13

            They didn’t think it could be done.  They couldn’t believe it.  Too many men had died.  Died already.  And it’s hard to believe in something if you think you’re going to die believing it.

            It’s kind of like that saying: Kill you with kindness.  Hard to believe.  Doesn’t seem possible.  And so you’re tempted even after being warned.   The secret telling you the secret.  Then it just takes time.  Time and faith.  What time does to faith, and what you come to hope for.  How this form of forgiveness kills you, over time.  It kills you if that seed is planted, and you remember.

It takes the love out of love.  First by stealing your faith and then deleting the alternatives to hope.  Leaving only fear.  And it’s still pointed out, the things you should hate about yourself, the things you do and have done that you should be ashamed of—things not really forgiven—it’s just people being kind.  They’re being kind to you, like you’re a little child that doesn’t know any better—bad and willful, spoiled.  And spoiled children aren’t kind—they can’t be—because even they know it—they do know better, and they’ve been made useless, disarmed by the very kindness that should make them do something about it.

What kills kindness is kindness.  Because you don’t want people to just tolerate you—who you are and what you do—you want to be loved for it and scolded at the same time.  You want to be chastened, disciplined.  Because then you believe you’re becoming something better.  That somebody wants you to become something better.  Somebody’s paying attention to you.  And not just fans to all your impulses, telling you it’s alright to be bad when you want to.  Because you know, even as a child.  You know it’s a lie.  You know because you’ve already been told.  And it’s hard to be kind when you’re living a lie…  Something rots.  Something dies.  And even though you’re surrounded by all these things telling you you are loved you don’t feel loved.  You just feel empty inside, and it kills it.  It kills your capability to love.  Simply from the fact you don’t know what love is.  What you know of it warped and something missing, something that brings resentment rather than contriteness.

And that’s the secret.  The secret telling you the secret.  Because you can go through your whole life unharmed from this.  A life native, tranquil, and happy from worries on all these moral misgivings.  Because you don’t feel good or bad all by yourself.  It’s only in that moment when someone else enters, and tells you.  They tell you they are being kind, more so even significant when they tell you in deed, in not so many words but in how they treat you.  And you feel patronized, not loved…  You can’t feel good about yourself after this happens—not anymore—because of what someone else showed you, and it gives you a low feeling of self-worth, which opens you up to doing all kinds of things almost because you feel it’s expected of you, and you shouldn’t even try, try to be something else.  That is unless you ignore it, you ignore your pride (if you want to call it that) and realize no one but you decides if you feel bad or not, that your morality isn’t based on what other people think of what you do, but how you feel about it.  Kindness doesn’t kill you then.  You just become like your parents.

And spoiled children don’t stay spoiled children.  They become adults.  Then it’s really hard to believe.  It’s hard to believe people are really kind because you’re still around.  It’s hard to believe in something if you think you’re going to die believing it.  And so people really aren’t kind.  And it doesn’t pay to be nice—people just walk all over you and you’d rather be the one doing the walking.  You find you even get more respect when you aren’t nice, almost like people don’t want you to be nice to them.  Because it kills them.  And you have children—telling them the lie—you’re kind to them because they’re your children and you want them to believe even if it kills them.  And so it goes—on and on, the nativity lost.

This is the nature of war—our nature at war.  A war with what has to die in order for something else to live, and war is not kind.  This what soldiers know.  It’s what David Threnody knew—he knew it after—after coming home.  Coming home after the war.  What he learned of spoiled children fighting over land.  And the kindness he was shown for the things he had done.  The hardest thing—the hardest thing about it finding something to believe in again.  Something to believe in that didn’t kill him.

It’s really something simple, but somehow it gets complicated.  Vague pronouns on ideas taking the place of real, acute problems, and what was clear and true becoming lost in the details—lost in the specific memories of what you experience and how you feel about it afterwards.  It happens when you begin telling yourself how it happened.  Your shown as it happens, but then you got to tell yourself, and a different story appears—a different story of your life…  This is the story I’m telling of David Threnody—no cameras, no pictures of his real life, no daily dialogues, not even much action.  Instead what you get is hindsight.  A reflection.  The events of David’s life not shown as they’re happening—no story this way, along formulas and key points in the plot.  These details are passed over.  Because you don’t really need to know what David looks like.  Or Schultz and Johnny Tribout.  And military life, the base at Biloxi before America entered the war (David’s war experiences, his battle with the Goliath what’s next, the next subject to discuss)—the prison where David was a guard—you don’t really need to know what that prison looked like.  The lighting and the smells—the sounds of it.  You can imagine.  Imagine a prison.  You can imagine David and maybe a little of who he was.  His story not the actual story.  Even if you’re shown it with skill—the major events of David’s life, each of them focused on in the environment in which you find them—that’s just one story, biased by the weight of fact—and depending on the skill it’s still nothing more than an adventure you’re asked to watch, nothing more than a well-written essay of a vacation, and you’re invited to imagine you went along too, the skill measured in how much it makes you feel like you were really there—a part of it, a part of David’s life, and the action of it.  And like that night at the roadhouse (a roadhouse much like the one David played when he first came to Mississippi) the roadhouse where Schultz decided to fight—details of the actual fight I find unimportant—the specifics of what was said and who took the first swing don’t matter to me.  But telling you how they felt about it, and why—that tells a different story.  It reveals character in thought rather than in deed.  It allows the characters to tell their own story rather than me telling it for them.  And more words go into it.  Contradictions and excuses.  The truth not in what really happened, but in the opinions on what happened told by the people who were there.  The trick to this making something simple complicated and then making it simple again.  Like a regular day—a regular day in your life and what pertains to business and what really matters.  Like how you feel when you wake up and that decision you make to fall asleep.  Sometimes even things said you don’t believe in order to get to things you do believe.

This is a book of opinions.  Everyone has them.  And some like listening and agreeing while others wait for the rebuttal.  Some not listening at all.  Some not caring what you think.  Some thinking in the back of their minds just tell me a story, entertain me, and don’t be in love with sound of your own voice.  What makes you want to read this—this story of David and how I’m telling it—your willingness to listen.  Your willingness to die a little bit—if you believe it.  And maybe you listen because you’ve heard of David Threnody.  Maybe he reminds you of someone, personally, or others have spoken his name and you recognize it.  You recognize it as a name you should remember.  Maybe you’ve even heard his music.  His life enough for a biography because of this.  Enough for me to write it.  Enough for you to read.

It was the Ardennes, Belgium—December, 1944—and that was what David was thinking.  He was thinking about going home and being treated kind and what that meant to him now.  He was thinking about opinions—his opinions and the different opinions of his comrades on the planned counteroffensive.  Because it was Christmas.  Christmas Eve in Bastogne.  And they were all cold and hungry, willing to believe in anything.  They were ready to eat their own guts.  The snow in the trees at night un-silent and illuminated by the artillery bombardments of the siege.  They were willing to believe anything, but they couldn’t believe it.  They didn’t think it could be done.  Their faith frozen.  Their hope gone.  No one believed David Threnody could save the church where so many of the families huddled.  Patton was too late.  The town would fall.  They were all going to die, slowly, if not suddenly with bullet or bomb, then under the kind unanswerable siege, the duress of time and starvation. 

No, time didn’t change it.  It didn’t take it away.  Even after the things I’d done—the things I’d seen—watching men die.  Children die.  Mothers… Even after that shock, that concussion of air in an explosion—that disorientation and how you remember it after—you don’t get rid of it.  You don’t get rid of the fear.  That gut response when you go into a fight.  When you’re just waiting.  Waiting on an enemy.  No, all time did was press down, press down everything at once—time pressed it in a line—and you almost became unthinking.  You just did it.  You just pulled the trigger.  You became used to the dirt on your body that people wanted, what they wanted that created the wrecked buildings of Bastogne.  The rot and disease.  Snow in rooms without roofs, almost like the furniture was in some art display in a museum, red under white covering not meant to melt—ghost trimmings of the artist…  But you never lost the fear.  Nervous ticks surfacing under the stress.  Certain compulsive rituals a soldier went through in superstitions they never would have believed before coming to the front—after you hear the sound of a bullet going by you.  You just get to know it.  You get to know the fear.  How it feels coming out alive.  Because I had fought in Africa.  Fought in Italy.  I’d seen the dirt of these places.  And by the time I came to Bastogne I’d made friends with it, I guess.  I made friends with the fear.  I placated it with my knowledge… but I would never loan it money.

–David Threnody, on the siege of Bastogne—from his journals 1948 to 1955

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