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Losing The Will
By Scott Russell

It’s amazing how much happier I am since I lost the will to live. I mean it. It’s like a huge weight’s been lifted off my shoulders.

We landed on Normandy in June, and I was fucking terrified. All the noise, the explosions, the flying dirt and sand, all those bullets whizzing past, the orders being yelled, the smell of gunpowder and burning flesh, and the screams—oh my God, the screams. It was awful.

After D-Day, I started vomiting blood. I got diarrhea. I stopped eating. I lost weight.

Guys died daily as we fought our way inland through St. Mere Eglise, and into the hedgerow country. I watched and counted as they got picked off, one by one. O’brien got it in the throat. Hutchins got it in the head. Bailey and Waverly died together, huddled at the bottom of a shell hole. These were the guys I went through basic with. I knew them. I watched and counted.

And I knew my number was coming up after I saw Jim die.

Jim was my best friend. The morning he got killed we were passing through a bombed-out village on the outskirts of St Lo. Jim walked to the side of the road and squatted behind a bush to take a shit, when he said to me, “Hey Simmons, look at this little—“and then Jim blew up and I got splattered with his guts and his shit, and I just sat there and stared at the spot he’d just occupied, and didn’t move for over three hours, until Sergeant Kowalski finally sent Rollins to find out what had happened to us. Rollins pulled me away, but a part of me – the part that cared about living – stayed right there in that spot.

And now I feel great.

I’m sleeping well. I’m eating well. Hell, I must have put on at least twenty pounds since then. The guys don’t know what the hell got into me. They think I’m Sergeant York or something. I don’t wait to be ordered to attack anymore. Now Sergeant Kowalski just yells, “follow Simmons,” whenever he wants the platoon to charge a machine gun nest or run through an open field under fire. The guys all think I’m brave, but I’m not brave. To be brave, you have to feel fear. I just don’t give a shit.

I guess that’s what separates me from a guy like Sergeant York. York was fighting for his country. I’m fighting just to fight. York, I imagine, tried to dodge bullets. York probably didn’t run standing straight up toward the sound of gunfire. York probably wanted to live.

Not that I don’t want to live. Not that I don’t want to die, either. I’m OK either way. I guess that’s why I’m so easy to get along with, these days.

Captain Smith recommended me for a Silver Star after last week’s action. We were taking fire from a sniper who was perched up in a bell tower, and when everyone scrambled for cover, I strolled, right out in the open, over to a table that was sitting in front of a deserted sidewalk café. I had a seat, lit a cigarette, cleaned and loaded my rifle, and then, when I was good and ready, drew a bead on the sniper who was shooting at my buddies, squeezed off a round, and watched his body fall out of the bell tower onto the street below. Everybody cheered.

I still don’t know why that sniper didn’t shoot me. Hell, I don’t know why the German machine gunner who I charged the day before didn’t shoot me, for that matter. Or why the grenade I picked up and tossed back at the German who threw it didn’t go off in my hand. It’s as though losing the will to live has somehow made me safe; immune almost. Maybe fate loses interest when we stop caring.

The Sergeant’s worried about me, though. I can tell. He’s been staring at me a lot lately. Yesterday, he came up to me while I was cleaning my rifle and said, “Simmons, you wanna go see the doc?”

“For what,” I asked.

“Just thought maybe you could talk to him, that’s all.”

“About what?”

“About—I don’t know, about whatever the fuck you want to talk to him about. Like what happened to your buddy…what’s his name again?”

“Jim?”

“Yeah Jim. About what happened to him.”

“I already know what happened to him. Same thing that’s gonna happen to all of us, sooner or later.”

He just watched me clean my rifle for a while before he said, “You know, if you wanted a section eight, I’d vouch for you.”

I looked up at him and saw that he wasn’t kidding. “Um. Thanks. I’ll keep that in mind.” I went back to assembling my M-1.

A section eight. What would I do with a section eight? Go home? A month ago, I would’ve jumped at the offer.

But I’m happy now. I wouldn’t fit in back home anymore, anyway. So I’m staying until a shell finds me. Or a grenade. Or a bayonet. Or a landmine. I like it here and no one is going to send me home. Which is why I find myself here at midnight, all alone, walking toward German lines.

Maybe they’ll get me tonight. Maybe not. If not, I’ll keep going until I reach Berlin. If so, congratulations to them, though I wouldn’t bet on it, either way. Fate seems to have lost interest in me.


Scott Russell writes from California.
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