It is easy to say the war broke its children and cast them adrift, but that is neither personal, nor precise.
My cousin Robert founded a Dental College afterwards. My uncles raised fine families afterwards. My cousin George started an extremely successful major dry-goods store afterwards. My uncle John became a golden patriarch. And the Major changed Georgia.
But I was lost, and I was broken. I had almost everything as a child. True, there was some small congenital disability, and my father was far from warm, at least to my mother and I - the ones he should have cherished. But I had my loving mama, strong but gentle guidance, pride and if not the grand plantation of my uncle, surely a fine Southern life, with all that implied of inherited character, honour and gentility. In Virtue Second to None.
Everything I loved then and everything I had tried to love afterwards, especially if I succeeded, was ripped from my grasp by violence, blood and death if I had not already thrown it away because I was despairing and afraid and thus prone to jealousy, my fingers scrabbling, my voice reacting in hurt and bitter anger resulting from panic. I couldn’t stand myself like that. We all have weaknesses, but I couldn’t stand myself, so I threw away whatever I had, so that I was able to live with myself.
I was broken. And reacted to slights and stupidity with hair-trigger temper. And I didn’t even know, sometimes, if I could bear warmth any more, no matter how I desired it.
The bare facts: The war took my home, then my country. With that went our honour, independence, wealth, place, and security. And my friend, my cousin Hub, was gone to Atlanta, the big mansion and fields gone. Tuberculosis and the privations we faced took my mother. My father betrayed what was left of my family feeling, and betrayed what was left of the Confederacy. My Uncle Robert was utterly broken by the war – and so my cousin Mattie was destitute as well. It is Mattie that I had loved all my life. I became a dentist and almost immediately lost my health and profession, though I have always said I was a dentist, and have always denied this loss. And with that I lost Mattie. And Hub. And Georgia. I lost my reputation as a gentleman and with that any acceptance I had ever had from good citizens. I lost with anonymity any sense of safety, and I was very weak and vulnerable. I lost stability and the possibility of any home. I loved my friends. I lost them. Some were killed and some I had to leave for both our sakes. I eventually lost my ability to deal cards. I was nothing. I was lost and adrift - made less than human.
No matter what people say, they do not like virtue, nor forthrightness, nor diligence, nor skill, nor commitment. And if those were accompanied by insouciance and occasional violence, they were less welcome still. And if I then cast aside convention and lived by the means of what is unreasonably termed vice for my health, protection, livelihood and comfort, there were not to be many who would accept me as other than infamous and dangerous. And I despised them, and pitied them, envying what they had but not the price they had paid, which was to never have gained a soul. But I still maintained my Southern manners, for though courtesy in even the worst of times is form, it makes living bearable for all concerned.
In the end, there was nothing to do but look myself in the eyes, because there was no one else to tell, and to state the truth I well knew: I did my best, always. But it was so cold. For how could I look then on other people, so blind and unfathoming, so blundering and always lucky. It is the cold that breaks such as me, or you. Others become impossible to respect. My lip curled and my eye lost a certain touching hope for companionship. And what, I thought, could heal it, when I knew the heart of most men with surety?
And the only hope I had was to wait and watch and trust there were others who had paid and paid and paid as I had for a different prize than society – pride and strength of honour within their own hearts, if not those of others.
But even then, I was so often simply wrong, hoping to see in others what was not there.
But even then, when they truly appeared, they too were torn from me, and the only comfort was to hold and remember, so experiencing the reality of the loss of something precious again and again, as I relived joy I knew was gone.Name: John H. Holliday, DDS.
Word Count: 828
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Nulli Virtute Secundus
crazy and bitter