My dear Nel Jia,

I love you. I have had the chance only so rarely to tell you and I think that once I return, I will hate this war if only for this reason: so much time has passed and you haven’t heard these words from me. I went into the foxhole to catch some sleep yesterday morning and I realized how gentle and precise my whole body was moving, so I don’t wake the other two who were asleep. I realized how many wonderful gestures and touches and caresses are somehow, by a divine gift, sheltered in me – and now they are wasted because I am here to crush and to obliterate, instead of giving happiness and pleasure.
We’ve held our position near Saynshand, but we lost more than half of our men. We were ordered to retreat to the forest until the third army tank divisions arrive. I’m the last scout alive in our unit, so I’ll go alone into town tomorrow to zero in a tactical nuclear strike.

The captain reported our defense status with a big smile on his face and was almost disappointed that we were ordered to retreat. We are like children on the playground, playing football. Sometimes I wonder if there is a mom out there who will call us in for dinner and then everything will be over, no more fear, no more sorrow, we’ll be home.
I love you so much, Nel Jia – I realize that every time a bomb shell falls near and I think of you even before I have a chance to check if I’m still in one piece. You are my confession, the image I want to keep with me if … if everything else fades from memory.
The chaplain gave everyone communion and rites this morning. Now they can die in peace, to his mind. And, of course, he’s carrying two or three kilos less, on account of the used bread and wine. But who on earth dies in peace?? And certainly that’s something of a crude irony when you die in battle.
But you know, there’s one thing I don’t feel, among all my troubles, among anger, revolt, love, longing, hate, powerlessness, captivity – I am not afraid. I do not fear anything. Even when I think I might not see you again. Don’t get me wrong, that makes me almost ill, but I know fear well, I know how it feels, how it takes hold of me – and this is not it.
Tomorrow, I’ll sneak into the small suburb village by the entrance to the town, at dawn, with the sun behind me. I’ll run through the park leading to the large church and I’ll climb up on the bell tower. I will wait there until I get the go signal from the captain, then I will assemble the spotting beam and I will align it to have a perfect sight on the city. After that, I will point it at the tall building in the center of Saynshand and wait until the green led lights up, adjusting the trajectory as they ask me to. Then I will run back to the forest, without looking back. I know there are probably no more civilians in Saynshand – but this kind of makes me the Enola Gay of this war so far. I won’t feel bad though – the enemy has become very impersonal to me for a while now. So has my own side actually. I’m just joking but, you know – I hope I won’t become impersonal too, by the time I get back.
I just hope I will be a good thing in your life, the one who can make you happy – I’m certainly good at wishing things, God help me be as good at making them happen.

Yours, with a heart full of love,
Darius Pavlovici Nettimans

Posted September 23
To Nel Jia Li