[La Divina]: 115.War Diary of an unnamed soldier
We are trapped. I and my fellows are like earthworms, crawling through mud tunnels day and night, blind to the world. I only write to you to keep myself sane, for we can no longer send messages to the outside world. Mail call was due some time ago, I cannot remember if it was days, weeks, or months. But it never came, and we slowly adjusted.
Do you remember the rosary you gave me before I left? How I laughed and stuffed it into a random pocket, saying I wouldn’t need it? I thought I would be back sooner than... this. I was never religious, you know. But you gave me the beads and said I might need them. I hold them now as I try to keep my hand steady. Pray excuse my scrawl, my love. I do not remember the prayers from when I was a boy. I guess I should have asked you to write them down for me before I left... I do remember “Deliver us from evil.” In this world of mud and explosions, blood and silence, I suppose it’s the only line that matters. There was another soldier here with me... a moment ago... yesterday? I don’t remember. But apparently he is as religious as you and told me that not only should I repeat this line as I stroke my beads, but perhaps I should speak to God as well. Like a friend. Like someone back home.
Sara, where is God now?
You told me that he was everywhere... but I’m beginning to think he’s forgotten us, me and my earthworm companions, praying for deliverance from evil. Is God sleeping? Perhaps he is, Sara. I hope he is dreaming all of this. Pray for me, Sara. Pray that he will wake up soon and I will be home again with you... With you.
I remember the day I left. I gave you a big box of chocolates. You’d been craving them, for some odd reason. Then I received a letter... it was so long ago... my fellows had fire in their eyes then, and they spoke to each other. You told me, Sara, that I was going to be a father. A father. Me.
I wonder if the child was born yet? I hope if it was a boy you named him Gabriel, like we always said we would. And if it was a girl... what did you want to name her? Janet? I don’t remember. Maybe it was Jennifer. Can our child walk now? Talk? How do you explain about where I am?
Where am I, Sara?
Do I really have a life outside this? Maybe I never did... perhaps you are a dream... perhaps I am only pretending I have a wife somewhere to go home to. So that I can hope that all of this will be over soon and I will have a place to go. I remember our yard. There was a rosebush. It never fully blossomed and you tried everything to help it along. Asking that woman down the street – she had a garden of roses – how you could get it to bloom. And you would come in to make dinner, smelling of earth and roses. You could make all kinds of food... I think I teased you because your recipes never turned out quite right. How I miss your cooking now. I can’t remember when I last had a decent meal.
I don’t want to scare you, Sara. But you told me you could handle all this. So I need to tell you something.
My ear was blown off.
Remember that book you brought home from the library that one time? In it was a picture of Van Gogh... with his ear cut off. You told me the story of how it happened. I forget just now... I was crawling along, rifle in hand, my limb screaming and my heart racing. All I could think of was killing the other guy before he killed me. Something near me exploded, and I went flying into the air. The sky was above me, under me... and then I landed and pain came rushing into every fiber of me... I could hear things I’d never heard before, Sara. I think I heard your voice, from far off. Calling me. Or maybe it was God? Then... nothing at all. I could hear nothing. The medic says if I ever recover, I will be partially deaf in that ear.
In part, I am glad. There are so many sounds here that I am grateful for not hearing anymore. I remember once, as I was drifting to sleep, I heard the dry of a dying man. It was so close, Sara. It was like a cat’s low yowl in the dead of night. I tried to block out the sound, but it just increased. Oh, Sara. I prayed for the first time in years then. I prayed that God would end his suffering.
Sometimes, I want to fall asleep and never wake up.
We were under attack just now. Explosions... mud flying. Screams. Sometimes I feel as though I am in the middle of a horror movie and whoever is watching – is God watching, Sara? – keeps turning off the sound. Then turning it back on, full blast. Then to normal volume, then a whisper.
If they knew what we do for this country, Sara... if they could see what I see. Bodies half-buried in the mud, their eyes open. Cold glass things looking at nothing. The horror, the horror. Would they send us if they knew about all this? The mud, the clouds of yellow gasses floating like a deadly mist over us, forcing us to cover our faces for hours at a time? Tell them, Sara. Tell them that whatever they want isn’t worth the lives of all these boys.
As I scrambled for cover, a group of boys, no older than seventeen, huddled together, biting back tears.
I cannot remember when I cried last. Maybe it was when I lay there, blood covering half of my face, looking up at a cloudy sky of mud grey... they might have thought me dead, Sara. Might have left me there if I hadn’t cried out. God help me, I couldn’t even hear my own voice. Deaf, blind earthworm that I am. I feel as though I was born in the mud. In the mud I will die.
I only write to you to keep myself sane. Perhaps one day we will sit together and read these words, you and I. Perhaps this is really a dream. God... let it be a dream.