NEA Literature Fellowships

Sean Brendan-Brown

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(2010 - Prose)

From Nowhere When It Burns

Randy "Rad" Cole had been the best freshman NASCAR driver in America. He messed up once, everyone messes up, and it shouldn't have been the end but in his mind it was over and he never raced again. He joined the Marines, a private of twenty-three taking orders from snaggle-toothed nineteen year old corporals, and when his Command Sergeant Major (CSM) discovered that Private Cole was ex-NASCAR star Rad Cole, he was rapidly promoted and survived five years in Afghanistan (Operation Enduring Freedom) and Iraq (Operation Iraqi Freedom) with Force Recon, 2nd Battalion. Instead of re-upping, his sixth year, Randy moved to the Navy. He lost a stripe, falling from Gunnery Sergeant (E7) to Petty Officer 1st Class (E6) but he loved his new job putting out fires and was quickly promoted to Chief. The only time his past nagged him was an incident at Quantico; drinking beer at Philly's, he saw himself on a wall, posing beside his Thunderbird. Unsigned. He never signed photographs. He broke the glass with his fist and signed it.

Blood sugar, not an improvised explosive device (IED) or sniper's bullet, ended his career: he began awaking, sweat-drenched, a dozen times in the night to piss, chugging water, always thirsty; he quit consuming alcohol, sugary colas, and Little Debbie fried fruit pies but it was too late; when he collapsed on deck, protesting he was just overheated, he was rushed to the infirmary where the truth was finally revealed. Glipizide and Metformin had no effect on his diabetes. The ship's pharmacist taught Randy to inject himself with insulin--starting with twenty units daily then increasing to ninety; he was reduced to broke-dick duty and removed to the Temporary, then Permanent, Disability Retired Lists (TDRL & PDRL).

Damage Control CPO Randal Jefferson Cole received his medical-retirement in its slick plastic slipcase August 27, 2008 and the first thing he did as a civilian was to launch his duffel-bag overboard the carrier USS Kitty Hawk (CV-63), from its berth at Kitsap Pier, deep-sixing uniforms, citations, operations manuals and shaving kit. Into the cold, puke-green Pacific with another decade of being something that didn't work. Rad Cole was a free man.

Sean Brendan-Brown is a graduate of the Iowa Writers' Workshop (MFA Poetry) and currently resides in Olympia, Washington. A medically-retired Marine, he holds a BBA from Pacific Lutheran University, and is the author of two poetry chapbooks, No Stopping Anytime and King Of Wounds, and a fiction chapbook, Monarch Of Hatred. He has published (as himself and as Fernand Roqueplan) with the Notre Dame Review, Wisconsin Review, Indiana Review, Texas Review, Hunger Magazine, Southampton Review, Caketrain, and the University of Iowa Press anthologies American Diaspora and Like Thunder. Brown is the recipient of a 1997 NEA Poetry Fellowship.

Photo by Rustynne Dalton

Author's Statement

I am grateful for this NEA Fiction Fellowship; I am currently assembling a novel and a collection of short stories, so the good news was certainly welcome, and perfectly timed. At this point in my career I am happy to be old and wise enough to cease fighting whether I'm a poet or a fiction writer: I'm both, love them equally, and strive daily to improve my craftsmanship and originality in both. Fernand Roqueplan is more than a pseudonym; I created him to manage the poetry while I wrote fiction, Fern is also a tribute to my best friend, a Marine killed in service.