Archive for May, 2012

 

Spending as long as I have in this country serving alongside it’s local nationals there is one thing that I have come to learn about them and that is that they love a good story.

Here are a couple of my favourites:

The Invisible Man

One of our interpreters once told us about his uncle that had the amazing ability of being able to turn himself invisible at will. This wasn’t just some cheap party trick used to entertain kids or some un-proven claim – it was an amazing and un-explainable feat that no doctor, scientist or even religious scholar would be able to explain. It was a superhuman power, the next step in our species evolution, that all of the family had witnessed including our interpreter. Intrigued by his claims and more than a little excited at the prospect of our very own X-Files story un-folding before us we made some brews, pulled up some chairs and encouraged our man to tell us everything about this now almost God like person to us that we had never met.

He explained that whenever the whole family gets together for some event and the festivities start to slow down a bit or the meetings start to drag that they  can rely on his uncle to perk everyone up with a display of his powers. Apparently the man will sit everyone in a room on some rows of chairs facing towards the end of the room where there is a closed door that leads to his sleeping quarters. Once everyone is settled down in their seats the music starts to play and the magic begins. The uncle performs a series of dance moves that are essential to him being able to get his mind onto the correct level of enlightenment that will allow him to fade into nothing. The excitement and tension in the room grows at the thought of what is about to happen – it doesn’t matter how many times that they have seen this miracle they will always be amazed by it and feel like they did the first time that they saw it. As the music begins to fade and his intricate dance moves come to an end the crowd holds it breathe in anticipation of what they know is about to happen. With a clap of his hands and a smile at the audience the uncle twirls his way through the door to his sleeping quarters and shuts the door behind him. They all sit there in silence waiting for it. All of a sudden they hear his voice from behind the closed door and he tells them that he has done it again, that he is invisible and that no-one can see him. The crowd goes wild, cheering and clapping as once again they realise that they have been present for a modern day miracle.

Our interpreter, part of the young breed of men and women that will hopefully be integral in leading this country forward when we finally pull out, finishes his story with a slight fanatical look over his face and sheen of sweat on his forehead. After a moments silence where we all sit there and contemplate the amazing story that we have just been told and the privilege that we should all be feeling at being allowed to know about it our section commander speaks to the story teller. He asks if our man genuinely believes that his uncle turns invisible behind that closed door and suggests that maybe this is some kind of party trick – and not the best one at that. The terp smiles and says that he is often asked this after telling this story especially by Westerners. What is so hard to believe about it? His uncle is a respected man in the community and has no reason to lie. He turns himself invisible behind a closed door because the finale process of making himself disappear would be too much for their minds to handle if they saw it. Our commander asks then why once his uncle is invisible does he not come out of the room so that they can all see that he is not there? Our man sighs and looking at our commander talks slowly and patiently as if talking to a child and says that this is because of the same reason that we do not see him turn invisible. Should he come out of his room and talk to us our minds would not be able to cope with hearing his voice but not being able to see him. He stays in his room to protect us until he become whole again.

We all finish our brews, put our chairs back and carry on with our previous task of getting ready for a patrol – all thoughts of super hero’s gone from our minds.

 

It’s a Wind Problem

Breaking wind. We all do it. You, me, everyone. Even those  that say they don’t do it. It’s natural thing for our bodies to do and we shouldn’t be embarrassed by it – we should embrace it and it’s humorous powers. Toilet humour (excuse the pun) has it’s merits and a well timed fart at the most inappropriate of times has caused huge amounts of laughs throughout time. And it was a well timed breaking of wind moment by one of my men that led to the next story and bit of insight into the culture of the people of this country.

At the end of a rather long and arduous patrol one of our interpreters approached myself and another commander to ask for a private chat with the two of us. It turned out that during the patrol, where the terp spends most of his time stuck in the back of a vehicle, he had come under repeated gas attack from one of the soldiers stuck in the back of the wagon with him who was suffering from a slight wind problem. Time and time again throughout the journey his sense of smell had been exposed to some of the worst smells known to man which had caused him some distress and a lot of offence to say the least and now he wanted to make a complaint and also to explain to us why he was so offended by the actions of this man.

The action of breaking wind in this country is not just offensive but it is almost sinful. It is accepted that people do break wind but it is something that must be done discreetly and far away from anyone else and is never talked about or done in jest. The worst things imaginable can and have happened to people who have made the unfortunate mistake of letting one slip in the presence of other people. When asked to elaborate in that claim he went on to explain about the recorded (no-one can verify where this is recorded) case of the son and father who both suffered because of one moment of craziness where one of them forgot themselves for a minute and accidently let a silent but deadly one slip. It happened in a village in the south of the country some years back during a shura that was taking place. Apparently toward the end of the proceedings the young son of the man, without thinking, let slip a small explosion of gas that he has been trying to hold in for the most of the meeting. The uproar that was caused from the resulting smell is the kind of thing that has been known to start wars and destroy communities. A second shura was called for the next day where the offence would be discussed and a suitable punishment decided upon. The father in his shame and embarrassment at what his young son had done sat himself down on the ground and immediately turned to stone adding fuel to the already burning feeling of anger that was rolling through the village. The boy was in trouble now. Not only had he shamed himself and his father in front of everyone but his father had turned to stone from that very same shame. There was no need for a second shura now and the son was banished from the village on the spot and told never to return. To give you an idea of how deep the fear of trapped gas goes over here the boy apparently returned to the village some year later, knowing that the Elders that banished him would of passed on by now and hoping that all would be forgiven and he would be allowed back into the community. He was met at the boundary of the village and stones were thrown at him until he left again and until his dying days he will be left to wander the desert by himself with the knowledge that his one little slip of wind caused this. If only he could of held on for a little bit longer.

With the story finished the other commander apologised as he broke wind and left the tent to go and talk to the lads about cultural awareness and the dangers of dropping one in the presence of locals which left me to sit there and contemplate what lessons could be learnt from this tale.

And that’s it in regards to the stories. There are many more and at some point I will write about them for you to read.

While lazing about in our compound today catching some sun we could hear some music being played in our interpreters room to which he was singing along to. When the song had finished we called him out to us to find out where the music originated from as the vocalist in it was a female and it’s unusual for a woman of this country to have her voice recorded for people to hear outside of her family. Most music that includes a female singing comes from outside of this place from one of the neighbouring countries. Our interpreter told us that she was in fact from this country and that she had a large following and was his favourite singer and is an inspiration to all of his fellow countrymen that listen to her songs. He then proceeded to tell us the following story of how she came to be a singer:

Apparently during that last Civil War that rocked this country the young woman was living as a housewife with her new husband in the second biggest city outside of the capital while her husband tried to earn a wage. It was during a trip to the local Bazaar that she somehow caught the eye of the local military commander of that district. The commander seeing this young beautiful woman and full of the bravado that a War seems to install in all young fighting men approached her and made some advances that would be considered inappropriate anywhere but more so in this extremely religious country. The commander had about one hundred men under his command and had earnt himself a reputation as being a ruthless and hard man. When she refused his advances, not least because she was married, he had her arrested by some of his men for embarrassing him in public and also for not showing him the due amount of respect that his rank and role demands from the people under him. That evening at his barracks he decided to show her the error of her ways by allowing all of his off duty soldiers to share her for the entire night. The following morning the young girl was told she was being released and that in future she should think before she refuses a man such as he. The distraught singer collapsed to the floor pulling at her hair and scratching her face while sobbing. Despite all that had happened to her over the previous hours she was now worried about her husband and the ‘shame’ that this would bring upon him when the community found out what had happened to his new wife. At the very least she would end up out on the streets and live the rest of her live as a beggar and at the very worst she would be stoned to death for her ‘adultery’. The commander said that he sympathised and understood her concerns and that because he was a caring and lenient man he would do something to try and make things better for her. With that he sent some of his men out to collect the wife’s husband and bring him back to the barracks. Sometime later the confused husband was escorted into the barracks by a group of armed men and led to the commanders office. It was explained to him exactly what had happened the day before and how it was that his wife had ended up ‘entertaining’ all of the off duty soldiers that were stationed there. The husband was distraught and could not believe the shame that his new wife had bought upon him and their family, he was besides himself and disgusted with her. How could she have done this to them. The whore. The commander though, good to his word, explained to the husband that this was not her fault – she was young and naive and easily led astray and also because of her in-experience how was she to have known where her insulting behaviour from the day before in the Bazaar could have led to. He promised to make things right and said that before they left the barracks that day that the husband would no longer feel that his wife had shamed him. In fact he would by the end of the day be closer to his wife than he ever had been and have a much better understanding of what had happened. The soldiers present were then given orders to take the young newly weds back to their quarters and that the wife was to be tied to a chair and forced to watch as her young husband ‘entertained’ all of the off duty soldiers. Now they were shamed together and the only people that they would be able to rely on after this would be each other just as it should be for married couples. Once the husband was finished servicing the soldiers they were both to be released and sent on their way. That night the couple left the barracks and headed back to their compound. Shortly after that the husband took his own life and the wife was forced out onto the streets to fend for herself because of the shame that she had bought upon her family by not being a good enough wife for her husband which must of surly led to him killing himself. For years she moved from place to place begging for a living and suffering more and more abuses. During this time she would compose songs in her head and sing them to herself to try and take away some of the misery. Eventually she found her way into a fledgling refuge for woman such as herself that had been set up by an Non-Government Organization that had recently arrived in country. Through this organization she met many other women like herself and together they gave each other the support that they needed to learn to cope with their abuses and to help each other start again. Together they learnt new life skills and with the support of the Organization they started to make lives for themselves. The Newly Wed found that she had a talent in song writing and singing and with a lot of help and support started to pen songs which have gradually found their way onto the newly formed music market of this country and that apparently is where the real story starts.

The singer has released and number of songs now and has gained quite a substantial following. She says that during her years on the streets it was the music that she created in her head that kept her alive and now it is the music that she is creating for other people to listen to that keeps her going and gives her faith. With her music she hopes to educate people on the rights of women and young people and to also promote peace in this War torn country.

“I think people who truly can live a life in music are telling the world, ‘You can have my love, you can have my smiles. Forget the bad parts, you don’t need them. Just take the music, the goodness, because it’s the very best, and it’s the part I give most willingly'”

George Harrison.

‘The Real World’. It’s a phrase that you can hear in almost any modern day war movie and see written down in some books that is in general spoken by a soldier in reference to anywhere outside of the warzone that is perceived as being a civilised place. The context in which it is used could be as follows: “When I get back to the real world…” or “I bet back in the real world they don’t have to put up with this shit…” I use the phrase myself as does just about everyone that I work with out here who is military or comes from a military background. It’s part of our language.

The thing is that despite using this word when in conversation with certain people to refer to my life back home in the UK I have come to realise with some certainty that somewhere along the line the ‘real world’ and this world have become confused for me and have traded places. When I am away from this place and back in your world I find myself feeling apprehensive, nervous, scared, on edge, hyper vigilant, un-able to relax and generally stressed. I am wound up tight, my spring is coiled and I am ready to launch and explode at any given moment. I accept that this is not how I should be feeling and that when back in this strange and foreign land that I no longer understand or fit into that if anything I should be feeling mainly the opposite. I am back there with my family and friends, people who love me and that I love back with more than equal measures and yet no matter how much I want to feel like I belong there I don’t. When my time comes close for me to be starting my journey back home for one of my leave slots I find myself becoming agitated, irate and start to struggle with my emotions. It’s almost like I am fearful of being back in the civilised world. The place has almost become alien to me and I wonder at times if this is because there is no real place for men like myself in your world and that somewhere on a subconscious level I realize this or maybe it is just because I am too damaged to feel anything but the above in the place where in reality I should feel at the very least my safest and most relaxed.

When I am back here, in this war, I still feel a lot of the before mentioned feelings but no-where near on the same scale. When here in my world they are just a quiet noise in the background of my life that are easy to control and stay on that manageable level unless I have need for them. They are natural feelings in this place and have their place in it. For reasons that are beyond me I feel relaxed here and even when in the most dangerous of situations I feel safe. I understand this place and it’s rules and it’s people better than I understand the ‘real world’. I can breathe when here and feel like I am in control of my own body and can function normally. I fit in in here and the thought of not being somewhere like this terrifies me. I will admit that it isn’t all plain sailing though when back in this home away from home and I think the reason for that is that I know that my ‘feelings’ are not how they should be and have become muddled along the line somewhere. Sometimes I will lock myself away in my room and only emerge for work or the gym as my head hurts and my thoughts cloud at the realization of what is or what has happened to me. I’ll sit here at my desk, upset and with feelings of despair for hours at a time as I try and think of ways to turn this around and to get myself back into your world. I may not be the most intelligent of men but I’m not stupid either and I know that this is not the way that things should be and I recognise the effect that this is having on myself and my life in general but I can’t see a way back. This is who I have become.

My wife told me the other day that she thought that I had become acclimatised to this lifestyle and this place and that I enjoyed being here more than I do at home. For certain I’m acclimatised to it but do I enjoy being here more than I enjoy being at home? I enjoy my job and have worked hard to get here but that doesn’t mean that I enjoy the route that it has taken me down. Of course I’d rather be at home with my wife and the rest of my family – I miss her and them. I want to be able to lead a normal life with her or at the very least be able to function like a normal human being when back there. I want to make her happy again. I want to be happy again. But I just don’t know how to be at the moment and need to find myself a compass that can get me back on track again before I become lost forever and can never get back there.

“I hate war as only a soldier who has lived it can, only as one who has seen its brutality, its stupidity.”

General Eisenhower

If I close my eyes and think back I can still remember the first time that I saw my wife. It was way back, almost 13 years ago that she walked into my life and me into hers. It has never been a relationship made in heaven and most definitely is no fairy tale. Like all relationships that last the test of time it has been an up and down thing, some would say even stormy at times. There was a period where we didn’t talk to each other and an even longer period where we were just friends and now here we are, still not perfect but happy, married and mapping out the rest of our lives together.

When I first laid eyes upon my future wife I was working behind the bar of what was then the newest and trendiest place to be seen on a night out in the small seaside resort that we live in. I was stood behind the bar that was located at the back of the building, probably cleaning or thinking about bringing some stock up for the fridges ready for the early evening rush to begin. At the front of the pub a few off duty staff were sat around one of the bay windows enjoying a few drinks before moving onto where ever the night led them. It was while I was stood there watching them and wishing that I could join them that I saw her: in she walked, my very own songbird. The sun that was coming through the bay windows made her shine and her long blonde hair glowed in the light that it produced. Even from where I was stood I could see her smile as she approached my colleagues and that smile blew me away. Her figure took my breath away and her eyes were the most amazing eyes that I had ever seen. Everything about her was perfect. Everything about her is perfect. I remember she turned to look at me and that look said it all as I tried not to drop the glass that I was holding from the embarrassment of being caught in the act of standing there, staring at her with my mouth open and a slightly dazed ‘I’m in love’ look about me while trying to look cool at the same time. It’s never a good look but at least I wasn’t drooling which is something I guess. And that was it as far as our first encounter went. Just after she caught me looking I was distracted by two other beautiful young ladies that had made their way to the bar intent on winning me over and getting me to part with my hard earned cash to buy them peanuts and drinks – but that’s a story for another day, one that can wait for now.

A few years after that, years that had bought us together and at one stage taken us away from each other there I was again, stood by myself, nervous and apprehensive at what was about to take place. A Beatles number was being played in the background by a fella with a guitar sat on a stool in the corner of the room. Behind me, seated in the pews, were some close family and friends who had travelled from near and far to be part of this day. My stomach was in knots and a sheen of sweat covered my hands as the doors at the back of the church opened and I turned to see my almost wife walk gracefully into the building. Every eye in the house was on her as she walked down the aisle towards me, our eyes locked together while the guitar continued it’s song in the background. Nothing could of prepared me for this – I didn’t believe that she could ever be more beautiful than what she already was – she was amazing, beautiful, stunning, elegant, everything that she already is and more. Here was my very own princess walking towards me with silent promises to make this commitment with me and of spending the rest of our days together. And there I was again, just like the first time that I ever laid eyes on her, standing there with my mouth slightly open and a ‘I’m in love’ look on my face. She reached me, we kissed, took each others hands and turned to face the Vicar so that she could start the ceremony. All knots had gone, my nervousness had disappeared and my apprehension had disappeared. This was our future and I couldn’t be happier.

So life carries on and almost four years later we are still married. Life hasn’t been easy and as we all know it never is. But what’s important is that we never give up on each other – marriage isn’t supposed to be easy, you always have to work at it because if you stop working at it that is when it stops. I never quite understand why my wife is with me or what it is that she see’s in me – she is kind, beautiful, intelligent, witty and sophisticated. I am a drinker, slightly scarred, a fighter at times, angry, have an odd sense of humour, no education and spend most of my time away from home. Our relationship kind of reminds me of the one that Princess Leia and Han Solo have in the StarWars films – the two characters come from totally different backgrounds,  have a lot not in common and at first you think that it shouldn’t work but as the films go on you realise that it should work and that they are perfect for each other. That’s how it is with us. Geeky I know.

Now the thing about these two memories that I have shared with you is this – as anyone who has read my previous Blogs will know I have a few issues that I am trying to work through, the main one being my Incredible Hulk impersonations that come out of me from time to time. A good friend of mine, a brother if you like, suggested to me recently that when I feel myself heading into that bad place and starting too lose control I need to try and picture in my head a memory that brings me nothing but joy and hang onto that thought almost as if my life depends on it. I need to use that thought to keep me from where I am heading and to hold me firm on the ground where I am now. The idea is that these thoughts, these amazing memories, will be strong enough to keep the darkness at bay. The two memories that I try to picture are the ones that I have mentioned above. The one of my wedding day is my happiest and has, just recently, worked as my friend said that it would. I think of it as being like my own personnel piece of the ‘force’ from the StarWars universe. That geekiness is showing through again.

My wife doesn’t read my blogs so she wont actually see this. But this is my way of saying thank you to her for all of her support and love that she has and continues to show me. She has no idea how many times over the years that she has saved me. I’m a lucky man. She is my rock.

“Love is like a flower, give it time and it will grow”

John Lennon.

When working in this industry in a hostile country there is only so much for a man of my trade to do in his spare time. Once the tasks are complete, the meetings done and the reports finished then there really isn’t a lot for us to do. It isn’t like we can just nip out down to our local pub for a pint or pop into the town for a wander and a spot of lunch. Once the work is done we are confined to our 50×50 compound to sit, think and find ways to pass the time.

For me, passing the time consists of various things – working my way through one of the many books that I have on my Kindle or maybe kicking back with the latest releases from the UK cinema’s that have been recorded with a shaky hand on low quality camcorder by someone sat at the back of a flea pit of a picture house somewhere in deepest darkest Europe. If the films and books don’t do it for me then the gym will. There is nothing quite like a sweat inducing, vain popping, muscle pumping session in our ‘prison yard’ gym to take away the stresses of everyday life in a war zone. Unless of course I can find someone to play a game of chess with and then I am more than content to sit there in the sun smoking a cigar with a coffee at hand while trying to outdo my opponent in the age old game of skill trying to look like I actually understand the game and can think more than one move ahead.

One other thing that helps me to pass the time over here and keep my mind away from other things is to read Blogs. Not on any particular subjects, just any that, when I first read them, catch my eye and keep me interested and with any luck entertained.  This is what got me thinking about the subject of this entry into my series of Blogs. There is one particular Blog that I have started following where the writer covers a varied amount of subjects and recently published two to do with films – one was to do with their top few horror films of all time and the other was to do with the worst film that they had ever had to sit through to this date. Reading about the authors top horror films of all time managed to get my mind wandering to how films influence us and effect out lives. For instance, thanks to a couple of horror films that I watched from behind a pillow in my younger days I now have an irrational fear of clowns (or Klowns depending on what film you saw), give sewer grates a wide berth and always keep a wary eye on any hedgehogs that I may see shuffling their way across our garden. And it was a hell of a long time after seeing a particular film before I could take a shower comfortably without having to check the locks on the door to the bathroom were securely pushed across and that the windows were shut and that there was no-one squeezed into the bathroom cabinet just waiting to make a appearance once the water started running.

So we all know that films influence us all in one way or another, whether sub-consciously or consciously, to various different degrees. One film that, while I was thinking about this subject, kept springing into my mind as having a huge influence on my life was the Breakfast Club from 1985 written and directed by John Hughes. This film was and still is as far as I am concerned one of the best movies to come out of the 1980’s. For those of you that haven’t seen it the story follows a group of five high school students in the States who are all given a Saturday detention where they are left by the supervising teacher to sit in the school library for the day and given the task of writing an essay about themselves and who they think they are. Each of the five main characters accurately portrays and different stereotype from our school years: the Jock, the Nerd, the Rebel, the popular girl and the plain weird. During the course of the film you watch as they pour their hearts out to each other, find out that they have more in common with each other than they first thought and in the end, for at least the period of the detention, become friends. It’s a heart-warming, funny, touching film and I am sure that every single person who has had the pleasure of watching it could identify with one of the characters when they were back in school. The ‘Rebel’ – Judd Nelson’s character – was who I identified with on some level and it was as a direct result of seeing that film and watching his character at work that my finale few years at school changed for good.

My first year of life in High School was a stressful period of my life. I found it hard. I didn’t fit in to the chaos that is the predecessor to adult life. I was an outcast from my fellow pupils and didn’t fit into any of the before mentioned groups – I was no good at sports so as a rule gave them a wide berth which kept me out of the Jock category. I wasn’t smart enough to be a nerd so they ignored me as well. I was anything but popular and no-where near ‘cool’ enough to be a rebel. And even the ‘weird’ ones amongst us ignored me. Even to this day I am not sure of the reasons for this, maybe it was because I was quiet or even because I was a little shy. Maybe it was because I wore a mix match of clothes as my uniform – a mixture of the cheapest items or second hand shop clothes – who knows. Children can be funny at times and often act without reason. So for the first year of High School I put up with various in-conveniences like being spat on, being pinned against a wall while some of the ‘popular’ girls slapped me in the face just because they could, being pinned to the floor while one of the ‘tough’ guys bit my arm, suffering various digs and jibes at my expense and even being chastised by a couple of teachers on a regular basis for not living up to what my older brother and sister had achieved during their time in that same school – my sister was and is a very smart woman and my brother excels at sports. I am neither smart or excel at sports. Eventually I think that the stress that this must of caused me and the fact that I kept it to myself eventually made me ill and I was diagnosed with ME which led to me having a extended period of time away from school. It was during this time off that I first saw the ‘Breakfast Club’ one late night while sat in my fathers arm chair after he had gone to bed. The film touched me and appealed to me in a way that I couldn’t comprehend. Judd Nelson’s character seemed to spring out of the screen at me and even though I wasn’t a ‘rebel’ something in the character that he portrayed appealed to me. He was an outsider and no-one in particular liked him but he didn’t care. And he let people know that he didn’t care. It was like his character had built himself a defence mechanism against the world and that defence mechanism was to stick two fingers up at anyone, whether it be a person, group of people or the system who upset him and say loud and proud ‘fuck you, fuck you man. I am who I am and if you don’t like me well here I am. Bring it on’. He stood up for himself. In my eyes he was a hero (don’t laugh) and and way above the ‘rebel’ type characters that I knew from my school. And best of all – he got the girl.

Now, I should point out before I continue that in hindsight his character was not the best that I could of been looking up to – he was the way that he was because he had a lot of issues. He had an abusive home life and was a very angry young individual. His actions were very self destructive and in real life could only lead him on a downward path. However, it is what it is and that is the route that I took. Before long I had grown my hair out, changed the way that I dressed and at times was sporting a leather jacket or from time to time a lumber jack style shirt worn over whatever else I had on. I had taken up smoking and was sporting a pretty impressive Zippo lighter. I went back to school but had fallen so far behind with my time off that I gave up on the idea of being able to catch up and instead concentrated on the being the ‘new me’. I walked around with a ‘I don’t give a fuck’ attitude and when in classes would sit there with my feet up on a table and be disruptive or rude if the teachers talked to me. If they tried to discipline me I just left. People who used to take some kind of pleasure in causing me problems now found me standing my ground and even pre-empting them and throwing a series of wild punches. Nine times out of ten this would end with me laying bloodied on the floor but it had the desired effect – they soon started to learn to lay off. Bullies don’t seem to like it when their intended victim fights back. Outside of school I had started to drinking alcohol ‘acquired’ from my parents supplies to add to the already building image. I found myself with a new group of friends – some that I am still good friends with to this day – and girls were showing an interest in me. So life seemed good to me and that’s how I carried on for almost three years. Thank you Breakfast Club.

Looking back though I wish that I had taken a different route – I didn’t pass any exams, in fact I think that I only turned up for maybe two of them. My reports were bad and only a few days before my finale school day I was finally kicked out. My ticket was even taken away from me for the end of High School boat party that had been laid on for us. However, despite that person not being the real me and leading me to a lot of bad places at times it did help to get through my finale years at school, even if it wasn’t a successful end. And when I finally did make it out in to the big bad grown up world and started mixing with non-school kids I calmed down and started to get back on track…..kind off.

“Screws fall out all the time, the world is an imperfect place.”

John Bender, 1985.

“Saturday, March 24,1984. Shermer High School, Shermer, Illinois, 60062. Dear Mr. Vernon, We accept the fact that we had to sacrifice a whole Saturday in detention for whatever it was we did wrong. What we did *was* wrong. But we think you’re crazy to make us write an essay telling you who we think we are. What do you care? You see us as you want to see us – in the simplest terms, in the most convenient definitions. You see us as a brain, an athlete, a basket case, a princess and a criminal. Correct? That’s the way we saw each other at 7:00 this morning. We were brainwashed.”

Brian Johnson, 1985.

War is a man’s game. That’s what I have heard some of the old and bold say from time to time. Sure, women are needed – for things like administrative tasks, cooking, some of the medical jobs but keep them away from the nitty gritty side of things that make a War. Fighting. Violence. Destruction. Death. Leave that to the men.

This is still said despite the fact that more and more service women are serving on the front line of various War’s being fought throughout this world. I myself have served with a number of females and have done so proudly. A persons sex has nothing to do with their ability to soldier and to do their job when put in harms way. A IED doesn’t care what sex you are, male or female it will still rip apart your body with unashamed joy should you step into it’s path. A bullet will still find it’s target and take away your life with no thought as to your gender. All it cares about is doing what it was made for – to kill. All the Enemy see are Infidels that need to be cleansed from the face of this planet in the most horrific possible ways that they can think off. Male or female these foreign fighters are all Devils from the West. So whether or not you wear a pair of boxer shorts or a pair of knickers under your kit, or you have a picture of the biggest boy band of the day up on your pod wall as opposed to a picture of the latest glamour model doesn’t make the slightest difference to the nature of warfare and war fighting. Whatever your gender you will still bleed the same and die the same should your time come.

The men who have this view (I would say ‘out-dated’ view but it has never been an ‘in date’ view) obviously do not know their history. Females have been involved in War fighting for as long as there has been Warfare. Whether it be the women who used to stay back with their villages hundreds of years ago and defend themselves, their children and their livelihoods from marauding warriors who appeared out of the sea mists on their longboats while their men were away fighting somewhere else or the women who more recently proved their worth in clandestine operations of WW2 or the women that fight side by side with their male counterparts in the Israeli Armed Forces. Women have proven themselves time and time again as being more than capable of the same kind of professionalism and heroics as their male counterparts when the time arises. It’s not our sex that makes us what we are, it is what is inside off us that counts when the shit hits the fan. Until that time, until the first round goes down then none of us know how we will react. I have seen men who during quiet times would appear to be the strongest that we have falter and break when the violence commences and I have seen women stand their ground with the best of them.

So I got thinking about this after a female colleague of mine from the US Marine Core took four rounds the other day while out on patrol – one to the hand, one to the arm and two to the legs – out of the other Marines with her on the patrol one of them was hit in the leg and another took one to the face sending him rapidly to the finale RV. Prior to that they had been in a vehicle that got hit by an IED and was knocked onto it’s side. Somehow they all crawled out of the wreckage with nothing but a few bruises between them and took stock of the situation and were probably, until the gunman struck, thinking how lucky they had just been to get out of that ok. The enemy who opened fire on them did so from a field of wheat next to the track where their vehicle had been hit and was more than likely the one who triggered the detonation. He dropped the patrol commander with a hit to the head and then another Marine with a shot to the leg. While other Marines dived for cover this woman, this female, this member of the fairer sex who should be anywhere but on the front line, moved towards the enemy and engaged him with her rifle before being hit herself in a burst of automatic fire. Her actions gave the guys who had dived for cover the essential few seconds that they needed to get a control of themselves and deal with the situation. Milliseconds later the bad guy was dropped with a round to the head from another Marine ending that few seconds of chaos which had ended one life and changed two others forever.

She, along with the other injured Marine and the one that was killed will receive a Purple Heart and a Combat Action Ribbon for their actions and that will be it. Nothing more is needed. They are and were proud to be in the US Marine Core and serve their country and each other. And there will be a few men on that patrol who will be glad of the fact that she wasn’t stuck back at some office doing an admin job, or cooking or anything else that would involve her being kept out of an environment that only men should be in.

“Bravery doesn’t mean you aren’t scared. It means you go anyway”.

Red Mist. It’s my term for what comes over me when I loose control. It’s a state that I go into, often without any obvious reason or warning, where I become a different person. My very own ‘Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde’ story.

It’s a part of me that I am deeply ashamed off and something that I wish with all of my heart that I could use a knife to cut out of my body. It’s almost destroyed my marriage and has at times left those that are the closest to me in fear for their own safety and terrified of my actions. As I write this I am doing so with swollen and damaged knuckles from a flurry of bone breaking punches that I unleashed on an unsuspecting wall in my home. The laptop that I am using is a replacement for the one that I threw across my bedroom while my wife cried in bed listening to my bellows and shouts of rage that had materialised from no-where. As I am typing my insides churn as my mind tries to come to terms with the idea of what I am and where my actions will eventually lead me to if carry on down this path.

More recently my bouts of rage have been broken up by bouts of crying and feelings of self loathing. Someone that has spent the past few months trying to help me through the mess that is inside of my head claims that the fact that I now cry is a good thing and that they would be more concerned if I wasn’t able to cry. The tears are my body and minds way of releasing something from inside of me in a way that will not cause any physical harm to myself or more importantly to anyone un-lucky enough to be in my vicinity when Mr Hyde shows his ugly head.

There is no easy way to explain what happens or the feelings that it produces. When the Mist takes over my body I am a prisoner within my own head. Something takes the part of me that is not hate full, angry, vengeful or violent and locks it away in a cage within my head for it to look out from behind the bars, un-able to do a thing, as the other part of me that is all of the above and more takes over. Inside of my mind this part of me is screaming for the monster that has been un-leashed to stop as it ply’s it’s trade of destruction and this part of me also cries as it listens and watches helplessly as the monster stands over my family, fists clenched and spittle flying while verbally abusing these beautiful women that have done nothing but show me love and understanding. Finally I just collapse to the floor of my cage waiting for it to all be over so that I can be released to pick up the pieces of my slowly disintegrating life. More often than not it is over as suddenly as it began.

I’ll come out of the darkness and back into the light exhausted and with feelings of guilt and shame that will stay with me for hours, days and sometimes I think forever. This is no way to live and yet there is no way to stop it – there is no knife than can cut deep enough to rid me of this other ‘me’. I’ve lost the trust of my wife and my daughters tip toe around me. There are only so many times someone can say sorry and tell you that they love you before these gestures become nothing but just meaningless words said to try and make up for the pain caused. I distance myself from friends and other family members – the monster that I have become doesn’t deserve their companionship and I am afraid of what will happen when I finally loose any control that I may have over it and it finally throws away the key to the cage that awaits me in my mind and takes over my life completely. A few months ago I thought that I had found a way out with the help of some really good people. I spent a few days with them and through them found, what I thought, was away to control myself and lock the monster away in that cage for good. They helped me find myself again and bought me back into the light. I felt alive for the first time in years and it was almost like been re-born. I told everyone that would listen what had happened and how things were going to be different. I had hope. And then without warning the Darkness found a chink in my armor and before I could stop it it came flooding back into me with such a force that I almost had a breakdown. And now I have no hope. Ahead of me all I see is darkness and pain. Even people who have helped me before coming to spend time with me have had no effect, my head is clouded and I am struggling to keep control. I put a smile on my face for people and tell them that I am fine, it was just a blip, all is good so as not to worry them. Inside though there is no smile, I am terrified and just want to gain control again but am not sure if I have the energy to do it anymore and am on the verge of losing this battle.

So now I am back at work, back in this shithole of a country that when I stop and think about it has a lot to do with how I have become and what is happening to me. I am not naive though, I have always had a quick temper and for the Darkness to control me as it does there must of been something of it there in me in the first place – it was just there waiting in the background for the perfect opportunity to grow and control and this place gave it that opportunity. The strange thing is that when I am in this place I can control it better. I have a handle on it. I think that is because I live and work in a violent place, somewhere that it’s acceptable to an extent to be that angry, aggressive man. I can channel all of my rage into something out here that is actually a asset as opposed to a hindrance. I feel safe out here. Over here there is some kind of hope for me. Not the kind of hope that I need but at least I can use that monster while here and also while here I am able to keep it away from those that I love and hold dearest to me. It’s not an answer but it is all that I have and that has got to be better than the alternative.

Before I left my home in the real world to start the long journey back to this home my daughters both hugged me and told me that they loved me. My wife told me that she didn’t want me to come back here, that this place was affecting my health, both physical and mental and that she wanted me home. She wants to help me to get better and to find that side of me that she remembers from so long ago. She wants me to be able to live. I don’t deserve their love but I have it and because of that I will stay here and do all that I can to control this and keep it away from them. It’s all that I can do.