Letters Of A War
Jacob, this is the first chance I found to write you. I hope you don't think I forgot you. I never could; you're my greatest friend. Not besides you are my cousin, I'm not allowed. Well I guess you should know the family is well, your father has been given a promotion; I can't remember his position at the moment. They send their love. And do you remember Tommy Muller, from Board Street, the one that played soccer? Local gossip, a.k.a. from my mothers mouth, has it that he has gotten Carrie Lynn, the red-head with the big bust (I know you remember her) with child. Shocking isn't it? Here we all figured he was batting for the other team. Surprise. I think this gossip holds truth though, because the day after I learned of it I was informed that Tommy had left to join the war. I figure hes running for it. God knows how I would.
But that's all besides the point. How goes the war in France? Are you seeing Europe, I bet you have five French lasses begging at your heels, huh? But yet, knowing you, you haven't a clue. You can be so oblivious at times.
I hear glorious tales of battles in the newspaper, the posters and word of mouth. It all sounds so exciting; I wish I was there with you. I will be soon enough. I also hear that everyday you get to take down some Germans. Damn filthy Germans, bet our boys are teaching them something over there. I wish I could be there with you, fighting, taking a soldier's glory. I feel useless lazing here at home, doing nothing but collecting dust and boredom. I wish they would lower the age limit for sign up; I wish to join you in the trenches.
When do you have leave again? I wish to see you. When you come home you have to tell me everything. I want a firsthand account of it all. I will get every sordid detail and then we will go to the tavern and have a drink. And we will reacquaint you with our friends and go running the town. It will be just like old times. Of course now you can use your position as soldier to get more lasses. I hear they swoon all over a man in uniform.
Remember when this war started, it was all we talked about. Now you are fighting in it, as I will be soon. I have the days counted off in my head. Forty-two. Then I will be eighteen and I will join up that very day and soon be at your side in the trenches. Like I have always been. Dear cousin it has been lonely without your presence here to cheer me. I miss your mischief. How we would get in so much trouble, never a dull day.
Now it is dull, not many of our friends are here, all have joined the war as a soldier and I myself have acquired a job, yes I, in a factory. There I make the weapons you use, but as I have probably mentioned a hundred times over in this letter, that it is not enough and I want to be there. I will be there.
Mother doesn't want me to go. I don't see why not. Everyday, twice a day, she has done everything from begging to threatening me. I don't like to make her unhappy, you know I adore my mother, but she just doesn't understand. She keeps bringing up all the bad. She keeps telling me about how I am like all the other boys and that just like them I will not make it back alive from the muddy trenches. You should write her, tell her not to be so pessimistic, that it will be an honor for me to go.
Father is silent.
He never talks about the war, he avoids it at all cost. I wish he wouldn't, it unnerves me more than mother's begging and tears. When I try to bring up the subject he either walks out of the room or pretends to not have heard me. Recently he has taken to just ignoring me. My aunt, your mother, tells me its just his way. I will try to talk to him again tonight, maybe if I don't give up and hound him he will finally answer back.
One can hope.
But off such miserable topics. You don't want to hear any of it, I'm sure. I hope you get this soon, I cant wait till your reply. I want to know everything, no exceptions. Just forty-two days and three hours more. Then we will both come home conquering heroes with the world at our feet.
. . .
I have read your letter over and over again. I am appalled at what I have read in your words. You have yet to understand anything. Nothing is as it was.
Before I was so naïve; Before we were so naïve.
This war is a plague that has me lost in the darkness that has become my entire existence. Days have bled into each other. Second into minute, minute into hour, hour into day. I can find no solace, no light. This war has taken over my person in the absolute. This war is a darkness. Destructive to all.
My only wish is to have never come. To never know this consummation of my soul.
Remember, those long weeks ago that I had received leave, but never came home. I had told you all that I had missed my ship.
That was a lie.
I was on my way home, at first. All during the boat and train ride I was excited, overjoyed. I had gotten as far as my block. I could see the familiar red peeling door and the brass knocker of home, the little fence that enclosed the yard; I could even catch a hint of the cherry tree in the back yard. Yet the emotions that overtook me at that moment planted my feet to the ground. I could not move them any closer and I discovered at that moment that I could not return home (that I did not want to). I was-am changed, different, tainted. The war has permeated my being. It is buried in my heart and branded on my soul.
I have tried to salvage myself. A self-induced rescue, as it were. I distanced and avoided. Yet, distancing was a futile effort that held no relief. I had thought if I distanced myself from it all, moved away from this evil, that the light would grace me with its presence. But I was stupid, naive. These trenches hold no light. It is already too late for me, the war that was outside has seeped into me slowly, like the poison gas that lurks these barren fields before me, that crawls into the lungs. It chokes and destroys with devastating power. But for this poison there is no gas mask, no protection.
I am a monster in too many ways to count.
I am no more than a predator, a creature of violence. I kill those so like my brothers that sit to my left and right. They are no different than I, or you dear cousin, we were just unlucky enough to find our places across from each other on the battle field. They have their own muddy hole of a home, same as we. They have families like us, they get sick and hungry as we do.
They are human.
A fact we so often forget and over look so that we may make ourselves feel better about extinguishing their flames. Its the men that sit at the polished desks that should be here, not us. They started this war, we die in it.
And for what end's meet? The shining moment of victory. Victory does not exist outside the minds of the insane and optimistic. It is a cruel hoax, a sham that is promoted for our deaths. It is an ideal that eats men alive. Victory is a five second clap on the back that tucks tail and dashes into the brush, leaving behind death and destruction on unimaginable levels of hell. And when the destruction is cleared, victory will be sought for again and again and again. In a never ending vicious cycle. For the only companion to the faerie tale of Victory is suicide. And I am committing it.
Which leaves me no purpose, but to murder, as I was taught to do well. I am nature's anomaly, a disastrous remake of humanity. I can never turn back to what I was and what I am could never fit into this life of innocence, the life I once called home. And yes, the people of the world are innocent, from what I have seen and done, they are. Believe me. You could never fathom this existence, never comprehend my experiences. The innocence has been ripped from my being violently and suddenly. For weeks it had left me struggling, reaching for balance. Now I would be reeling once again if it was thrust upon me, it would no longer fit my skin (which is why I can not return home). For I wear this war.
It is my skin.
I remember light and innocence. I once fit; the light was not a stranger scared of my presence, but a friend with a warm smile. How much I miss it, yet cannot take it back. You will never know the ache, at least I hope, of what I feel every single day. The ache of losing what I had. Its devastating on a soul crushing level.
Do not seek what I have found, Conner. Abandon your path, do not take this darkness upon yourself. I can never beg you enough.
I watch men die.
I watch them be riddled with bullets, scattered by bombs, choked by the poisoned air. I wait for my turn, and every time that I escape the reaper it is another miracle. You don't want this. I implore you to read my words, comprehend the monster I have become and the boy I am no longer. This war, it will destroy you, bleed you dry as I have been. I am tainted, stained and nothing except death can cure me of what I have seen, what I have done.
I have friends in the darkness of these days.
Souls who garner for companionship; how little of it we find. We seek each other, as thirst does water. We crawl together, stalk the dark together. We may differ in all things, argue over thought and opinion. We may hate each other, find the others presence repulsive, but even hate is overrun by the fear of aloneness. It is a thing I fear the most, to be alone in this war is worse than watching the death creep into all corners.
And I cling to these brothers because we can find compassion in our shared existence, in the horrors that each his own. We hold strong to any other we find, praying that they will stave off the insanity just a little while longer. We strangle these friendships - no I can not call them such - these camaraderies, looking to suck in any morsel of happiness that can come from them.
Parting invariably happens, it's war. I watch them fall, but do not grieve. It is beyond words to describe how I can not feel loss for these men. Yes I call them my brothers, yet I have seen so many fall, shatter, that my mind has become immune to this grief. I do feel regret. Regret that another has been taken who had such a life ahead of them. By now not many of my original unit live. There are only a few of us. We huddle tightly together, for we have met the true face of war, in that we are closer than no others. We are blessed to be alive, yet sometimes I feel that the decaying pounds of flesh that dot no-man's-land are the true fortunate ones. They escaped. I try to explain all this to the new recruits that scurry in here like eager mice. But so many turn a deaf ear to me, they heed me none and I watch there dog tags being collected at the end of the day.
Only once have I ever encountered a being who has relished this war. He was my commanding officer for a time and he enjoyed killing immensely (I have yet to see the delight in shredding my soul and surrendering to a life of atrociousness). I say for a time because three days passed and his brains were painted on the muddy wall of the trenches. Maybe that was for the best, he had a way about him that one could not turn their back to. This war is horrid enough without the fear of your own in the trench beside you.
I sometimes like to imagine that I have managed to cling onto what humanity hides in my body. I like to believe that I have not fallen far, have not become so soaked in bleak terror that I am only human in the sense that I exist with a beating heart and active mind. Yet, there is always something that lifts that false deceiving shroud from mine eye and shows me that I have nothing left with which to cling. I kill. I am a murderer, and I do it with out a second thought. I kill men, so much like myself, only differing in the color of our uniforms. I am trapped in this tainted being with no way out.
I wish I had not actively searched out this way; that it had not collided with my unassuming person. Now I have been thrust into this other world of shadows and predator games. And I have been trapped for so long, it feels like centuries but I have been told it has only been months. Time no longer calls to me, not when eternity is flaunting at my heels. No worries of time for me.
Oh but, you can never imagine what I would give to have those worries back, thrumming through my head as they once did.
And I must make you understand this the most, that while I will never find joy or solace in this existence, I have grown comfortable wearing it. Do not confuse comfort for anything but that I have become used to its presence at my side. It is just that I have been forced to find a livable path with what I have found here in the mud and filth. Sometimes I think I would feel awkward if it were ripped away. I would flounder, as I had in the beginning when innocence was torn from me. That is how I truly know that I am lost, and no longer who we all remember. Maybe I will save us all the tears of my changes and let the insanity take me over.
Ah insanity. If my current position does not send me over the edge, then it will be my dreams. My dreams where happiness and all other things that I hunger for flirt and flint around just passed the reach of my fingertips. In these figments of my imagination, hope is the most destroying. I dream of the hope that one day this blackness will be washed clean from me and I will once again welcome the light back in. I will again fit into the flock, be a sheep, as it were. Yes, a sheep. No more wolf for me. Then I wake. All these uplifting spirits leave me in a great rush as I make out the mud that defines the parameters of my world. I realize I would be nothing more than a wolf in sheep's clothing if I were to succeed in my faerie tale dreams.
I pray, dearest cousin that you never carry the weight of hope stripped from your bosom.
I feel I should share that another soldier just asked, who was reading this letter over my shoulder for need of something to do, if I have nightmares. It seems that is all he has, and is to fearful to close his eyes. I believe him, the dark circles under his eyes tell all. I must tell you though, Conner that I have no nightmares. My world is a nightmare, they don't need to steal into my dreams as well.
I shall digress now. I have read over my written words and know that all is worded to the best of my ability to describe it to you. I am also slightly worried that I have scared you off (there is a part of me that still longs for you to think of me as the boy you knew and loved), that you will deem me some sort of demon, perchance a vampire. After all I deal in blood and live by blood. Why not define me by it?
But Conner, you must read my warning and take from it. Leave this quest for war and focus on your schooling. Go to college and live, please live. Men such as you and I were not meant for this. When I left a strapping young recruit I never knew the coming horrors. Now I have faced them full on and it has altered my being to the point beyond recognition. Perhaps, nay I pray and beg on my knees that my letter will show you the truth about this Godforsaken war. It was never like we planned and dreamed; it is not war, but hell. I beseech. War, fighting and killing have brought into my being a darkness that can not be shaken and has tainted every aspect of life. I want you to hold strong to that light that burns within you and the innocence that empowers you. Promise me you will, promise me that I will never see your face on this field. If I do, I may shoot you myself.
Love your cousin,
P.S. Tell mother and father that I love them.