He served in Burma, Singapore and lived a nightmare for five years.
How do I know it hurt him when he never really spoke about it?
Well I guess it was in the manner of his avoidance.
He never attended any veteran’s events, even though he had a dress uniform and a whole chest full of medals packed away in a box and buried at the back of his wardrobe, hidden beneath the piles of sketches and cartoons he drew and sent to my mum over those long years of separation.
As far as I knew he never wore those medals. But I do know he was proud of them and got very upset when he thought they had been stolen, only for them to turn up again, years later. When I was growing up through the fifties and sixties he could be the life and soul, but had one heck of a temper and mum would often say he had not been like that before.
However, the real give away was his refusal to fly.
Well I say refusal but that is not entirely true. He did fly a couple of times when ordered to by his boss, some work related junkets he could not avoid. But the only way he managed to do it was to get absolutely plastered beforehand, brandy and lime being a particular favourite, so much so he was almost carried onto the plane and slept the whole way.
He said he was completely terrified, which was a big admission for a tough man like him and was adamant he would never fly again.
He was as good as his word when several years later he was top salesman in some kind of regional sales drive and was awarded a holiday for two in Canada, Niagara Falls and the whole enchilada. He turned the prize down, straight away, without talking it through with mum and it was awarded to the next guy. As you can imagine, when she found out, my mother was more than a tad disappointed.
Under pressure to give some kind of explanation for letting mum down, Dad, for maybe the only time I can remember, opened up a little and told us why he would never fly.
It had been his job to visit crash sites and facilitate in the identification of the dead.
It scarred him, damaged him I guess. It didn’t excuse his temper or mean we could accept his stubborn refusal to step out of his comfort zone, but it made him more human and illustrated the fragility of the psyche.
Nobody should underestimate the damage we can cause ourselves when we are unable, unwilling, to share.
I know that in some circumstances it can seem we are all just expected to carry on regardless, to endure and cope with the most extreme hardship. To grin and bear it, or run the risk of being labelled a winger, or worse. But the truth is we all need to talk, to share and seek support. Otherwise we can lose the trust, love and understanding, of those very people for whom we care.
Children don’t understand why we shout, or cry. It just confuses them. It confused me. For years, it still does I guess.
I thought this might be suitable written as one of my regular daily missives.
Daily missive for Tuesday the 5th of November 2013.
The old soldier.
The cough left him breathless.
His chest hurt
and he spat blood into the dirt.
Nothing about this morning
His life was on the slide.
Even his lungs were failing.
Just like his hopes.
Old bones turned to rust
He was nothing more
than a blurred photograph
in an old shoe box
that his grandchildren
might find one day.
A footnote in their lives.
He could never return,
too much to re-learn.
Drink and madness.
He forgot which came first
but knew what was worse.
It was a gradual loss.
A stripping away.
Layer by layer.
And it made him
invisible to the world
his life gone, somehow.
It belonged to somebody else
Locked in the past.
And the retching,
was all he was now.