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  • I had been to Verdun before, as an adolescent. All I remembered from the trip was old monuments and museums, forests and an overall dark and oppressive feeling. I remember sitting in the car on the way back, slightly queezy in the stomach, being glad I could leave the place. I couldn’t describe why.
    I didn’t keep any distinct memory of it and forgot all about it. Until I came back there as an adult. Then I understood why I had been so upset as a teen.

    I am a sensitive person. Too sensitive, sometimes, for my own good. As a youth my imagination and my stories have been a means to protect myself from too much solid impact, the kind the real world tends to have. Verdun had caught me off guard, penetrated my defenses. My body had caught the blow.
    Now, as an adult, still writing and imagining but less afraid of the solid touch of reality, I understood why.

    Verdun is one of the famous sites of the First World War. For years men struggled in the filth of the trenches here, died and drowned in the mud, were bombed or gassed to death. This was hell, or as close as we can come to it in life. Today the slopes of the Verdun hills are covered with trees. But the remains of the battle are still there: old bunkers turned into grim monuments, ghost villages where no house is left standing. And, what some might consider a detail, but touched me most of all: the ground itself is scarred. The mounds and craters made by shell impacts have not been flattened or covered. The landscape of the battle is still there. There is grass and trees now, but it is still there. You can walk in it. You know you are stepping on bodies.

    The sounds were the worst. I have never heard a forest that quiet. Not a single bird sings. I felt like there was nothing more than a veil between me and the past. I heard echoes of bombshells exploding, I heard men screaming, I heard gunfire.
    This was my imagination. Or perhaps it wasn’t.
    Some things will linger for a long time.
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