The Spring rain has again cleansed the earth and all that is left of it is spasmodic drips from eaves and branches and drenched flower petals.
I close my eyes to the beauty of a sunlit morning—and remember—so I will never forget.
The gray claustrophobic walls hem me in. Like a scene out of an Alfred Hitchcock thriller, they seem to be inching inwardly forward, until I let out a silent scream of terror--silent because if I let it out, the guards will beat me into unconsciousness again. Sometimes I welcome that, though, that blessed sleep of oblivion that blocks out feelings, thoughts—and pain.
“Hold it together now, man, hold it together,” I tell myself, “close your eyes listen to the silent sounds around you.”
I have trained myself to obey myself, even as I have learned to submit to the Powerful Ones.
The clammy cold mortared floor is damp except for one corner. There, an incessant condensation drip slides to a miniscule puddle, ultimately disappearing between the cracks. Occasionally, a little two-inch wide pool forms so that I can dip the tip of my finger in. The gray fluid tastes as dank as it looks, murky with the dust and clay of centuries and mixed with the blood and sweat of those inmates who have suffered here. Sometimes I imagine their voices and try to match them with the names scratched in odd places no guard would think to look:
“Andrew Scott was here,” on the south wall edge.
“Sgt. Brian Mason, 6 months 3 days,” beneath the north ceiling crack.
“POW Colin Peters in the arms of Jesus,” at the south corner junction.
“Gavin Smitt,” behind the slop pail on the capped pipe.
Some were deeply engraved by a broken piece of rock; others were much shallower and were probably etched in with a finger or toenail. I am using a belt buckle prong accidentally left behind from one of my many interrogation beaters. I conceal it in the lining of my thin pallet during the hours the Powerful Ones make their rounds, retrieving it in the wee hours of the night like a furtive mouse, to being carving again. I am happy, for once, that my parents gave me the long name of Theodore because the mindless activity gives me something to do.
This is the rainy season, so I can actually hear a dripping behind the east outside wall and I spend hours counting the seconds between the drips while I make up stories about them. Are they trapped between their walls like me? Are they coming from the roof or from the crude homemade chimney, or are they simply a figment of my starving imagination? One way or the other, it is a blessing, and I wonder how my friends and family on the Outside would think of how little it takes in here to entertain a captive.
They keep me company, these drips, and I pine for them in the dry season like an oasis in the desert. Often when I pray, I use each drip like a rosary bead:
(DRIP), “God, give me strength to endure; help me not to lose hope for rescue.”
(DRIP), “Thank you for Guard #2’s kindness with the extra piece of bread.”
(DRIP), “Please help Mom and Pop in their grief.”
(DRIP), “Thank you there were not interrogations this week and thank you that whatever they do to my body, they cannot take away my soul.”
The war ended and I was rescued even before I finished the last “e” of my name and I can never thank my comrades enough for their daring infiltration of my captors’ jail. The guards are now paying for their crimes and I visit two of them once a year in their confinement, a Holiday Inn compared to where I was incarcerated. They are surprised I come. Guard #2, Nabuda by name, has asked my forgiveness and has come to believe in God and I like to think I was a part of his transformation. I am still working on Guard #1.
A Prisoner-Of-War experience changes a soldier forever in ways unimaginable to civilians. Things that are usually taken for granted by citizens are cherished for what they really are: privileges made into freedoms at the expense of those who physically fight for our country and keep the rest of us out of harms way.
I open my eyes to a new day—and am grateful.
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