He wasn’t there, but he was. I could feel him, but no one stood in front of me. “David,” I whispered.
His voice greeted me on the wind, in the sound of the creek in the distance and the leaves rustling in the trees. I swore I could hear him. I might have been delusional, but I had been so for hours, or days, or perhaps months? I would take the delusions. I would take them.
“Siegfried,” his voice came from wherever. I didn’t care where. “You’ve come back.”
“I told you I would,” I said aloud. “I told you I would come back before I left.”
“I knew you would.”
There was a silence. I swallowed hard; I ignored the burning in my throat and my eyes and my heart. “David, I’m sorry. I’m so sorry.”
“It’s not your fault,” he promised. “I went to the trenches without you.”
“Why?” I asked, pleaded. “Why did you? We were always- you always…”
I could see David’s smile in my mind, soft and gentle. “It matters little why I went. It matters more that you stayed, and were spared.”
I closed my eyes, and David’s smile was replaced with other memories. A gaping hole in his throat, blood clotting and congealing as he choked, sputtered, died. The bright light of my summer soldier snuffed out in the cold he hated so much. The boy I loved wrapped in a sack, being lowered into a hastily dug hole that was all too shallow in the frozen ground. A ceremony drowned out by gunfire, my final words to him blown away by mortars.
“You trusted me,” I choked out. “You trusted me, and I failed you.”
“It’s not your fault,” David repeated. “I don’t blame you.”
I didn’t believe him, and he - whatever, whoever, wherever he was - knew it. “I never got to tell you my last wish,” David continued, his voice a whisper. “Will you promise to honor it?”
“Anything,” I breathed. “Anything, anything.”
“I want you to be happy. I want you to be as happy as you were that day in the tea shop. Don’t ever stop until you find someone who makes you that happy.”
My throat felt cinched tighter than a tourniquet on an amputee. “I promise,” I managed. I could feel something shift. David felt like he was getting farther and farther away.
I was losing him.
“David, I…” I began, then trailed off. I had so much to say, and I knew this was my last chance.
“I know,” David’s quiet voice told me from a growing distance. “Siegfried, I know.”
I closed my eyes again, my knees digging into the hard ground. I didn’t know when I’d fallen to them.
“Goodbye,” I whispered.
And I let him go. I let him go, but I knew he would stay with me. He would be in the stars and in the forest, in the whispers of the trees and the rumbles of the streams. Every time I found something new and beautiful, it would be David guiding my gaze to it, nudging me in the right direction. He would be in the morning dawn and the setting sun. He would never leave my side, and I would never forget him. I would never let the world forget him.
His name was David, the one who hadn’t broken. David, the young, the gentle, the innocent. David, who had died without living.
His name was David.
"So he will never come but in delight,
And, as it was in life, his name shall be
Wonder awaking in a summer dawn,
and youth, that dying, touched my lips to song."
-Siegfried Sassoon, "The Last Meeting"
End note: This was based off of the play Not About Heroes by Stephen MacDonald, which tells the story of what happens after Siegfried seeks revenge and takes a stand against needlessly prolonging the war. He is sent to a mental hospital for soldiers where he meets Wilfred Owen - another real WWI poet, and the play follows their friendship. It's honestly amazing and I highly, highly recommend it.
If you aren't aware (and I wasn't either), Siegfried Sassoon is a real WWI soldier and poet, and David Thomas was real as well. Sassoon's poems are some of the most emotional and moving I've ever read, and parts of this were inspired by his "The Last Meeting" which is about David (who is also mentioned in "A Letter Home"). Anyway, here's your bit of history for the day. Thanks for reading.