We were just together—in it—Johnny and I.  We weren’t always together, but we were in it.  Didn’t matter where he was.  Where I was.  A soldier’s story ain’t really about reality because the reality’s too real.  No, a soldier’s story is dreams.  And I suppose he knew my dreams just like I knew his, and when we ended up together in Bastogne our eyes were wide open… His outfit didn’t seem to mind.  We had bunkered in for the siege.  Counting our ammunition and keeping warm by a fire inside a building with its structure still mostly intact.  And I had my guitar and Johnny had his harmonica.  We played Christmas songs… But that’s not what I remember.  That’s not what I remember about Bastogne.    It’s something I still feel now.  A decision I still need to make.  When I look at what I have and what I haven’t got and I know what surrender means.  What it means if I give up…  A life ends many times if you contemplate it.  It ends in that moment before action as you unravel the consequences of doing nothing.  And maybe it was hopeless.  Our situation there in Bastogne.  It was Christmas and we were surrounded.  No medical supplies.  No food.  And we were left just sitting there.  Waiting.  Waiting on something to happen…  And that’s the decision I still make, even now—choosing how I wait, for some forms of waiting don’t seem like waiting at all.  I still must decide, every day—to be me.  I must choose not to be defeated even when I can’t win, and abate the death that’s doing its own waiting…  I saw two children.  That night I made my patrol of the Bastogne streets—Christmas Eve.  I was checking on our perimeters, and the Germans had ceased their bombardment, at least for a while.  The days were short so soon after the solstice, so it might have been early even though it was dark—I don’t remember—but I saw them through a window.  Two girls, sisters I imagine, and they were decorating a tree.  Not really a tree—it looked like a broken wooden post, possibly from a hall tree or standing coat rack, on which they had hung ribbons, hair ribbons.  And they were playing, playing and fighting at the same time.  In just standing there at the window for a minute, I saw them go through a whole myriad of emotions.  They got mad, cried, and then were laughing.  Neither of them were of school age, and the younger one you could tell had just learned to walk, only knowing a few words while the older one did most of the talking.  I remember standing there, outside that window, in the cold and dark, the smoke of my breath fogging up the pane, thinking—they could be mine, my own children, and what they were doing now, decorating a tree as sisters will, was worth fighting for.  It was worth me giving up, not to some enemy—not defeated—but giving up thinking there was something to give up—that arrogance.  So they could grow up and see what I saw…

Advertisements