He had short, shorn hair, sunkissed blond, and didn’t look old enough to be out of high school. Light skin, pale skin. Blue eyes. His faced was peppered with healing scabs on one side. Shoulders that should have been energetically squared off were instead slumped, as if shouldering burdens the rest of us could not imagine.
He leaned back against the wall, a bright blue wall that looked like sky. His eyes, those blue eyes, looked out across the room, but they didn’t seem to see; instead they held a vacancy, a distance, looking far away and anywhere but where he was. He looked old, in the way that only someone who has experienced great loss can look old.
We were in the Columbus, Ohio, Greyhound bus terminal, waiting. From my chair, I watched as he slid down the wall to sit on the floor, leaning one arm on his duffle bag, still staring. One leg bent inward, the other outstreched, he sat. Blue eyes open, still staring at something I could not see. Off to the side were three buddies, same light green camouflage, same desert colored boots, laughing, talking, ordering food: a congenial group. War clothes. He was accompanied.
I looked back to the wall, where those blue eyes had now drifted shut. Sound asleep in the bustling chaos of the terminal. An hour passed, and another, and he didn’t move. Nor did anyone approach him. Slumped on the tile floor, centered on the blue wall, he slept the sleep of the dead.
He was the image of war and peace, and had I a camera accessible, I might have photographed him. He was an astonishingly piognant image, but as I thought about it, I realized that whatever he had experienced need not be photographed by someone like me.
The PA system announced departing busses and his buddies came over, gently rustling his shoulder, softly calling his name, and he awoke. Shaking his head, he slowly inched back up the wall, blue eyes open, no smile, still holding that haunting look.
I cannot imagine what he saw, or what lives in the mind behind those eyes. On some level, I don’t want to know.
But I don’t want to forget him, this unknown soldier. He was the face of war.
*The Soldier illustrated in the image is not the soldier Christine is writing about.