At ten everything is perfect. Young, free, innocent…happy.
When I was ten all I could think about was to get away from my French teacher and get out and fence or ride on horseback. The sun was always bright, the food always good…and the six-year-old boy who followed me around and looked up at me with admiring, large, grey eyes more an amusement than an annoyance.
At ten, I never had nightmares.
At fifteen everything is confusing. Still young and relatively free. But no so innocent.
By the time I turned fifteen I learned that people have no shame, no honor. I learned that rich aristocrats rule the world and when there is a killed father's debt to be paid no one cares if a widow and her two children must lose nearly everything to get it paid. I learned that when a tailcoat gets several seasons old certain boys who use to call one "friend" are reluctant to be seen with said one in public.
And yet he was still there. Same eyes, same boyish smile, just several years older but as innocent as ever. And those words, spoken in a comfortingly childish way, "You'll always be my best friend, alright?" They still echo in my memory over seventeen years later.
At fifteen, I had too many nightmares.
At twenty, youth takes on the guise of alcohol, smoke filled rooms, cards, and nightly, meaningless sex.
Freedom is when everyone's on leave and the police aren't looking. (Dueling is best when there's no one spying around the corner, hoping the tattle to the King.)
Innocence is dead.
Happiness? My mother's health and morning pancakes. My sister's delight as she dons the yellow silk bonnet I brought her from Petersburg. His smile.
It's infectious. It makes me want to laugh, to do something outrageous.
It's loving. It encompasses everyone. Because he doesn't hold grudges. Because he's not afraid to laugh and throw his friendship to anyone who would have it.
It's honest. It speaks of a true sort of full happiness that floods his life. Because, unlike me, he never grew up.
At twenty, nightmares were too close to reality to matter.
At twenty-seven, the stage of grief known a acceptance is almost reached. It's not quite acceptance yet. It's some form of virtual numbness and cynicism that poisons every moment, that converts every word and action into an ulterior motive.
I started pushing him away. Every dream I had was shattering or had already broken. His resilience to everything thrown his way was ridiculous to me. Perhaps, I was jealous.
"Nothing! Would you please leave, sir."
"Don't shut me out."
"Damn it, you're pathetic. You don't understand. Not a damn thing."
He had looked at me with those wide, beautiful eyes – ridiculously happy eyes – and just nodded. Like he understood.
Like he understood that…
At twenty-seven, I never had nightmare – because they were irrelevant.
At thirty-three, out of my whole life, the last year or so of war seems to be the only thing that stands, the only thing that matters.
I saw boys come into the battle full of hope for glory, and pride at being privileged enough to have the rank of officer at entry into the army. I saw those boys break. Shatter. Deform into ghosts of themselves, into something they were not ready to become.
I was ready. I had always been ready. The only thing that nothing could have prepared me for was Borodino.
He's dead now. That boy with his joyful smile, dancing eyes, and childish attitudes and ideas about the world. He was not like the rest. He was never disillusioned. My Anatole died with a pleading question in his bloodshot eyes.
"Why? Why me? What did I do, Theodore?"
My only regret was that I never had the courage to admit to him, just how much he meant to me.
At thirty-three, I found out what it really felt like to be alone.