I woke suddenly, the distinct taste of blood tainting my mouth. My hands shook and my pulse raced. Three years I had been home and still, I couldn’t sleep through the night. Three years and everytime I close my eyes I can still see him, barely seventeen, lying on the cot, once clean, but now soaked in his blood.
He was brought in at 4:13am. I was one of the nurses up that night. The boy’s clothes were covered in so much blood they appeared black.
I had been okay at first. I busied myself in getting a clean cot ready and grabbing whatever I may need to tend to such a dire wound. My hands were steady as I peeled away his coat and shirt and peered at the gore beneath. It was nothing new. He had been shot twice in the chest.
I noted the name on his tags, and marked it down, though I never remembered what it was. Everything was fine as I did my job. Removing, cleaning, stitching. But after, when I had done all I could, I started to notice things about him.
The way the skin on his fingers and nose had turned black and was peeling. The bruises that coloured his thin arms and chest and…how young he was. No more than seventeen. Stuck, suffering, in a war that he himself had snuck into. You had to be nineteen to join the army, but so many younger got in anyway.
That was when I truly realized what we were doing. It was a punch in the stomach. We were killing children. Sending our youth to the trenches, to fight for us, to suffer for us, to die for us.
That night I sat by his bed. I remember pulling up my chair to his bedside as quietly as I could. I sat there and watched as his eyes twitched under their lids and listened to his shallow breathing. I felt ill the entire time and burried my face in my hands.
Just as the sun was starting to rise and spill soft light over the cots, he opened his eyes. They were hazle. Dark brown with flecks of green. He rolled over and faced me best he could.
“Why you crying miss?” He asked in a voice that was ever so polite.
I stared into his wide, innocent eyes and swallowed my grief.
“I ain’t cryin” I said, forcing a smile, while wincing at the rube tone of my voice. The tone I only ever got when I was only pretending that everything was alright.
He cocked his head, nodded and then quickly drifted back into uneasy sleep.
When the sun had came up over the horizon, it was 7:34. I dozed off for a moment, my head hanging forward.
Only a few minutes later I was shaken awake by another nurse. She provided me with other tasks, though I have no recollection of doing them. My mind was still with the poor boy, lying on the cot closest to the wall.
Upon finishing my tasks I returned back to his side and was startled by how pale he appeared. He was awake and looked up at me with eyes that were starting to glaze over. A soft noise of despair escaped my lips as I saw his life slipping away.
At that point, I lost my composure and knelt down beside his bed. I held his hand as he took his final breath. But when the life left his eyes, he looked at peace.
He was not the first soldier to die under my care, nor was he the last. Some are just too badly injured, lost too much blood, deprived of one too many meals. But his final hours will remain with me forever. Though why, I do not know.
Perhaps it is because of his youth, or how kind he was amidst his pain. Or maybe it was because that was the night I truly felt the horrors of war creeping up my spin, into my mind. Though I do know, that those few hours that he was under my care changed my life. For better or for worse, I’m still deciding.
And still, three years later, I have yet to decide.
My pulse had slowed and my hands had steadied. I rested my head back down on the pillow and closed my eyes. Before I knew it I was crying softly and ringing in my ears I could hear his polite voice asking,
“Why you crying Miss?”