I spent six-years of my life in service to my country. Everyday I woke-up and practiced to the highest standard, drill, dress and deportment. I served honorably to the best of my abilities. I had the honor of working alongside some of this world’s best human-beings. I learned a great many of things during my time of willful servitude. One such lesson is the unbreakable bond of brotherhood. I learned to love the man next to me, as though he was of my own blood. This was easy to do, because I knew that he would shed his in order to save mine – and I for him.
The military is a place of honor and tradition. Many of those traditions may seem odd and perplexing to those whom have never served. I have seen with my own eyes their obfuscation at the sight of these traditions on more than one occasion. One of these mores is the act of procuring a beverage from the barkeep. That glass is then placed along the countertop, never to be touched. It remains still and immovable for the duration of an evening. Condensation seeps from the sides of that glass, almost as if to be crying. And maybe it is…
This glass is typically accompanied by a note. A short, hand-written exposition, telling of whom that untouched beer belongs to; the missing man… The act of acquiring a beverage, then transcribing a note, is done to ensure the lasting memory of the fallen. And with each passing year, it is a lingering tradition that I somberly partake. I am no longer a man in the army. And I no longer serve as a paramedic; I have no platoon nor unit. I have become a naked soldier of no rank. Every year on the anniversaries of, Turner, Starker, Boomer and Wilmot, I find myself alone in the company of misery; no matter who may be around me. I am usually perched at some pub somewhere. Nestled gently within my fingertips, a cold bottle soon to be replaced by another. And it too is doomed to be replaced by another after that. Beside me sits a glass. A grieving glass destined to remain full and unvanquished. I sit beside my brothers. Though, it is only I that can see them. They are the missing men. And I am the awake and wounded.
In sixteen days time, this will be an act that plays to fruition once more. It will mark ten years since the day he was killed. July 6th, 2008. A decade that has passed within the exhalation of a single breath. I can still hear his voice, spoken with goofy disposition. He and I clinked glasses on many-a-time when he was alive. Those moments seem so far away to me now. A concatenation of being alive when others are not. The curse of the living.
At 23:59 hours on the fifth of July, I will lay motionless and awake. Waiting as a meaningless day bleeds into the painful existence of a new one. Only the sixth will not be meaningless; it is a day where past and present collide horribly with one another. It’s the day Colin was killed. Pte. Colin William Wilmot, killed in action, July 6th, 2008, Afghanistan.
On that day no doubt I will find my way to a bar. I will walk through whatever style doors are affixed to the outside of that place. I shall walk in, find a seat with an empty one next to it and buy two cold ones… I will slowly consume mine whilst tossing the occasional askance stare towards the beer that maintains its unwavering contents. I will become lost in forlorn gaze. I will not mean to, but I will remember the day that he died. I will think back to how I came to hear of it and all the somber moments that followed the dreadful news. In the years since his death I have unwittingly come to learn more and more about his end, even details of which I wish I did not now know – but I will not tell you those – they are my burden of knowledge, not yours.
Colin was a good man. A great medic. His intentions were always transparent and good natured. He had the ability to make anyone smile at any given time. He was as dedicated at being a warrior as he was at being a friend. When we were on our military driving course together, myself and a few other troops snuck out of the shacks and went to the local bar! Keep in mind that we had to drive the next morning at 06:00 hours… That of course was of little concern to a young group of privates. So, we drank! God, did we drink…
At one point in the evening and in the most unacceptable of places (the men’s urinal), Colin and I found ourselves standing beside one another conducting our micturition duties. When all of a sudden, through slurred speech, Colin bellowed into my ear; “Henny! Check my pulse?!” It was at this point and time when he placed one of his arms in front of my face with his palm turned upwards so as to allow access to his radial artery (wrist). With both hands still securely fastened to my ‘unit,’ I declined his offer.
“Henny! I could be dying right now! Sss-check my pulse, bro!!!”
“I – I’m sure you’re good, dude. We’re pissing right now! I can’t – this is fucked up!”
“Yeah, that’s true… check it after?”
“Sure, buddy… sure.”
Colin was fine. His pulse was great. Funny part was, he was not actually concerned for his well being; Colin just enjoyed fabricating scenarios so that we could verbally wander through the possible outcomes of a medical emergency. Colin was always practicing his profession – yes, even when he was shitfaced! As for the next morning, our instructors were alerted by their noses to our odorous decisions from last night as the scent wafted from our pores. It was at this revelation that they decided the morning would be spent driving off road and up a muddy embankment as part of our training… I don’t recall how many times I puked, but it was enough to make me fear that my eyes may fall out of my face!
I try so very hard to hold onto and regurgitate the good memories and great times that I shared with Colin. Like the time we were hitting on two women in the bar, and it turned out that they were officers in the nursing sect of our unit! We would even see them that following Monday, whilst standing at attention for inspection – they were some of our commanding officers! Oops! These are the things I try to keep close to me. I often think of our long and verbose chats regarding my failing relationship and how he felt I deserved better. I remember him commenting sarcastically with respect to my gym shoes following a morning run. We were paired up together and performing postliminary stretches; “Henny?! Your gym shoes smell like… fuckin gym shoes!” The exaggerated contortion of his faced conveyed all of what his words did not. I miss those times. I think on them fondly, yet, also painfully. Sorrow generally finds a way to bleed overtop of the amorous.
Knowing that his story ended in death long before his time, creates a burning hole of insatiable anger and rage. I know how he died, I have been told many times. Sometimes, while deep within my dreams I am working feverishly on a patient that is badly wounded with multiple traumas. In this dream I can see, hear and smell my surroundings. This is because it is not just a dream; it is a retelling of that which I have done before, all coming back in the form of a nightmare. I am kneeling on cold and jagged pavement while trying to stop the bleeding of a wounded man’s torn flesh. Just as it unfolded in real-life, I turn my head towards the med-bag, to grab something that is needed. It is at this moment that the perverse and pernicious will of my fractured mind takes over – as I turn back to work on the wounded man, his face becomes Colin’s! A likeness that is unrivaled. I am now staring at my dead friend. I can taste the copper bite of blood in the back of my throat. This is usually when I wake-up coughing.
I was not there when Colin died. But in my dreams, I have seen him die many times. He replaces those that I have lost in the real. I have even seen him hanging, much like the fourteen-year-old boy that I could not save. These are the ghoulish things that I try to sedate with amber liquid.
I have yet to find a way to navigate those days without becoming enamored by sadness and grief. I miss him. I miss my friend, my brother. Colin…
As the days mercilessly inch closer, the dreams of the aforementioned increase. I woke-up this morning, hearing his laugh. One may think that this would be a pleasant way to wake in lieu of what I have told you; but when confronted by the horrid slap of reality, it simply becomes heartbreaking. Torturously so.
In spite of all of this, come the sixth, I will raise my bottle. I will tap the edge of his glass and then hoist my bottle skyward in memoriam of he who fell too soon, my brother, Wilmot. I will remember him. I will remember him as the sun rises and falls. I will mourn him, and I will celebrate him. I will capture the attention of the pretty bartender, and I will tell her of him as well. I will make him immortal in stories to others. He died so that others may live. And he did so with a warrior’s heart. The man is a legend. A fucking legend! And I will always think of him as one, all the while calling him – brother…
Have a listen to this song, and then scroll through his pics… it’s fitting.