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I was feeling a bit rocky, and dodged the good people who met us. The surgeon, who had been sleeping in the same room with me on the way across, took me to a receiving hospital in New York City. A friend of mine, an officer who had been shell-shocked, was missing, and I asked for him. The surgeon said that he had jumped overboard. Then it dawned upon me why the doctor had slept in my room.
I want to give all credit to the wonderful staff of the hospital. The nurses and doctors were all one could want. They were kindness itself, thoughtful, and most considerate. At times in the months to follow there were other bright lights of happiness that shine forth as I look back; but, in the main, the year that followed was dominated by misery, physical pain, and mental anguish. If I knew that I was doomed to go through that period again, I would not face it.
For some reason I shrank from meeting my friends and the girl. But after a bit I was allowed to go out, and I called on her. She was apparently glad to see me, and for a while I enjoyed her company; but some intuition made me feel uncomfortable - why, I could not tell. Gradually this began to become clearer to me, however, as I came to realize how far apart we were, how different her sheltered life had been on this side, and how utterly impossible it was for her to appreciate how I felt. I closed up like an oyster, finding it out of the question to tell what wanted to be told. I tried to a few times, only to catch the look of conscious interest and again shut up.
This was my second disappointment. It surprised me it hurt me. The longer I remained in this country, the more it hurt, until, finally, I became callous to the fact; for I realized, much against my will, that my friends, my country, spoke a different language!
That thought rang through my brain in the long months that followed! Back in my own country, back among my friends, among scenes that I loved, that meant everything to me, and yet not back at all. I know that I am but repeating a thing that has been told many times, but the big fact remains, that the quick abandonment of interest in our overseas men by Americans in general is an indictment against us as a nation, not soon to be forgotten by the men in uniform from the other side. This fact burns in the minds of the thousands of men who at this very moment are living their broken lives in almshouses, jails, insane asylums, and hospitals, or wandering, hopeless, about the streets. I wanted relaxation, rest, anything to take my mind away from myself. I wanted to see musical comedies, read light books; I wanted to laugh and play. These were difficult things to obtain, however. My best friends wanted to see heavier plays-they wanted to see Nazimova writhe and squirm about the stage; they wanted to hear Heifetz play exquisite music, over which they raved. Exquisite music, yes, but not the sort to feed to a man who was in dire need of something vastly different.
I had friends who were intellectual, who were interested in things of real worth; but they could not discuss them in the human terms that interested me.
In New York drawing-rooms I met musicians of international repute, men of letters, of travel, who were interesting to most people and would have been to me, normally; but I was only bored. Back my mind wandered to France; and now and then that old dream came back, and I saw the red blood streaming from the ripped, torn body of the boy who had laughed at me. I became more nervous as sleep kept away, and food lost its interest.
A party of us drove up the Hudson and spent a few hours at my old Alma
Mater, to me the most beautiful spot in America, from which have come so many of our most famous men: the school, founded by George Washington, 'which gave us Grant, Lee, Sheridan, Sherman, Taylor, Pershing, and many others of international fame in civil as well as military life. There is something about that school that holds its graduates with a loyalty that exceeds anything I have seen.
The Corps! Bare-headed, salute it!
You sons of its earlier day;
Through the years of a century told,
The grip of your far-off hold.
It was good to be back, but those with whom I was did not understand. They had no realization of the value of such a school to the nation. Somebody remarked that West Point was a place where men were taught to kill Germans who had done us no harm. That grated on me, and I replied that, if I knew anyone who was pro-German at the time, I would most certainly report him to the authorities.
'Would you report me?' asked an American woman in the party.
'I most certainly would,' I answered. 'Well,' she replied, 'you know my friend Fritz - is a German, and I have a great deal of sympathy for Germany.'
My comments were a bit sharp, I am afraid, and were apparently distasteful to another member of the party, who said that I was a coward if I were willing to report to the Secret Service such a friend as the other woman was to me. Things grew disagreeable, but we drove back to New York in peace, though I was worried and tired out. I retired that
night exhausted in mind and body, and could not sleep, though the doctor gave me an opiate. That element of proGermanism at that time was extremely distasteful to me-I had seen too much, had felt too much, to be kindly disposed. Besides, it was a distinct shock to learn that my own friends felt so friendly toward those people with respect to whom I felt quite the opposite, because of things I had seen and been through myself. I learned later that that feeling was very prevalent among people calling themselves good Americans.
After a bit I was assigned to duty with the General Staff in Washington. My duties began at once- getting ready for another war. Another war! I used to sit at my desk in the War Department, thinking it over. Another war God, what a thought! How under high heaven it could be that we should prepare for another war was beyond my powers of comprehension. I could not keep my mind on my work, I thought of other things, fumbled with my papers, dreamed and took walks during office-hours, trying to get my mind clear and get away from that damnable ache in my head. I would go to sleep at my desk, making up for the night before. To the Department I was practically useless.
Occasionally I went to New York, but had best have stayed away. I met an editor of a newspaper which had as its object the uplift of people; but I never got to know exactly what he wanted he seemed a bit himvague self on that score. I listened to many conversations on the subject of the improvement of the condition of this and that. Then came Germany and the indemnity, and how awful it all was to make poor Germany pay. I went to hear a preacher of the gospel, and was disgusted with his ideas. I heard him address a meeting in Madison Square, at
tended by hundreds of men and women. As I looked around, I saw not one face that I took to be American; and as this American preacher remarked that the Bolsheviki must succeed, he was cheered to the echo, hats were thrown in the air the crowd went mad. I told my companions that I would not stay in such a place in an American uniform and left. They came, too, not because they did not sympathize with the speaker, but because they would not stay alone, without the protecting influence of that same uniform.
The drive home started in silence, but became a nightmare memory to me. Two women, one an American, one a foreigner of aristocratic birth, began to talk and such talk! Again were my eyes opened very wide, and I was stunned and shocked by the opinions expressed. I was told that America should never have entered the war at all; that we should have accepted things peacefully; that, even if the Germans came over here, they would make themselves so hated that they would soon depart whence they came! I was informed that I should be ashamed of myself for ever going to the front; that my decorations were a disgrace to wear, as being tokens given to me for killing Germans! It was a disgrace to be a soldier at all, killing helpless women and children! I was a liar when I said that American troops were not accustomed to doing such things. And this too from well-bred women - intellectuals, so-called.
This was the beginning of the end of my association with these people, of whom I had been very fond before I sailed overseas. I reported them to the Secret Service in Washington, and be lieve that their pernicious activities ceased. The foreigner had taken refuge on our shores from the violence and anarchy which reigned in her own country; had for three years accepted all
Back in Washington, we still worked on war, preparing for the next one. I did my best, but one day things broke. I was sitting at my desk, and suddenly realized that there was something radically wrong. I got to my feet, laughing and feeling silly. I saw little white circles chasing each other in front of my eyes. They came slowly into view from nowhere and tumbled from left to right, scurrying along one after another; and as I looked after them, they hurried on, always from left to right. I turned my head head and still they rolled over and over, those soft, round things that came out of nothing and fled away just as I turned my head to see where they were hurrying. I grew tense, and laughed. Then I began to play with them as they rolled along from left to right, always just a little ahead of me. I grabbed at them and laughed and giggled in my play. I turned my head, but they rolled on, always just a bit ahead. I turned around myself, grabbing at those damnably elusive things that seemed to mock me in this game. And as I jumped for them, I laughed and chuckled delightedly.
In the middle of it all I stopped — there came a noise outside that brought me up sharp. I stopped and listened— everything was very still for an instant. Then a car-bell rang on the street below; then came steps in the hall outside, and the subdued voices of officers
in the next room in a conference. I felt a chill of fear grip me. I locked myself in, sat down, and held on to my desk as things got gray and the ache in my head gave way to a hum, a low chanting hum, like the one that comes when one is just going under an anæsthetic. It required all my will-power to keep conscious then. Many times afterward I used my will to keep control of myself; but I remember that as the first time, and it left me tired physically, hot all over, and shaking with an intangible fear of a thing not understood.
Then a thought came to me, slowly, in a vague sort of way I was losing my mind! Dear God, I was losing my mind! I grabbed my head in my hands, closed my eyes to keep away those fooling, fluffy, flying things that came out of nowhere and tumbled off into nowhere again. Things became quiet, I got control, picked up my cap, unlocked the door, and started to leave the office. My secretary met me at the door and laughingly asked me why I had locked her out that she had been knocking. I said I would not be back that afternoon.
I went as straight as I could go to the attending surgeon, an old friend. In the seclusion of his office I told him my story, and went all to pieces and sobbed like a woman. Pretty soon we were in my car, and he was driving me to the Walter Reed Hospital, talking to me quietly on the way. Then followed those interminable examinations, day after day, blood-tests, eye-tests, eartests, balance-tests, every test apparent ly that could be devised. I was thankful for my shoulder-straps, which gave me a room to myself.
There came interviews with a famous nerve specialist, a man whose grasp of human nature was wonderful; but he did not know the answer. He advised one thing and then another; he was kindness itself, and his understanding was
remarkable. A man nationally famous, he had given up his practice to help the army in its time of need - but he had not been 'over there,' and he did not know. It was this man, whose opinion I valued so highly, whose keen perception was always a source of wonder to me, whose training was all along the line that would lead to a real understanding of my case, who first showed me how utterly alone I was to be in the year that followed.
I had been more or less alone before, because everyone seemed to be so incapable of seeing things as I saw them, but my previous feeling was but little, compared to what followed. I wish that I could properly describe that feeling of utter loneliness in the world. I wish I could in some way convey to those who had their men on the other side how perfectly damnable that solitude is to some of those men. I wish more still that I could in some way get it into the minds of all Americans who have not been through it, how dreadfully alone a shell-shocked man can be, even though surrounded by those who love him most.
After some weeks I was given more liberty and would drive out to see friends - but with what result? Always I met with the same thing, that lack of interest, — either assumed or real, I do not know, real, I do not know, and would go back to the hospital and lie on my bed and lose all control of myself, and cry like a baby. Sleep did not come when I seemed most to need it, and food was positively repulsive a great deal of the time.
There is no use in going into the details of what followed in the hospital, except that one day three doctors came in to see me. They seemed to have something on their minds, but took some time to get it off. Finally, with the greatest consideration, calmly and with expressions of regret, I was informed that it was their opinion that I
had best get my affairs in shape as I would probably not live for more than a month, or at best would be permanently insane.
Angry? When I had heard them out, I was more than that. I seemed to have an insane desire to hurt those men. I called them all the names I could think of; damned them with as much abuse as I could command. I wanted to break the furniture, to smash anything that came near me. They must have thought me crazy; perhaps I was, but it was the craziness of a wild rage at anybody who was such a fool as to think I was ready to die. Die? Why, I would not have died to please those doctors and I did n't.
The thought has come to me since, that perhaps those specialists told me that with a purpose. I don't know I have never asked; but it has occurred to me that perhaps they told me that to bring out all the fight there was in me. If that was their object, I will grant them a hundred per cent of success. That interview was the turning-point in my illness. From that minute I was obsessed with the idea that I would not die
I was damned if I would die! The whole object of my life was to show those men what fools they were to think that I was going to die. I remember how I screamed at them in that room, and how they stood there listening to me, watching me, and saying nothing. I screamed and cursed those men until I cried, and slung myself down on my bed, and wore myself out trying to control the hysterical sobs that seemed to shake me all to pieces.
I locked my nurse out, but she got in and was good to me and gave me an opiate. She was a sweet girl, the daughter of a great man, giving her time and earnest effort to doing good. I knew her brother, who, himself a shell-shock case, had killed himself after returning from overseas.
At my own request I was soon allowed to leave the hospital on a long sick leave, to do whatever I wished. Apparently the doctors had done all they could - it was up to me.
I was mad all through, fighting mad. I was simply possessed with the idea that I would not die, that I would show those doctors what fools they were. In the year that followed, I exhausted everything I could think of that would help me to get well, to get back to where I had been two years before. My constant thought was that I was going to win in some way. It would be tedious to tell it, except in the most general way, but I want to remind anyone who may read this that that period of continual, continuous scrap lasted for a year, and in that time there was but one person who spoke my language. With this one exception, I was as alone as if I had been in a deserted world.
I went to one friend after another, searching for help, suggestions that would assist me; but it was like searching for the pot of gold at the rainbow's end- it simply was not there. There were those who were sympathetic in thought and in deed, but apparently they did not know how to do anything practical.
The one person who knew was the military attaché at the French Embassy, a young captain of the French Army. We were chatting in his apartments one day, talking over the past, when it dawned upon us both that we had been through the same terrible thing. It was like finding some precious possession, long mourned as lost, for us to find each other. We clung to each other like blind men left alone. He spoke English - I spoke French - we both spoke the language of the Front, and we both spoke the language that needs no words, which exists between