She had me follow her to a grave.  To a funeral that happened that day.  You don’t think about funerals too much during a war, but they happen.  It’s just that they’re really not observed the way you imagine.  I guess there’s just too many of them.  Too many for any one to be unique.  And it was almost like she wanted to tell me something like I was her husband.  Like she wanted her husband to go with her on this journey, but he couldn’t, and she needed a man, any man—to be her friend…  It was a boy she remembered.  The first boy she kissed—she told me the story as I walked with her.  We went by the school where they first met, the first floor of it still standing, on our way to a field where the graves were dug—a new cemetery.  That’s when I got another impression.  Maybe it was the clarity of the winter night air—the sharp cold intake of it—I don’t know, but I felt the beauty of it.  The beauty of the damned, the dead…  Dead.  Damned.  The same thing in my mind that night, in the options I felt, in how we all really felt under the German siege.  And I felt evil.  Its cold reality.  Its kind laughter.  I felt it all around me, almost suffocating—my lungs burning.  It was there in the lucid silence.  The beauty in evil.  The beauty in its honesty.  How when you laugh with it you feel free.  No hypocrisy.  No phoniness.  But nothing sacred either.  This what you have to give up to feel its beauty, its tragic pride—and all you have is your soul…  The damned are beautiful.  They are beautiful in their choice, and why they made it, for they knew they were wrong.  They were wrong in believing that the dead desire nothing.  I did not feel damned.  I didn’t feel damned that night in Bastogne, walking with this woman, but I felt the dead all around me.  I felt their desires.  They were calling to me.  Just as to this woman.

            “He treated me like I was person.  He didn’t laugh like the others when I first tried putting on make-up.  I was thirteen and I was afraid he would laugh, but he didn’t.  He told me I was pretty…  And he taught me to kiss—nothing more—he didn’t go any further than that, but we kissed a lot.  It was the summer when I started my first period, and we met by the river, the River Meuse.  We met by the river and kissed…”

            And how could I be cold to her?  Even in the options I felt.  She needed me.  And in being needed I wasn’t damned.  She gave me another choice.  She gave me the choice to feel needed.  To listen to her pain, her goodbyes, not like that cold impersonal force out there waiting for our surrender, but as a human who had failed as well.  And together we found that beauty in failure—the human heart—as it expresses its loss…  And so even though we were surrounded by it.  Surrounded by death and damnation.  There were still New Year resolutions.  There was still a kiss.  A kiss between a boy and girl.  And even though the man was dead, the woman still remembered, and there is no evil in a woman’s memory…

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