Boys

Trigger warning: graphic violence. If you’re not up for that today, give this one a miss, I won’t be offended in any way. This story is true, in that I met this man at a party more than ten years ago, and these were his words (minus some identifying details). I often think about him and the burden he no doubt still bears. I mean, it still makes me cry over a decade later, and I wasn’t even there. But seriously, this is some horrible content, and once it’s in your head, it’s hard to get out. I suggest that after reading you should go hug a loved one, play with a puppy, or drop a load of ecstasy. Heck, do all of them, in any order you like. Whatever it takes. Just be safe and take care of yourself.

Six-foot-four-or-more-beers-down
he slumped into our third-hand couch
like he had always been there
combat boots sole-up and spotless
baby faced behind a patchy beard
flushed around the cheek and nose
he spoke softly, each word
considered
“I deployed to ‘Timor, then Fiji for a year,”
careful
“Two tours of Afghanistan, one of Iraq,”
and conscious
“I don’t know how to describe it to you.”

And despite my inebriation
despite my smallness
despite my better senses
I said
“Give it a go mate!”

He looked down
not at the unevenly stained carpet
but somehow through it
and I wondered after some time
if he had forgotten my idiot inquiry
and I felt relief
only for a moment
as he exhaled, so slowly
and looked back up at me.

“Words won’t work mate.”

And they were no longer working for me.

“But I’ll try anyway
so there was this one time
the boys got stuck, you know
under fire from a great height
a fortified hillside,
hidden emplacements holes and caves
anyway
we were huddled behind our vehicle
we couldn’t see them
we couldn’t hear them
and yet we knew that they were there
and that’s the part I can’t tell you
the part I can never describe
how safe I felt
do you see?”

My confusion was writ large
and before I could stumble
stammer around an empty reply
he smiled, rolled a cigarette
and tried once more.

“Those boys would die for me
and I would die for them
those boys were mine
they were mine
and I was theirs
do you see?”

I surely did not
and he knew it.

“And when my mate on the comms
called in the airstrike
and the pressure wave hit my chest
and I struggled to hold my breath
then I look up to see
an entire hillside burning
a mountain of white fire
and the boys are screaming
and the boys are wailing
they’re hugging, slapping my back
punching my shoulder, just releasing
screeching
Fuck! Fuck you! Fuck yeah!’
and I’ve never felt better.

Adrenaline is nothing
friendship is nothing
this world has nothing
that comes close to that feeling
just being with those boys
-my boys-
and watching that hillside burn
do you see?”

He paused, long enough
to sink the end of his long-neck
and then he looked away again
but he continued to speak
softer even than before.

“I remember thinking to myself then
that now I’ve beheld Armageddon
I’ve strolled through the valley of death
I’ve beheld the beauty of our apocalypse…”

He paused again, longer this time
staring into the dregs of his beer.

“Some months later, a routine patrol
we were approaching a compound
at the head of a dried-up river
when one of the guys sees something
in his binoculars, two figures
just silhouettes really, but he saw
weapons, they both had rifles
so we called in another ‘strike.”

Then, unlike before, he began to rush
spitting out words as if they burned.

“We went in there afterwards
you know, to confirm casualties
we went over this ground
still smoking still smouldering
and that’s when we found them
two little boys,
about ten or twelve I guess
or what was left, you know
just enough to tell they were kids
do you see?”

He looked at me again at last
his eyes glowing and watery
and he repeated his question
drilling his memory into me
“Do you see?”
I mutely mumbled nothings
shaking my head slowly
Do you see?

“They were holding toys
these plastic AK-47’s
like I had growing up
like anywhere else in the world
little boys with their little toys
all melted and fused together
I…
I have to take a piss.”

Six-foot-five-or-more-beers-down
he wandered away into the party
as if he had never been there
and I didn’t hear another voice
for the rest of that troubled night.

5 thoughts on “Boys

    1. Yeah sorry… I wrote this a while back and I’ve been of two minds about posting it. I don’t know why tonight was the night. I hope it hasn’t rattled you too much. If you need to talk anything out, let me know.

      Like

      1. Actually, mate…

        I think it’s a fantastic piece of writing. I just… it felt difficult… to know how to respond.

        I have seen similar material expressed… and this was, for me, the best expression of it by far.

        Liked by 1 person

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