Billy and his group joined the river of humiliation, and the late afternoon sun came out from the clouds. The Americans didn't have the road to themselves. The westbound lane boiled and boomed with vehicles which were rushing German reserves to the front. The reserves were violent, windburned, bristly men. They had teeth like piano keys.
They were festooned with machine-gun belts, smoked cigars and guzzled booze. They took wolfish bites from sausages, patted their horny palms with potato-masher grenades.
One soldier in black was having a drunk hero's picnic all by himself on top of a tank. He spit on the Americans. The spit hit Roland Weary's shoulder, gave Weary a fourragere of snot and blutwurst and tobacco juice and Schnapps.
This passage is about humiliation. Billy marches with other American P.O.W.s, and the Germans do not treat them as guests. Roland is marching in clogs that turn his feet into hamburger, and the soldiers eat and drink in front of their prisoners, become intoxicated. One German solider hawks a wad of snot and spit on Roland, and Roland is forced to wear it like a badge of dishonor.
I have to say that I have never experienced this kind of humiliation, inflicted on me by another person. Except maybe in high school gym class. I've had my share of disappointments, for sure. One of the most difficult times of my life was when my wife and I were separated. I found it very hard telling friends and coworkers about the situation. I carried around a whole bundle of emotions, and shame was one of the key ingredients in that bundle. I couldn't speak about it without crying. So I tried not to speak about it.
I'm not telling you this so you'll feel sorry for me. I came to really dislike the looks of pity that flashed across people's faces when they saw me. They were momentary and well-intentioned expressions of sympathy, but, for some reason, they made me angry. I didn't feel brave. Didn't want anyone to feel sorry for me. I was too busy feeling sorry for myself.
I was raising my five-year-old daughter by myself, working two full-time jobs, volunteering in my daughter's kindergarten class. I planned birthday parties, bought Halloween costumes, attended parent-teacher conferences. I did everything that I was supposed to do, and I even managed to have some moments of genuine happiness. However, after my daughter fell asleep, I would do laundry, pack lunches, and generally wallow in a kind of grief mixed with humiliation. I felt like a failure.
Everything turned out for the best. My wife and I reconciled. She got her addiction under control after many years. We had another child. It hasn't been smooth sailing all the time. We still struggle (with money, especially), and that struggle comes with a certain amount of humility. Not humiliation. For the most part, though, we have a really good life.
Tonight, Saint Marty is thankful for his struggles. They make him appreciate his blessings even more.