by Sindy Ann Fernando
The Fugue by Arna Bontemps Hemenway is an interesting read. It gave me a glimpse into the reality of someone suffering from PTSD. The story is set in a broken timeframe that reflects the protagonist’s inability to piece things together, almost like a puzzle with missing pieces. Wild Turkey’s recollection of random memories is at the heart of it. What stood out to me was his unusual thoughts and habits. They’re merely a byproduct of the suffering he had to experience. Hemenway uses symbolism to demonstrate Wild Turkey’s process and desire to rid himself of attachments related to his trauma in Iraq.
“Shit” literally symbolizes one of Wild Turkey’s processes of ridding himself of attachments. I remember my English teacher briefly mentioning it in class, and I figured it must’ve been an interesting lead into Wild Turkey’s thoughts. So, I got back home and reread Wild Turkey’s description of it in earlier pages. Shit was “intriguing”, and had a “somewhat distinguishing scent” (102). I mean, I can’t say I share his enthusiasm about it, but for the sake of storytelling let’s go with it. After pondering on its significance for about what seemed ages, I finally got it. To him, “shit” symbolizes the elimination of emotional waste. He talks about his first memory contemplating it while revisiting his elementary school:
The scent refused to linger, and so existed for Wild Turkey mostly in the wince of shame at his own interest, in the same way he sometimes at that age lingered for just a second too long in the school’s bathroom over the shit-stained toilet paper in his hand before flushing it, feeling a rush of something he didn’t understand. It was oddly comforting in the end. (101)
It’s clear that he’s describing a meticulous process. The question now becomes, what is he trying to get rid of? As of now, I’m aware that he was a soldier that fought in Iraq, meaning he must’ve witnessed atrocities. I want to take a look at the killing of the naked girl and apply this process of “letting go” to her situation. He feels “shame” after witnessing her death. Then, he contemplates the situation “just a second too long” before getting rid of it. This results in him feeling “oddly” comforted. Here’s the catch, he also states that “the scent refused to linger”, meaning that the process is recurring. Why? He suffers from PTSD, and one of the main criteria is to have thoughts that constantly haunt you.
Another way he rids himself of emotional baggage is by fleeing. It’s stated in the title; to fugue is to be unaware of your sense of identity for a short amount of time. It’s often coupled with epilepsy. When I think about it, it’s not surprising that the story is pieced as a puzzle with missing pieces. It’s meant to reflect Wild Tukey’s reality. Near the middle of the story, he’s basically interconnecting whatever he knows: “The shit meaning the desert, the war, Iraq, becomes The Suck becomes The Fuck becomes The Fug becomes The Fugue, finally meaning just everything” (107). Again, we can observe Wild Turkey’s process of coping with unfortunate events in his life. Only this time, instead of releasing his emotions, he flees them. This can be seen in his interactions with Jeannie, his long time off and on girlfriend. Wild Turkey appreciates her, but at the same time he’s emotionally unavailable: “She stands in front of the mirror getting quietly, getting ready for class or for work, he can’t remember which she has today” (103). Okay, I understand that it’s only human to be forgetful in a relationship, but then he proceeds to say: “When she gets back, if she comes back to the duplex instead of her own apartment, [I] will be there or [I] won’t, she’s already used to that” (105). Something’s fundamentally wrong if “she’s already used to that”. This passage definitely highlights his incapability of remaining consistent.
Wild Turkey got rid of a structured home, and lives as a homeless person because of its attachment to the house he raided in Ramadi. I love the fact that the author casually drops important aspects of Wild Turkey’s life here and there. It challenged me to look further into the story. It didn’t stick out at first, but the house he raided in Ramadi is crucial to the story. It dictates the way Wild Turkey currently chooses to live his life. He raided the wrong house in Ramadi, causing his comrade Friedel to kill an innocent adolescent girl: “Her head is unmade: the upper left quadrant of her skull collapsed, blood very dark on the floor, a jagged-edged concavity with a fleck of white bone just visible in Wild Turkey’s flashlight here and there, the wound tangling with her hair” (118). It’s a pretty gruesome scene. I couldn’t imagine waking up to recurring flashbacks of this. I think Wild Turkey fears the place in which the girl died. A home with perfect walls, and a perfect family. The only odd thing about this is that it was taken away from her. A mere drone failure caused the death of a human life. It’s heartbreaking. I take a look at Wild Turkey now, and I understand that he wants to steer clear from a structured house. It reminds him of the one he destroyed. Instead, he lives in a “duplex” where “three of the walls now have huge gaping holes, covered by only minimally effective plastic trap, from which the landlord removed the windows to sell before the bank could take them” (108). Everything is falling apart. I think this reflects Wild Turkey’s state of mind. He’s homeless because he doesn’t want to hold any attachments to that house in Ramadi.
The Fugue is an interesting read. Especially because the protagonist’s experience of life demonstrates how traumatic events can cause attachment issues. He describes it through the symbolism of “shit”, the word “fugue”, and the house he raided in Ramadi. I wanted to review this book simply for the fact that Wild Turkey had messy thoughts, and so do I. I’m not taking away his reality of PTSD, but I do share this characteristic with him, and it leads to an interesting perspective on life.
Bontemps, H. Arna. “The Fugue.” The Best American Short Stories. Ed. Tc. Boyle. Boston Mariner Books. 100-120. Print. (2015).