Kim White from Windham admires her aunt from California. They share many of the same beliefs and they hope for change when it comes to the way Veterans are treated in our society. The short story “Netherworld” is a depiction of what happened to Veterans when they came home from war. Barbara Lee Sullivan, who writes as BV Lee, wrote “Netherworld” as a social commentary to bring awareness to the plight of Veterans all over the country.
“She’s talking for a lot of Veterans who don’t feel they can write their own stories,” said White. Lee’s goal is to put this short story in papers from coast to coast.
“We all feel very strongly about what the country is doing to our Veterans. We need to stop being selfish and do something about it and we all can do something. This is how you change the world,” said White.
Neither Lee or White are from “military families,” White said. But, situations like the one described in the story, affect her. “I feel bad. I still want to help others.”
White said that Lee wants to tell people, “If we band together, we can change things.”
In Korea and Vietnam the country didn’t welcome the soldiers home as heroes. “The government is denying them benefits or access – these people made a sacrifice. They need to be listened to and they need to be taken care of,” White said.
Netherworld? By B.V. Lee
I finally found the place. Dark and dismal, I felt like I had stumbled into permanent midnight. I was definitely out of my element. Randy was supposed to meet me here. There was junk all over the floor, people with no place to sit or lay, crowded with litter. Nobody sweeps. Toilets are stopped up. It was repulsive.
But the odd thing about this bizarre scene was the people; their facial expressions, their chit chat, they seemed normal. Their demeanor was friendly, as if they had no idea that they were wallowing. Why didn't they just leave?
Where the heck was Randy? We were supposed to pick up a Veteran here and take him to see his dying daughter in the hospital in San Diego. It was already 10 p.m. If I found this nightmarish place why couldn't he?
A woman held out her hand to me. "Can I help you, Hon? You look lost.”
“I came here to find someone.”
"We all came here to find someone. I'm Vera...I try to run this place, but as you can see, it runs me."
"Thanks. I’m supposed to meet Randy Parker here ... to pick up a Vet, goes by the name of Beya."
"Big Beya? I haven't seen him in a few days. He went for a walk on the beach and hasn't returned. But hang around, he'll be back ... we all come back ... we have no place else to go. How do you know Randy?"
"Randy and I have known each other since we were kids ... before the war."
"Oh yes, before the war...when everything was neat clean and orderly; clean beds, regular food, getting the kids back to school..." Vera's eyes drifted into some secret faraway place and for a moment she looked serene, almost young. She snapped back to the present and was analyzing me.
"Don't hang around here too long. This place has a way of bonding us to it and to each other. Then we can never really leave. There's a lot of love in this Hell hole. It’s addictive. Randy is the only one I know who can live in both worlds and not be a captive to either. You? I'm not sure. May be so, maybe no."
It was uncanny how this bedraggled old woman was burrowing into me. It seemed as if I had known her for all of my life...like an old aunt or cousin from my childhood.
A young man was stretched out on the floor trying to rest. His thin black mustache looked like one on a kid who was trying to grow his very first one. His dark black eyes starred a hole into me. A skinny white arm lifted up and his long tapering fingers made a gesture that seemed to pass for, “Hi there, you're okay." It was surreal.
Vera saw me and this kid talking to each other with our eyes.
"This is Tony, Hon ... What does our Randy call you?
"My name is ..."
"No, not your name. What is it that Randy calls you? He names all of us as he sees us. It tells us who he thinks we really are."
"Randy calls me V for victory ... don't ask me why."
"I know why. He sees you as capable of overcoming obstacles. You gotta love him. Randy looks into us as sees solid, shiny, good stuff that we've forgotten was still there inside. Yeah, you gotta love him ... here, you're tired. We are fresh out of chairs but. Tony will clear a spot on the floor and you can squat a spell and take a load off."
Tony, with his arm, swept litter away clearing a circle on the cold cement floor. I dutifully sat there wrapping my arms around my knees.
“I have to go V, but Andy will be sure to take care of you. He adores Randy and will do anything for Randy's special friend." Vera took off like a vapor and disappeared into the dim atmosphere.
I looked at Tony and oddly felt reassured. It was weird, but I felt okay in this bizarre place. Tony spoke up, "Don't worry. Randy’s not here yet because he’s hung up getting us some food and clean clothes."
I nodded and smiled at my young guide ... I guess that’s what you would have to call him, and for some inexplicable reason I uttered the silly statement, "It’s okay. I'm fine. I'm not worried". The heck I wasn't! This place would scare the crap out of a normal person. Randy will you please get here!
The dim lights were flickering and threatened to put all of our wretched selves into total darkness. The smell of trash cans overflowing with old food wrappers was getting to me. My olfactory sense had always been sharp. But here, in this eerie labyrinth of old wood and dusty curtains and probably roaches, which I hadn't yet seen but I knew they were there, my keen sense of smell was a curse. Damn it, Randy, where are you? As if he could read my thoughts, Tony murmured reassuringly,
"Don't worry, V, he will be here shortly. He's dependable."
Tony rested his hand on my forearm. Strangely, I wasn't repulsed. It was like a touch from a little brother, warm and calming. Please Hurry, Randy. This place is getting to me.
"Andy, when do you think Big Beya will be back?"
Gosh I was losing it. I actually expected this half-starved kid to know.
"Beya will be here right after Randy comes with food and stuff. Big B always knows when Randy arrives."
Psychics—in a garbage dump. What's with this joint?
Headlights flashed through the dirty windows. Male voices chattered excitedly.
"Let me carry that ..."
"…I'll grab this box ...
"…Hand this stuff out first to everyone ... before it melts. The fridge still doesn't work, right?"
It was Randy! I jumped up and ran outside. Tony was just two steps behind.
"Been waiting for you ... Beya isn't here."
"I know, but he will be along soon, and we'll get him to the hospital. I just phoned and his little girl is conscious. Here, V, hang onto these clean clothes and this bottle of water and this detergent. Beya will have to clean up before his daughter sees him."
I turned to Tony. "Help me keep these things for Beya. We have to get him to ...”
"I heard. Sure thing, V.”
Men and women were swarming to the truck like bees to a hive. Hot food; mac and cheese, beans and corn bread, sweet potato pie, oranges, milk, cookies—like a cornucopia, food flowed from the pickup. People were hugging Randy amid chaos and laughter.
"Okay, Okay, guys. Give me some space! Where's Vera? I brought these for her."
Randy reached into the back seat behind the cab and pulled out brooms, mops, and garbage bags, and then a tool chest. Then he helped a man out of that cramped little space and leaned him up against the passenger door.
"This is Jake, everybody. Grab his wheelchair out of the back. It's under the boxes. He's here to fix the toilets and hopefully, the refrigerator."
"And the lights? And the shower?" someone yelled.
They all crowded around Jake.
"Give him room! ..."
"…He has to breathe."
"…This is his cot. Jake cannot sleep on the floor. Make room, guys . . . clean up a space for him!"
The yellow street light on the sidewalk, some thirty or forty feet away lit up the flurry of scrambling arms like a second act in an off Broadway play. It mesmerized me.
"V, Hi! Sorry I'm late ... had to get all this stuff and get it loaded. Did you miss me?"
"'Course not! Who'd you have to kill for all of this?"
"Just a couple of bureau-craps. Caught them in the closet with their hand in the petty cash drawer. I traded this truck full of goodies for my eyes going blind."
I wanted to kiss him, but the line was a long one. So, I socked him in the arm instead.
"See!" He gestured to the mob."She still loves me!"
He got a big laugh, and I got a lot of hugs. You know what? I didn't even smell a thing and they had not bathed in a week, at least.
As relative calm began to settle on the scene, a huge shadow back lit by the old street light, came toward us. It looked like the Incredible Hulk from the old TV show, only it wasn't green.
”Big Beya! You're just in time. Grab a bite, get cleaned up and get changed. We've got places to go, people to see.” Randy slapped him on the back.
Tony ran to the giant, for he must have weighed four hundred pounds, and thrust at him the clothes and toiletries that he had been entrusted with. From somewhere, an old fashioned hand shaver, brush and shaving mug popped up .Good thing too! Beya had so much wild hair on his face he looked like a bear. We had to find a scissors too, or braid that mop of hair...we couldn’t take this guy anywhere looking like that.
Believe it or not, by 1 a.m. we were ready to go. I checked with Jake to convince myself that it would be okay with him for us to leave him behind. I need not have worried. He assured me, "I'm as safe as in my mother's arms. These are good people and I am needed here."
Big Beya now smelled good and had a face! A rather handsome one; big blue eyes, a strong mouth, a turned up nose, and after a shampoo, light brown hair. Even his fingernails were clean.
When settled into the truck and on our way to the hospital, I whispered to Randy,
"So, Magic Man, why have you never told me about this part of your life?"
“It's not something you can tell, V. You have to experience it."
"Strange, but you‘re right. I would never have believed it. However, just being there for a few hours I feel as if that place - those men and women - are an indelible part of my life."
"V, that place, those men and women, are a part of everyone's life. That is, they are real. The difference is that you and I know it. Most people are asleep. They're not awake to the real world around them."
At the end of his rare philosophical discourse, Randy shifted gears with his one hand while steering with his forearm. He was so adept it made it easy to forget that his other arm was blown off in the war.
The VA forgot ... forgot Randy Parker’s service to his country, along with all the homeless Veterans we left in that tumbled down shack at the beach.
Their paperwork was never processed.
They were run out of tents, chased out of empty useless warehouses by local police.
They have to take care of one another. They have to stay hidden from local authorities like—FUGITIVES.
An ungrateful nation has not only ABANDONED its lost Veterans . . .
It ABUSES them.