Chapter One

For many years I have searched, but no matter how hard or long I spend at the task, I cannot find a single memory I possess that is not shaped by fear. The first moment of my life I can recall is lying awake in bed at four years old, staring at the darkness framed above me, terrified by the new knowledge that one day I would die. As I grew older and ventured further out into the world than the walls of my parents' home, I encountered entirely new, unexpected fears. When I was six, a wild dog pinned me to the ground as I was walking with my family, hungry for my neck, and I was saved only by the timely intervention of my mother with a parasol. When I was seven, and began my studies at a private school, I became acquainted with the always new and fascinating joys of schoolyard bullying. My peers, seeing that I was small, quiet, and unused to being around other people, took it as their duty to make my life as miserable as possible. For the next six years of my life, I didn't have an encounter with another human being where I was not in some way degraded, mocked, or dismissed. I was lied to, beaten, locked outside in the dark and cold, stolen from, manipulated to whatever ends my tormentors could come up with to amuse themselves with on any particular day.

When I

It wasn't until I commissioned as lieutenant in the United States Army that I first became aware of this aspect of myself. The military was a path that had been chosen for me with no input or will of my own- my father, a graduate of the Military Academy and a retired Colonel, insisted that I had no other choice. The five siblings he had raised before me each had ended up, in his language, “deplorable failures”- one was killed in a back alley brawl, one died by her own hand, one was immobilized by polio, one disappeared, and my twin sister ran away with the daughter of a doctor when she was 16, leaving the burdens of our family's service to fall on me. I entered the school, dutifully climbed to the top of my class, and graduated into the chaos of the first world war. It wasn't until I found myself on the front lines of Germany that I gradually began to understand the fundamental differences between myself and my fellow soldiers.

Often, as we huddled in the trenches under barrages of Kraut gunfire, the troops under my command would discuss what they missed from back home. Many had women and children waiting for them, others careers on hold, some missed music and drink, and all yearned at least for a comfortable bed and edible food. I listened to these conversations often but never offered input. My men assumed it was out of some desire to maintain the separation between officer and enlisted, a belief I didn't feel the need to correct. The soldiers I led had adopted a sort of jovial separation from me. When I came through the trenches they gave good humored greetings. If I gave an order, it was followed quickly and efficiently. But none approached me unless it was a matter of absolute tactical necessity, and I didn't have a single conversation with one that was not related to our position in the trench. They respected me and admired me, it seemed, in the way one might respect and admire a hibernating bear: from very far away.

In February of 1918, after a particularly brutal series of artillery strikes left nearly a dozen dead and another 20 severely injured, I was able to further observe this phenomenon and come to some conclusions regarding its cause. As two of my soldiers were piecing together the corpse of a third for disposal, I overheard a line of conversation.

“They say this might all be over before the year is up,” said a tall, blond-haired private by the name of Scrivens. He stood hunched over, struggling to balance the body in his arms. “Someone in the camps that there's a treaty being negotiated.”

“Who gives a shit when it's over?” said his companion, a sergeant named Horton who'd been on the front nearly as long as I. His face, smeared with mud and flecks of gore, showed no expression.

“I want to go home,” said Scrivens. He had finally managed to wrangle the corpse in a comfortable carrying position. “Everyone else does too.” Glancing at me, he lowered his voice quiet enough that he thought I would be unable to hear. “You and the Captain are the only two people mad enough to enjoy this place.”

Horton only grunted in response, and the two trotted off further into the trenches. As I watched them leave, I began to reflect on Scrivens' words. Horton certainly displayed a certain energy when under fire that often came close to disturbing. Upon hearing the noise of shells coming in, or the rattling of gunfire, he would leap up and begin rushing across the lines, barking out orders with a ferocity that shook the soldiers almost more than the bombardment. Dashing to the guns, he would fire towards the Germans with a rapturous expression on his face like an unruly child discovering for the first time how to set fire to ants. Only after the attack was over would he return to his dour, expressionless self.

I myself had never felt any joy in combat. In fact, often during it I felt myself being overwhelmed by terror. Shaken by the noise of the falling bombs, the exploding earth around me, the screaming of my men, I would feel it was impossible to properly understand or react to anything around me. When the battles became particularly heated, and and the gruesomeness around me seemed to be escalating without end, I sometimes became unable to even move or speak. These periods, which my soldiers claimed never lasted more than a second, and always assumed I was using to take stock of the chaos around me, felt as I experienced them to last eternities. For those externally brief periods of time, the world outside of myself ceased to exist. Faced with the threat of imminent death, my consciousness spiraled into itself.

[he thinks about this, realizes how miserable his home life was, and decides not to return to his family after the war]

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