I was born just outside London the year after the war ended. My parents were happy. When my mother realised she was pregnant the war hadn’t ended yet and although many knew it wouldn’t be long, she didn’t trust that. Complete pessimist my mother was. But then the war ended and five months later I was born. They were happy that I entered a world without war, where I wouldn’t have to fight, wouldn’t have to suffer and for the briefest moment my mother was an optimist.
Twenty years later another war began and I was the perfect age to fight. Me and my friends signed up full of enthusiasm, what we thought was bravery, eager to prove ourselves to our parents; the generation that came before us who won last time. But my mother took it badly. She begged me not to go, like I had a choice. She threatened to never talk to me again “Too young, too soon.” She’d say and she’d cry. I’d just laugh. I could tell father wasn’t happy about it either but he didn’t show it as much, at least not as overtly. I didn’t care though, I wanted to be out there, side by side with my fellow countrymen. Fighting for what’s right.
Mum wouldn’t let me go as I hugged her goodbye. The pessimist in her I assumed. She thought I was going to die, she thought my friends and cousins would never come back. We knew better though didn’t we. We were twenty-years-old! We couldn’t die!
On my street, there were only two of us that survived. It wasn’t a long street, forty men left, two returned. Me and little Timmy Westworth. We were in the same place too, for a bit anyway. Tiny Tim we’d call him. He was barely 5’5” and thin as a twig. And with each day he only seemed to shrink more. As if his skeleton was trying to crush itself into a tiny ball.
One day he was chosen to be part of a special team to carry out some special action, I don’t know what. But the team didn’t come back for three days, two and a half days longer than was expected. Then on the fourth day Timmy returned alone, not a scratch on him. No one really knew how he survived, most assumed cowardice but it was never proven. Two months after the war ended his little brother found him hanging by his neck in his bedroom. Then I was the only one who survived from my street.
My mother seemed to have aged too many years for how long I was gone. Father had died a year before I was back, but I didn’t know that until I arrived home. It seems the letter got lost in the post. After that I decided to stay with mum, look after her. At that point her pessimism, well, I guess her expectations couldn’t get any lower.
The world didn’t get any brighter after the war ended, not so it seemed to me anyway. Stories kept coming out from Europe. About the worst kind of things. Of camps and prisoners and gas. Of tattoos and trains and pits. Mother read about them without any surprise. She knew the world was that bad, she always expected the worst and completely accepted it when it happened.
Everyone else ignored it though, for a while any way. It was something you didn’t talk about, it didn’t happen to our people and we were scared what knowing about it would mean.
But now everyone talks about it. There’s movies about it, the TV is always on about it and countless books.
I tried reading a book about it before by a man called Primo Levi who survived the camps. But I could barely make it a couple of pages in before I put it back on my shelf where it’s stayed. I just…
I went back to school after the war and then I went to university all whilst working in the evenings to support us. I thought university would make me feel better about the world, thought I might understand everything more. It didn’t.
Seventeen years after the war ended, my war that is, we thought the world was going to end. I think that’s what caused my mother’s death to tell the truth. Never being one to hang around with the hope things would get better. She died 20th October 1962. I was forty-three. By that point, I couldn’t bring myself to go anywhere else so I’ve lived in this house my entire life.
Thirty-nine years after we thought the world was going to end we watched 3000 people die on live television. Before that I thought things were starting to look up. A new millennium, a new world perhaps. My father’s optimism combatting the forces of my mother. Eighty-two years old I thought I knew everything bad that could ever happen, that nothing would shock me anymore. But on that day in 2001 my father died another death. I was left with nothing. And it hasn’t seemed to stop. The death. I don’t watch the television anymore because all you see is the killing that is happening all over the world. It’s bad enough hearing about it. I just don’t want it anymore.
It was my 100th birthday yesterday and I heard they have camps in China now. And Russia. And America. I never was as pessimistic as my mother but I can’t help but expect the worst, there’ll be camps here before too long.
100 years has been too long. Double the amount of years my father lived. If I wasn’t such a coward I would’ve followed little Timmy Westworth a long time ago. I would still visit his grave sometimes, it’s not far from mum and dad’s see. Although I haven’t been there for a while now. Many people shunned Timmy after that, his family wouldn’t really talk about him. But I couldn’t blame him really. To live in this world is to die over and over again in so many ways and to make it all end, well…
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oh no my heart D: