noun: verity; plural noun: verities
- 1. a true principle or belief, especially one of fundamental importance.
Sam had had no idea what he was getting himself into by joining the army. He had thought it would be a good profession with a good pension and that he would be good at it. When he thought back now, there was a cockiness and an arrogance about him, god save his soul, but he had wanted action, adventure and excitement. He had wanted to hold a gun, and to be put through the intense training. He sometimes hated that young boy that asked for the torturous existence in which he now lived. When you first go out to combat, in the planes and ships, you feel a sense of such power, you feel strong, invincible even; they made you feel that way; they had you all fired up and everyone believed that they were going in to fight for good. Slowly the realisation came for most of them, that there was no sense of value for the individual human life, not of the enemy and not of the soldiers. They were all dispensable. The feeling of power was short lived. When they arrived on land and went out to the front line, there was such a feeling of emptiness, of nothingness, and then fear filled that vacuum and there was no space for anything else. Nothing strips you bare like fear.
It was like running into an unknown hell world. Your wildest imagination could not describe it. The earth seemed to bleed beneath the soles of the soldiers boots. It felt like there were demons waiting in shadow in the buildings. You could not see them, but you could feel their presence, they were waiting for you. Then a bomb would go off; an explosion of dirt and helmets and limbs. You saw faces you knew lying in the dirt, dead. You tried to move forward with the rest of your battalion but like those dreams where you cannot move your limbs no matter how hard you try, you slowly get a few steps forward and then you a bomb throws you to the ground and all around you men fall and fall and fall. All the time you are shooting at these unseen entities, you shoot at mounds of earth, at bushes, at windows, at the air. The air becomes a mixture of black and fire. Eventually you worm your way in closer, and closer and suddenly the guns have faces and they are looking right at you, and their eyes hate and these are the faces of the men who have killed your friends, who have blown your friends bodies to pieces and you do not realise at the time, but your eyes hold the same hate. In a blind rage you roar and you shoot, and you shoot and someone shouts “keep moving forward, keep moving forward” and you do, but all you can see are the eyes of the man you just and blood. It all happens so quickly that there is no time to process anything, all that stays with you are the sounds and the images, the chorus of groans and cries, the sound of bones crunching, the sound of blood and flesh, the mixture of black and red all over the ground, the eyes, always the eyes of dying men.
When you return from the war zone and it is all over, you are relieved, and you try to pretend that none of that just happened, as though you had just watched it on a movie and it was not real. You pretend you are the same person you were before, but you are kidding yourself. You kid around with your mates, you all make jokes about things, but you are a shell. Some soldiers cannot pretend and cannot forget. Once they have been out there, they are lost out there and they can never come back. The change in them is almost instant. Their soul is out there on the killing field looking in shame at the bowels of humanity. The only thing left in their hearts is rage and hate and that is all you can see in their face, it is there even when they look at you, their comrade, their friend, they have the same hate in their eyes for you as they do the enemy. It scares you because you do not know what they might do, but what scares you most is that you know that the rage in their eyes is also in you and one day you might not be able to come back either. Like your friend, you will be lost in a hell in the past, desperately looking for a friendly face and finding only loathing and fear.
When you get home, you are safe and unharmed when so many of your friends are dead. You wonder why you survived when others perished. You think about your friends who have died and you feel like somehow you cheated at something and that at any moment someone is going to realise that they made a mistake and realise that you were not supposed to live and at any moment you will receive a bullet in the head. You would welcome it. You did not deserve to live, others deserved to live more than you did. Perhaps it would have been easier or more just if you had all lived or died together. There is nothing easy or just about war, there is no reason or understanding. It is not right that some live and some die, not in a squad, not when they have all experienced such horror together. It is unjust and unfair, and they should not have died and for the rest of your days, you have to walk around looking for them, screaming their names in the desert, hearing them shout your name in your sleep, hearing their cries for help in crowded streets where there is no place for them. You can never be free of these men, these friends who you realise you loved better than anyone else and better than you will ever love anyone again. You carry them around on your back like your pack.
The men you killed. You never talk about that. No one does and no one wants to hear. You do not even talk about it to yourself in your own mind. Think of your worst memory, something that makes your stomach sink and shame rush through you veins every time you think of it. It does not come close. The memory of looking into a man’s eyes as you take his life is like slaughtering your own soul. It is like looking into the darkest part of your own soul, a part you should never see. It never leaves you. It hangs over you. You can try to push the memory away, but it always finds its way back. It will appear in your head randomly at any time and it is exhausting.
In the end, Sam thought, it did not matter whether it was right or wrong to fight for your country. It did not matter whether on the grand scale of things you were doing something for the greater good. The politics did not matter, the real reasons for the war, be it for oil or for religion or for human rights do not matter. It does not even matter whether it made any difference to the countries that you were supposedly helping, although Sam along with many other soldiers never saw much sign of it helping, not in the Far East. It did not matter anyway, all that mattered was that every soldier and every person innocent or otherwise who has been touched by war is tainted by death and that a darkness that you see there follows you around forever. All that mattered to Sam was that the things he did were wrong, the things he saw were wrong and no one ever says it like that. It tortured him.
Sam had never came out and told Verity any of this, but he knew she knew he had been in the war on the front line and he knew that unlike some people, she was honest with herself about what went on in a war. She was the kind of person who really thought about these things, and tried to understand what it must be like for all involved, for the victims and the soldiers. She tried to imagine what it must feel like to see so much death, to have killed. He knew she knew. He would always try and push those thoughts away even though Verity told him not too, instead he would think of Verity and imagine her smiling and then it would lead elsewhere and he would eventually get to sleep. He was not sure if he was in lust or in love with Verity, but he desperately wanted to be around her all of the time and sometimes all he could think about was kissing her. It stirred in him a boiling desire that it was hard for him to control. She seemed oblivious to it, he never could figure out women. She was kind and attentive to Sam, but she was the same with everyone, that was her nature. He just could not stop thinking about her. He thought maybe it was just close proximity and being around her so much, it was driving him crazy but at the same time, it felt like it was the only thing that was keeping him going. He wondered if she had any idea.
Ah, Verity, Verity. Her name meant to so much to him. It was melodic. He felt shy saying it because it meant so much to him, so he called her V instead. It was so simple yet it epitomised her.
Everything she said, everything she did spoke the truth. It was impossible not to believe in everything she said. If she was a god he would have faith in her, he would kneel before her and ask for her love and forgiveness and he knew she would give it gladly. She looked like her name as well, her face spoke of her feelings with subtlety and although you had to look closely to read it, it never lied. She often smiled, not just with her mouth, but also with her grey blue eyes. When she looked into your eyes it felt like she was taking your pain away. She was so kind and she never judged. At times there was a real sadness and a tiredness in her eyes. She hated hearing about injustices, about people being treated unfairly, she hated hypocrisy and lies. She always said that these things would always exist in the world but that you had to understand that the people who behaved in these ways deserved your compassion, because they were so far behind you in the journey for their soul. She said that life was a journey on a long road and the purpose of your journey was to create a soul that you can love completely, that loves all souls and that exists in peace. She said it was your own responsibility to create yourself in this way, that it took many lives before you even began on the journey and that once you were on it, it never ended, but you learn that the road is the purpose and that the experience of the journey can be heaven. She said that if you felt guilt or shame, or sadness or pain, you were on the right path, you just had to persevere. You had to learn to forgive and love yourself first, on your own and then you project that love and forgiveness onto everyone else, even the people who have strayed from their paths. She had such a way of putting these things. It just quite simply made sense and it meant that perhaps Sam was not damned after all.
Verity, Verity, if Sam could just learn how to be like that, calm and peaceful and accepting. He saw how she was and he knew it was how he should be, but he did not know how. He had nightmares that he had not faced, that he felt he was not strong enough to face. It was one thing to understand, and another to experience. He could not forgive himself, he did not know how, how could he? He knew at the time somewhere inside of himself that what was going on around him was wrong, he knew it but he did what he was ordered to do anyway. There were people who could have been saved, soldiers, civilians, innocent people. There were people who did not need to die. He saw mothers cradling their children in their arms, their husbands dead in their own homes. He had held men in his arms dying, crying for their mothers. How could you get those images out of your head? The wailing in your ears, the screams, how could you forget those sounds. How could he ever, even if he could see these people again, express to them how sorry he was, how awful he felt about what had happened to them, about what he had let happen. How could anyone forgive him? Verity would not forgive him if she knew, not if she knew truly. What if she could though? He often wondered that. What if he could manage to get the words out and explain to her what had went on, what he had seen, what he had done. Could she possibly really forgive him, still care for him? Did he not represent everything she hated about the world? Would she not think him weak and pathetic if he broke down and cried? Would he ever be able to look her in the face again without shame?
“Oh Verity, help me, help me get all of this pain out. I can’t take it anymore” he silently begged her before sleeping every night, as though he could will her to hear his pleading.