I was nineteen when I softly kissed the girl in white and whispered ‘I do,’ as if it were a fragile dream between our lips.
I was nineteen when I looked in the eyes of my new-born daughter for the first time, and cried.
I am nineteen when I see the cruel edges of life cut the bodies of my wife and child down to corpses. Drowned and empty they slowly sink to the bottom of the lake. I am left floating in a river of untold mistakes.
* * *
A lost soldierboy
by Thomas Kelly
When the gunfire ceased
When the bombs stopped
I was eighteen
All I wanted
I begged you
When the dust cleared
When the morning rose
You were nineteen
All I needed
I did not tell you
I love you
* * *
I was nineteen when I buried them.
Even though I wanted to touch the dark curls of my daughter’s hair once more.
Even though I wanted to see the sun and moon twirl around their broken bodies for forever.
Even though I didn’t want to.
I buried them, because watching the flesh rot from their skulls would be too painful.
I was nineteen when I told myself I would remember their faces, and knew I wouldn’t.
I am nineteen when I become an alcoholic in grief.
* * *
I was nineteen when the war started. The Great War, they called it. I had seen five Great Wars in my lifetime, and not one was. Still.
I was nineteen when I was drafted for the army. They handed me a weapon I did not know how to use. When I asked, a young man told me: ‘My good fellow, just point and shoot. You will learn more on the battlefield.’
He was a nice man, naïve perhaps, they called him Lucas. I liked him.
I am nineteen when I lose my first friend in battle. It is the moment I realise few soldiers will survive this war. Just point and shoot. They die so quickly.
* * *
I was nineteen when I came into existence.
I have been nineteen for every day following the first.
I am always nineteen, and I always will be.
People have called me Nyx or Helen or Ashwathama or Cain. But I call myself Me. It is the only name that fits. For I do not age, and I do not breathe, and I do not die.
But I always am. I am always Me.
I am nineteen when I forget the names of my daughter and wife. If breaks me. But I do not cry.
* * *
I was nineteen when I should’ve died, but didn’t. The captain asked for an explanation. I had none to give.
I was nineteen when I saw comrades come and go. Over the top. Over the trenches. Just point and shoot.
I am nineteen when I hold a boy, barely seventeen, because he can’t sleep with the bombs crashing down. He tells me of his village, of his parents, dog and the cows at his farm. He wants to feed the cows again. We play poker and whisper jokes in the night.
Sometimes he asks me about my past, he quickly learns not to.
* * *
‘Tell them your age, your real age.’
‘I am old enough, they don’t care to know more.’
‘You are seventeen, when they realise that, they will send you home. You don’t want to be here.’
‘You don’t. You’ll die!’
‘I am fighting for my country. Don’t you understand that? If I die then I will have died a good death.’
‘Few deaths are good, dear. You should know that by now. Don’t you want to live? Go back home?’
‘And you don’t?’
‘There is nothing left for me back there. And they won’t let me go anyway. I’m nineteen, no denying it. Just tell the captain, you won’t be in trouble.’
‘Don’t force me, okay? I want to fight, I mean Christ! My parents want me to fight too. They wished me good luck and all that. I am old enough.’
‘You are not!’
‘Please. Just… please. Don’t make me.’
‘…Ah, for God’s sake… Okay, I won’t make you. But don’t you dare die on me, or I swear by anything that is holy, you will regret it.’
* * *
I was nineteen when Christmas arrived and the men started singing the songs and carols. When we ran after the ball, the mud felt less cold and the wind less sharp. I started laughing like a madman then and the boys who were the enemy started laughing too.
I was nineteen when I went over the top again the next day. Just point and shoot. Don’t remember the faces.
I am nineteen when the boy who I held in the dark calls himself Thomas and kisses me on the cheek. I feel brave again, if only for a moment.
* * *
A love letter
I love you
In the dark and in the light
Love is such a simple thing, my dear
It fills up and it crashes down
When the war ends
Take me home
I want to share one with you
* * *
I was nineteen when I stood in the trenches. Rain filling my boots, hunger my stomach. Thomas held my hand with soft palms. Fingers, woven together in a tapestry of everything we could become. He was eighteen and rarely smiled anymore.
I was nineteen when the bomb hit, hard. A dozen men fell and I could feel the heat of the blow slam against my skin. I did not die, I was not injured.
I am nineteen when I hold Thomas’s hands not daring to let go. He lies here, in the mud that was never meant to be a sickbed. His left leg ripped off clean, his body convulsing with a sickening sound.
‘I love you,’ I tell him, for the first time.
‘How are you alive?’ He asks.
* * *
I am floating in a river of untold mistakes. A river of blood. A river of sorrow, of tears, of cold sweat and memories, of mud. Maybe even a river of lost childhoods.
I am nineteen when I quit drinking.
Three years after the war ends, I try to kill myself, but I can’t. I knew it wouldn’t work. Yet, I am somehow relieved.
* * *
I was nineteen when I pinned the red poppy on my chest. Seeing the flower gave me a feeling that had haunted me across the years. I saw the soldiers standing next to the small memorial, five men, all from the same damn village. One of them misses his left leg.
Thomas is in his eighties now, he has old eyes and old hands. But he still wakes up screaming every other night, his mind never having let go of the childhood he shouldn’t have got.
When his eyes meet mine, he is eighteen once more.
I am still nineteen.
He smiles and waves politely. ‘You know,’ he says, ‘You look just like a friend of mine. An old friend.’
I am nineteen and stare at him.
‘Oh don’t be scared,’ he laughs, ‘He was a good friend. I loved him once, I think, I think I did. Then, one day, I didn’t anymore… And, and I can’t remember why.’ His eyes age suddenly and his mind drifts away to all the moments where I can’t follow him.
I am nineteen and floating in a river of untold mistakes.
I have seen disasters upon disasters, sipped love and gotten drunk on heartbreak. I was there when the Great wars were fought. I was there when the plagues hit, when the Maja’s fell. I was there before the world fully took form. I know it well. I know the continents and their inhabitants. The dead, the fallen. Grief and religion and sacrifice and happiness and sadness and greed. I am Me, and my mind is older than the Gods themselves.
I am nineteen.
I take Thomas’s hands in mine, his palms are soft and wrinkled.
‘It is Me,’ I say, and then I say no more.
Just point and shoot, Cupid’s arrows hit hard.
I will remember his face, I tell myself. And I know I won’t.
By Leoney Hart