Billy and the scouts were skinny people. Roland Weary had fat to burn. He was a roaring furnace under all his layers of wool and straps and canvas. He had so much energy that he bustled back and forth between Billy and the scouts, delivering dumb messages which nobody had sent and which nobody was pleased to receive. He also began to suspect, since he was so much busier than anybody else, that he was the leader.
He was so hot and bundled up, in fact, that he had no sense of danger., His vision of the outside world was limited to what he could see through a narrow slit between the rim of his helmet and his scarf from home, which concealed his baby face from the bridge of his nose on down. He was so snug in there that he was able to pretend that he was safe at home, having survived the war, and that he was telling his parents and his sister a true war story--whereas the true war story was still going on.
Weary's version of the true war story went like this: There was a big German attack, and Weary and his antitank buddies fought like hell until everybody was killed but Weary. So it goes. And then Weary tied in with two scouts, and they became close friends immediately, and they decided to fight their way back to their own lines. They were going to travel fast. They were damned if they'd surrender. They shook hands all around., They called themselves "The Three Musketeers."
But then this damn college kid, who was so weak he shouldn't even have been in the army, asked if he could come along. He didn't even have a gun or a knife. He didn't even have a helmet or a cap. He couldn't even walk right--kept bobbing up-and-down, up-and-down, driving everybody crazy, giving their positions away. He was pitiful. The Three Musketeers pushed and carried and dragged the college kid all the way back to their own lines, Weary's story went. They saved his God-damned hide for him.
It's a good story that Weary weaves for himself. A story of flag-waving and blood and guts. Weary wants to be the hero of his life, wants to make himself into something that he's not. Weary is not well-liked. He's responsible for the deaths of his antitank buddies through his own stupidity. Yet, when he gets home from the war, Weary will turn himself into a mixture of John Wayne and Jimmy Stewart. Tough but friendly.
We all create our own personal narratives. Make ourselves into heroes or saints or soldiers. Sometimes those stories are completely true. Most of the time, however, they are gilded and tweaked. We erase the embarrassing details, like Weary does. For example, many years ago, I played the lead in the musical A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum. Every night, I had standing ovations. Flowers tossed at my feet. Glowing reviews. Reality: I messed up the first verse of my opening song. Instead of singing "Tragedy tomorrow, comedy tonight," I sand "Comedy tomorrow, tragedy tonight." I wanted to crawl under the stage and die.
Today, my kids are performing in a ballet. In a couple hours, I will be heading to the theater for an afternoon of rehearsal. I will sit in the darkened auditorium and watch my daughter and son pirouette and chaine across the stage. And tonight, I will put on my tuxedo for the performance. When I walk into the theater, people will whisper, "There he is. He may be the next Poet Laureate of the Upper Peninsula." As I sit down, spontaneous applause will break out. I will nod humbly, waving from my seat. People will come up and ask me for my autograph until the lights start to dim.
That's my story, and I'm sticking to it.
Today, Saint Marty is thankful for dance.