22 years ago today I was fast asleep. Under the veil of darkness, navy seals swam stealthily towards their targets. Weapons were locked and loaded and night vision goggles snapped into position. The overly confident enemy sharpened their blades of corruption. Bombs fell…whistling merrily as they descended upon poverty. Bullets flew, their traces glowing through the night like fireflies at warp speed. Cannons blasted; helicopters were hovering dragons spewing fire upon fortresses. Explosives were anonymously planted like carefully placed parcels under the Christmas tree.
City blocks singed. Ashes fell for what seemed like weeks. Looting was done casually and without remorse. Old appliances replaced new ones. Some fell from windows as shiny new microwaves and toaster ovens found their posts. People intently looked for matching shoes in heaps of merchandise strewn about, as if they were in the store during a sale. I saw one kid pulling a dryer on a sheet of cardboard, his friend pushing from behind, grinning with satisfaction over their bounty. Everyone in the city had new clothes, but this was far from a fortuitous holiday as thousands were suddenly homeless, refugees in their own streets.
The months, weeks, and days leading up to the conflict were filled with minor inconveniences. Sometimes we had to stay late at school for safety reasons. Infantrymen and their German Shepherds patrolled the school grounds. M16’s were as commonplace as backpacks and school books. With a multitude of military installations in the country, military personnel, vehicles, and weapons were ubiquitous ornaments on a tropical backdrop.
Curfews were eventually implemented. Checkpoints and searches became the protocol. Unlike airport security, we welcomed soldiers into our homes as it made us feel safe and gave us brief moments to express our appreciation. I remember my step-mom would make sandwiches and give them cookies, sodas, and caprisuns. It was obvious they appreciated the hospitality and the reprieve from their usual rations. I imagined some of them bragged to their buddies, while others stuffed their cargo pockets and greedily enjoyed their snacks in solitude.
Armored vehicles patrolled the streets instead of police cruisers. Tensions were measured by words from the phonetic alphabet...Alpha, Bravo, Charlie, and Delta, indicating the degree of alert. Things eventually became tense. Stories of Americans being detained and harassed quickly circulated. A car was shot up. Servicemen were killed. Panama’s dictator declared war. Weeks later he surrendered, blanketed by blaring rock n roll music.
Somewhere in the night, a new president was sworn in; a barrage of missiles and bullets pierced the humid air. Families huddled close together, a corrupt dictator fled, and bombs peppered the city like a falling deck of cards. Somewhere in the night, a teenage boy was dreaming as an invasion took place. 22 years ago today…I was fast asleep.