Friday, April 25, 2014

Dear Douglas: An Anzac Day post

Dear Douglas, 

Once upon a time, when I was a kid, a picture of you hung in my grandparents' house. Soldier you: looking all very solemn in your uniform. As solemn as everyone in old photographs looks. That photograph hangs in my mother's house now. 


From the time I was little, I used to ask my grandmother to tell your story, every time. She never met you, of course. You were the brother-in-law who died before she even met my grandfather. But here's what she knew: 

You were the favourite of all my great-grandmother's children. 

The only golden haired child, in a family of brunettes. 

(And you can make of that what you will.)

Your father died when you were a child. He was cleaning his gun. 

(Make of that what you will, as well.) 

You were the kid who lied about his age to go to war. You weren't eighteen at all. 

Your mother never forgave your older brother for being the one who survived. 

When I was a kid, I figured that you had to die. All the pieces are there for a perfect tragedy, right? If you hadn't been the favourite, you would have lived. If you hadn't lied to join up, you would have lived. If you hadn't been so full of youth and optimism and unfulfilled potential, you would have lived. 

When I was a kid, I understood this is an unassailable truth. 

But of course life doesn't have the same rules that art does. Life doesn't follow the structure of a story.  What happened to you is only tragic in its banality, and in the epic fucking scope of the First World War. 

On days like Anzac Day, I do try to take the time to reflect, but I don't know how I feel about the words that get used. Words like "sacrifice" and "honour" and "at rest". 

You were nineteen when you died. You were still pretty much a kid. Was it honour and sacrifice you expected, or was it adventure? You were nineteen. Nobody should be at rest when they're nineteen. 

I wish I knew more about you, Douglas. I wish you'd written more than your name in the front of your journal. I know exactly how you died -- from the letter your commanding officer sent your mother and, in detail, from the one your friend sent your brother -- but I don't know how you lived. 

I wish I knew that. 

- Lisa

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