As a young child, I remember climbing and sitting on a blue arched U.S. mail drop box located on the Cuccis' lawn at the corner of Sunrise Road and Linden Street in my suburban Boston neighborhood. My world to that point consisted of the warm comforts that friends and family sheltered me in. Golden days of summer, ice cream, baseball games, road trips to Cape Cod beaches and other innocent experiences defined my view of the world. I knew nothing of other countries or even other nationalities. All my friends and family looked and talked the same, they had the same values, dreams and expectations.
The Brocks had a couple of older boys who went away from the neighborhood for a while and came back different. They now had long hair and wore army clothes. They acted very different than they had before they left for Viet Nam. They now got drunk and yelled a lot. They played loud rock music and practiced drumming for hours. The most important change to me was that they looked at me differently now. The warm connection that I enjoyed with the older Brock boys was gone, with no explanation.
Sitting on the mail box, I started to pound the sides of the box like a drum in order to get their attention as the Brock boys approached.
At first they just looked through me and I naturally responded by banging harder. I thought this was their new language and if I could get their attention this way, I could get them to appreciate me again. They responded by yelling at me to shut up. This signaled me to pound even harder against their request while I returned my retort, "No — you shut up."
I grinned as they reached the box knowing that there was no way they would consider taking action against a child. Not in my own neighborhood. Not within earshot of my mother. Not in broad daylight.
The next few seconds changed my life forever.
As I leaned forward to pound the box in defiance, one of the Brock brothers struck me on the side of my head catapulting my toddler body through the air. My ears rang as stars swarmed around my crown on my flight down to the Cuccis' lawn. With the wind knocked out of my lungs, I gasped for the air to cry in horror and shock at what had just happened.
The rules had changed. I was not safe. I could no longer do what came naturally to me without first considering the consequences. I ran back up the hill to the comforting arms of my mother, whom I expected to retaliate against my horrific oppressors. While I wailed for sympathy and attention, it became painfully clear to me that there was very little my mother could or would do to make it all better.
These men were exposed to the horrors of war in Viet Nam. They lost friends, they were asked to kill other human beings, and they were not the same men when they came home.
I lost my innocence on that day, and the United States of America was knocked off its mailbox on Tuesday, Sept. 11.
The comforting shelter that the United States' family and friends provided its citizens in the past is no more. The United States has now been forced to join the world of grownup nations and must now learn to make its own way.
We do not have the arms of our mother to protect us. We must accept the responsibilities of our relationships with other nations and the security of our citizens. The United States is not an innocent toddler any more. We must be informed, we must be responsible and, above all, we must put the safety of our citizens above all else — including profit.
Let's walk with our heads up and our eyes open to the adult world that we all live in now.
God bless the United States of America.
Neal A. Sullivan
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