So here I am, writing.
I’m writing, I’m writing – just as you told me to.
I’m writing, I’m writing, I’m writing.
Have you ever noticed that when the sun goes down, this flat changes? It does. The walls are white during the day and lingering brown at night. During the day, I’m with you and the light from outside paints the walls that heavenly color. But when that sun goes down, the demons wake and I’m alone again, even though you’re just a room away.
Somehow it seems less threatening tonight, and I think it’s because you’ve given me an assignment to try and fight off the darkness. You gave me a stack of papers and a pen and told me to write everything that comes to mind.
It’s a strange feeling to have complete freedom. These empty pages are mine to do whatever I please – I could even wipe my ass with them – but they’re also terribly intimidating. The blank page has always been a nemesis of man. It’s right in front of me – all the things I can’t figure out how to say. All the things my pen doesn’t want to write.
I know you’re curious about what I’m going to use these for. I am, too, but part of me is afraid of what might come out. I said this to you this morning and you said something along the lines of:
“At least whatever it is you’re afraid of will be out.”
So I’m rattling the demons inside me a bit, perhaps giving them a bit of a beating, but just enough for them to bleed through my fingers. No doubt the wounds will have to be re-opened. All for what?
Therapy, you said.
You’ve given me this freedom with the knowledge that what I write down may get thrown into the fire later, that the act of writing is an act of permanence, but can also be temporary. This can be beautiful impermanence, it can be dangerous freedom. But that’s exactly what this is – a chance for me to get it all out somehow, even though it might be ugly. Ugly, foul, dreadful.
I listen. I really do, even though it doesn’t always look like it.
Right now, for instance, I’m listening to you snore like a goddamn pig in the next room.
I’m laughing softly to myself, even though this is hardly the time to laugh. Oh, the secrets I could tell you with this therapy of yours. The things you would learn. The many things I haven’t been able to tell you could very well wind up on these pages if I’m not careful, if I stir the demons too much. However, you will never know some of these things, and that is because you will never fully understand these things.
It probably pains you to know that. You’re a man of understanding, after all. But that’s just how it is. You may think you want to understand these things, but believe me, it’s much better for your sake that you won’t. Perhaps for my sake, too. They would only affirm the notion that I am indeed a crazy bastard.
But I’ve written too much already; it would be unfair to go without telling you just one thing. So here it is:
* I piloted a bomber that was shot down during the war. *
This is how it went.
It happened in late April. Hitler was turning fifty-four that day.
As a birthday present, Bomber Command thought it would be amusing to drop a few bombs on Berlin – only our candles wouldn’t be so easy to blow out.
So all fourteen of us flew into the encompassing night, the metallic whirr of the heavy birds numbing our ears to all other sounds while the city below went dark. It called upon memories for most of us – our loved ones spoke of this disappearing act that never seemed to work, as London was, at one time, for a very long time, bombed consecutively for many nights in a row.
In response, we opened our own bomb doors, because war is about revenge, isn’t it?
I say with absolute regret and shame that that was my job – I was the one looking into the eyepiece at the city below, and I was the one who released the bombs. They were my bombs. It was a bit like playing God – at the pull of a lever, I could smite hundreds of people just by saying the dreaded two words:
I apologize. I cannot write about that anymore. But I’ve begun to tell a story, and you can’t just stop in the middle of a story, can you? No. That’s cruel.
Someone announced proudly that they had written “Alles Gute zum Geburtstag” on one of them in chalk, and I tried to laugh, but nothing came out. I looked back down and watched them strike the ground. It looked a bit like a camera flash – quick and stark white, then erupting into orange and red. More bombs went off ahead, and soon enough, Berlin became a spectacular glowing light show. The radar glowed with enthusiastic greens and reds.
But as the bombs detonated and shook the earth below, it shook something inside me as well. Each bomb that detonated pounded into some sensitive nerve and suddenly it felt like a cold hand reached up inside me and squeezed my organs. I attempted to ignore it, shouting back to the crew that we were approaching the next bomb site.
In no less than an hour, Berlin was smoldering.
After that, it settled into something mechanical. The war machine was huffing. Our Lancasters were instruments of darkness, blackbirds shrouded in the veil of the firestorm. Below, the earth had cracked and the fires of hell climbed up and swallowed the city.
Then, anti-aircraft guns cracked ahead.
My eyes shot to the tiny white flashes. They cut through the fires and threatened to end our lives in just that… a flash. My brain felt as if it were twitching, shorting out… it did so along with the firing of the guns. I felt in sync with the symphony of war.
An anti-aircraft gun struck the side of the bomber and it jolted sideways. Some of the crew screamed – the explosion seared them.
From the view of another bomber, I suppose it could have happened like the flash of an anti-aircraft gun, but it’s different when death is there reaching out to you. For a moment, I felt his cold hand on my chest and I went blind. I felt as if I was being lifted out of my body, but my hands grasped the joystick relentlessly. One of the surviving men crawled up to the cockpit and grabbed my sleeve, but by then I was already gone – a half-dead idiot sitting there with his reddened eyes wide, sweat pouring down his forehead.
The drone of the bomber dropped its pitch as it veered downward. All but the two of us, the man holding onto my sleeve and I, had parachuted out. I still, to this day, don’t know why that man stayed with me and proceeded to pull my parachute for me. He was a right idiot, he was.
To conclude so grandly, our parachutes lifted us into the sky. By then, some part of me must have awakened, death must have let go of me, because I distinctly remember the few moments of consciousness I had before I was out and back into limbo again. We floated along towards the flaming ground, surrounded by red rain.
Then, darkness cloaked me once more.
Our bomber was the only one to go down that night.
I wish so much that my story could end there, that I floated down to the ground and was taken back to England, but what happened after that is something I will never be able to put into words. Not if you gave me all the blank pages and nighttime awakenings in the world.
It may be destined to be forever untold.
I wish I had the strength to tell you, but I’m not sure it will ever come. But please, Aiden, don’t forsake me for what I can’t tell you. Therapists are supposed to get you talking, but this…
This life I’m trying to live is so full of promises.
You keep telling me that things will get better, that the city will be reconstructed, but I’m so deep in the rubble, Aiden, and all I want is to forget how it all happened.