I often find that I feel closer to one of my previous lives than others at any given time.
I’d been thinking about Phil more recently, because at least in him I see something of a way forward for me. I have similar skills, talents, and interests and I feel I could probably achieve similar success if I really apply some discipline to my work.
But ever since I had the chance urge to do a bit more work tracing John’s life, I’ve been thinking about him more and more and I have to say that it’s often a much more desolate feeling when I think about his life.
There is a longing there, a deep longing that I know can never be satisfied, to go back to the home I left behind all those years ago. And I might even know now where he was born, and I might even be able to spend the night in the same building, but the people I left behind there in that life so long ago are long gone, first moved to other towns in the 1890s, then died of old age, disease, or war in the intervening years. I can go back, but I know it will be a house full of strangers when I get there and whether or not any of the people I knew in that life have come back to me, I can’t say.
I have an inkling that maybe my fiance and my father were there, albeit in different roles. But if they were, neither of them remember anything and even if they do appear to remember something when we visit, how can any of us tell if they’re remembering it spontaneously or remembering it because I put it in their heads?
And I can go to Ypres and Houplines, but all I can really do there is say my goodbyes to people who probably reincarnated along with me, had full lives after the war, then died of old age and are probably on their second or third postwar life now. Those few who remember usually only have a vague sense that they were there. I’ve only met one other reincarnated Tommy who has any clue as to who he was, and he was already career military by 1914; I’ve yet to meet anyone else from Kitchener’s Army who knows so much as their name, rank, and serial in this life.
And I can never undo, unsee, and unfeel what happened 99 years ago. It left a dark stain on me that was with me throughout my previous life and carried into this one and though I’m back to where I can feel love, happiness, and joy again, now and then something will remind me of that spring in Ypres and I’ll be back to longing for the life John knew before the war.
The world now totters on the edge of another major war. I hear they’re trying to make it possible for transfolk to serve, too, which means I could be drafted if the elites of this world decide a total war between superpowers is in the cards. Already, 2014 is looking so much like 1914 and I’m terrified. I read the news and it reminds me of the rumblings we ignored from Serbia, Russia, Germany, and Austro-Hungary during that blissful spring of 1914. Just like before, everyone goes about their daily lives trying not to think about it, even as Ukraine, Russia, China, North Korea, Japan, the US, and the various powers of the EU (the ultimate cordial entente if there ever was one) all brace for war. Ships, jets, soldiers, and missiles are massing everywhere and all it will take is one careless prod by a superpower to send the world into another major war.
And through it all I wonder, why did I go to war when I had the choice in 1914? Why didn’t I stay in Hereford picking hops, swilling beer, and courting Ann by the river? And will I be able to stay here in Portland reading, writing, swilling beer, and courting my fiance by the river, or will my mind be made up for me by the draft board or by some battle that razes the city I live in?
I want it to be different this time around. I want to say my goodbyes to John and Phil and live the life they couldn’t, a good life untainted by war, by fear, and by people who won’t let us be.