Monday, 24 September 2012

Madness is inevitable

“I suppose madness is an inevitable outcome...” I overheard these words as I stood in the checkout queue in the supermarket. The woman in front of me was talking into her mobile. I immediately became interested, and stepped closer to her.
An outcome to what?  Why was madness inevitable? Who was she talking about? I strained to catch the rest of the conversation, but it was her turn to be served and so she moved away to the bagging end of the counter. I took a couple of steps closer but she caught my eye, flashed me a look as if to say “Get back to the shopping divider” and said something quietly into her phone whilst holding her steely gaze locked into my eyes. I shifted slightly uncomfortably and rummaged around in my bag looking for an imaginary something. I considered the words and realised that she may well have been discussing me, not now of course, but me, last year.

My youngest son is currently serving in the British Army, 207 Signal Squadron and went out to Afghanistan last year aged 20 on a 7 month tour. During that time I wrote a diary, trying to purge the thoughts I was feeling. I took the ‘better out than in’ approach. It was a peculiar time for me.

 I existed.

Every waking moment was consumed by Ash in Afghanistan. I longed for his call. I scoured the internet to read anything and everything about Nahr e Saraj, the area where he was based. I became obsessed, focused, determined and slightly batty. But I still had to go to work, keep the house and be here for my other two children. I had to function on the outside, and for all intent and purpose I was under the impression that I held up fairly well.
Well that’s if you don’t count the meltdown in Bromley High Street when I missed a call from him after an 11 day silence, or confusing the telephone call from my hairdresser with somebody from the Army, and of course the time when...hmmm, yes well perhaps, with hindsight, there were a few wobbles on the way, and perhaps madness was inevitable, even though it was only a temporary state of affairs. Perhaps the supermarket call was referring to another mum whose boy has gone to war. Perhaps madness is the tightrope we walk when our boys and girls get deployed.

I don’t come from a Military family, so when Ash aged 4 said he wanted to join the Army I just thought it was a typical 4 year old, lost in play, dressing up in tiny camouflage trousers and toting a plastic gun. Even when he was 13 and joined the Army Cadets I thought it was a good thing. It would keep him off the streets, out of trouble and teach him valuable life lessons.

As a single working Mum I was always slightly concerned about the absence of a Father figure in his life and welcomed his involvement with the Cadets, going away with them of their expeditions tromping through god knows where in the middle of the night reading maps and getting lost.  He loved it all, sleeping in tents and marching and was very proud of his uniform. Even when he became more serious about his career and told me at aged 15 that he wanted to join the Army, I didn’t really have alarm bells ringing. I was more concerned that he would be leaving school too early with just average GCSEs. He told me that he didn’t want to stay on and take his A-levels, that school wasn’t for him and that he didn’t want to go to College or University.

His one and only desire was to join the Army. I remember his eyes: big, brown, determined, focused. He looked at me with an unwavering stare. His mind was made up, and such was his determination I was slightly caught on the hop. Ash had always been so laid back, so calm and yet here was this young man in front of me, his jaw set, his lips pursed, knowing at 15 years old what he was going to do.

If I had realised that he would go to Afghanistan at that point I think I would have stuck him in a bag and locked him in the cupboard under the stairs. But hindsight is a wonderful thing!
Although there were wars in Iraq and Afghanistan going on at the time, and had been for some time, I didn’t connect the dots. Had I been wearing my sensible head then I’m sure it would have put the two together. Clearly though I wasn’t, but I’m still not too sure why I gave it such scant regard.  I honestly do not remember this conundrum ever gracing my thought process. I am a little ashamed of this fact as it now seems slightly irresponsible that as I was the one who had to sign the consent forms, it was my signature that would send him to war...

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