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When you come back from the front…

When you come back from the front…
Article by: Kseniya Kirillova
When a soldier returns home from war, he will never be the same. Russian journalist Kseniya Kirillova tells about what a soldier faces when he returns from war to peace.

When you come from the front, those around you are definitely glad – if not all, then at least some. But there are those who immediately recall the famous “post-war syndrome,” the one that journalist Arkadiy Babchenko wrote about. He talked about coming “from there” into the peaceful world, when he nearly killed the typical bully. Just because in war you gain the habit of killing. Of course, there will always be those intelligent, well-read, and cautious people that would look askance at you and wonder how easily you would kill someone for a careless word or deed. Well, don’t you have the habit to shoot?

You don’t know how to explain to them that you came back childishly vulnerable – the way you were in your five years, that you came back without elementary defensive skills. You come with a soul that is both torn to shreds and yet wide open, like a window into the storm. Because you used to be strong, durable, unbroken until the very end, resourceful, prudent, wise beyond your years, a stranger to the ruthless villainy – only to them, the enemies, the invaders.

And here are your own people.

Do you remember how you surprised yourself – where did that come from? How sometimes you seemed to be a ruthless monster, when with the agility of a predator you accurately located the enemy in the slightest gap, you groped his every mistake, and used it, at times ingeniously. You shot, didn’t hesitate to do so, with your whole soul harassing each shot, to stop the evil that was moving through your land and transformed it into hell. And you resembled the perfected mechanism. A machine, not a person – a strategist, tactician and warrior in one. You could do it there, right? Why can’t you do it here?

You cannot, because around you are now those for whom you have shed blood and sweat, for whom you maimed your body and soul every day while freezing and starving in the cold trench, buried in the frozen ground under the Grad fire, while thinking, living, being inspired not to stop. It was them that defended; they are the source of your inspiration, your meaning and purpose, symbol and reward. You want the skies above them to be peaceful.

They are your people! Yours! What other words do they need to understand?

And suddenly you start to understand that they won’t understand. They will identify your unusual naiveness, so foreign to this world, and start using, each to his own level of meanness. And your burned and wounded, wide-open soldier’s soul discovers, as if anew, the cynicism of others’ calculations, the coldness of others’ indifference, the meanness of others’ hypocrisy. And you cannot reconcile with the fact that the person whom you trusted would cynically use you while lying to your face. You can’t understand why nobody cares about your battlefield heroism, and why nobody understands that they have you to thank for being alive? 

Maybe someone will ask you with forced concern if the nightmares and memories of battles bother you at night. And you won’t know how to explain to them that experiencing the terrible frontline dreams, with their torn pieces of meat, and the stench and heat of the blackened walls, is much easier for you than being in their well-fed and rotten world, hearing the cloying words, from mechanized formalities, from the important and well-groomed people who loudly lie under flags. You are confident that they lie, because it is impossible to tell the truth so loudly and with such pathos, and under the flag. And you realize that you start hating the flag for which you once threw yourself into battle – because it is now theirs, and not yours. Because they finally took it and embedded it in their world, which has become so alien to you.

It dawns on you that your coarse simplicity will be seen here as ignorance and stupidity.

Of course, they won’t know about the time when you figured out exactly where to expect the next onslaught of your enemies, and you knew about their plans a month before they had been implemented. You’ll remember how the generals didn’t want to listen to you when you tried to convince them, because listening to soldiers isn’t what generals do. But at least they started to respect you when they realized that you were right.

Here you’d better not tell about it. They won’t forgive that you, poor and armless, were smarter than them. They ask suspiciously: “You knew in advance? Are you not in collusion with the enemy?” Because they would never allow themselves to believe that you could calculate such things, you, an uneducated country bumpkin, who was drafted into the army right after high school.

A couple of times you want to shout to their faces: “I risked my life for you, bastards!”

But you do not scream, you do not give them the satisfaction of presenting their bill. You tell them something else, something rude, vulgar, vicious, and tasteless, so none of them see that your heart is torn to shreds. And, most importantly, you can’t hit them back. You can’t, because they are not your enemies. Your enemies are beyond that boundary, clearly marked armed invaders. And these people, even if they are scum, are still not enemies. They’re unarmed civilians. You know that a soldier can’t hurt a child, right? You’re above that. You have decided that your war is over!

You can’t, you don’t want to fight back, and you just don’t believe them. You suddenly realize that you can’t believe anyone in this well-fed and hypocritical world. And only with a wall of total disbelief can you protect the bloodstained soul from further attacks.

And then you realize that it is better to leave.

To turn around, walk away and never come back, without explaining anything to anyone. It’s as if everything that was adult in you stayed at the front, and in the civilian world you turn into a child – a hurt teenager who runs away from home, secretly hoping that after your escape people will cry.

They will not. It’s over there that people knew how to cry. Remember when you pulled your best friend Sergey out of the ruins of the airport, and he had his arm torn off at the elbow and torn-up  stomach, and he died in your arms? You then sobbed like a boy,  you were soaked in his blood. In the beginning it was scary to die, and then it went away. Because you knew that people would at least cry over your death, the way that you sobbed over Sergey. And here, here no one will to cry. Come on, they won’t even notice when you will be gone.

Don’t wait for anything, just leave.

If you’re weaker, into drinking, and if you’re stronger, at least somewhere else. Moving to the countryside – that’s always an option. Live in your sleepy backwater, away from people, breathe in the healing aroma of the surrounding forests, and don’t admit to yourself that you miss the destructive drug of war. And, again waking up from a nightmare, you’ll once again be running into battle and regretting that you didn’t die in combat…

Or maybe you’ll be lucky and everything will be different? You will be met by a loving wife, rewarded with a medal, the children will throw themselves on your neck, and strangers would thank you for the peaceful sky over their heads on the street? And you would eventually forget the nightmare of battles and losses, and once again begin to experience sounds, colors, hues? Let it be so! Let the second option happen to every one of those who return from war. People, take care of your soldiers! They are sometimes in great pain…

Are you a veteran? Share your experience of returning from the front.
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