Our guard shift was just ending as they brought the casualties back. The common area of an old bombed out building had been transformed into a triage station. It reeked of blood and bile and shit and sounded like what I used to imagine when I’d hear a fire and brimstone preacher really bringing his best stuff. The screams and sobs, the calls for God and long-dead loved ones, and the pleas for medicine to dull the pain all seemed to weave themselves together into a deafening chorus whose only song was that of the most exquisite agony.
What I remember most, though, are his eyes.
He was dead, and the medics knew it. There were others they could save, and they had dutifully moved on to help where they could. In the confusion, no one had closed his eyes or covered him up, and from where I was standing frozen in stunned silence, he seemed to be looking right through me. His eyes were somehow a more piercing blue in death than they had been in life, somehow more engaging than they’d been in the tent the night before, when we’d joked about being woefully unprepared for how downright cold it was in the desert. The absurd serenity on his face stood in stark contrast to the chaotic scene unfolding around him. I am haunted by those eyes.
He was 24. His wife was 21. Their baby boy was 6 months old.
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