I am heavily drugged, I recall somewhat dreamily, and I wonder if I will wake from this nightmare. I am stuck, buried underground. I am here, but I cannot feel my legs and the terror I feel is beyond anything I can ever imagine...I want to move. I want to scream. I know I have a face and a mouth, I just cannot remember how to use them. I am a host in my own body; a body I cannot feel or move.
Voices ring, now, but distant. I want to call out to them. I do not remember who they belong to, but they are familiar and the tone of them soothes me. I try to hold on to the bit of thread I remember to be life, but I fail and am once again just floating.
There is a burst of noise and I am jolted awake. Frantically searching the room, I relax as I notice familiar faces. For a moment, I cannot place them, but then it all starts flooding back. I am alive. My name is Charlie. Those people are my family. Pulling myself up, I try to regain sense of my surrounding. My senses are confused, and I am aware of my family’s sudden attention, and the white, bright room I am in. I feel oddly strange, as if I am naked, though I feel the itchiness of a gown clinging to my bare skin, and I wonder for a second why I am here. I am almost sitting up now, propped up on the pillows my mother is fluffing up behind me. I find I have trouble with my limbs, and my arms ache terribly. I am in hospital, I realize, though I feel no surprise. I’m still unfocused. Wondering for a second why I am here, I marvel on the strange tubes that are sticking into my body and the bizarre monitors that dot the room. I always wanted to be a doctor, I mused, before I followed my brother’s footsteps and entered the army.
For a moment, I am confused, and then everything clicks into place. I remember; I remember everything. I am no longer in the hospital, but instead in a grave yard without the headstones. There are explosions everywhere and my friend goes down. Bullets are pelting my men and I am hopeless. For once in my life, I am hopeless and at loss. Blood, blood is covering my hands, and I wonder for a moment why I am numb, and then there is nothing but pain, my world full of nothing but pain. I fall, I can no longer walk. Shot in the leg, I became aware of somewhat numbly. Shot in the leg....then something else, a sound so loud I am promptly deafened and pain beyond the imagination explodes into my already world of suffering, and I am gone, floating...dreaming...
“I feel strange,” I croak to my mother, dragging myself back from the memory of a living nightmare. Feeling like I wasn’t whole...like part of me was missing. Maybe I am still grieving for my lost friend. Maybe I will always be this way.
“Charlie,” my mother groans, and I see the grief and emotional heartache in her eyes. For the first time, I notice, her eyes are shining, her cheeks already tear-stained. Glancing around, even my father is stony-faced, free from its usual sneer, and my sister, she to breaks down in sobs. I am OK, aren’t I? I was shot in the thigh, surely I am OK now. But then, I remember falling and something exploding beneath me, and the sensation of a pain so great I would have ended my life just to escape it.
I slowly remove the sheets that are twisted over me.
I have no legs.
Weeks later, I am sat once again in the hospital, waiting. My bandages are finally going to be moved, checked for infection, and I will finally have to face matters and stare at what is left of my legs for the first time. So far, I have avoided them at all cost. Bathing is the hardest. I do not want to think about what they will look like.
I turn my attention to my wheelchair, and try to steer it when my name is called. My mother shakes her head and pushes me instead. Again, that horrible feeling drowns me, a feeling that is always there and that I am never going to be able to get away from: hopelessness. I am useless now.
The doctor attends to what is left of my legs, and I turn away in disgust. How am I going to be able to live with myself?
As we are leaving, a man walks straight passed me, and I know him. But he does not remember me, it seems. Or, he does not know the man after the war, though he knows the man during it.
“Cedric,” I shout, over the bustling crowds, and just before he turns the corner, he twirls around, looking for the owner of the voice which is probably familiar to him, but he just can’t place it.
I tell my mother to turn around, and as she does so, I catch his eye, just as they widen. He knows me.
“Charlie,” he calls softly as he approaches, and we smile simultaneously. I am glad I do not see pity in his eyes. Instead, he stares at me in almost in awe, as if it is an honour.
Cedric was around ten years older than my youthful twenty, and we had become friends just as I was entering and he was leaving the army. Instead of asking how I am doing, which is everyone’s first greeting when they speak to me, Cedric turns to my mother and asks if we can speak alone. She nods, and together Cedric and I make our way down the corridor. As we arrive at a rather lonely hallway, we stop and I realize steering isn’t really that hard after all.
Glad for the peace and quiet, I ask Cedric why is he here.
It has been six months since I last saw him, and he looks good, considering the last time I did he was covered in blood. His time with the army was coming to an end anyway, when he was shot in the leg and sent home. When I wrote to him, only the once, I asked him if he would ever return and he replied no. I had never written him back.
“My mother has cancer. They’re not sure how long she has left.” He speaks sadly, and rubs the areas between his brows. “At least she’ll be out of her misery. She’s been in so much pain.”
I am about to open my mouth to ask me how he is, when he says, “Callum told me about your legs. You got caught in an explosion, huh? That’s bad, man.”
I sigh. “I know. I honestly don’t know what I’m going to do. What use am I now? I can’t join the army now, can I?”
“You always said you wanted to be a doctor,” he points out.
“What, with no legs?”
He shrugs. “Why let that stop you? Don’t stop living now, Charlie. You have your whole life ahead of you. Don’t let that war, or what it did to you, stop you from living your life.” I shake my head. “I won’t. But I’m still useless, there’s not much I can do about that. I joined the army before I even went to college. I have no qualifications.”
Cedric shakes his head. “Again, why let that stop you? Get some qualifications. Go to college, to university. You should learn from this, Charlie.”
I sigh. “I know, okay? I’m still adjusting. I feel so pissed off all the time. What was the point, in it really, Ced? I got my legs blown up, and for what? A pointless war.”
“Don’t say that,” Cedric said, rather sharply. “It was not pointless, not if it was what you believe in. You lost your legs fighting, Charlie. Everyone sees you as a hero. Don’t let this stop you from living the life you were supposed to lead.”
Cedric and I promptly change our direction of conversation, and talk about our friends and Cedric’s life now he’s back home. His wife is pregnant, he tells me, and that is a little shred of hope.
As we say our goodbyes and I head out to the car park to where my mother waits for me, my hopes are lifted. My life is not ended yet. There is still time, I’m still young. There’s so many thing I can do with my life yet. I am not useless, not really.
There is still hope.