the war had taken more than his leg. he'd left a heart-sick wife and three tiny children with the promise that he would return to them no matter what. he'd told himself that nothing would touch him because he was so loved and needed, but months later as he lay half a world away in a cold, muddy trench with a quarter of his leg blown off, the only thing that kept him alive was hatred. the pain was absolutely consuming and raw. it was as if someone was holding a whirring, rough grit belt sander against the wound and pressing hard. the nerve endings jumped and sparked with a cruel and piercing electric current as the almost still air passed over them. he wondered why his body did not go into shock and protect him from the agony. he looked down at the sharp, jagged bone fragments and shredded limp white ligaments jutting from the macerated bright red flesh below his knee and watched the 19 year old medic wrap a tourniquet to stop him from bleeding out. as he examined the horror of the wound, his eyes flicked up and clocked the boys hands trembling as he struggled to keep from fainting. he saw the dead faces of his buddies as they searched the mud for his mangled severed foot- and once found, without making eye contact with him, placed it beside him as gently as if it were a new born baby. if he'd had the strength to do so, he would have heaved it with all his might out of the trench onto the exploding no man's land of the battlefield. instead he started to laugh. he heard the men around him agree that he was going into shock, but in actual fact, his pain was getting worse and the laughter was only the inappropriate sound his body was making as the last drops of his belief in the innate goodness of humanity siphoned out of him. it was a long time before they could get him to a field hospital and as he surveyed the muddy, bloody, stinking facts of his current predicament, he thought, 'so i guess this is how i die.'
when he woke up clean and bandaged in the quiet surroundings of a hospital, he was surprised to realize that he was still alive. he flipped the sheet off his injured leg and saw that it had been amputated to his hip. his eyes narrowed. he thought about all the faceless soldiers and (probably) civilians that he had maimed or killed in the name of his own blind nationalism and realized that he and they were the same fodder. he'd been duped into believing there was 'a greater good' to participating in this organized, uniformed slaughter called 'war' and now he knew just how hard he had to be hit to see the truth of the thing. he thought about the preened and pampered politicians and their 'exempted' ivy league offspring. he hated them all. when letters arrived from home, they remained unopened.
his wife had prepared their home to accommodate his healing and change in mobility. in the weeks before his arrival, she had attended classes and counseling and steadied herself for some difficulty while he adjusted to his new circumstance. when he was finally wheeled from the plane, she did not recognize him because his expression was so contemptuous. there was no joy or recognition in his eyes upon seeing her or the children, only a cold awareness of their presence. in the weeks that followed, he shunned her comforts and instead began to wrangle his way onto the lower rungs of 'business'. he became an unlicensed backdoor pawn broker (lots of obviously stolen merchandise with no questions asked) and soon graduated into aggressive, small-time loan-sharking. the money was rolling in and he had no problems with however it came to be in his hands. he stopped using his wheel chair and refused to wear a prosthetic because it made him feel 'handicapped'. he spider-crawled on his three remaining limbs and soon developed the agility of a monkey. he was low to the ground and as dangerous as an abused dog. no one ever tried a second time to take advantage. he threw money on the table for his wife every week before he melted out of the house. he did not make eye contact with her or share her bed. the children knew to be silent when he was home.
his wife eventually understood that everything was too broken to continue in the marriage. the awareness came in the form of hookers, drugs and criminals seeping unabated into her daily life. she quietly divorced him at which point he untethered completely from all social convention and fell gladly into total nihilism. his life continued in a steady circle around the drain while he satisfied his increasingly specific carnal desires and acquired more money than he could ever actually use. his children never gave up hope that he would one day love them again.
it was a mistaken belief.