Best Writer Winner: Memory, Identity, and Home

Illustration by Meghrie Yaacobian

I was the first one. We all reunited around a big round table after a long period of me. Four years had passed since we had graduated from high school, and it was the day of our reunion. It was a good day. Time passed quickly until the moment one of my classmates stood up for a toast. He proclaimed, “I would like to dedicate this toast to Davit because, if you didn’t know it already, he was the first one from all of us who went to the army, accomplished his duty, and proved his love and devotion to our homeland.” Then, he turned to hug me and said, “I am glad you came back, brother, safe and sound.”

I didn’t like that guy; we were not even friends, and I am almost sure he raised his glass only to draw everyone’s attention to himself. However, because of him, I sank into my thoughts. What the hell does homeland actually mean, and why did I sacrifice two years of my life for it? Time seemed to stop. I blinked, and soon I wasn’t at the table anymore.

I was in the village. It was early morning, I was ten, and my father secretly took me to the roof of our house to watch the sunrise. Secretly, because my grandma was afraid I could fall and get injured, but my dad couldn’t care less since the view was just breathtaking. The sun’s rays were coming from the mountains, reflecting off the old village ropes, into unrepeatable patterns. My father placed his big warm hand on my shoulder and said, “This is our home, son. The place where our roots come from. We must love and protect it.” This was my first memory of the homeland, the first piece of the puzzle.

In an instant, I am in a forest, walking up the hill. It’s goddamn hot, and the bag feels like half a ton. I remember the exact month, June of 2015. I was on a much harder hike than I could handle. I reached the hilltop, and for the first me in my life, saw the full spectrum of colors of my homeland as if a blind person seeing the divine light for the first me. I saw the farm fields spread like an enormous carpet, mountains full of light and peace, and the bright blue sky stretching to the horizon. The landscape seemed endless. And for the first time, I felt like a child. My land was so enormous, and I was its smallest particle. I knew exactly that I was in the right place. I stayed there until the evening to watch the sun go down. I was staring at it with my eyes wide open in order not to miss the moment when it completely disappeared. And when it was gone, I could finally close my eyes tightly.

Darkness. The only source of light was the full moon, shining into the void of the gloomy gorge. Two or three hundred meters was the distance separating me from another country. The realization hit hard. Something infinitely big suddenly stopped being so, because I was literally standing at the edge, the place where my horizon was ending and another one was staring. It was so strange because if no one told me that this was the border, I would never have guessed it. The foreign sky had the same color as ours, the mountains had the same shape, and even people on the other side were just like us. So strange. As a border patroller, I was alone with my thoughts and my weapon most of me. And if my gun could stay all day long, my mind couldn’t.

There was a small enemy village right in front of my post. I counted 32 houses there, but only 25 were inhabited. After weeks of constant surveillance through a binocular, I already knew all the inhabitants of the village. Of course, I didn’t know their names, so I made them up. My favorite was the shepherd of the village. I called him John. Every morning, he woke up at six, gathered the village sheep, and took them to a nearby meadow. Sometimes, his friend James, the tractor driver, joined him with a bole of something other than water. I wondered, in such a small village in the middle of nowhere, doesn’t John ever get bored with his life? But then I realized that from the point of view of a metropolitan dweller, my whole country was a selement in the middle of nowhere. Only then do I understand that home isn’t about size or even a specific place; it’s about people and the feeling that the place creates inside you.

I have been thinking a lot about my reasons for being in the military. Was it pride, love, camaraderie, adventure-seeking, or I simply had no other choice? But when the first rocket hit a few meters from me, my only thought was about my parents and loved ones. I wasn’t afraid to die, but my death would definitely upset many people. We were taught that the only way to survive a missile attack was to burrow as deep as possible. The land that I was protecting was, in fact, protecting me. How ironic, isn’t it? The land was the foundation of our homes and the mysterious factor bringing total strangers under the same roof. Sometimes we take it for granted, but when someone wants to take it from us, we are ready to sacrifice everything to not let it happen.

I saw reflections of my homeland inside my brother’s arms. They are people with different backgrounds who I would have never met otherwise. As different sides of the same picture, they were not necessarily always positive, but most certainly recognizable. Of course, no one was a God’s angel. I have seen a lot of envy, anger, stubbornness, and a complete inability to negotiate. But I have also seen pride, dedication, unbreakable will, and readiness to help. And when I was off duty, I always knew that there was someone awake who would protect me while I was sleeping.

…I always hated waking up early, but this time I had a serious reason, and I remember that morning in every detail. One of my precious teachers passed away. I knew I had to bid farewell to him. During his classes, the old man couldn’t stop talking once he started, but oh, how much I would like to hear him one more me. I had never thought of ethnic dances as something special or extraordinary until my first class in high school. It wasn’t just movements and a tune; it was a whole new language with a unique message coming from ancient times. When holding hands, moving in unison, tapping our feet against the ground, and loudly exclaiming, I could feel my ancestors’ spirits possessing me. It was a feeling outside of space and I, uniting us with every other person who was born and died on this land. The pure and immortal idea of inhering the homeland through generations.

…Around the festive table, everything was remarkably the same as when I had le it a few minutes ago. Looking at my peers, I now realize how much responsibility we have toward our country. How many things are yet unfinished, how much work still must be done in this place that we call home? Do I need to be happy or sad about it? I don’t know. But one thing is for sure: beyond my personal goals and dreams, there will always be the underlying wish for self-fulfillment, only achievable through making changes in the world around me. In my peers, I see the potential for change and progress. Each of us has a role to play in creating the future of our country, and it is up to us to take up that duty with determination and passion. Despite the challenges waiting for us, I am full of purpose and hope. I know that by working together, we can create a beer tomorrow for ourselves and future generations.

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