E.M. Miles, 9th - Oakland, CA
It hurts. They don’t tell you that when you go to war. They’ll tell you stories about heroes dying in the heat of battle, for their comrades, for their country. They’ll tell you how honorable it is, as if the greatest thing you could ever hope for is death, and it is, I suppose, because who are you after the war ends? What purpose do you serve, when you’re home, when the bloodshed is over?
But I’m not home. I’m here, my limbs jumbled and my blood soaking into the soft, waving gold wheat. I’m here, and I can tell you that it hurts. Or, at least, my death does. I can’t speak for the soldiers who had quick, sacrificial deaths. But bleeding out, a spear still embedded in your torso, alone and soaked in your own blood?
Well. That’s bloody painful.
Ha. Bloody. Get it?
It isn’t just the getting stabbed that hurts, although that certainly doesn’t help. You can feel the blood leaving your body, feel the life getting drawn out of you as each minute passes. Your throat itches, and every breath is ragged and shuddering. You can sense every feeble, scrambling heartbeat, and it’s as if the blood your heart squeezes out and pushes through you is sucking you dry, not keeping you alive.
It’s awful, all of it. The heavy, thick feeling of the weapon inside you. The dry, aching breaths, the blood pouring from the gaping wound in your chest. The pain, it’s awful.
But the worst of it all is knowing that you are dying.
You keep sucking the air in, knowing that it will end soon, and that this breath may be your very last, that your eyes will glaze over and the dark will close in, will blot out the sun and the sky and the wheat waving gently above you.
You wait, and you know, and it doesn’t happen. You keep dragging in shaking breaths, keep feeling. Death, with his cool, dark, flowing robes, won’t come for you and ease the pain that radiates through your body.
It’s not so bad, really. I’m on my back, and I can see the sky, endless and deep and empty. I can’t see the sun, but I can feel it on my face, warm and sweet, reminding me of my father pressing a kiss to my cheek, beard rough. Soft yellow wheat stirs at the corner of my vision, gentle and making a soft shush as they twist in the breeze.
(My right leg is twisted under my left one, and my left hand rests next to my ear, fingers curled slightly. My right palm sits on my chest. The spear, the thing that will kill me, that is killing me, that is still inside of me, was forced in just under my armpit and slammed out the other side at a downward angle.)
The sky, and the grass, and the heat remind me of Fionn, and my heart aches, it aches for him to be next to me, his thin and gentle hand to be curled in mine, his dark curls haloed by the sun. At the same time, I am relieved he is not beside me, that he is home and far away from this place of blood and pain and death.
My beautiful Fionn, my most beloved, the person I adore more than anything in the world. If he were here, he would paint this field for me. The canvas would be alive under his fingers, all waving wheat and enormous blue sky and heavy, delirious sunlight.
Tears start to clog in my eyes, hot and burning. This isn’t what I wanted. I never imagined I would be here. When they came for me, for us, in their shifting, clanging armor, telling us that any boy older than eleven was to come and fight, I thought only of Fionn, of protecting him, of keeping him from the pain and fear and blood of war. I had seen the eyes of the men in town who made it home. That empty, sightless stare. They weren’t really here. Some indelible, essential part of them was forever lost to their battle. I would sooner die than lose that part of Fionn, than look into his eyes and see them dull and devoid of everything.
So I lied. I said that he couldn’t fight, that a childhood injury had rendered him unable to walk. Take me, I told the soldier, looking up at his hulking frame, his coal-black eyes and gleaming helmet. I’ll fight for you. Take me and leave him.
While the soldiers slept, Fionn gripped my arm and looked at me with such fear that I could hardly stand it. I held his face in my hands and promised I would return to him. I pressed my lips to his forehead and smoothed the tears from his cheeks and tried to convince myself that this would not be the last time I felt his warm, soft skin on my fingers.
It hurts so much. All the pain has blurred together, and I can’t distinguish any of it. Leaving Fionn. The spear in me. The blood coursing out,, drying in the sun. The hunger, the exhaustion, the fear. Dying, dying, dying. It’s intolerable.
The sky is endless, and it’s close enough for me to reach out and touch. It feels like it could swallow me up. It’s so blue, too. How did I not see how colossal and vivid it is? The sunshine feels like a blanket, weighing me onto the earth. If it weren’t there, could I lift my arm and grab hold a piece of the sky?
Everything in me is mixed up. How long have I been here? Days? Weeks? Years? Will I be here forever, a permanent fixture of this glowing field, a sad, bloody, scrambled warning of what happens when you love too much, when you wish for happiness?
Tears have reached my ears, dripping down the side of my face and sliding into the grass. I’m sorry, my love, my Fionn. I’m sorry I wished for more than we are allowed, I’m sorry I couldn’t come home to you. I was trying to keep you safe, keep you whole, keep you mine. Black spots dance before my eyes, and in them I can almost see his face, his olive skin and gray eyes and dark curls bouncing across his forehead.
The sky is so blue, so big, so close. The heat is so soft against my skin. The yellow wheat continues to sway back and forth above me. I’m so tired.
I close my eyes one last time, and then all I can see is his face, his lovely face, smiling and golden like the grass.
Students 6th-12th Grades