A century ago today, a boat filled with raw recruits, too wet behind the ears to be Old Contemptibles but serving alongside them as Kitchener’s Army had not been formed yet, arrived at Le Havre, France.
I remember nothing of that day. There was an episode during my childhood that I’ve always suspected was a sign that some vestigial memory is still there though. I was about six years old watching the familiar shoreline of Charleston Harbor disappear from view, growing further and further away from the stern of a large tour boat. I was so afraid I would never come back and never see my home again, that no amount of reassurance would console me. I cried so much that day, I shook, I was terrified. I was so upset that my parents threatened never to take me on a tour boat again and I was forced to re-live the incident when my mother brought it up for my doctors later that week. I’ve suspected for a while now that this episode had something to do with a buried memory of that ferry to Le Havre but I cannot prove it.
What haunts me to this day are how many things I’ve half-remembered, or that seem to make eerie sense when I consider a past life in the war as a possible explanation. I found proof this past week that I had told the bully beef and crackers story before my memories broke, by the way. It’s an e-mail I sent in December 2010 that has an early draft of my one realistic novel that I’ve never been sure how to market (it was originally a NaNoWriMo project). Later drafts don’t have that story as I completely re-wrote the ending, so this proves (to me at least) that this last meal in the UK was not just a confabulation on my part.
Then of course there’s the wandering looking for a village that I knew I would recognize as soon as I found it, and the photos I took of WWI memorials, and my skill with a rifle, and my life-long hatred of large flies, my early awareness of mortality and suffering… All of these things are just stubs that seem meaningless on their own but in the context of the memories I’ve had, my entire life suddenly has the feel of a ghost story.
What other inexplicable things about me, things I’ve said, done, reacted to, or taken an interest in, might be linked to things about John’s life? How many things- like the ferry to Le Havre- have been invisibly shaping my life and my emotional reactions all this time from just beyond the horizon of conscious memory?
A century later, I’m doing the exact opposite of preparing for war. I’m relaxing with my fiance listening to prog rock albums with our big audiophile headsets. But am I really through letting go of that life? A century later I’m still coming to grips with a decision I made that cost me my innocence across two successive lives.