Breaking Down Walls

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Chapter 2

That is what I remember of the attack yesterday. I awoke a few hours after I passed out. I got no major injuries; just some cuts and bruises and trauma.

And now I am devoting my time to the soldier who saved my life. When I woke up, his wound was already patched and he was sleeping. I have given him more of my blood, despite being advised not to. One of the other Dutch soldiers told me his name was Willem.


Even his name makes my muscles tense and turn to liquid at the same time. It’s not quite ‘William’, but it’s shorter and more exact. Yet it’s still smooth. I want to know why his name is like that. I want to hear him say it. The deep rumble of his voice in his chest, the escape of breath that would run through his lips. Those lips. How they would form...

What is wrong with me? He’s just a boy. Boys mean nothing to me. I should feel grateful to him, but nothing more. Nothing like this.

His face is pale and caving in on itself. Dark bags grow under his eyes. The same boy who looked strong enough to protect me from the whole German Army now looks as helpless as a child. And I myself want to­ need to ­look after him. This soldier. This Willem.

While hourly checking his vitals, I succumb to the urge to brush his floppy dirt­blond hair from his forehead. His skin is inhumanly smooth, except for his cheeks, where light scruff is starting to grow.

While I am checking his vitals for the tenth time that day, he wakes up. I am brushing his hair away from his forehead, like usual, when his hand abruptly snaps up and grabs my wrist. I freeze. He squeezes is painfully hard at first, then slowly opens his eyes. They are just little slits, but I can still see the green. He loosens his grip a little when he sees my hand is small and harmless. He averts his eyes to my face and tries to speak, but it comes out muffled.

“Willem,” I say. He blinks and stops trying to talk. I put my hand to my chest and say, “Anna.” He stares at me blankly. I gesture around and say things like “nurse” and “hospital” and “shot”, but he continues to stare blankly. I bring over Dr. Argyle. He isn’t the main doctor in our division, just more of an assistant, but he can speak both Dutch and English. “Can you please tell him he was shot and is in a hospital,” which isn’t exactly a hospital; it’s actually just a big tent we put up, “and that he’s going to be alright?” I ask the doctor.

He sighs. Although he is sort of a doctor, we really only use him to translate. He’s pretty tired of it. But I don’t care. You do what you’re asked in our division, no exceptions. He speaks to Willem in Dutch. Willem’s eyes don’t falter. He is silent for a little while after Argyle speaks, then slurs something back to him in his deep voice.

“I think he just asked what city we’re in,” Argyle says.

“Tell him we are in a small town near Amsterdam. Vijfhuizen, I think,” I attempt to pronounce.

He translates. Willem replies a little clearer this time.

“He says he needs to get back to his base,” says the doctor.

I speak directly to Willem. “They know you are here and would like you to stay for another few days to rest. I­-we aren’t letting you go anywhere until you have recovered,” Argyle translates as I speak. Willem stares at me the whole time, then says something through gritted teeth.

Argyle hesitates, then says nervously, “He says he doesn’t take orders from an American nurse.”

I say back just as harshly, “Those are orders directly from your captain and you will do as you are told, soldier.”

His eyes blaze when my words are translated, then he tries to sit up. He sucks in a sharp breath as he puts weight on his right arm. I rush forward to stop him, but he swats me away as if I’m some annoying little bug. I huff. “Doctor, you can take over. I’m going on my break. I haven’t had one in 12 hours,” then I stomp away.

My eyes sting. This is ridiculous. I am not getting emotional over one difficult soldier. I have dealt with dozens of them, so this shouldn’t be bothering me. I’m so stupid to think that he... felt... something... I’m just stupid. Of course he didn’t. He was just doing his job when he saved me. Someone like him would never feel anything towards someone like me.

I itch at my french braid as I drink my cup of coffee. I find it easier to work long shifts when my hair is completely out of the way and with at least a pint of caffeine searing through my veins. It keeps my mind racing so I won’t accidently fall asleep.

I work the most out of anyone in the unit. They all like to go out; I’d rather be alone and not have to deal with the crowds. They all like to sleep; I have trouble falling asleep even when I want to, and I’d rather have something, like work, to keep my mind and hands busy so I won’t lie awake as my thoughts drift back to home.

I smell Shirley before I see her: warm vanilla and cigarettes. She sits down next to me on the grass. Her chest reacts with every movement. “Long day?” She asks in her raspy voice.

I sigh.

“You’ve been going hard for a while now. When’s the last time you slept, Sweetie?”

“When I passed out,” I mumble.

“And when was that?” She looks at me like a disapproving parent.

“Yesterday,” I murmur as I take a gulp of dirt­like coffee.

She sighs this time. “I know I’m not the person you should be taking advice from, but that’s not very healthy. Go to bed. I’ll take over your shift.”

A jolt runs through my body. I shake my head.

“Really, I don’t mind. I’ve been sleeping most of the day anyway,” she laughs at herself, making me cringe.

“No,” I shake my head again. “I’m fine.” My cheeks start to heat up.

She sees my face reddening and gives me a quizzical look, then smiles. “You’ve been spending a lot of time around that Dutch soldier...”

“He’s a patient. I’m a nurse. It’s my job.”

She tries to fight back a smile. “He’s quite a looker.”

My face combusts. “I didn’t notice.” I’ve always been a terrible liar.

“Oh, come on Anna! I’ve seen the way you look at him. You have a crush,” she nudges me.

“Stop,” I stammer.

“Don't be embarrassed! You should totally go for him! I would definitely climb that tree if I were you...”

“It’s nothing, Shirley. Just drop it.”

“Why? Stop being so defensive! I can tell you like him and­”

“I said drop it!” I snap, silencing her. “It doesn’t matter. Even if I did like him, he would never return my feelings. He’s made that pretty damn clear.” We’re both silent for a little while. “I’m not like you or Cat or Margie,” I continue, “I can't get any guy I want. I’m invisible. It’s just not going to happen for me. And I’m alright with that.”

She stares at me, then says, “Oh, Honey, you don’t really think that, do you?” She tucks a loose strand of hair behind my ear. “Do you really not see how beautiful you are?”

“I’m not, Shirley. And I don’t care.” I stand up.

“Yes, you do. You don't see the way people look at you­” she tries to reason.

“Stop,” I cut her off.

“You just don't know how to accentuate your beauty. Give it a little while­”

“I don't care!” I say as I back up. “I’m done. Please drop this and pretend it never happened.”

“You know what? I’m really sick of you being a cold bitch all of the time,” she says to me and I freeze. “I don't know what happened to you to make you this way, but you need to stop living in the past and move on with your life. We’re really trying to make you feel like you can trust us, but you keep pushing away. I’m personally real tired of it. So either grow up and move on, or continue living your sad, lonely life.” She stands and begins walking past me, then stops at the last second to say, “You aren’t alone in this world. We’ve all had hard times too, you know.”

Then she walks back into the tent.

I stand outside for another few minutes, trying to push our conversation to the back of my mind. I don't care if I’m mean and alone. It’s better than trusting someone and getting hurt.

I walk back into the large tent and begin to wash my hands. As I do, I see Margie helping Willem. They are smiling flirtatiously at each other. Of course it wasn’t the medicine or discomfort making him rude. He just didn't want me around him anymore. He is much happier with the beautiful exotic nurse. I shouldn't let this bother me. As I am putting my nursing cap back on, I see Margie walk over to me out of the corner of my eye.

“There she is,” she says in her deep voice I’m sure Willem loves. “I was wondering where you’ve been for the whole day. I thought you'd be sleeping. How are you?” Her big brown eyes are sincere.

“I’m fine,” I answer immediately. “You seem to really be enjoying yourself with one of the patients,” I nod towards Willem. He isn't looking. Margie smiles, then stops when she sees my serious look. The next words out of my mouth take both me and her by complete surprise. “Maybe you should focus more on your job and less on the next guy you want to bang.” I flinch at my own words.

Margie looks as if I’ve slapped her. I quickly scurry away before she­- or I -­can say anything else.

I walk over to another injured soldier­- Dutch or American, I do not know or care -­to check his vitals and adjust his pillow. His arm is wrapped against his chest and his right leg is slung up. I’m rough with him. I jab the needles a little too hard; I shove him this way and that. He groans and moans, but all I say is, “Stop being a goddamn pansy. You’re fine.”

It’s hard to feel sympathetic towards some of these patients when I myself have been through worse, without the luxury of having a grumpy nurse to look after me.

I end up working for another four hours, then sleep for six. By the time I wake up, it’s 10 pm. I’m still feeling groggy and more tired than usual, so I decide I’ll go back to bed after I make my rounds.

Mostly everyone is asleep, except for one nurse behind a desk drinking coffee. She’s just keeping watch on the patient’s. Everyone else it seems has worked the regular 8 hour shift. I’m still feeling terrible for how I spoke to Margie. She didn't know that I felt... something... towards Willem. And Shirley. Though I don't want to admit it, I know she’s right. I need to stop acting as if the world is against me.

All of the patients are sleeping, including Willem when I reach him. Or so I think.

“Anna,” he says with his eyes closed, his voice thick with sleep and Dutch. I freeze at the IV bag, where I am putting in more pain killer; light pain killer, so he can suffer a little.

He opens his eyes fully and the green melts my insides. I put the syringe down and look at him with a touch of ice. He continues. “Doctor,” he fights for the next word, “sssssaid,” it comes out more like a question. He looks at me to see if he said the right term. I nod. “You,” he points at me, then at himself, “mmmmeee,” he searches for the next word, then looks at his hand where I see it is written. “Blood,” he seems to finish, but then continues. “And... watch­ed,” he points to his eyes, then himself, “me,” then he points to the clock and makes a circle. He is saying I watched over him for a long time. I nod, letting him know I understand.

His eyes soften until I think they will turn to mush and fall out of his sockets. My breath quickens. “Thank you,” he mispronounces. I look down and nod a little. I try to back away, but he grabs my wrist. Even in his half­sedated state he is still strong enough to stop my resistance. He pulls me down so I am sitting in the chair next to his bed, then sits himself up with a wince. He pulls my sleeve up till my inner elbow is shown, exposing the bruises from where the needle too my blood. He runs his thumb gently over them, causing my arm to tense.

“I sorry,” he says softly. He lifts his eyes to mine and I stare at his perfect face. Mine I know is bright red in comparison. He reaches up and touches the side of my face where the scrapes left over from the attack have now scabbed over. All of my muscles relax and I give into the urge to close my eyes.

“Anna,” he says, as if my name is interesting to him. As if it is a taste he recognizes, but cannot figure out.

There is a flash of warning behind my eyes and I flinch away. I stand quickly, tell him to go to sleep, and hurry out of the infirmary. When I reach the grass outside, I am breathing heavily. I gave into his touch. I started to trust him. I fight back the tears, but then let them go with a sob anyway. I can't trust him like that. The last time someone touched me with the same tenderness he used, they beat me after. I will not put myself through that again.

Shirley was wrong. The only way to ensure my future is to live in the past.

I avoid Willem the next day. Instead, I drink at least four pots of coffee, I organize files, and I pee. A lot. Every now and then, I catch him looking at me, but I try my hardest to avert my gaze to anywhere but his area. I’ve never been so nervous about a guy before.

In the mid­afternoon, I hear laughter. I look over to see Margie and Willem together again. Figures. I swallow the jealousy that tastes like bile. I distract myself by taking my break when Shirley and Cat go outside for theirs. They are smoking on a bench when I reach them. Cat gives me a little wave. Shirley looks away. I immediately go to her.

“I’m sorry, Shirley. You’re right; I need to get over myself. Even though I’m grumpy most of the time, I really do appreciate your friendship. All of your friendship.” I look at Cat,

Shirley blows smoke in my face. “Fair enough. I can never stay mad at you for too long. You’re just too darn cute,” she says, pinching my cheek as she stands. I try not to roll my eyes. “And I’m not the only one who thinks so...”

“I’m not even going to ask,” I sigh.

She continues anyway. “That soldier asked Margie about you. He asked when your next shift for vitals would be. He wanted to talk to you.” She smiles smugly.

“Yeah, right,” I reply, “She probably didn't even understand him.”

“Nope, it’s true. Dr. A said so.”

“Anna, you should just go talk to him! Have you since he first woke up?” Cat asks.

“No,” I lie. They whine and beg some more. “Guys, I’m not trying to be rude. I’m just treating him like every other patient. We aren’t supposed to make connections with anyone, remember?” Which is true. Not only would it be distracting, but most of the soldiers we meet we either never see again or end up dying on the battlefield, anyway. Of course, this doesn’t stop the girls. So they are finding it hard to understand why I don't try to jump his bones.

They finally drop the subject and we all go back to work. This time, I go to a different tent to organize medications. I don't want to deal with all of those distractions in the infirmary. I work there all through the next day, too. It’s dull and tiring, and by the day after, Willem is gone.

As I’m at the washing station, preparing to check the patients, Cat walks over. “Don't you want to know where he is?” She asks as she washes her hands.

I debate on playing dumb and replying ‘Who are you talking about?’, but decide against it. “Nope.”

“He left. Went back to his base.”

I stay silent.

“He asked about you a few more times, too.”

More silence.

“You could've at least talked to him. You really blew it.”

“Sorry,” I murmur.

She scoffs. “Do you even care, Anna?”

“Nope. He was just a patient.” I walk away, then add, “It’s better this way. I can't get hurt.” As I turn, Cat scoffs again.

“You know what, I’m not even going to try to reason with you,” she says and throws up her hands.

After she is gone, I succumb to the realization that my heart is broken

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