A Short Story
It's been three years since the war, The Great War, has ended. Since then I am left struggling to readjust to civilian life once more. Although I had three years to do just that, I still can't seem to find myself. You know what I mean?
Before the war, it would have been different. I knew who I was. If I was asked the question it would have been easy for me to answer. I am Christian Abbott of Baden, Ontario. I'm just a simple 18-year-old farm boy who wants to go out and see the world because Lord knows I'm getting sick and tired of Wilmot Township. I have a younger sister by the name of Evelyn and an older brother by the name of Wilfred and a father and a mother.
Now after the war it's like I am having an identity crisis. Who am I really? I ask myself this because my perspective of things has changed. Things like death, pain, and suffering I see all too differently.
My brother Wilfred was killed in 1915 and my sister was taken by the Spanish Flu, so now I am left to aid my parents in the running of our dairy farm. I miss my siblings but thinking about them often leads my thoughts to someone I knew while over in France.
Over in France there was a boy by the name of Jack Ellsworth who was two years younger than me. He was from the same township as me but was in the neighbouring town of New Hamburg. His family was Presbyterian while mine was Catholic. His family owned the Commercial House on Peel Street while mine tended dairy cows on our farm.
I didn't know him before the war. I mean I saw him from time to time when I went to New Hamburg with my father and brother but I never spoke with him.
If you are willing to listen some more I will tell you about our first meeting. It wasn't in basic training since I enlisted in 1915 after my brother was killed. No, Jack was conscripted. Would you be interested? You are? Very well I will tell you.
I was in the war for two years by then and I've been through some of the most wretched times of my life already. I've been gassed at Wipers and shot at and shelled by Jerry at the Somme by that point and there was no way some greenhorn was going to tell me how to do things.
That's exactly what Jack tried to do when we first met. Being fresh from basic, he seemed to have the idea that us old hands were wrong with the way we would handle our rifles or speak or behave around officers. As I recall.
There I was, a twenty year old kid being told off by some adolescent eighteen year old. Oh I let him have it alright. Jack thought he knew everything and tried to act all brave but I soon put an end to that.
Thing is, when you come to the trenches you should watch how all the old hands do things; forget most of the things the drill sergeant taught you. You do that and you have a better chance of surviving but obviously Jack had not figured that out.
So I told him to piss off.
He did go away eventually but he went on pestering other men in our section of trench. As if living in that hellhole was difficult enough now we had a bumbling, idiotic, know-it-all replacement who was either going to get himself or one of us killed.
So I distanced myself from him in the meantime but being the only other one from Wilmot Township, Jack hung onto me like a leech. What was I supposed to do at this point? Tell him to bugger off? I already did that so I decided to just grin and bear it as they say.
Eventually Jack did get a little wiser and stopped thinking he knew everything which was a vast improvement from when he first arrived. He began to get along with some of my own friends and so we formed a close knit group. There was Leary, Kennedy, Willis, Jack, and I. We were alright, the five of us.
Now I'll tell you something I never told anyone before; I have never found myself attracted to anyone in my life. Honest. It worried me as a boy because I did not find any girls attractive which meant I was a sodomite. But I did not find any boys attractive either. What was wrong with me then? I soon came to the conclusion that I was incapable of having any sexual urge and just left it at that. However, I do know a good looking person when I see one.
You're disgusted by what I just told you aren't you? No? You better not be lying to me but if you're not then I'm surprised.
Now that you know and want to hear more I will get on to details I wouldn't dare tell anyone out loud if I had to recount my times with Jack in public.
As it was I got to know Jack more and we grew close as you ought to do when in the trenches. I found myself soon developing and harbouring feelings that would land me in jail and excommunicated out the Church if anyone knew.
I tried my best to hold back; I was no sodomite, I was asexual. Or was I really? It was confusing and thinking about it put me in a vulnerable position. I could not afford to think about my emotions too much because it then opens up a weak point in your mind and then you are bound to make mistakes.
I found myself fearing Jack's demise more than anyone else. I feared being abandoned and left alone in a world without Jack. I became lovesick whenever Jack was gone on leave or the few times he got wounded and sent back to Blighty. My chest just clenches thinking about it even now because my God did I ever miss him. I felt like I couldn't breathe without him.
I had become far too emotionally attached to him and he wasn't aware of my feelings for him. I was frightened to tell him. I did my best to pretend we were only friends although I wanted him so much that it made my very being ache.
I was also disgusted by my thoughts and feelings. I was always taught that sodomy was a blight and an abomination but my adoration for Jack came so naturally to me that I began to question whether my love for him was a sin or not.
There's a term for the situation I was in. Unrequited love I think it's called. Yes, that's what it was.
What was I to do? Tell him? I couldn't risk my reputation with the lads. Even if Kennedy, Leary, and Willis kept quiet there were still others and I did not know how Jack would react to my telling him.
There was one incident where I accidentally called him 'love.' Just a stupid slip of the tongue; I was so wrapped up in my own fantasies that I didn't realize what I had just said until it was too late.
I remember the look on Jack's face. He brushed it off and tried to make a joke about it but I had made awkwardness a part of our friendship just by uttering that title. I was terrified then. I thought he would tell the others or at least reject me in some way. But no, he came back to me in my dugout the day after, hair and clothes soaked from the rain and told me that he didn't mind me calling him sweet things.
I didn't know what to think. Was he trying to bait me into something? So I asked him; "This isn't some trick of yours is it? You're not doing this for a dare?"
His simple reply was: "No." He said it with such conviction that I was bound to believe him.
I'd like to say that we immediately fell in love and had some great romance worthy of epics and songs but that wasn't how it was. There were no cliché candle lit dinners and no dancing to soft sweet music but we were content with not having a typical romance. I'd say the only cliché thing we did was our several secret rendezvous. That was out of necessity though. There was no way we could tell anyone about us.
I oddly preferred it that way at times. To me it was a secret that I felt honoured to keep and I felt selfish about it because it meant that I was the only one that would ever own Jack's heart. I know that sounds self absorbed but I knew I owned Jack's heart and he owned mine.
That small slip of the tongue opened up a whole world where I could be with Jack at a price. I was more than willing to pay that price. I didn't mind the secrecy. Not at all.
I see you're smiling. So you're a romantic type aren't you? So am I you see. I tried what I could to do small things for Jack and I bought him gifts from my times on leave. I would sew his clothes if there was a tear in them and I would make a point in the day to at least tell him that I loved him.
One rare occasion our leaves were scheduled on the same week. What a stroke of luck!
I was excited alongside with being nervous. This was right after Vimy Ridge and we were only together for four months by then. In that time we had never been intimate in the way per say a married couple would have been. The fact that we were going to be alone together made me feel like there were butterflies in my stomach.
Was I ready for total intimacy? I thought I was, despite the anxiety I felt. Jack wasn't which was fine by me, I could wait. Four months seemed too little time anyway.
Once we got to London Jack seemed to change his mind all of the sudden. He followed me back to my room at the hostel we were staying in and -- you know where this is going don't you? I'll spare you the details. Its no one else's business to know what went on anyway.
After that things changed quite a bit for the most obvious reasons. I found myself craving to be that close to Jack. That was going to be difficult considering we were going back to the trenches in a week and once we got back there, we would have to plan when and where would be appropriate.
Our time in London was the best few days of my life. I imagine it was what a honeymoon would have felt like.
It sounds all nice and domestic doesn't it? If I had known that there'd be trouble once we got to France then maybe I would have savoured the time spent more. If I had known what was to happen I wouldn't have taken that time for granted.
I can see you're anticipating what will take place next right?
For a few weeks back in France rotating in and out of the trenches was typical of the monotonous routine that we all became accustomed to. When behind the lines Jack and I were able to get away and spend some time alone.
Little did I know that our so called secret rendezvous were no longer a secret.
This is where my tale gets far more difficult to tell. Will you spare me a moment to collect my bearings? Thank you.
As I was saying we were discovered by a private who had suspected us for some time. I had no idea anyone knew about us.
Yet then it happened; on our second day of being behind the lines I come across the battered bloodied corpse of the boy I had come to love so much. I completely lost it then; screaming and wailing something fierce. I wouldn't let go of Jack so Kennedy, Leary, and Willis had to drag me away from him and hold me back as the medics took Jack away.
Bear with me a moment will you?
Alright I'm okay now.
Anyway, Jack was dead and no one had a clue as to who could have killed him. Some suspected one of the villagers while others tried to think of those who had grudges against Jack. This was also the point where I realized that my secret was way out in the open. My emotional outburst at the scene told everyone more then enough.
Leary of all people questioned me about it. I broke down and told him everything. He was very quiet at first and I feared what would come next until he looked up and said, "It's good you had someone who kept you going."
Of course the army had some investigation into it and simultaneously had me court martialed for suspected homosexuality or some other bollocks like that.
Turns out a Private who was called Weimer had suspected Jack and I for a long time and had his pack think the same way. Eventually they plotted against Jack and ultimately beat him to death.
Looking back I should have suspected something was up. I rarely ever spoke to Weimer but when I did, he seemed desperate to get out of my company as if I made him uncomfortable. I didn't ponder on it much but I sure as hell didn't appreciate the dirty looks Weimer and his friends kept giving Jack.
Just the mere thought of what they did to Jack in his final hour pains me to no end. I still feel furious at those bastards. Weimer was sentenced to death by firing squad while his cronies were imprisoned. I believe they're still there to this day.
As for me I was demoted from my rank of sergeant down to private. It was humiliating but it was better then getting a dishonourable discharge. At this point I became what I am today; a drunken, depressed fool.
Don't say anything I don't want your sympathy.
I look back and I think why? Jack was killed because of me. It is my fault no matter how you look at it. Poor Jack.
Sometimes I get so drunk and out of it I'm convinced that Jack is still alive and with me. I feel like asking someone if they have heard from him but then through my drunken haze I remember that he is gone and it makes me want to completely forget about life even more.
My parents are constantly getting on my back about my drinking. I used to be worse you know. I was far worse then now. Even I realized that I cannot operate a farm whilst drunk so I cut down on it. But I didn't and will not stop. I can't.
I spent the rest of my time in the trenches in a haze. I was unable to do much or think for myself. I was so full of pain and grief that I felt hollow and numb. I had ceased to feel emotions.
While in Passchendaele later that year I was wounded. Took quite a lot of shrapnel to the stomach I did. Internally I rejoiced. I wanted death and I overheard some medics say I might not make it and I prayed that death would take me.
I was spared of such a fate.
I made it. I had survived although I wished I didn't.
Do I still wish for death? Yes, some days I do.
My wound was serious enough to get me home early so I returned to Baden, to Wilmot Township, without Jack.
Jack's father has asked me what happened to his son, if I know anything that the army has decided to leave out. What can I tell him? I can't tell him about Jack and me so I lie and tell him that Weimer and Jack were always enemies since basic training. I hate lying to people.
That's all I feel like telling. Is that enough for you? It is? Good because don't ever ask me again. I hope you understand.
Now let us talk of other things. How about you? I'm done talking about myself let me hear something of your past. Is there a special someone you have like Jack? No you don't have to answer its wrong of me to ask.
If you have nothing else to say then I better get back to my work now. But before I go promise me you won't tell a soul what I just told you, about Jack.
Some things are best left in the dark.