DISCLAIMER: The character Anthony DeMartino belongs to Viacom. All hail Viacom.
AUTHOR'S NOTE 1: As Ruthless Bunny can tell you, I have attempted to write – and failed at writing – a fic that gives a reasonable history of Anthony DeMartino and why he so genuinely wanted to teach. His connection to the VietNam war, firmly established in "Esteemsters", requires acknowledgement. Unfortunately, I was busy being born just about the time the fallout from that particular US decision was wrapping up. If there are inaccuracies to those readers familiar with the VietNam war, email me at [email protected] . I will correct them. I post this now because I've been struggling with this for well over a year. I could well have failed, but I might as well test the waters and see if I have.
AUTHOR'S NOTE 2: Intended for adult audiences
Annette DeMartino smoothed her dress and patted her hair, admiring the perfection of her coif. Mr. Anderson from the insurance office had asked her to dinner, and she hoped that this could prove the first date on a trip up the aisle. She needed a provider, particularly after the way that bum had left her stuck with Tony. A rap on the door interrupted her moment of self-admiration. Oh good, the babysitter had arrived.
"Come in, Alice!" Alice, her babysitter, knew the drill – get Tony playing in the basement, in his room, anywhere out of sight until Annette's date appeared. Her date with Jim Bentley was ruined before it started last week when he saw six year old Tony running around, looking just like that James she ran around with in high school. Jim refused to buy her explanation that Tony was a nephew – unfortunately, he had sold her father an Oldsmobile the week before and Jim had expertly delved her father to find out that she was the only daughter in her family and both her brothers were unmarried. Jim had taken one look at Tony, gave Annette an up-and-down look, and said, "Perhaps I should just come in for the evening."
Annette had just purchased some nice blue pumps with a heel low enough for dancing at the supper club. "I was so looking forward to going out this evening, though."
Jim took a long hard look at Tony. "I should think you've already had your time out on the town."
Annette had shut the door in his face, and retreated to her room with a bottle of cheap burgundy, leaving Alice to look after Tony for the rest of the evening.
Tonight she had to make sure all went well. Gerald Anderson rarely ever dated, and according to the rumors whispered to her by the other girls in the office, only showed interest in a woman when "it was serious." He had showed interest in her, standing in front of her desk and asking her very formally if he could take her to dinner that evening. Gerald was recognized as one of the most eligible – and selective – men in town. All had to go well this evening; she hoped that this date would lead to a pearl necklace and in a few months a diamond ring.
Tony came around the corner. "Mama, you look pretty!"
Annette bent down and hugged her son. "Thank you sweetie!" she scooped him up in her arms. Tony did look just like his father, Jim Julius, her high school sweetheart and possibly the most irresponsible man on earth. Jim left the day after their graduation, seeking a job in the steel mills near Chicago, firing off promises that he was doing it all to make a life for both of them and the forthcoming baby. Six years later, Annette still waited to see a card, note or check from him. She did, however, see a wedding announcement printed by Jim's proud parents about the lovely girl he met attending DePaul University who was now his fiancée and quite active in her sorority. Sometimes she almost hated her son for wearing Jim's face. But he was still her son. At this moment, her son babbled about the nice teacher at kindergarten who showed him how to mix colors with paint. Tony liked school, and went on about it at length unless interrupted. "Now you know you have to stay quiet when my date arrives."
"I know Mama."
She carried her son down the hall towards the front door. Just as she looked up to see a puzzled Gerald standing in front of the front door staring at her, Tony asked, "Why can't your dates know about me, Mama?"
Gerald's mouth dropped open, his cheeks turned bright red, and without a word he turned his back to Annette, opened the front door, stepped out and shut it behind him.
Annette set her son down. "Tony, next week you're going away."
Tony cried. "Was I bad, Mama? What did I do?"
"You just have to go away. I'm sending you to military school."
Tony DeMartino had survived twelve years of bad food, little sleep, structured time and a need to scream buried so deep within him that sometimes his eyes would bulge when he spoke as he tried to spit out the excess emotion with each word. On his eighteenth birthday, he sat on his bed and stared down at the letter his mother sent. She made no acknowledgement of his birthday, or of him except for that fateful, infuriating letter she forwarded with her note.
Times have changed, and I wanted you to know. Gerald and I moved on Thursday; we're very happy and we have a lovely new house in the suburbs to enjoy each other and our little ones. Our new address is 456 Front St. in Lansing; over Christmas you can stay at Uncle Frank's. This came in the mail for you today – it's from the government, so you'd better follow up.
Tony pulled out the envelope and opened it, and stared at his draft card. He could never escape; first his mother shuttled him off to this horrendous school, and now just as he found his freedom the government stepped in to send him to a place where he might not return. He fingered the lighter in his pocket; just one flick and the issue was ash. Tony still had no vote in his situation. That morning, his history teacher had granted Tony several merit points for his insight into French Indochina ; Tony let go of his lighter he wondered with resignation whether his understanding of the politics could remotely save his ass. Tony crumpled the letter from his mother and tossed it into the garbage can by his desk. Somewhere, somehow, he had to find a life different from this – some escape from constant circumstances beyond his control, where everyone around him had more money, more happiness and more meaning. He watched in envy as Carl opened a care package from his parents "just because." Carl earlier that day asked him, quite seriously, if chipmunks would explode in space. This was what surrounded him, daily. He prayed Carl was no sign of his future. Tony desperately wanted a life where he could have hope. He swore that if he ever saw a kid in his situation, he would do everything he could to point him to the hidden opportunities of life, even if he had to teach that kid subterfuge to do so.
Nineteen months later, Tony lay in the mosquito-ridden infirmary, shuffling cards, awkwardly dealing around his suspended cast. "Aces high, five card stud," he announced before doling out the cards.
Rutgers tossed down three cards. "Draw three."
Johnson shrugged and tossed one.
Tony held, and threw two additional cigarettes into the pot. "OK, so what's the call?"
"OK Rutgers, show!" Tony demanded. He would beat that bastard if he lost all his cigarette rations for the next three weeks. Losing his cigarettes kept him distracted. He did not need to think of his platoon, and how he survived through grace alone. He could push from his mind watching James and Thompson die in pieces. Intelligent men, all lost because of U.S. politicians in comfortable chairs who were afraid a mere idea of communism might lose them their comfortable chairs. He could channel all that into the thrill of the bet: the over involved high, the frustration of losing, replaced the other, sharper, mind-clouding pain.
Rutgers showed a full house, three aces, two queens --- DeMartino's measly straight had no chance. Rutgers swept the cigarettes off the table and stood up. "Pleasure doing business with you, men!" he strode off with his booty. Tony glared after him, his curse interrupted as he swatted at another insect.
"You know, that's the third time this week you've played through all your goods," Johnson pointed out.
Tony gave him a baleful glare. "Play again?"
He refused. Tony pressed. "C'mon, just one more game."
Johnson stood up from his place at the table next to DeMartino's bed. "Sorry man, I'm done for the night." Privately, Johnson thanked his lucky stars that DeMartino's leg was broken so he had no opportunity to chase him around demanding a rematch. Johnson shifted his eye patch and wandered off to his bed on the far side of the infirmary.
DeMartino scowled as his companions wandered away from him. The unsympathetic nurse interrupted his reverie. "This came for you, Tony," she said, dropping a letter from the U.S. government in his lap. "It's probably good news. Try not to gamble off your underwear before you read it."
DeMartino muttered something vile at her bustling back before ripping open the envelope. His release. Tony stared at the document in a broken relief, looking at the date it was sent. Only eight more days, and he went home.
Johnson came back around the corner after the nurse cleared from her rounds. "OK DeMartino, maybe one more game."
"Forget it," Tony answered. "Not today." He sat back at his letter and smiled. Free, free from this jungle, this sweat, the possibility that the guy in the bunk next to him might end up part of the debris on the field the next day. Free of mosquitoes, decimated villages and the strange diseases of Asia. Free.
"You've been in an awfully good mood the last two days," the nurse commented as she assisted him with his sponge bath. "I've noticed you haven't been playing cards with the boys."
"My release comes up in a couple days. I'm getting out of here!" Tony had not mentioned his departure date to anyone, cherishing the privacy of feeling so wonderful. The cast had come off the day before, but he was still a little wobbly yet, and the nurse on duty, preferring his changed attitude, gave him some extra attention.
"Well wonderful for you then," she said, continuing her work on his back. "And where do you go home to?"
Tony opened his mouth to answer, and nothing came out.
"Are you all right?"
Tony shook his head. "Yes, yes, I'm fine." Tony had not given a moment's thoughts to where he might be headed.
She wrung out the sponge and began washing the excess skin off his leg. "You're one of those really young ones, aren't you?"
Tony grimaced. "I don't feel young."
The nurse laughed through closed lips. "We never do after a little while out here. As for me, I'm done here in a month."
"What are you going to do?" For some reason Tony wanted to know. "Go abuse civilians in a hospital in the States?"
The nurse scrubbed just hard enough to make him wince. "Only the excessive gamblers, Tony." She lightened the pressure. "Actually, I don't think I want to keep up with nursing. I've seen things here that should keep me from eating for the rest of my life."
"What do you want to do?"
She emitted a bark of laughter. "Go to college. Be a hippie, and protest the war."
Tony found himself laughing in spite of himself. "You going to?"
"Nah, we don't get the GI Bill like you do. I can probably find a nursing job, or maybe clerk a store if I want to keep living with my parents."
Tony interrupted her sponging, reaching forward to grasp her arm in sympathy. "Parents."
One of Tony's fellow privates assisted him in loading his gear, and he was situated on the helicopter first, so that everyone could work around the crutches . All remained silent until the craft was well across the ocean, out of range of any potential disasters from land. Finally, the man next to him said, "When I get home, I'm going to walk to the corner store and buy a can of soda. Just soda. And one of those bags of peanuts."
Another man announced, "I'm going to marry my girl. I'm not going to wait – we're going straight to the courthouse once I'm onland. I'll let my brothers get my bags."
"I'm going to get a job at the steel mills."
"I'm going to help Ma fix her fences."
Tony said nothing. He looked back at his life, and recognized with a shock how lucky he had been to make it as far as twenty. No girlfriend, no family worth recognizing, and no one to recognize how badly he needed help. This was his life because no one had recognized and extended a hand; in a strange flash of insight he connected his personal situation to the situations of the men around him, to the situations of ambassadors and the French and the Vietnamese and eventually to that of the American government. If only there was someone to recognize these disasters, to lend a hand, to make a difference.
"So Tony," the man on his left asked him. "What are you going to do?"
"Teach," Tony answered. "I'm going to become a teacher."
AUTHOR'S NOTE 3: The background for DeMartino was taken from the following episodes of Daria: "Esteemsters" (VietNam War veteran), "The Daria Hunter," (sent to military school so his mother would not have to explain him to her dates) "Just Add Water" (gambling addiction) and "Is It Fall Yet?" (genuinely wanting to teach).