“Henny, your gym shoes smell like – gym shoes!” This statement was followed by a child like laughter between brothers. We had just returned from an early morning run with the unit. To state that it was unpleasant would be a slight, if not completely egregious understatement. The weather had been unseasonably warm as of late, so, the lingering heat from the day before, embraced the rising temperatures of that morning. It was like running on a treadmill, placed in a sauna. It was miserable.
These were the thoughts that were racing through my mind, as I lay in a bed that was not mine. Beside a woman whom I loved, but, who loved me very little. I could hear the ‘pant’ of my grieving breath as I exhaled. I lay still, and felt as though I was having a nightmare, only, I wasn’t, I was undeniably awake. I wasn’t having a nightmare, I was living one. You can’t wake up from life. You can’t blink it away. Believe me, that night, I tried it all. Between you, and me, and whoever else reads this, I even pinched myself, hard enough to leave a small bruise on my skin in the following days. But, nothing worked. The reality was, what it was – the world had become a little smaller, and a lot darker to me that night…
I had been released from the army for approximately 5 days. Not even long enough to realize that it was real. The service to my country was over, but the burden of loss, was not. Earlier that day, I had erroneously been called by my former unit, the Sergeant instructed me to re-muster “ASAP” within the medic’s HQ. After I had informed the voice on the other end of the phone, that I had released from the Army, just days earlier, I was told to stand down, and disregard. The phone line then went dead. I hung up the phone, but, each hair on my neck remained at attention. I knew why I had been called – I had received a call such as this twice before – a medic was dead. That’s what it meant. A medic from our unit. My old unit – I should say. I quickly dialed my cell phone, calling into a friend who was still active duty within the unit. I still had a ton of friends still serving in Afghanistan, my mind was fearfully racing. Although my time of service to country was over, my thoughts and my heart remained with them. They were, and are, my brothers. My sisters. After a brief conversation conducted through a whisper, he promised to me, that he would call back once he had the details of what had happened. After placing the phone down once more, I waited beside it, painfully, pacing, back and forth. Waiting… I knew it would be bad news, as did the hairs on the back of my neck, that remained rigidly at attention. They had ‘yelled’ down to the hairs on my arms now, to follow suit.
After what seemed like an eternity, my phone screen lit up, and before it could finish its first full ring, I picked up the phone, and pressed it against my ear, and listened…
A slight pause initiated the conversation, and accompanied by short, hic-up, like breaths, the following words were painfully, and softly spoken by my friend on the other end of the phone; “H – Henny – it’s Colin. Colin’s dead. Wilmot – they got him. They got Wilmot, he’s dead…”
In that moment, it felt as though all of my circulating blood, flushed to my feet, in an instant. I could literally, feel, my face go white. Not Colin. No, not Wilmot. Not my brother. Not the man who could jokingly bust my balls about my gym shoes, forcing make me howl in the process. Not my running mate. Please God no, not my friend… Not like this… It can’t be him.
I never said anything, I don’t think, I just hung up the phone. I placed it down on the counter in such a way, that my wife (now ex) and her family, could see that something terrible had transpired on the other end of that phone call. I had no words that I could find, or use, to explain what was happening within me in that moment. I flashed back to carrying “Boomer’s” flag draped casket. I thought back to Starker, and how he looked, lain within his casket, dressed in his Army greens. I pictured his grieving wife, and my ears could hear the chilling sound of a mother’s grief. And now, I pictured my friend, my brother, lifeless and without soul. The complete opposite of whom he was as a person. It took roughly five and a half seconds for my heart to shatter into a million irreplaceable pieces. It fell to my feet, like my once circulating blood. It truly felt as though there was a gaping hole within my chest. As Ash (My wife/ex) tried to speak with me, it was like a scene from a movie, her words were muffled and flat. I just stared at my phone in complete disbelief. I was no stranger to nightmares, even then. I just kept asking to wake up, but I didn’t. I just continued falling further into Hell. Text messages started rolling in “Did you hear?” …
Fast forward a little now, and you are with me, in a bed that’s not mine, beside a woman who loves me not, in a place far from where I wanted to be. We were at Ashley’s parents house. It was about an hour and forty minutes away from the city. Away from the base. That’s where I really wanted to be right now. Not laying in this bed, beside a callous spouse. I felt as though I was laying on a bed of thorns. The reason that I was still at her parents place, with her, was because we had gotten into a huge fight about my wanting to head back into the city, and be with the lads. She thought of it to be selfish. It’s true, she thought I was being selfish for no longer wanting to spend the weekend at her parents place, because her father (who also seemed to have a strong dislike towards me) had just returned from working up north. He was on a two week in, two weeks out, kind of rotation. I understood that she was close to her father and that she missed him, but, I felt that my place that night, should have been along side my grieving family-of-arms. That’s what we fought about. I tried to compromise, and say that I, myself would head back, and she could stay for the weekend, that was not good enough because she “wanted” me there too. I conceded to her demands, and remained at their farm. Alone in my grief.
I kept thinking about all those miserable morning runs. The one’s where at the end of them, Colin would be helping me stretch, all the while telling me, that my “gym shoes smell like, gym shoes” and making a funny face while doing it. He had a wit and a charm about him that was unmatched. Ironically, had he seen me in that moment, laying on that bed, within that house, with that selfish girl, it would have been him that would no doubt make me feel better. To give me the motivation to stand-up for myself. To do the right thing. He would selflessly provide me with the comfort that I needed. Asking nothing in return. But he couldn’t – he was dead now. And I was alone in the presence of someone I loved – the worst kind of alone you can feel.
I remember reaching out for my phone as though I was going to call my mom. Thing is, I couldn’t. She wasn’t speaking to me either. Remember how I told you that I had released from the Army just days before, well, it was a decision that she disagreed with. The fact that I had already been hired on as a paramedic was of little merit to her. She was furious that I had left the Army. How funny is that, a parent being enraged that their child had left the Army during wartime, only to continue serving their community as a paramedic, and it not be good enough. My mothers silence would last for a full year. Not even seeing the dead medic on the news, would be enough to force her to call me. It did however, seem to re-enforce her ability to hang up on me, when I attempted to call days later. Alone in the company of someone you love, the worst kind of alone…
For days, and even weeks, that followed that fateful day in July, my cheeks would feel the warm sting of tears, on numerous occasions. Usually, when I was behind closed doors. Alone. I won’t lie, those painful tears, have found my cheeks once more. And in two days, they will no doubt, find them again…
That night, all those years ago, I tried to have a conversation with Colin in my head, asking for this not to be real, and pleading with him to tell me what to do but, I could not hear him. His voice was silent. All that I could hear and feel, was a deafening silence, and the ache that sat upon my chest. I eventually rolled over and restlessly slept for a while.
Sadly, I was never able to make it to his funeral. I have never seen his gravestone. Part of me is afraid to. Part of me wonders, will I hear it: “Henny, your gym shoes smell like – gym shoes” followed by a cheeky grin…
Colin, Wilmot. Brother, I miss you my friend. God, how I miss you. I will think of you in the days to come. And I will drink with you, on the day of infamy… Rest easy my dear brother. Be at ease. And thank you. Thank you for your service. I will tell people of you. And I hope this story reaches many. You were a beautiful man. Cheeky and kind. Loyal and true. Fierce, and friendly. Be well my brother. Be well.
Pte. Colin William Wilmot.
K.I.A July 6, 2008, while in service to Canada, in Afghanistan.
He was 24 years old.
As a testament to his courage and character, I would like to let it be known, that Colin demanded to be sent to Afghanistan. He was adamant. He made this clear from the moment he stepped foot inside the unit. He fought for it every step of the way until they granted him his wish – to deploy as a medic.
He has touched, and continues to touch the lives of many. Including mine.
Until Valhalla, brother.