January 14th, 1950
It’s been thirty-five years since they’ve left me, Caroline and Armand. Thirty-five years from this very day, and soon, I will join them. I suppose, then, that it would make sense if I finally shared their stories with the world. They must forgive me if it was not their wish, but from what I have read, they very much wanted to pass on the horrors. It is a shame that they aren’t here to tell it themselves, but I would not dare subject them to those sorts of terrible memories. They call it shell shock. Certain things trigger thoughts, and make a soldier believe that he, or in Caroline’s case, she, was truly back in the war. Upon reading Armand’s memoirs and Caroline’s diary, I can say that they both suffered from this condition. Much to my disdain, they hid it quite well, especially Caroline, up until the very end, where her entries reflected her state of mind; nearly completely illegible. I should have watched over her more, both of them. It was the most important task to which I was assigned, and I failed miserably.
My name is Sébastien Dupont. I joined the war in the year 1914, with my lover at the time, Pierre Gauthier, and his brother, Alain. God must have a very twisted sense of humour, as I lost Pierre on the very first day we arrived at those wretched camps. I was devastated, of course, as was Alain, and, to my surprise, as was a small soldier who went by the name of Mercier. I did not know this baby-faced man, whose eyes sparkled with unspeakable sorrow. I could tell that something was off about him, though in my own distress, I could not quite figure out what it was. We mourned together, me, Alain, and this Mercier. The young man had told me he had never seen death before. He tried to get Pierre to the nurses, but he was dead before they arrived. I tried to assure him that everything would be alright, but he cried nonetheless. It was that point that I discovered ‘Mercier’ was a woman. Yet, having manners, I did not pry, and waited until ‘he’ told me what the matter was.
Regrettably, I soon got over the death of my lover. I’m afraid war does that; it makes a man callous, so incredibly cold-hearted that almost nothing can turn him from his duty of killing innocents. However, amidst the chaos, the strangest thing happened; I fell in love again. I must blame my aching heart for this fallacy, because it really is a flaw in my character. I fall for men so incredibly hard, and so easily. Or, I used to. This is no longer the case. I have seen enough pain to last for several lifetimes, and I don’t wish to experience any more. His name was Armand Lacroix. An incredibly charming man, with a bourgeois accent that immediately made me believe that he would not want of a peasant such as me. Yet, as I studied him each and every night, completely enthralled by the energy he seemed to exude, I could hear the undertones of an accent he tried hard to acquire. It was at that moment that I realised it was worth a try to go after the man, even if he refused my advances.
As it would be had, he did indeed refuse them. Several times, in fact. However, I was incredibly stubborn. I fell in love with Armand Lacroix. I fell in love with the deep gaze that he fixed upon me in passing, his upright posture, the deep pensive air he always seemed to take, and, of course, his moustache. Never have I met a man with a moustache as exquisitely-groomed as his! But I digress. I vowed that I would protect this man, so that he would not perish, not like Pierre, and not like so many of my comrades. Perhaps I voiced this out loud one day, as Mercier hesitantly told me that her name was Caroline, and that Armand was her husband. At first, I refused to believe it, for what luck I would have, losing one lover, and falling for the only man whose wife was in the trenches with him? Oh, yes, that devastated me, but it did not slow my advances in the slightest, which were steadily gaining ground.
Then, we kissed. Consider it an act of depravity, if you wish, but I call it love. He was gentle, and it made me feel giddy. It also made me wonder if Pierre even loved me. He was an incredibly ugly man, and he had very little money, so I could only believe that it was because he would not find a woman to marry. But Armand, he was incredibly different. Perhaps he loved me as well. Whenever Caroline was not looking, oh, I kissed him senseless. He never protested, and always kissed me back. I always imagined what our life would be like after the war. Of course, I wondered about Caroline, but her rising suspicion only seemed to put me at ease. Now, unfortunately, what I perceived as acceptance before, I can only now interpret as the weakening of the will. If only I had known, I would have perhaps been more cautious around her.
Our very first kiss, awkward and fumbling, was full of regret from him, but most certainly not from me. I believe that, for Armand, it was a sort of affirmation to how he truly felt about me, and what he was doing. He liked to say that it was all me, but I know for a fact that some of it was him, as well. Otherwise, why did he keep coming back for more? He was a strange man to figure out, that’s for certain. Nonetheless, I enjoyed it infinitely. We talked of life after the war, quite often, and he seemed quite convinced that his wife would let him stay with them, as one who tended to the crops, or something to that effect. The idea itself didn’t appeal to me, but I knew that it was only a guise.
There was, of course, a very large loss of life during the Great War. We have all suffered, but few, I believe, had suffered as much as Caroline. She followed her husband into battle fearlessly, fought by his side, and never earned so much as recognition from him. Unfortunately, by the way Armand would always tell her that she looked like his wife, and that he called her Mercier, it was obvious that he didn’t know she was there at all. With the horrible conditions of the trenches, she slowly went mad, the love of her husband so close, but so far away. I have not included the pages of her diary that are nothing but scribbles, for obvious reasons. She wanted to be loved, and was that so much to ask for? Perhaps it was.
I don’t know much about how Caroline and Armand lived together, despite hearing so much from both of them about their ‘undying love’ for each other. Well, it certainly died, did it not? They appeared to be a rather peaceful couple, from what I gathered from the beginning of Armand’s memoirs. He seemed to know that he was naïve, ironically, but they seemed to get along together quite well. I only wish I could have seen this in action, but I am not from Clermont-Ferrand. Of course, they would have seemed like the average family in the countryside, were in not for Caroline’s inability to have children. Apparently, that was not a factor in their marriage, as she told Armand about it well before they eloped. However, I find it quite fascinating. I am no doctor, yet the genetics are incredible in their own right. Not a single child, yet happily married out in the country. I believe Caroline mentioned to me that after the war, they were going to adopt a child or two left homeless by the destruction. I cannot say that they weren’t kind souls, for they absolutely were.
I knew that I would not have a home to return to, as I was staying with Pierre. He moved to Picardy several years before the war, but Alain had decided to stay back in Clermont. I find it amusing, how things manage to work out like that! Pierre was so elated, having been able to see his older brother after so much time; to be in the same regiment was even more wonderful. In any case, since Pierre and Alain had both died, there would be no one to pay for the rent, and I would be evicted in only a few months. I told this to Armand, and that was when he graciously offered me his own home. Caroline had said, as well, that it was no trouble at all. Thus, that is where I am living. It is strange that, as I write this, I am sitting at the same desk at which Armand most likely commenced his memoirs. And I am finishing them here.
To continue on with the star-crossed lovers, they seemed largely unaware of each other, forming a sort of silent camaraderie. They always looked out for each other, perhaps unconsciously, or, unconsciously on Armand’s part, at the very least. I tried to keep them safe whenever I could, but it was impossible for me to always be around them. Sometimes, I went for days without so much as seeing those two, between long, all-night watches and battles that seemed to stretch on for days without food.
Yet, it would help to describe the position in which both Armand and Caroline were found when they died. The Germans had broken the treaty of 1899, forbidding the use of toxic gas, yet they used it anyway. Unfortunately, I believe that the pair were far too absent mentally to comprehend the toxicity of the substance. They perished holding each other tightly, which is truly a Romeo and Juliet ending, is it not? I wish I knew what was going through their minds at the time. Did they recognise each other at last, or did they mistake one another for a distant lover coming to save them? Unfortunately, it is incredibly hard to say, as no one had witnessed them die. However, when I saw their two bodies intertwined on the battlefield, I knew at that moment that all the hopes I had had for the future were gone. Alain had only days before, as he had been unable to move out of the way before a shell got him, subsequently leaving me with absolutely nobody.
The only things, I believe, that kept me going, were the diary I found in Caroline’s pocket and Armand’s memoirs, tucked neatly under his pillow, as though he intended on returning to it. He worked at that book-in-progress so dutifully, and I remember playfully questioning him often what he would do with it once he finished. Memoirs only sold well if they were written by someone famous. He seemed determined, however, that it would be another source of income for his family. I knew a book could never support the families of nine or ten that were often found in the countryside, but he told me that it was just him and his wife. I found that incredibly odd, but he informed me that his wife, Caroline, was unable to bear children. He loved her just the same, however, which I found incredibly endearing. It painted him as a gentle, loving man, who was very accepting and incredibly level-headed.
Unfortunately, this was not the man whom I had seen on the battlefield, during his last few days. His memoirs don’t divulge this, as perhaps he regretted it later, but I saw him on the battlefield, ruthlessly slaughtering everyone in sight. Of course, those were our orders, but he seemed to take great joy in it. I’ll never forget the shiver that ran down my spine as his bloodied face fixed me with a smile that belonged in a horror film. I knew well that war changed men, turning innocent boys into murderers, but I never thought that a man like Armand would be affected! I watched the way the war changed both Armand and Caroline with an almost morbid interest, seeing how Caroline curled into herself and became more resigned, a victim of her own thoughts, while Armand took out his anger on innocent German soldiers. One time, I believe I saw him kill a Frenchman, but I never dared to speak out about it. After all, it could have very well been an accident, and he would have been shot before everyone, to frighten the soldiers into obeying to orders.
The last thing I can do, now, is educate with the accounts of the war, through the eyes of both Caroline and Armand. My dear friends, the heroes of the war. I got medals for my service, and I have dozens of them, now. But what did they get? What I believe is interesting is, the German medal that Armand got in the early days of the fight. I have it with me, and I can only believe that it is the most important medal that any French soldier has received. A gift from the enemy; what is more honourable than that? Little else, if anything. I am no hero. War is no valiant endeavour. Teach children to love, not to hate. They are so incredibly susceptible, both to what they see and what they hear, and this is all I ask.
My time is running out. I must write as much as I can, I must let the world know the horrors of this war. I can only hope that upon reading this, one can understand the drastic effects that war can have. It seems fitting, that I should perish in the house of Armand and Caroline. They should not mind that I have lived out the rest of my days here. In a way, I feel like I am completing the life for them, that they should have had. The house should have been filled with the aroma of freshly-baked pastries for decades more, the walls resounding with the playful cries of young children. She was nineteen. He was twenty-four. Neither of them had lived long enough to truly live, but as I write this, I know that there is not much they would have enjoyed about this ‘new’ life. I wake from nightmares weekly. When I close my eyes, I can see scenes from battle, my brethren falling, their disfigured faces, and I can hear their cries for help. The war is not over, and it never will be, not for me, until I enter my eternal sleep, where there will never be any nightmares to wake me.
This is only an example of two people, both of whom I cherished deeply, but were taken far too soon. Imagine, now, that this happened to the whole of the Western population. Wives without husbands, soldiers without friends, children without parents; economic collapse, and, of course, the second war, stemming from a ruined Germany. What do I say, now? Never again. Never again will we have another war. How many people have to die before we realise that it is all pointless? I have lost every single person I have held dear to me. I come home, each and every day, to a completely empty house. The life I imagined after the fighting, the life I imagined fighting for, is so far from reality, that there is little point in even trying to fight this illness anymore. Never again.