“They’re ruining skiing in this country, rope tows and chair lifts and all that stuff. You get carted up, and then you whizz down. You never get to see the trees or anything. Oh, you see a lot of trees shoot by, but you never get to really look at trees, at a tree. I just like to go along and see what I’m passing and enjoy myself.”
Leper compares the new sport of downhill skiing with his own preference, Nordic or cross-country skiing. His critique reveals his core personality: Leper likes to pause and reflect, to enjoy nature, and to go at his own pace. His observations foreshadow the incompatibility of Leper’s temperament with serving as a soldier.
Early in January, when we had all just returned from the Christmas holidays, a recruiter from the United States ski troops showed a film to the senior class in the Renaissance Room. To Leper it revealed what all of us were seeking: a recognizable and friendly face to the war…. It was the cleanest image of war I had ever seen…
Gene explains how he and his friends reacted to the film of ski troops. Immediately upon seeing the film, Leper, an avid skier and outdoorsman, decides that joining the ski represents the perfect way for him to serve in the military. Thus Leper becomes the first boy of his class to enlist, to everyone’s surprise. Unfortunately, the “clean” image of war shown in the film misleads Leper, who will suffer when reality disproves his illusions.
“I escaped!” the word surging out in a voice and intensity that was not Leper’s. His face was furious, but his eyes denied the fury; instead they saw it before them. They were filled with terror.
Gene reflects on the moment Leper reveals that he ran away from the military. After enlisting, Leper was sent to basic training. There the combination of stress, lack of sleep, and bad food eventually caused him to have a mental breakdown, which took the form of frightening hallucinations. As a result, he has deserted. Even though he “escaped” military service, Leper continues to relive the experience. Even preparing for war produces permanent internal scars.
“You always were a lord of the manor, weren’t you? A swell guy, except when the chips were down. You always were a savage underneath. I always knew that only I never admitted it…. Like… like that time you knocked Finny out of the tree…. Like that time you crippled him for life.”
Leper confronts Gene with troubling truths he never let himself express before. Leper’s experience of breakdown and failure in the military help him see and express reality, even painful or ugly truths. It has made him more willing to describe honestly what he already knew. Here, Leper confronts Gene about Gene’s true nature, which he sees more clearly and describes more accurately than anyone else has, including Gene himself.
“And the perfect word for me… psycho. I guess I am. I must be. Am I, though, or is it the army? Because they turned everything inside out. I couldn’t sleep in bed, I had to sleep everywhere else. I couldn’t eat in the Mess Hall, I had to eat everywhere else. Everything began to be inside out. And the man next to me at night, coughing himself inside out. That was when things began to change.”
Leper shares his understanding that he failed in his military service and that his time in training has, in some way, driven him crazy. But his description of why he became ill implies that his breakdown was the army’s fault, because nothing there made sense. Ironically, Leper, while in a state of insanity, sees the truth more clearly than anyone else.