A jammed copier. A car that needs a tune-up. A TV show that ended before you could watch. For many, these are just a list of life’s tiny inconveniences. But for author Odie Lindsey, these are moments of terror and transformation for his characters.
“It’s the terror of the trivial,” he tells Out.
Lindsey’s We Come to Our Senses is a lauded short-story collection that details the return to civilian life for American soldiers of every race, gender, and sexual orientation—the difficulties they all share in returning from a life of war.
“Everyone comes home, and they struggle to capture those small, day-to-day things,” Lindsey says. “Someone mentions a movie you haven’t seen. Your clothes smell a little musty because they’ve been in the drawer too long. Your hair style is a little off. It’s all proof that the world has moved on without you.”
A veteran of the first Gulf War, Lindsey deployed in 1991 when he was 19. He had joined the reserves to help pay for college.
“I didn’t really speak about it after I came back,” he says. “I tried to plug back in like nothing had happened.”
When the U.S. deployed again for the second Gulf War, Lindsey saw another generation of 19-year-olds heading to war.
“There was a flood of emotion and memory,” he says. “I thought, ‘I have to write about this.’”
During the next 10 years, he wrote the stories of Senses, where his characters intentionally challenge the popular ideal of who the American soldier is.
“There are so many narratives that aren’t being told,” Lindsey says. “There are so many people serving who aren’t part of our national war narrative. From small-town Mississippi to more progressive cities on the coast, the memorials you see, you only see one kind of soldier—usually white, usually male, presumably heterosexual. That’s just one small part of the culture.”
Senses features veterans who are women, who are gay, who are HIV positive. They all struggle to adjust to lives as civilians, from jobs to families to relationships.
Lindsey served even before gay and lesbian soldiers had the limited protection of “don’t ask, don’t tell,” meaning military supervisors could harass and investigate soldiers under their command about their sexual orientation.
“I’m confident I served alongside soldiers who weren’t out at that time,” he says. “Knowing out soldiers now, it’s hard to reconcile the idea that the guy in the bunk next to me could have been going through the same problems I was, but also have this whole part of himself he had to hide.”
One story, “Evie M.,” illustrates the slow, silent trauma of a lesbian soldier who must now adjust to life as an office assistant. While Lindsey feels all the stories are interconnected, he points out “Evie M.”—which was also named a Best American Short Story in 2014—as a strong starting point for LGBT readers looking to dive into the collection, even though he himself identifies as straight.
“Writing these stories, I wanted to be as responsible as I could, informed as I could, empathetic as I could,” he says. “Many of these soldiers identify differently, but they are all complicated people. I’m trying to ask the question of why some soldiers feel rewarded for their service and others don’t.”
We Come to Our Senses is currently available for purchase on Amazon.