We lost a lot of good men over there.
Were any bad men lost?
At the Taxidermy Museum of Military Heroes we saw a bunch of people who received Medals of Honor or Purple Hearts. There was a teenage girl whose parents made her go for the same reason our Chief made us go. She said she’d stolen something from the Base Exchange and her dad said that courageous people were dying for her freedom and she was throwing away that freedom for some silly punk-rock boots.
The girl and I were standing next to a volunteers needed sign and looking at a diorama containing a taxidermied marine who’d been awarded a Purple Heart. ‘When I was little, my dad told me that my grandfather had gotten a Purple Heart,’ she said. ‘I thought it was some type of medical condition. I imagined my grandfather’s heart all swollen and turning purple until he died.’
I pointed to the sign and jokingly told her she should volunteer. ‘I think my dad is gonna make me,’ she said. ‘For real.’
Subject Interview #80023
I am extremely proud of what I did for my country. We’re the good guys, you know. I put on that uniform every morning and held my chest out and chin up, knowing I was doing some real good in the world. I know my arm won’t grow back, but I have absolutely no regrets. [Subject wipes away a tear.] If God was willing, I would do it all over again. Yeah, all over again.
I volunteered to work at the Taxidermy Museum of Military Heroes. It gets me out of work three days a week, plus it looks like I’m taking on extra duties for my brag sheet.
Towering the expansive asphalt parking lot is the mirrored atrium, tapering to apex, giving way to sleek white facades branched into four wings, a cross. On each side of the atrium is a circle of flagpoles. On each flagpole an American flag droops halfway down. A plaque reads: these flags will forever be flown at half-staff in honor of the heroes who gave their life for freedom. Inside the circle of flagpoles is a bronze statue lying with arms out, palms to heaven, helmet cocked. Adjacent bronze rifle. Scattered bronze bullet casings.
I walk inside the atrium. Conditioned air envelops me while stained glass pools rainbows onto marble floors. In the center of the atrium, underneath the apex and raised on a platform, is a soldier, taxidermied. He crouches in shooting position, stuffed white fingers curled around rifle trigger, one eye squints, the other eyeball stares straight ahead.
I am supposed to meet the Lead Taxidermist for orientation. She descends on the escalator behind the soldier. I see you’re admiring our work, she says, looking over her glasses and placing a loose, gray dreadlock behind her ear. Yes, I say, it looks really lifelike. She says, honey, we are all lifelike. Huh? I say. I understand what you’re saying, she says. But what I’m saying is, we only live in approximation to life, approaching what life is. Even dying is an attempt to approach life. That’s how I perceive taxidermy. A representation of extant and extinct humans in that liminal space of approaching life.