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Getting Out

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“Gimme a hand here,” came the voice from behind the tree next to mine. I took a deep breath, pretending I didn’t feel the mucus rattling in my throat. Reaching down to my belt without looking, I pulled out an egg-shaped object and gently tossed it to the tree where the voice had come from. I heard as two hands clasped onto the object and I let out a sigh of relief. I had succeeded in doing something. Something small, and I would never be labeled as the hero, but still.

I squinted my eyes shut and braced my head back against the tree that was my safety for the impending destruction. Sure enough, I heard a grunt from next to me followed by a small metallic sound. Just seconds left now. And… boom!

The valley was filled with nothing but smoke, fire, and pain. When the smoke cleared, I knew I’d be able to see broken bodies left behind in the wake of the deed I’d just assisted. I knew that I would walk by each one attempting to not look down because that way I wouldn’t have to see their faces. If I saw their faces I would have to stop, I would have to linger, and I would have to be reminded that these were humans. I would have to memorize every detail on their lifeless and often unrecognizable faces to paint an accurate picture of the horrors I faced every day. For, if I did not commit the faces to memory, who else would?

My affections did not lie in the realm of violence. My heart is one of an artist’s, constantly singing of a beautiful world that I have yet to experience.

As the noises settle down I dare to turn my head toward the tree beside mine. Sure enough, I see a familiar boy- no, man (I should call him a man, though to me he appears naught but a boy). He has that familiar grimace on his face, so perhaps I do not recognize him at all, only his countenance of regretful triumph. It’s one we see often because of the War. Everyone blends together in my mind no matter how hard I attempt to distinguish the memories of my friends and foes in my mind’s eye.

He gives me that look, and I remember my mother’s face as I told her that I was joining the Army. She cried and I asked her why. She told me then that I had just told her she had lost a son. I reminded her that I could very well come back alive, that I had yet to die, but she just shook her head. She whispered that war takes all boys, dead or alive. She refused to say anymore, looking out the window with misty eyes. I turned to look at my father and he gave me a silent and stiff nod. I asked him what my mother meant by her words and he waited a long period of more silence before replying that war, as a master, reforms those who submit themselves as its willing servants.

My father told me before I left that I just had to come back alive, for my mother’s sake. I cried with him in a secret room in the dead of night.

Another boy at my school joined with me. He asked me why I was joining and I told him of how I was searching to make my country proud, that I did not hunt for glory, that I simply wanted to join the cause. Looking back, it was a generic answer of a boy who had yet to understand maturity and what it means to take a life.

I turned the question back on him. He gave me a forlorn expression of a man who already had lived through what I could not fathom. In that moment he aged a thousand years in the blink of an eye. He responded that he had to be a better man than his father. (I learned later, much later, after he was killed in action, that his father had beaten his mother to death and made a habit of almost repeating himself in his murderous ways to his children.)

Within a breath, I recognized the boy beside me as the thousand year old man I’d met the day I joined the Army. It was difficult to compare him to the memory I retained of him because back in the day he had been distinct to me due to his aged eyes. These days, boys saw murder everyday. His eyes were no longer special. I wondered if mine had become ancient veterans to match his.

He nodded to me and we both breathed as if it was our last.

In the end, I find we all are just searching for the one way to get out alive. It’s different for everyone, I suppose.

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