birds are singing and I’m always here for you. Besides, you’ve got a lot to look forward to. There’s another meeting tonight.” He put his arm around Woody’s shoulder and gave him a hug.

“And that’s what I wanted to talk to you about,” Woody finished his smoke. “I’m not going to group. I’ve got a date with Delores. We’re taking Little Manny to another rally.”

“That’s fine. Romance is better than a room full of alcoholics. But glad you stopped by. You may not remember but today is your fifth anniversary, another milestone and I’ve got another present for you.” Woody recalled the previous annual mementos: first year coffee mug inscribed with the slogan “One day at a fuckin’ time”; next year after that he’d gotten his license back, Bernie gave him a key ring with a token that read ”Admitting you’re an asshole is the first step”; then it was a leather cell phone cover with the inscription “Saved by Grace”; and after completing four years a t-shirt emblazoned with the words “Unity, Service, Recovery” along the edges of a triangle that was inside a circle.

“Nobody’s really on the wagon until they get past their one thousand, eight hundred and twenty-fifth day,” Bernie pronounced as he opened a velvet gift box. “Here's the official five year sobriety medallion.” Without ceremony Bernie put the coin in Woody's palm. It was the size of a silver dollar. A phrase along the top read: “To Thine Own Self Be True”. Beneath it was a handsome profile of Bill W. He turned the coin over to read another inscription: “Faith Bigger than Fear” which sat above a second portrait, bespectacled and erudite, identified as Dr. Bob.

“Well dammit Bernie, you shouldn't have.”

“Keep it in your pocket at all times. It's not just a token, it's a tool.”

“How's that?”

“Can't spend it but you can use it to solve life's problems. Anytime you can't make up your mind just give it a flip and you'll find your answer.”

“But it's got a head on both sides,” Woody objected. “How's that work?”

“This is a coin for optimists. There's no tails. Truth and faith. How can you lose?”

“Two guys with no last name.”

“Yeah, remember we're all anonymous and naked at the feet of the Lord, equals in the brotherhood of man. Keep your sobriety in front of you. Show this to your friends. Don't stash it in the cupboard. Wave your flag. Take pride in your accomplishments.”

“Does this mean that I've graduated? No more group?”

“No, you'll always be part of the family. But now you should consider being a sponsor for somebody else. It's your turn to help others realize their potential.”




Casey Bush

Casey Bush is a long time Portland poet whose collection, Student of the Hippocampus, was published by Last Word Press in 2017. Casey is known to hunt mushrooms, throw the yo-yo, and push pawns. For many years he was a senior editor of The Bear Deluxe Magazine, exploring environmental issues through the graphic and literary arts. He currently writes reviews of avant-garde jazz for Audiophile Auditions. His poetry has most recently been featured in Oddball and Mad Swirl. His essay “Marcel Duchamp Gets Mugged by a Street Hustler” appeared in The Decadent Review (March 2021) and was translated into several languages. Casey recommends Chess for Success and SMART Reading.


Edited for Unlikely by Jonathan Penton, Editor-in-Chief
Last revised on Monday, May 9, 2022 - 13:54