COURTSHIP UNDER FIRE
By Bob Christin
Sometimes love is not in the words you say but in the actions you display.
Bob Christian an enlisted man stationed on the USS STANTON tells the story of his love found, love lost and love found again with his one true sweetheart.
During World War II, I was an enlisted man in The United States Navy assigned to a destroyer escort. One cold, November night as our ship entered the Mediterranean Ocean, The alarm for General Quarters pierced our sleep with an eerie sound like European police cars only louder. It resonated through our entire bodies. We felt it in our ears, in our stomachs, in our chests, and in our colons. Our saliva dried up; it was hard to talk. We knew the acid taste of fear.
I kept my clothes hanging near my bunk. I got up, pulled on my pants, put my shirt on and skipped the buttons, put on shoes and socks. I grabbed my cold weather jacket, my life jacket, and ran up the metal steps to the deck, ran forward to the area near the bridge, up one set of steps, then another and out through a narrow opening onto the bridge.
I stood next to the Captain. I wore a set of headphones connecting me to the engine room and to the helmsman. We were at our stations about two minutes when we heard an announcement from the radar operator: Enemy aircraft at twenty miles” followed almost immediately by “Enemy aircraft at fifteen miles.”
My mouth was so dry it was hard to talk. My hands were sweating. I noticed my hands shaking, my stomach turning over, my heart beating faster. Suddenly, I blurted out loud: “Mom, Dad, help me. Please help me.” I knew how foolish it was to call on them. It happened instinctively and surprised me. I did not speak loud enough for anyone else to hear me, thank God. I suddenly realized for the first time in my life that my parents could not help me. Tonight I was on my own. I prayed with an earnestness I had never used before, saying: “God, please help me. Get me through tonight. Please.”
German planes, JU 88s, flew at us, flying low enough to drop torpedoes into the water, aimed not at our ships, the destroyer escorts, but at the larger merchant vessels or troop hips we were escorting. At times they strafed the decks of our ships as if it represented a kind of practice for them. It would kill or wound some men but it would not damage the ship. The attack did not last long. It was over as suddenly as it began.
That was my first combat experience. It was also the first stage of a growing up process that was long overdue in my life. I knew that I could no longer depend on my parents. This combat experience brought home to me for the first time that it was necessary for me to give up my dependency on my parents. I was now able to look back on an earlier incident and to find out why I had acted as I did. The reason was now clear.
In 1941, while a student at Ohio State University, I met a girl who seemed from the beginning different from any other girl I had dated. What I reached for first in my desire for her was her ability to listen, her familiarity and curiosity about ideas and about speculation. She is the only person I had met who read books as voraciously as I did and liked to talk about them. She listened intently when I spoke of a book I had just read.
Dorothy was unusually attractive and it was hard to convince others that her looks were not number one on my list of qualities I treasured in her. But I was All-American enough to notice and appreciate her beauty. She brought excitement; it seemed, to everything in the universe. She took delight in descriptive passages from novels we had both read. Once she astonished me by quoting these lines from William Blake:
To see a world in a grain of sand
And a Heaven in a wild flower,
Hold infinity in the palm of your hand
And Eternity in an hour.
I had almost finished two years of college when I asked Dorothy to marry me if she could wait until I graduated. Her answer was an exuberant yes. I was convinced she would make an excellent partner, wife, and mother. We were both Catholic and had been well-trained in the prohibitions religion placed on sexual behavior. Not only was sexual intercourse a no no, but passionate kissing and touching was also forbidden. As our feelings for each other grew we found it harder to stay within bounds, and although we did not have intercourse, we managed with our clothes on to find pleasure, followed often by guilt.
While we fought - as did many young Catholics - this internal war, the Japanese attacked Pearl Harbor. This event would change our lives as it did the lives of many Americans at the time, those in the armed forces and those at home.
Three months after Pearl Harbor I was a college junior being transformed into an enlisted man in the United States Navy. My first assignment was at Naval Intelligence in Washington, D.C. where we worked to break and eventually did break the Japanese code. This code breaking made it possible for the United States to win the war in the Pacific by destroying most of the Japanese fleet at the Battle of Midway. We knew most of their fleet was to meet at Midway.
During my tour of Washington I could occasionally come home on a 72 hour pass, traveling all night on a coach train to get home, and then traveling all night to return in time to go to work on the day shift. There was not much sleep on these trips. These visits following a long absence became more passionate and tempting than anything we had known earlier.
Dorothy visited me once for a weekend and in the summer she and her aunt came for two weeks vacation and I saw her daily during that time. On one of my visits home on a 72 hour pass, I arrived home Saturday morning at 8 am, slept perhaps an hour and then met Dorothy for lunch after she got off work. We went to a downtown restaurant. We were barely seated when Dorothy turned to me and said in a voice she had not used earlier: “When are we going to get married?” She was nervous as she spoke. I was surprised by the question and even more surprised by the suddenness of her bringing it up right away with no small talk to intervene. And I certainly felt sure she wanted us to marry now while the war was still going on.
I did manage to speak, perhaps sounding as nervous as she had been. “I know we cannot wait until I graduate. That will be too long a time. I think we ought to get married as soon as the war is over.” Neither of us had any idea how long it would be before the war ended. It had been going on for less than one year at the time.
In an unusual tone for celebrating our being together after a long time, Dorothy said, ”l don’t want to wait until the war is over. I’ve been thinking about this for a long time. l think we should plan to be married while the war is still going on, and it should be very soon.” This was unexpected. There had been no earlier conversation or any hints that Dorothy had considered our situation and wanted to change it very soon. She had been thinking about this for a long time. I had considered it for ten minutes. Dorothy said: “Why do you want to wait?” I was vague in my responses. I said we would probably have a child since birth control was not permitted for Catholics. I said Dorothy would have to quit work and live at home. Lodging was almost impossible to find in Washington and my Navy income was not small; it was tiny.
Dorothy said: “My parents would be so pleased if I lived at home with our baby. My mother would be so glad to help me. “I mentioned that there was always the possibility of being transferred to sea duty. lf I was killed, you would be a widow with a child to raise. That might prevent you from remarrying.” ”Do you think it would be better if you were killed and we had never married? If I loved you and had never lived with you or slept with you?”
After a short pause, she added: “I don’t want to keep on seeing you every few months or visiting when I can. It’s too hard, too unnatural each time. I can’t give in to what I really want. I’m unable to have you. And you know that I do not want to be pregnant before I am married. Not at all.” My reasons were weak and awkward. For each reason I came up with, Dorothy, who had thought these things through, had a response that destroyed my argument. At times I felt like the little boy whose mother asks him why he walks in puddles of mud on the way home and he says: “Because.”
After we talked for a while and I showed no signs of agreeing to a wartime marriage, Dorothy said: “I decided before today that if you didn’t agree to our getting married now, I would want to break off our relationship. I do not tell you this to help you change your mind but to let you know my decision. I offer no promise of waiting for you or even of writing to you. It has to be this way. It really does.”
I was stunned. How could she love me and do this? How could she say she wanted to live with me for the rest of our lives and then so suddenly cut me off entirely. What had happened to the strong bond of love and friendship we had developed, the values and the interests we shared? Up until that moment I had never been so taken off guard, so bewildered. This woman I loved deeply would not wait for me.
When Dorothy first brought up our getting married soon, I felt a strange fear, a sensation I had not felt before. I could not have explained this fear to myself or to anyone else. It was later that I could acknowledge its source. At the time I knew instinctively my parents would be upset if I wanted to get married. Even though I had passed my twenty-first birthday, I was as tied to my parent’s wishes as I was at the age of 12. I never even considered just telling them we had decided to get married.
From our break-up on, I felt a sense of loss unlike anything I had previously known. The pain was persistent. I lost interest in everything, was able to focus on my work but did not care about anything else. I had lost a comrade, a soul mate, a source of energy.
I remained strongly bonded to Dorothy in spite of our break-up. I spent a lot of time wallowing in self-pity, the worst of all possible consolations. Self-pity locks the pain in at a high level of intensity and offers no consolation. I found it hard to listen to the sentimental songs of the era: “I’ll Never Smile Again,” “You’d Be So Nice To Come Home To,’‘ “l’Il Walk Alone,” and the hardest to bear “I’ll Be Seeing You.”
I cried inside whenever those songs were played, saw an image of Dorothy in the red checkered dress she wore around the house when I first met her, saw her in a lovely blue dress I helped her pick out, and heard her crooning in my ear when we danced to “I’m Mad About The Boy.”
I found myself during the rest of the war vacillating between trying to forget her and feeling an ardor for her that grew into an increasing burden of pain. Prompted by her absence, I often imagined her so breathtakingly beautiful I could not stay with the images I had engendered. I heard her voice calling my name. I saw her smiling right at me.
After a while I began to visit USO clubs in Washington, D.C. There were many of them and I found one favorite place I liked in a large house turned into a huge dance floor. I always loved dancing and was a good dancer. There was a plethora of girls in Washington most of whom came from other places to work for the government. At my first USO visit I saw something I did not dream possible. While I danced I saw beautiful girls sitting on chairs while others were dancing. There were not enough men to provide each of them with a partner.
On my first visit at the USO I liked best, a pretty girl met me at the door, helped me off with my coat and hung my coat and hat up for me. And then she took my hand and led me on to the dance floor. I danced most of the evening with her, a few dances with her sister and some of her friends. Each time I arrived, she greeted me, took my coat and guided me inside and on to the dance floor. After dancing, she often asked me to join her with her friends for cokes or coffee or something to eat. I asked this girl, Sally Land from Raleigh, North Carolina, out to dinner with other sailors and their dates and at times took her to a movie.
When I heard from one of her girl friends that Sally loved me and wished I would respond to her affectionately, I knew I had to tell this charming and delightful and pretty girl that I could not return her affection. I said I was still in love with a home town girl who broke up with me a few months earlier when I decided not to get married until the war ended. I was still unable to give up on her and would probably love her until she sent word she was engaged or married or no longer interested in me. In truth, I did not hear from her at all at that time. My story had to be so hard to believe. I hated to tell it.
I had to tell that story, which I had memorized, to Sally and to two other women in the next three years. The story did not make it easier for me, nor did it diminish the ardor the women expressed; it seemed to intensify it. Perhaps they thought they could move me away from my stubborn position, and how often I wished one of them could.
There were times when I felt very angry toward Dorothy. I saw the folly of writing to her, expressing my love. I got no expressions of love or even intimacy from her; only cold impersonal letters friends not close might write to each other. And any day I expected from her the letter ending whatever connection I had with Dorothy, telling me of her new relationship or simply saying she thought it best to sever completely our “friendship” and to ask me not to write to her anymore. I would stay angry with her for two or perhaps three weeks at most.
As hard and as often as I tried to forget her, I always ended up overflowing with devotion, my love intensifying. This even in the midst of beautiful women close to my age who did not have a boyfriend, did not even have a dance partner. While I often cried internally there were secret moments of real tears. The pain of our separation was as real as a sharp knife being pushed through my abdomen and held there, neither going in deeper nor being pulled out. It was a severe physical pain, a real wound in the flesh. I remained in love with her for the next three and a half years while the war lasted and we did not see each other.
After a few months in Washington I was re-assigned from Naval Intelligence to sea duty and sent to Norfolk, Virginia Navy Base for assignment. I was in Norfolk for four months waiting for a ship. During the last two weeks I remained in Washington at the naval base there, my pay records had been lost and I could not be paid. Sally Land loaned me enough money for bus fare to see her several nights and on my last night in Washington, I returned from a date with Sally to the naval base and found in my pea coat pocket $50 in brand new bills. It was obvious this was a gift from Sally. When I later boarded ship I wanted to write and thank Sally for her generosity only to discover that I knew what street she lived on and in which house but did not know any number for an address. I could not write to her.
Shortly after our break-up, I stood on the deck of a brand new ship, The USS STANTON (DE 247), tied up in the Houston shipyard where it was built. I stood quietly on the deck of the ship as it moved slowly away from the pier. I watched the amount of water between ship and pier slowly, very slowly increase and I felt a sudden sense of terror. This ship was leaving land, taking me away from solid earth and the woman I loved, my parents, my country, and from a peaceful setting into seas where combat would take place above and below the water.
Our ship, loaded with depth charges, with twenty millimeter and forty millimeter antiaircraft guns and one huge five inch cannon, moved through the Gulf of Mexico to the Atlantic where German submarines prowled the ocean looking for United States vessels, including ours, to torpedo into small pieces. Dorothy wrote to me from time to time, 13 letters in 42 months, interesting and polite letters, only mildly friendly and not personal at all - not a word about US, of what had been US, nothing personal about me, about her. Strangely, not a single letter was signed. In one letter she said: “We visited the Art Gallery in Columbus yesterday” and told me what “we found” in each room, but no hint about who made up the WE.
Shortly after our shakedown cruise and necessary repairs at Charleston, we were assigned to escort convoys from New York to the Mediterranean Ocean. On the trip we ran into two severe storms. Our ship did not ride out storms well. In bad weather we resembled a literal tin can floating on the ocean, rolling from side to side and pitching forward and backward all at the same time. When the waves rose higher than the topmast of the ship, we often lost sight of the rest of the convoy. We learned that the sea was as much to be feared as the enemy.
While all of us were afraid, knowing we might be blown out of the water by a German torpedo any minute, my major fear remained that I might lose Dorothy. The war to me was not so much the combat, the fear of dying as it was my apprehension, that I might not get the chance, now that I had grown, to marry Dorothy.
We zig-zagged at the side of the larger ships listening for submarines on our sonar system. If we saw a torpedo headed for one of the larger vessels, our ship was supposed to take the hit to protect either a large number of troops or huge amounts of necessary supplies. On one convoy we did not know until we had arrived near Casablanca that we had delivered President Franklin Delano Roosevelt to a conference with Churchill, Stalin, and De Gaulle.
We were frightened frequently en-route to the Mediterranean by radio reports and sonar soundings of submarines following us. A pack of submarines followed us once for three days. When we neared the Mediterranean, we were warned we would probably run into German planes carrying torpedoes to hit the larger ships, sometimes using machine guns to strafe the decks of our ships.
As we entered the Mediterranean, the alarm rang out for General Quarters. A third of us were sleeping but we woke instantly. I stood on the bridge next to the Captain wearing earphones to the engine room and the helmsman. My job was to convey Captain’s orders to both places. As soon as I had my earphones on, the guys in the engine room, terrified but unable to see any action, frantically asked me what was going on. I didn’t have time to offer them a word.
Everything happened at once and before the German planes arrived I was yelling at my parents for help. The planes came soon and fast, flew low enough to drop torpedoes in the water, low enough that we could see clearly the young pilot, his hat, his face. The sound of the German planes, their closeness to our ship, the roar of their motors, the deafening, rattling sound of the twenty millimeter and forty millimeter guns all firing magnified the terror. The ship shook from the power of the guns going off. One time one of our gun crews hit a German plane and we all saw it explode into a mountain in Morocco. The gun crews shouted at the sign of their success.
Later in the war I ended up on the West Coast and with 80 other sailors trained at an Army post, Fort Ord, California. We went through a mini-infantry course, learning to shoot, to drive Army trucks and jeeps, to shoot bazookas, to crawl in mud with real machine guns firing over our heads. And we spent some time learning things about governing an island the Allies had conquered.
We boarded a troop ship and the rumor was that we were headed for the Philippines to assist in military government. One day on deck we could see Japanese kamikaze planes attacking U.S.ships. We were headed for Okinawa. We spent five months there before the war had ended and while I had enough points to go home to be discharged, the commanding officer, a Marine colonel, forced me to remain to discharge all the other men, some of whom had only served for a year or less.
I was kept on the island for another five months. The period of waiting to be discharged was the most frustrating for me of the whole war. My parents wrote to tell me which of my friends had recently arrived home from the Army, Army Air Force, Navy, Marines or the Coast Guard. They told me about celebrations, happy reunions I was missing and I had been in service almost four years. They sent me copies of LIFE and TIME showing photos of celebrations on VJ day in New York, Chicago, San Francisco, and my parents sent newspaper photos of a wild party in the streets of my hometown, Columbus, Ohio, and I was sure Dorothy was among the celebrants. With whom?
All the time I was gone I held on to a slim, fragile piece of logic that I had cleverly twisted into a shape to console me. Most servicemen were stationed in any one city for about three months or less for training. This was not enough time for a genuine, mature relationship to develop between Dorothy and a serviceman she met. She could not meet his parents or his friends, could not check out his background. Dorothy was very sharp and resourceful. She would need to know his background with some certainty. But at war’s end while I was on Okinawa, the men coming home from Columbus, Ohio would be men Dorothy knew, perhaps had gone to school with. She would probably know their friends and their parents.
My pain was daily, kicked up a notch or two in intensity since the war ended and friends of Dorothy were being discharged. I knew I could have written her a letter telling her my intentions but I wanted to see her face to face, especially if she was going to finally dismiss me from her life which is what I dreaded most of all.
When I finally did arrive home, Dorothy was not waiting for me. I knew that from her few letters. I did not know what to expect and I put off calling her until her mother called to invite me to dinner. The morning of the dinner I ate a light breakfast and could not eat the rest of the day, suffering from a nervous stomach. I went off that evening on one of my toughest missions, as alert as I ever was for the ship’s call to General Quarters, I realized I knew exactly what to do under battle conditions, but tonight I did not know how to act.
Her parents greeted me with enthusiasm, seemed genuinely glad to see me again, Dorothy looked more attractive than I had ever seen her, more shapely than ever. She had apparently danced into shape. I wondered if the attraction of so many men in the past years had helped to enhance the color of her face, the texture of her skin, the light in her hazel eyes, the sexy tilt of her head, that familiar, pleasing voice. I noticed during dinner that she was wearing my high school ring that I had given her when we began going together. I wondered if she had put it on for tonight? If so, why?
After what seemed an interminable dinner and conversation afterward, we were finally alone together in her living room, a milieu unchanged since I last spent an evening with her on the couch. We embraced, kissed, and it felt as if nothing had changed. But when I asked the biggest question that was on my mind, “Do you still love me,” her immediate response was “I don’t want to answer any questions like that.” When I asked if I could see her again the following evening, she said yes right away.
I went home, partly elated beyond my hopes, and partly puzzled, unfulfilled. My high school ring still on her finger, embracing and kissing as if I had never left, no answer to my question about loving me, and no sign of an edict that I was not to show up anymore.
Puzzled, but hopeful. I saw Dorothy a few more times. We went out for dinner and dancing, just the two of us, saw some movies, but when later in the evening I spoke intimately of how wonderful it was to be with her again, she seemed unmoved. My declarations of love for her, no matter how well phrased or how fresh the language, were overlooked.
After one of our dates when I asked to see her again, she said: Yes, but I don’t want to continue dating you.” This time I went home disheartened, not certain if I could read that message accurately. My experience breaking the Japanese code or learning semaphore and Morse code was no help.
I thought that if I could go through combat on land and on sea, be fired on when our ship went through the Mediterranean, be involved whether by plan or accident in the invasion of Okinawa, and I could endure the pain of our separation, I ought to be able to resolve this peacetime dilemma. I had first to overcome a shibboleth we all grew up with that says you don’t ask a girl to marry you until you find out if she loves you. Maybe Dorothy was so hurt by my refusal to marry she was not about to let her guard down again. I decided to forget my need to find out if she loved me. By this time I knew how to take charge of my own life. I planned to go back to college on the GI bill, but I would need more income if we married. I talked to friends and the university placement service and found a job, did my arithmetic, and called Dorothy for a date. I couldn’t wait to tell her what I had in mind. She said she had a date for that night. I indicated my disappointment and when she asked why, I told her I had something important to talk to her about. She said I can break this date and will see you at seven. We were going to a concert downtown.
I had hoped after the concert to stop at a romantic restaurant and talk there about my proposal. When I picked Dorothy up and we were waiting for a bus in front of a dingy tavern called Heinie’s Tap Room, Dorothy asked me what I wanted to talk to her about. I told her I would like to tell her after the concert. She said she would like to hear it now.
And I began my well-prepared offer at the dingy bus stop, continued it aboard a crowded bus as we both hung on to an overhead strap for the trip downtown. I talked all the way and when we got off the bus we had about four blocks to walk to the concert hall. For two blocks Dorothy did not speak. I said: ‘ Did you hear everything I said?” and she said “Yes.” At the end of the third block she said: “Yes, I will marry you” in even tones and without noticeable emotion.
I wanted to do handsprings all the way to the concert hall and down the aisle to our seats. Instead I walked about three feet off the ground. My prayers - and there were a lot of them - were answered, my suffering was over. I had what I wanted at the time more than anything else in the world. I had won the biggest battle of them all. I was to marry Dorothy Dunn.
Late that evening - at the romantic restaurant - we decided to marry in three months on June 1st. When I now asked if she loved me, she surprised me with her answer. She said: “Yes, I do love you” and then proceeded to explain a strange turn of events that took place for her about a year earlier. She said she had been in love with several servicemen, that often when one was transferred away, she found herself going with another one in a short time. She began to wonder what it meant to be in love. She said in all of her loves before and during the war she said loving words and the men said loving words. They all used the same words, same phrases. Finally, after hearing these so many times, they ceased to have any meaning. Dorothy said not only was she unable to say the words anymore but she could not tolerate hearing them from anyone else. She said she had no idea what love meant anymore. She had lost touch with her feelings of intimacy and love. She could not respond in kind when even I spoke so glowingly of how elated I felt.
One time before our marriage, I was going on about my delight in marrying her, about the end to all my pain, a dream now true. Dorothy said: “I know I should be able to respond to what you’re saying and I wish that I could. I really can’t. Perhaps we ought not to get married with my inability to share intimate words with you. My response was immediate: “We will get married. Perhaps with some patience on my part, maybe even some charm, you will get over this handicap.”
Dorothy never regained her ability to tap into her storehouse of intimacy, could never use the words I yearned to hear her say. I often brought her flowers and other gifts just to say, for example, “Happy Wednesday,” and she thanked me but was not really moved by my gesture. That part of her personality was buried. Perhaps two dozen times she said something intimate to me and forgot it a day later. She said about one earlier period of our life together: “I don’t think you liked yourself then, did you?” And when I said that I didn’t, she said: “I thought at the time you were brave. I wish I could have told you that at the time.” I asked her about this a week later and she had no memory of it.
We had a good marriage. Dorothy was affectionate in bed where she did not need words. When a professor suggested I go on for a PhD she immediately said “You must. I am all for it.” We lived with her parents which made it possible for me to go to graduate school and teach and provided help with the children. We raised ten children, eight sons, two daughters, losing one son in an accident at 15. When they were young, she was loving and affectionate with each of our children, but less open with the boys when they grew older, an aftermath I think of being so guarded with me.
I taught at Ohio State University and University of Notre Dame and later at Pace University in Pleasantville, New York. I was gifted in teaching and loved every minute of the teaching I did and continue to do 20 years after retirement.
Dorothy supported me in all that I did. We moved several times and although she did not like giving up roots, she always consented. Her resourcefulness helped me through my PhD; she once suggested I work on my dissertation after 5 pm by staying on campus each night and that is the only way I could have done it. It took one year of nightly work.
I loved Dorothy even without the words I wanted to hear. She died in 2000, a sudden death from an aneurysm. I miss her terribly. I would do the whole 54 years over again if I had the opportunity. She was the best part of my life.
A WAR ALL OUR OWN WORLD
You haunted me every day, your first short haircut when you came to Washington struck me dumb, for I already loved you, did not need to see the added elegance. Men stared wherever we went.
The war split lives like piles of wood, marred friendships, twisted like tornadoes into every home, smashed walls built over generations, and respected nothing, vandalizing calm as if it were a threat. War overran borders and values, sending messages with bad news to houses once home to children. “We regret...” a child killed, missing, lost, imprisoned, marred for life.
When I went to sea against the German subs, fired upon by German planes - lonely, frightened - you no longer were my love, for you had parted us when I insisted that we wait to marry until the horror passed. You lived on beaches in Miami for a year, danced every night in Columbus with someone else, denied any love for me but loved others till the war closed up your feelings, ceased romance, endearment, tenderness, and you told me this left you demoralized. You were left too blank to choose a mate.
On Okinawa, crying inside to be manly, my insides a dirty boy’s room littered with old memories while you lived neatly in your own room at home, worked every day without one thought of me, wrote infrequent letters that revealed no glimpse of how you felt, and yet I loved you so much that even when I hated you I had to bend the hate to fit inside the room where I still honored you, loved you intensely.
I did not deserve to have my insides tangled in a gastrointestinal nightmare until on some days I vomited when I could not erase your welcoming, come-on voice, your red dotted housedress, the black velvet coat and tam you wore when we first met.
Why did I continue all through my long war to want you as one in a desert wants water, from a life raft wants food, from a childhood wants mother? My desire defied reason, laws of probability. You not be waiting if I returned, would marry someone who did not ask you to wait.
Wars do not take place on battlefields of action or skies filled with planes, ships and submarines at sea, but takes place in the human heart. War sneers at love, is an angry god who once begun cannot stop pulling out human hearts. War dices them into human hash, makes stew out of respect and decency, kindness, honor, love. War’s not a god to be fooled with. He came at us, cracked my heart, and subtly removed from your psyche all feelings of love, turning them into vices you had to deny yourself the rest of your life.
When I did get home, we cripples married, defying the god of war, and it worked, although your heart never again leaped at the sight of me and you could never say “I love you.’ When I said it often, you responded like a grammar school girl in a play who read aloud without meaning the phrase “I love you too.”
War splintered our love, but we both made something of it anyway, bonding in other ways, raising an entire neighborhood of children, golden and natural, their feelings intact, treasures to our losses. May they forever be spared the horror and ugliness of war to suffer long after the peace treaties are signed.
Bob Christin July 2000