“And that’s what it means to you!”
At the very edge of my early memory, my parents took me and my brother to visit our dying grandfather in the Retsil Veterans Home at Port Orchard, Washington. Although the recollections of a four-year-old are hit-and-miss at best, something I heard that day has stuck with me through the passing ages. From somewhere deep inside the institution came an unseen woman’s voice rising in anger: “He’s not just some room number, you know…Why, my Dad stood at Anzio…That’s what it means to you! And that’s what it means to you!”
Perhaps it is telling of the future that at no time in human history has an aged generation passed into the dark without some of its citizens bearing the scars and memories of wars fought in youth. Although the recollection of war is but just one of the “days” in which the protagonist “dies,” in Ms. Herting’s He Died, it is the one vignette in her story that struck me best. It brought that day in Retsil home to my mind, for the first time in a long while; which is the sort of thing that should be the goal of effective storytelling.
The voice in He Died is insistent and in earnest. It is charged with emotion, yet it comes across in good taste and with a restraint which prevents it from becoming maudlin and sentimental. Moreover, Herting’s choice of structure aids the piece in no small measure; for it allows for it to reach its perfectly natural conclusion, and also lets it to play out like a lyrical poem or a song.
Have a look at it, and then perhaps something in your mind will say “And that’s what it means to you!”