NEW YORK—Eric Fair has never talked with his wife or children about the two years he served in Iraq. But, in a room full of strangers, he can read his creative stories.
“There’s no way to make it work except for in these kinds of settings,” said Fair.
“Austin’s funeral was attended by friends who believe he died years earlier,” read Fair from his short story about a young soldier. His fictional character, Austin, sees his otherwise cold father warmly greet soldiers. As a young man, Austin then serves multiple terms in the Army. He is reprimanded for drinking green-tinted liquor from a Listerine bottle. He attempts suicide. It is unclear what finally lays him in his coffin.
Fair’s audience listened attentively at the Tribute WTC Visitor Center Wednesday night, gathered to hear “Stories From the Front.” He was one of seven veterans who presented their works. They are students in a writing course for veterans run through the NYU Creative Writing Program.
Why vets write
“A lot of us went to drugs or alcohol or petty felonies,” says Matthew Mellina. “It helps that I have writing.”
“Vonnegut wrote about aliens to deal with being a POW; Heller wrote a comedy to deal with suicidal missions over Italy,” said Mellina, who served as an explosive ordnance disposal specialist and cavalry scout from 2001 to 2007.
Mellina writes mostly about being at home after war. He read a story about a night at the bar, where the protagonist experiences brief moments of “being what he was before he left.” He thinks that being home has been “an experiment in avoidance.”
Mellina thinks writing can help civilians understand the experience of soldiers to some extent.
Although several audience members said listening to the writings helped them understand wartime experiences, some of the vets said no piece of poetry or prose could truly bridge the gap between a combat soldier and a civilian.