So it’s been two weeks. And the words have been running out, petering from an empty shell. I feel like a shadow of my former self: I know I exist, aware of the person I am, with some vague idea of who I should be like, but it’s as if I walk, talk, breathe, without substance, without anchor. Something invisible, perhaps God, perhaps the last vestiges of memory, holds everything together, held fast by gossamer threads spun from a lifetime.

Reservist training ended a week ago. The army and I share a tempestuous relationship; in many ways my national service represents one of my greatest failures, a clock that can never be turned back, a past with too many ‘what ifs’  and regrets. And yet it shares with me one of my greatest joys.

Memory. A lifetime ago. Back in the jungle where I was born. The sweet plastic smell of camouflage paint heavy under my nostrils. Chin strap slick with sweat, tropical heat burning underneath my skin, nails and hair, the dead weight of my rifle pulling at my neck, a familiar shape in my hands. Heavy leather boots dusted with mud and crushed undergrowth weighing my feet down like an anchor. All physical discomfort a dull cry in the back of my head.

Wandering in the darkness, my eyes gleaming in the moonlight, weaving through the trees with the shadows, treading across a jungle floor full of history, of ancient villages and scared young men too far from home. I was never afraid.  Never. Instead I welcomed every moment, each problem a promise of new thrill and adventure, the ghosts never close enough to touch me. Alive. Come home again.

Then everything imploded, exploded, like ball bearings streaking with shrapnel, and I was crying in my pillow that fateful night, with the word ‘why’ mouthed through a grimace and soundless lips. In some ways like Ronnie Barnhardt, the poor fool who built a life around something that could never offer him what he truly wanted.

Some days, I imagine and I think I understand why everything happened the way it did, but most of the time it is a bitter pill to swallow. Some things we can redeem, and see restoration. But some things, whether good for us or not, are only lost forever.

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