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A Real Man

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I was out on the morning run, towards the back of the herd, I wasn’t slow, I was there by choice. Frederick and the others were ahead and holding back gave me a nice view of the surroundings. When we got back to the barracks the colonel was waiting for us, this was strange to most of us, we had never seen or heard from the colonel before so we knew this was important.

Just like that, everything had changed, I had got used to life in the barracks; the morning runs the harsh training during the days, assault courses, and rifle exercises. I suppose all the practice had to become reality at some point but still I never really imagined myself where I am now, at the front line. I’m surrounded by those I’ve trained with, Frederick and the others, tough men, real men, for god only knows I am not one of them.

I, Tom Walter, testify the army has become my Family, I have not had a family since puberty as I define a family as those who care about you regardless of anything, I know that if my family knew the truth about me they would never accept me. I had to live among them secretly, like one who conceals leprosy. I still remember my school days, I had to listen with delight to my friends describing the intricacies of their experiences with girls, and I had to learn to relate fabulous histories of what I had done with them myself. I learned to be lonelier than it ought to be possible to feel. In the Army there was the same gross talk, but it was a world without women. To a soldier a woman is an imaginary being.

I am not a misogynist, but you should understand that to me the company of a woman is painful because it reminds me of what I am not, and of what I would have been if God had not meddled in my mother's womb. With regards to the war, I was rather lucky I was not sent to the front line however I was moved from unit to unit for several months, many journeys were made on my part, from the French border to the German one and back again but I didn’t mind as there was no fighting on my part. I was finally settled in the 67th division, and I enjoyed every moment.

No civilian can comprehend the joy of being a soldier. That is, quite simply, an irreducible fact. A further fact is that regardless of the matter of sex, soldiers grow to love each other; and, regardless of the matter of sex, this is a love without parallel in civil life. You are all young and strong, overflowing with life, and you are all in the s*** together, You come to know every nuance of each other’s moods; You know exactly what the other is going to say; You know exactly who will laugh and for how long over which particular type of joke; you acquaint yourself intimately with the smell of each man's feet and perspiration; you can put your hand on someone's face in the dark, and know who it is; you recognise someone's equipment hanging on the back of a chair, even though his is the same as everyone else's; you can tell whose stubble it is in the washing bowl; you know precisely who will swap you a carrot for your potato, a packet of cigarettes for your spare pair of socks, a postcard of Sierra for a pencil. You become accustomed to seeing each other frankly, and nothing is hidden. Unless your desires are the same as mine. We were all young together. We would never be more handsome, we would never be more lean and strong, we would never again have such water-fights, and we would never again feel so invincible and immortal. We could march fifty miles in one day, singing battle songs, swinging along together or trudging, limbs in unison, the cockerel feathers of our helmets black and glistening, tossing. We could piss together on the wheels of the Colonel's car, as drunk as cardinals; we could s*** unashamed in each other’s' presence; we could read each other’s letters so that it seemed that every son's mother wrote to all of us; we could dig a trench all night in solid rock in the pouring rain and march away at dawn without ever having slept in it; on live-firing exercises we could lob mortar bombs at rabbits without permission; we could bathe naked and beautiful as Phoebus and someone would point at someone's penis and say, `Hey you, why haven't you handed that in to the armoury?' and we all would laugh and make nothing of it, and someone else would say, `Watch out or there'll be a negligent discharge, ' and the victim of the joke would say, `No such luck. 'We were new and beautiful; we loved each other more than brothers.

Despite all that, here I am lying in the dirt, unable to move or speak and no one is coming. I have been here for what feels like hours and there is nothing but the faint sound of gunshots and yells of pain in the distance. Nothing but pain, that is what war truly brings, where I was before, in my division, I thought that was war but it wasn’t this is war, in all its pride and glory, and I am glad of one thing, that now as the sounds of hurt and torture fades the bright light ahead is calling to me and after all my worries it seems god has not forsaken me.



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