Carnage, again


Hemingway was an ambulance driver in World War I, and World War I was not a good time.

It's hard for most of us to imagine, as we live our relatively comfortable lives, wanting to drive a top heavy gas guzzler through the shell ravaged mud slopes of Europe while explosions rip in the distance and the sound of machine gun fire becomes as familiar as morning sparrows. It's hard to imagine, after hauling the bleeding and dismembered bodies of your countrymen towards a place that only theoretically offers safety, that one would park, off-load cargo, and go back for more.

But when Ernest Hemingway returned from war, when he left the trenches behind him, that's more or less what he did.

Hemingway went into the jungle and hunted blood thirsty animals on safari. Hemingway survived two plane crashes. He did some writing here and there. And Hemingway was really pretty into bull fighting.

As kids, we all remember play bull fighting; holding your coat up while waiting for the school bus, your brother or friend revving back and running into it's imaginary barrier. It was maybe something quirky, something weird, but seemed all together harmless. Maybe that's because kids see through an innocent fog. Maybe that's because they never told us. Or maybe it's because they outlawed the scary part in most of the world... the part where only one of those two combatants, the man and the bull, are making it out of that ring alive.

In traditional bull fighting, the matador doesn't just dance around the bull, teaching it a lesson about overconfidence and hubris. The matador uses barbed sticks to pierce the back and neck of the bull, leading to a gradual loss of blood and a gradual increase in fight-or-flight raw fury. The bull pours blood out of it's muscles and skin, fighting for its life against a flurry of bright colors, a thing it'll never understand. The act is raw, gruesome, fearful. They don't play that part out at the bus stop.

So we have to wonder, when a man like Hemingway goes into battle and comes back home, if something came back with him. Something deep and dark and hidden within, that burrowed in like a parasite, and gave him an insatiable hunger for more.

Or, perhaps more compelling, maybe he instead left something behind. Something like a guard... maybe a facade. Something that we all have, we all wear, that we don't even realize we carry until it's stripped away. Until we are exposed from it's absence, our true selves laid bare. The great and horrible equalizer that binds us, man and animal, that's been the engine of survival and procreation on Earth since the dawn of time. Something in all of us. Something that thirsts for blood.

This story is called The Yellow Matador.


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