A Letter Home

My Dearest Margaret,

Please forgive that this is my first letter these last two weeks.  The war has been raging with increasing ferocity and each day is more demanding than the day before.  I offer this not in the way of excuse, however, for I know how you must worry for my wellbeing regardless of what distracts my hand.

Under General Meade, our army held Gettysburg a fortnight ago, as I shall assume you have by now read in the newspaper.  While we prevailed, our casualties were horrific, as were those of the Confederate troops who fought with Lee.  The slaughter was such that I shan’t attempt to describe it lest I profane your sense of decency.

When I hired on as an army surgeon I had visions of healing those brave troops who were wounded in their fight to reunite our country.  While I am a peaceable man and not a soldier, my belief that our country should provide freedom for all was so profound that I felt compelled to contribute to the effort in what way that I could.  Now, the reality of war has provided a much starker undertaking for me – I simply struggle to remain sane in the face of so much suffering.  My earlier naiveté would be an embarrassment to me today if I my exhaustion did not disallow the luxury of emotion.

The weariness and numbness to suffering is also afflicting the troops.  Not only must they witness the same suffering as I, but they must also inflict it in kind upon our foes.  The torment can become too much for some and their minds can break.  Some grow shallow and withdrawn, others appear normal until they awake screaming from torturous dreams, while still others will explode violently for no reason, even attacking their own fellows.

For example, just this afternoon I had traveled to the railway depot to collect some medical supplies. The train was late, so I wandered into town where I ran into young Raymond Healy. You will remember him as the son of the blacksmith who made our gates.  He had grown into a fine young man and had recently become a captain in the Union Army.  I stood talking to him, both of us sharing happier memories of home, when one of our soldiers came running up the sidewalk.  Without a word, he stabbed Raymond in the chest and continued running, screaming gibberish, whence he tripped upon a loose plank, and falling upon on his own knife, soon expired.  I began to tend to young Raymond, calling for help although I knew none could come, but alas, his wound proved mortal as well.

So, my dearest, while I am safe in body, remaining behind the lines of battle in my surgical tent, please pray for my sanity.  I have seen how men can lose their minds as easily as their limbs or their life.  One day this war must certainly end, and when it does I can only hope to come home to you as the same husband who so proudly donned his uniform nearly two years ago.

Until that time, and with heartfelt sincerity, I remain your most faithful and loving husband,

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Olympic Trip

It’s the same every evening.  When their mother tells them that it’s their bedtime, they beg for one more story and come running to me.  “Tell us, Grandpa,” they shout.  “Tell us again about the earthquake!  Tell us about how you met Grandma!”

“Oh no,” I tell them.  “You’ve all heard that one before.  Let me tell you instead about…”

But they all jump up and down screaming, “No Grandpa!  The earthquake!  The earthquake!”

“Are you sure?  You really want to hear it again?”

“Earthquake!” they chant as children will, “The earthquake! The earthquake!”

And so, like the night before and the night before that, I tell them.

“Well,” I start, as they gather on my lap and at my feet.  “It happened nearly fifty years ago.  They had the Olympics here that year, and I was selected to help carry the torch to the stadium.”

“The torch!  The torch!” they sing in unison, the older ones marching around in front of me carrying pretend torches, waving them up and down for the imaginary crowd to see.

“I was selected to run an uphill stretch near Morrinhos.  It was a steep hill but I was not worried because I was strong…”

“Strong!” they shout, the boys flexing their young biceps and marching in circles.  “Strong! Strong!”

“It seemed to take forever, but then the big day finally came.  I knew I would be ready because I’d slept well the night before.”

“Slept!” they shout, closing their eyes, tilting their heads, and making snoring noises.

“I waited by the side of the road, ready for the handoff.  All was quiet, and I took a moment to look to the sky and feel the warm sun on my face.  Then I heard the crowd on the hill below me as they let up a cheer.”

“Hurray!” the children shout and clap.  “Hurray!  Hurray!”

“It was the runner carrying the torch up the hill to me.  She was beautiful!  Like an angel, she ran toward me holding out the torch.  I took it from her and began my run up the hill.”

The children hold their pretend torches again and jog in a circle around me.

“I was so proud that morning!  Proud of Brasil!  Proud of carrying the torch!  And oh so proud to have been the one to take it form that beautiful runner!  And I ran, children, oh how I ran!”

The children running faster around me now, laughing and giggling.

“And then…”  I pause.  The children stop.

“And then…”  They stand stock still staring in anticipation, as if this is the first time they’ve heard the story.

“And then…I fell!” The children all throw themselves theatrically to the floor.

“At first I thought I’d simply tripped, that I’d lost my focus and stumbled.  But then…” The children all start shaking…

“But then, when I looked up, I saw others falling!  And the road was cracking!  And then rocks started rolling down the hills and hitting the cars that were parked along the road!  I was hit in the head by a stone, and it nearly knocked me out!  I knew if I didn’t get off the road that I might be killed, but I couldn’t move!”

The children freeze in place as if paralyzed.

“And then I felt a hand take my arm and start pulling me up.  I looked to see who it was, and it was the angel who had handed me the torch…”

“Grandma!  Grandma!” they shout.

“Yes, she pulled me off the road, and then we had behind a tree until the earthquake stopped.”

“Grandma!  Grandma!  You met Grandma!!”

“Yes, children, and now that you’ve heard this story, tomorrow I’ll tell you about…”

“Grandma!  Grandma!”