Coup de grâce

‘Coup de grâce: a death blow intended to end the suffering of a wounded man.’

It’s easy to feel the stares on your face, their curious gazes tracing the scars left behind by the bomb that also stole not only your lower left leg, but the rest of your once-normal future.

It’s a morbid fascination. The whole human race suffers from it: finding interest in the grotesque and the darker areas of one’s life.

In despair. In misery. In the wreckage caused by life. And therefore…also in Death itself.

It’s not as if you can do anything. Those stares linger until the last moment before you turn to confront them. They all think you don’t notice them staring, but you do. It burns into the side of your face…just like the shrapnel that caused the twisted and gnarled and jagged scars that captured their attention in the first place. You can almost hear the conversations they’ll have with friends, family, when they get to their destination. Mothers whisper to their children not to gape at the stump that is now your lower leg as they’re yanked along unwillingly whilst they gawk on themselves hypocritically.

They don’t know what you’ve done, what you’ve seen. They’ll never understand what you’ve had to do to survive. How much pain you were in — are in, still, after everything.

They’ll never have to wake in a cold sweat after your memories have been contorted and manipulated into nightmares they could never imagine. The images of body parts littered amongst the carnage of destroyed vehicles, or mangled between pieces. Have blood, scarlet and thick and heavy, soaking into sand and stone, into your own clothes as you gasp for breath and gather your bearings. Listen to your own voice, hoarse and pitched with fear, as you scream, plead, pray for help as a pair of soulless and lifeless eyes stare on at you, that gaze once having a twinkle to it as your friend laughed at his own joke.

No. No…they will never…ever…understand.

They’ll never appreciate how much you’ve sacrificed, how much you’ve lost. They’ll never truly be able to acknowledge the real price that freedom costs. They’ll never have to hide away those medals for honour because every time you see them, their gleaming reflection is like a mirror that transports you back into the past, back into the pain. They’ll never have to explain to their children where the lower part of their leg has gone like you have to. They’ll never have to listen to their wife cry herself to sleep almost every night like you do, as you lay there helpless to comfort her. You wouldn’t be able to smile and lie: ‘It’ll be alright,’ like they could, because you know the truth…it’ll never be okay again.

No. No…they will never…ever…understand.

You suffer alone. No one around you that is able to empathise with you, and you hate it when people try. ‘No!’ You want to scream, ‘You’ll never go through what I have, and am, going through! You’ll never have to cry out in your sleep with fear, pain, loss…You’ll never have to continue looking over your shoulder in the street. Or have flashbacks. Or flinch at loud noises or gunshots as they resonate from the television because the news is on.’

Medication, three times a day. Physiotherapy sessions, twice a week. Psychiatrist, three times a week. The list never seems to go away. All the appointments that could have replaced normal, day-to-day activities such as taking the kids to the park or the wife out to some fancy restaurant. All forgotten and meaningless now. You’re not able to run around chasing your five and seven year old as they squeal with delight and mock-terror. You’re not able to be a gentleman to your wife now because all those nights of waking up in fear led you to cling to her so hard that it left bruises. She doesn’t want you to touch her. Just as well since you’re now too afraid to do so anyway.

It’s not a normal life. It’s never going to be a normal life now after everything. You can’t take the dog out for a walk like you did before you were deployed; you had to get rid of him. Every time he barked you’d have a panic attack, thinking that someone was coming after you. Your children didn’t speak to you for a week afterward…only then were they forced to by the wife. You can’t hold barbeques with the neighbours or family friends anymore because you were too paranoid that they would either stare at you or even, quite literally, stab you in the back. You can’t watch the war films that you so used to love — they’re all so glorified, Hollywood makes heroes from war. They call those returning from war heroes.

That’s not the truth.

You’re not a hero.

You are a survivor.

You were able to keep yourself alive…well…until the bomb took your leg and sanity whilst leaving your face marred with scars.

The constant question was: Why me? Why did I survive whilst no one else did? What makes me different?

It couldn’t have been because you had your children and your wife. You had plenty of others with you that were in the same position…and now they were six feet under. It couldn’t have been because He had a ‘greater purpose’ for you…because otherwise you wouldn’t be suffering through this alone without His help. Where was He then? When all of this was happening? Where was He when you truly needed him? They say that God loves His children…but if that were true, why watch all this suffering and do nothing about it? Just to see whom amongst his creation is the strongest?

Everything around you had been called into question. Your faith. Your loyalty. Your love.

Why me?

Your sanity. Your strength.

They are being questioned the most.

The bottle of whiskey in the cupboard calls to you, whispering and promising to make all the pain go away. But you can’t drink it with the medication you’re on. Those damn doctors. They weren’t helping. They were making things worse. The tablets stopped working a while ago but you just continued to take them to keep your wife happy. To keep the therapist happy. To keep friends happy.

To keep them from pestering and annoying you until you either breakdown or snap…only then to feel guilty and apologize for your behaviour.

Why should you apologize though? It’s not your fault. They ought to know how far they can push you and when they need to stop. But they never seem to know when to stop. You can’t win, in a situation like that.

It’s just another battle but in a different war…one that you have no chance of winning since all the odds are against you. Why bother fighting it anymore? You’re tired of fighting, sick of conflict, exhausted of confrontation. You’re too busy fighting the demons in your own head to actually bother dealing with those in reality — who you also know, deep down, are only trying to do what’s best for you.

But alcohol is so tempting. It helped numb everything before the wife forced you into going to a session with the therapist. It can numb everything now. Just…just one little drop…that’s all you want, all you need. What the wife won’t know won’t hurt her. The kids won’t smell it, the wife might but they won’t. They’ll just be glad to see you happy again, or at least now dealing with pain or inner conflict. Not that they knew what was wrong with you, the kids were never told what was wrong. Only that daddy was hurting inside.

Hurting inside.

That was an understatement.

One drop of whiskey turns into a bottle.

One bottle…into two.

Soon two turns into three.

It’s not working as well as it did before those. The tablets…they’re blocking the alcohol. It feels like it’s been doing nothing for the PTSD…the anxiety…the depression…the paranoia. But it blocks out the only thing that once helped before.

They really are ganging up on you, trying to keep you from feeling as good as you could at that current time.

You need to get out of this state. You need to get away from everyone. But how? Can’t go far anymore without help. You’re so dependant…needing someone to drive you to the places you want to go and even then you have to be granted permission. What was the point?

Why bother staying?

You can be called a hero or a survivor…

But you’re not.

You’ve just become a side-effect of a society that doesn’t appreciate everything you’ve done…that just push you to the side…and no longer care.



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