“There’s mail for you,” my mother said.
I knew what it was. My mother never tells me there’s mail at night. She waited until
now so that I could enjoy one of my last days at home before I’m shipped overseas. Or
maybe it took her all day to muster the strength. Either way, the future was inevitable.
“Okay.” I was in my room writing by candlelight, dreaming of writing or taking
photos for The Globe one day, like my dad. As of late, I’d been practicing writing articles –
wanted to be the one who wrote headlines like “How Canadians Stand the Strain of War at
the Front,” or “No Foe Defences Can Stay British Onslaughts.”
Usually, I would have been ecstatic to receive mail. It came far and few between. Now, we all knew what was coming. No man wanted to receive government-issued mail during a world war.
Surrounded by darkness, I walked out of my room and into the hallway. The door to
my parents’ room was open and my father was sitting on their bed. His face was illuminated
by a candle, his wrinkles highlighted by its orange flame. He was looking at photographs in
his hands. Giving faces and memories tangible permanence was important to him. He worked
for the local paper as their only photographer, shooting with a Kodak Brownie No. 2 to put
food on the table.
He looked up and caught my eye. We looked at each other for a few moments in
silence. His face was wet. Brushing his eyes with his sleeve, he cleared his throat. “Your
mother called, you know?”
My breath trembled. “I know.”
He looked back down at his photographs. “Well, go on then.”
I took one last glance at him, and then began my descent downstairs. Their creaking
noises were more noticeable that evening, drawn out into long, tense sounds. Everyone in the
house knew exactly where I was.
At the bottom of the stairs, by candlelight, the envelope sat on our small dining room
table, propped up against my father’s old Kodak Brownie No. 1 that I had been shooting with
earlier that day. At least I’ve been practicing my aim, I thought manically. I almost chuckled.
The flame from the candle moved and twisted. It opposed me – I was glued against the
doorframe, frozen, holding myself up.
Left foot, right foot, left foot, right foot. As I got closer, the words on the envelope
came into focus: “Canadian National Service, from Robert Borden.” I had hopes that it
would fail to find me. That I would slip through the cracks, forgotten.
I grabbed the letter opener from the kitchen counter and sat down. My shaky hand barely managed to slit the envelope’s flap. I was too young to shake like this. I was too young for this letter to be on my kitchen table.
The tear-stained paper tore and broke as I glided the letter opener, inside was the expected:
“MILITARY SERVICE ACT, 1917. IMPORTANT NOTICE.
Every male British subject resident in Canada who was born on or since the 13th day of October, 1897, and who was unmarried or a widower without a child on the 20 th day of April,
1918, must report to the Registrar or Deputy Registrar under the Military Service Act,
The rest was a blur.
It will be a short war, I told myself, desperate, not knowing. It can’t last much longer.
My mother, coming out of the living room, peered around the corner. She stood
When the war started, it looked like an opportunity to do something bigger than
yourself: to fight for your country. People volunteered. At this point, we all knew the truth.
We had seen enough people come back changed.
I grabbed my father’s old camera off of the table and stood up, strapping it across my
torso, quickly walking past my mother toward the front door.
“I love you,” she said.
“I love you too,” I managed to say, and opened the door. I hopped on my bike and
pedaled as fast as I could down the dark, empty road. Drops of sorrow flew behind me in the
I didn’t know where I was going. I didn’t know if I was coming back. The moon
poked through the dark, somber sky, and guided me down the block where I had lived my
whole life. Pedaling viciously, I descended into the cavern that was the night.