by Nicholas Siennicki
Remembering Hemingway, Owen, Eliot.
Compassion was hard to come by during long nights spent wandering foreign cities. You chose to come here. You got on the plane. The people back home were proud of you. You were proud of you, at first.
There’s nothing to it, you told yourself, idle in your idealism. There’s nothing to it. All you had to do was show up. Show up, and do your part. How hard could that be?
Hard enough that those long nights left you crouched against walls, sobbing. You would clutch at your short hair and fail to breathe as the rain smashed down over you. At first, you prayed nobody saw you. Not your friends, not your superiors, not anyone.
But now, you didn’t care. A part of you wished someone would come and hold you and tell you it was all alright. You knew that would never happen. Why would they? Comfort drains a man of his own emotion to replenish that of another. It wasn’t worth it.
So slopping boots led you back to your quarters. Such as they were. Every time you brushed aside the flap, you imagined to yourself that things would be different. There, in the corner, would be a bed and a woman who loved you. There, in the centre, a child, sprawled out with toys.
You saw rows of folding beds with thin mattresses. You saw men throwing their own tired corpses around, as though movement could inspire sleep. It would, eventually. But the shelling and intermittent shots did nothing to help. You thought you would get used to them. Naivety was a hell of a drug.
The naïve turned to drugs, as it turns out, once the former faded. They came cheap. Cheaper than the blood in your veins, which was traded by the tens of thousands for a few feet of useless land. It became easy. A few bottles, a dash of magic powder, and then rest finally felt within reach. Boys would hop over the walls, and run foreword, and fall, and feel peace. It was said they didn’t even feel pain.
You were too much the coward to test that claim. And anyway, drugs and alcohol could not satiate the truly desperate. No, they drank a much more insidious poison. It was spoon fed to them by the gleaming goddess. You once knew her as justice, as liberty, as freedom. Now, you saw her as the gleaming monster, the stupid girl with her damned box. This was not a place for hope.
Tomorrow, you’d go to the trenches. Maybe you’d be lost. Maybe you’d survive, and lay against the muddy walls. You’d look around and see blank faces and busy hands. Some were pulling off a boot. Some were scribbling poetry, still intoxicated with the hope that all this was for something. Or that their actions would help the emotion of the moment last.
It wasn’t. It wouldn’t.
People remembered the facts, not the feeling. They would repeat this. Maybe not in kind, but in sentiment. Fear, and hope, would force them. You knew, you knew. You once did anything for hope. You now did everything for fear.
You pulled the blanket over yourself, and closed your eyes. You were ready to fill your brain with thoughts of a better tomorrow. A tomorrow that you were helping create. A tomorrow that rested on your shoulders, your decisions, and your braveries.
What an audacious lie.
Illustration courtesy of Wikimedia Commons.