He’s stopped telling me my compassion is wasted on the dead. He told me once that my pity never saved anyone. He hasn’t dared to tell me that since.
He came home two years ago with his first tattoo, the name of Private Chris McGregor inked in black under his right shoulder blade. I had wondered why his letters home had stopped telling me about his off-duty adventures with his friend Chris. His letters home are written in thin blue pen and censored in thick black marker. The MOD obscures so many of his words that in place of a letter I am left with a fill-in-the-blanks puzzle I just can’t solve and a harrowing sense of loss I just can’t shake.
They think they’re brave, willing to make ultimite sacrifices they don’t understand “for queen and country.” They expect heroes returns. They never think about what tit’s like for those of us left behind to wait. Waiting for news of a war the news has forgotten. Waiting for the letters we can’t read. Waiting to see if they’ll come home in a coffin or a stretcher, or if they’ll come home at all. Waiting to see if our husbands, brothers and sons come back to us as men, monsters, or just as ghosts.
The list is growing on every tour. Names cover his whole back and side now.
He’s not sleeping. He fears sleep and the memories the silent dark will bring back to him. Wikipedia told me that IED stands for “Improvised Explosive Device.” He just assumed I knew. An IED burnt the sight out of his left eye. It scarred his beautiful face and melted the skin on his chest. He had to breathe, eat and live through a machine for a long time.I married him. I want to feel compassion for him but I can’t. My compassion is for the children. Children he killed, children whose parents he took. Children who live and die alone in fear because he wanted to get paid for playing toy soldiers.
I want to tell him that I do know. I know he was young. I know he thought he was going out there to do good. I know he was frightened out there. I know he isn’t heartless. I know everything he’s seen and done will haunt his conscience forever. I’ve seen the degrading, desperate poverty that still exists in this country. I know how badly he wants to protect me from that. I know I will always want to love him like I used to. But knowing changes nothing.
And now I have nightmares too. I see dead children in my dreams, little brown bodies laid out in a circle around him like little broken dolls. I can count and trace the names of dead British soldiers on his back. But he keeps no list of dead Afghan children. He tells me my compassion is wasted on the dead. I tell him innocent life is wasted on his bullets. He asks me if I can ever love him again. I tell him I’m glad he’s alive. I know that’s not an answer.
After the IED he told me that he can cope woth anything as long as he has this home and me to come home to. His situation normal, where the war can’t reach him.
But now even his situation normal’s all fucked up.