Story Telling

I knew a man who fought in World War II. He came home with PTSD. At that time the word was shellshocked. He was dramatically changed by his war experiences. He’d been a quiet young man but afterwards was more than that. He was reclusive. Singularly antisocial. He worked as foreman and lived with his mother in a small house at the edge of an agricultural property. The place was a long way from other homes or anyplace else. Other than occasional trips to town for supplies, the man and his mother lived a solitary existence. This man had had a brother who was drafted at a similar time and was sent overseas during the war as well. That son never came home and his remains were never found. The mother grieved uncontrollably. Understandably so. More than anything, she was troubled by the fact she was not able to bury him. To have a proper funeral. She and her remaining son moved north, where they immersed themselves in day to day work. The son managed the outdoor work, his mother cooked and looked after the house. Uncharacteristically, it seemed to me, during each winter they went to Mexico and lived on the beach for a few months before returning to the Northwoods. The son’s name was John. Each year John built tall towers of stone, deep in the woods. He had an obsession with building these cairns nestled among stands of birches and tamaracks. The activity somehow seemed to soothe him.

I’ve had two short stories published in the past. Both were fictional, with a few characters loosely based on some people I once knew. I’d so like to write about John but I can’t turn him into a fictional character. His story is too true. I remember sitting in the living room of that little house while his mother wept openly about the son whose body was never found. I don’t want John to sound silly and trivial, or mentally ill. I can’t do justice to that troubled young man by fictionalizing him but I can’t seem to forget him. I think about his situation often. To turn his story into fiction feels both disingenuous and disrespectful.


Photo courtesy LN_Photoart on

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