We didn’t learn this in basic training. Ask me to dismantle my M16A2. Ask me to demonstrate the 4 key firing fundamentals, and ask me to shoot multiple-target engagements at distances of 75, 175, and 300 meters, and I’ll make 30 target exposures so you can call me a Sharpshooter. Sergeant Major Rey promoted me to the Immediate Reaction Force unit. She asked for my bra size.
My mother was excited to hear I was being sent to Cuba. Not because I wouldn’t be in Iraq or Afghanistan, but because I’d be in her birthplace. She told me on my days off, I could visit with some uncles and aunts I’ve never met before. My father wants me to send him some authentic Cuban tobacco so he can continue his ongoing joke about how him being Columbian and my mother being Cuban, coffee and cigarettes, together create shit. I don’t think it’s funny either. It makes me excrement.
My parents always knew I’d be in the military. They wanted the best for me. So when I said, “36 C, Sergeant,” it made me think of the way my father would tell his joke and then call me “mi mierda pequeña,” the way I would laugh with my teeth tight together.
“We’re using a new strategy for interrogation, Private. This will break them. Take off your uniform and put these on. Come back to my office in these clothes at twenty-two hundred hours.” She held a bag, pink with a black handle. Victoria’s Secret written in black. I said, “Yes, Sergeant.” On my bunk, on top of the army green flannel blanket, the white lace bra with coordinating thong, the white cropped baby sized shirt, the miniskirt in red cotton-poly blend, laid bright against the green, screaming the way the men do, loud and unrelenting.
Stepping into the thong, pulling it up, the way it curled against my skin, made me think of the girls at my high school, the ones I never wanted to be. They wore these things under mini skirts, with low-rise jeans, beneath see-through virginal white. They plucked their eyebrows. Lined their lips. They’d say, Isabelle, let me pluck yours. They’d say, wear something tight. They said, “Que?” when I told them I was leaving for basic training. They said, no chica looks good in camouflage.
Juana whose lips were always lined in a dark shit brown never finished high school. Maria, the most popular, has AIDS somewhere, if anywhere, if not already in the ground. Lucia, Margarita, Flora, they’re all changing diapers, getting their tits sucked dry.
I was a project to them. The geek, the misfit, or what everyone called, “Potato.” Somehow I wasn’t brown enough. They tried to make me brown, all the way through, kind of like shit.
Here I am in Gitmo pulling this thong up, over my pubes, wishing Juana could see me, wishing Maria alive, seeing Lucia’s, Margarita’s, Flora’s smiles, wanting their eyes on me, their tweezers in hand, singing Selena under a numbing sweet scented mist of imposter Glow. My hips start to move when I sing Hey! no me dejen sola, Este reventon sí es para toda la bola, in my best Selena impression, minus the authentic accent and adding on a lifetime of English with minimal Spanish in at least two dialects, and it doesn’t even bother me when the white lace creeps deeper and deeper into my ass crack.
My mother would’ve liked to have seen me in a skirt, even one as short and colla roja as this. I haven’t worn a skirt since grade school. It drags against my legs, pulling my leg hair up in rows with static to stand on end in a Position of Attention. It gives me goosebumps. Coming to my thighs it starts to get tighter, pinching my two cheeks separated by white lace together. The underside of my ass cheek hangs below, exposed, and I try to cover it with my hands, but I know I have to take my shirt off for my country. I have to put my tits in a white lace bra, pull on a shirt too small, and report to duty. I tell myself this is for freedom when I walk out the door and I feel a rush of air against my skin, hot air that turns cold on my stomach, rushing up, and I fold my arms so no one can see my nipples. I hope no one sees me.
“Hey, hey, hey, Indie,” says Charlie. “Make ‘em blue,” says T-Bone. “Bust their cojones,” says Rocky. Each one of them walks past and slaps my ass. And if my face didn’t feel so hot, I’d probably slap their asses and say something cute like, “Sorry I had to borrow your clothes, Charlie,” or “Don’t make me bust your balls, boys!” or “Tu puta madre me la chupa.” Instead, I hold on to my body, wherever I can, because I’ve never felt so naked. “Guess you won’t be taking our money tonight at poker!” I turn around and walk backwards because I don’t want them to see my bare ass. My arms are folded in front of my breasts, holding on tight, trying not to shake. “Savor it, mamalones, because I’ll take all your money next week.”
Yeah, right, they say. And I say, “Hey Rocky, T-Bone, when Charlie scratches the back of his neck he’s bluffing.”
“Fuck you, Indie,” Charlie says. Rocky and T-Bone are laughing. Charlie isn’t. He says, “She’s lying. That’s bullshit.”
Once they turn the corner at the end of the hall, I turn around and quicken my pace. Parts of me jiggle. I want to go home.
The door opens and my eyes are drawn to something white. A neck, a collarbone. Breasts the way missiles are big, hovering above a small black top, about to take off, about to fly out and blind me. And I could just die if only I could see what’s covered. If only seams could come undone. If only I could reach out, feel, skin to my skin, making heat, and I’d have a years worth of climax built up inside my clit that would burst like land mines, shrapnel through my veins, until every part of me was dead and limp.
“You look good, Private,” a look up to collarbone and neck, to lips in a severed red, blue eyes that pop like bullets, penetrating, and you can’t move or breathe once you realize that’s Sergeant Major Rey.
“Thank you, Sergeant,” I say with my eyes down.
“For tonight, call me Jessica. Now, I’d like you to meet the rest of the unit. These are your fellow interrogators Natasha, Claire, and Monica. And this is Lara, the linguist.”
I shake hand after hand of the most beautiful women I have ever seen or had the honor to touch. Natasha’s a brunette in a short red dress. Claire is a redhead in a lavender mini skirt, halter-top, and stiletto heels. Monica has jet-black hair and is in a string bikini, black to match. Lara’s a dirty blond in a strapless second skin of magenta pink satin.
“Everyone, this is Isabelle. Lara, could you fix her up while I brief everyone?”
“Come sit over here, Isabelle,” Lara says, motioning to the edge of Jessica’s desk covered in compacts, lipsticks, eyeliners.
“Tonight we will be working on an uncooperative 21-year-old Saudi detainee who took flying lessons in Arizona before the Sept. 11 terror attacks. Sani Sanjour received pilot instruction for three months in 1997 and in December 1998 at a flight school in Scottsdale, Arizona. It’s time to turn up the heat. We want details. Who sent him, who he works for, how he got here, logistics, his pet kitty, everything, the works.”
Lara’s in front of me rubbing my face with a sponge soaked in brown. It’s wet and slimy.
“Now, Islamic law forbids any physical contact with women other than a man’s family or wife, as well as any menstruating women who are considered unclean. So we’re going to bring in the big guns with these,” she hands everyone a red marker, “We’re all on the rag now!”
Claire and Monica say, “It’s our time of the month, too. We’re on the same cycle.”
“Great! If he’s not cooperating, let him know you’re on the flow, ok? Just follow my lead.”
Lara says, “Pucker up.” She says, “You’ve got beautiful skin.” She says, “Close your eyes. Now open.”
“Isabelle, I’ve got a special job for you when the time comes,” she’s holding a book in her hands, “This is the Koran. And when I tell you to do so, I want you to rub against it, lick it, smear it, tear it, masturbate with it. Really fuck it. Hump it. Got it?”
The mascara wand is on my lashes when I blink, hard. “Uhhhhhhh. I don’t understand, Jessica. You want me to masturbate with that?”
“Yes,” she says full of breath as her breasts lower softly with her exhale. She’s in front of me now, breasts below me. In between them it’s dark. Her hands touch my hands and the book is heavy on my lap. Her blue eyes with long lashes wink and I think I’d do anything she’d tell me to do. Ask me to rub against you. Ask me to lick you. I don’t even question my task. I forget about how I believe in God, the same God. I forget about going to Church every Sunday, the Bible school, the Old Testament readings. All I see is Jessica. All I feel is her smile warm under my skin and it makes me tingle hot under my cheeks where Lara rubs in pink with her fingers.
“This is Operation Blue Balls, Ladies. Are you ready?”
Our man is in the cell chained to five other detainees side by side on the floor, spooning each other. Legs chained, wrists cuffed, heads covered, the stench of urine. We unlock our guy, drag him to his knees with his hands cuffed. The guy in front of him shit himself. At first glance you’d think it was vomit after some beans and rice. Second glance you’d know it’s the kind of shit my father talked about, coffee and cigarettes- diarrhea-can’t hold it in any longer-loose stool spray-makes the toilet water brown- kind of shit. It’s pooled on the concrete floor where our guy was laying down on his side, and it’s soaked into his clothes, clumps of it on his hip. Muffled noise comes from under the hood covering his head. The smell is overwhelming.
In the interrogation room the first thing Jessica tells me to do is to unlock his hands. After that, she orders him to take off his hood. Lara translates even though we know he can understand us. Claire and Monica hold the guns, the real ones, not the red markers. Our guy starts to scream, looks at every one of us until his eyes water and he falls to his knees screaming Allah, Muhammad, and some other shit. Lara just says he’s praying.
The book, lighter in my hands, cups my breasts and lifts them. Over my nipples, my belly, and down. I look up at Jessica, Claire, Monica, Natasha, Lara. They’re smiling, eyes on me, under a glow of fluorescence. Across from me is Sani. He’s not crying anymore. His eyes are deadlocked with mine, so I smile. I lay my book down on the table, open. I spread my knees farther apart. My hips start to move, start to rock back and forth, making the pages ripple and tear, memories rubbing against my clit, and they ripple through me. The heat. Sani watching with eyes full of hate. In them I see the towers, my tits, nipples erect, and I squeeze them with my fingertips. In his eyes, I see the first plane crash, flames rising up within me, a flash of fire and heat. I hold my breath. Waiting for death to come. Waiting for Maria to hold me. A tear rolls down his face. Sani’s brown skin glistening like mine. Jessica yells, “Who sent you to Arizona?” In his eyes the second plane comes, comes so close, and closer until it crashes. The tear drops. “Who sent you to Arizona?” People jump into the sky. Each life. Each memory. Each page rubbing against me, until I can’t hold my breath any longer, and it falls crashing down the center of me, screaming, rubble blasting through the length of me until every part of me is dead and limp, brown dust and ash to settle in the air slowly inside me. I love you Maria. I love you America.
“Sani. Who sent you to Arizona? Who sent you to Arizona, Sani? Talk, Sani. Who sent you to Arizona?” Jessica says, standing above him. Lara yells translations. Jessica motions to Claire and Monica to come closer with their guns up to his temples. Jessica says, “Do what I tell you, Sani. Stand up.”
He stands up slowly, wobbling on his bare feet, whispering words with eyes to the floor.
Jessica says, “Strip.” Claire and Monica move back.
He closes his eyes. Lara says he’s praying again.
“Strip, now, Sani.”
He takes off his clothes, wet with shit and urine. Jessica starts to laugh at him, so we all laugh, and she tells him to sit down. She tells me to cuff his hands behind his back.
“Who sent you to Arizona? You can cooperate or have no hope whatsoever of ever leaving this place or talking to a lawyer.”
He looks up at her and spits. It lands on her tits. Lara says he called us whores, prostitutes. Jessica rubs his spit over her tits, squeezing them together so they bulge.
“Oh, Sani,” she says, “I think you like us,” she looks down at his crotch. His dick’s hard. She flicks it with her finger as she walks behind him, and rubs up against him, breasts against his neck, shoulders, back. His head jerks back and hits Jessica in the face, she falls back. His chair is jumping. Natasha and I hold him down. Natasha slaps his face. Lara, Claire, Monica, they’re around Jessica. Jessica says, “Bring in the big guns.”
Claire and Monica nod. They help Jessica stand up. She walks over and slaps his face. Some of his sweat lands on my belly. “Don’t even try to do that again, Sani. You see, my friends here, they’re menstruating.” Claire reaches down the front of her lavender mini skirt. My hand is on his shoulder when it tenses up. Claire walks towards him, takes her hand out, reddish-brown on her fingertips. He tries to scoot back, but I hold him steady. His head arches back and he yells something, screams. Lara says he’s saying stop. Claire’s hand comes closer until the reddish-brown is on his face, smeared down his face in streaks against his tears. He lunges forward, spits, and cries like a baby. Jessica says, “If you’re good, Sani, we’ll give you some water to wash yourself clean otherwise you’ll have a fun night in your cell without any water to clean yourself.” He’s glaring at Claire. You can see the hatred.
“Who sent you to Arizona, Sani? It’s a simple question, Sani. Who sent you to Arizona?” Jessica’s leaning forward on the table, arms squeezing her hanging breasts together. “All right, Sani, you asked for it. Isabelle, you’re up.” Natasha hands me the book, takes my place beside him, holding him down. My hand is wet with his sweat, and mine. My jaw is tight. Everyone is looking at me. The book, heavy in my hands, and Jessica says do it on the table.
The book is open in my hands, my fingers leafing through it. I can’t bear to look anyone in the eyes, and in the pages, in the script, I see everything that got me here. My dad, my mom, the girls at my high school, the ones I didn’t want to be, Jorge, what he took from me, the word “potato,” “mi mierda pequeña,” Maria’s kisses, how we hid, the planes I watched on a September morning on the tele, the way I felt death in my breath so I held it in. Pages start to tear out, ball up in my hands, then thrown, and I can hardly hear his screams. All my life is in these pages, my entire past. Twenty-one years of me. The same as Sani. It doesn’t stop me. Each page torn is a weight lifted. I’ve never felt so powerful, in control. Be all you can be.
On the table, on my knees, the skirt hitched up to my hip, and I don’t even care that my ass is bare. I think of Selena, the way Maria would dance and touch herself in front of me. She always wanted me to dance for her. Wanted me brown, all the way through. Here’s to you, Maria. This is for you. This is for America.