My PTSD crawled out of what I thought was my impregnable hurt locker the other day. It was the silliest thing that triggered it. It was the word ‘ambush’ that I used in marketing copy for Hamilton Wende’s Frontline Afghanistan story for the Salon we hosted the other day.
A quote by Frida Kahlo made me realise, I cannot run from this thing that eats me, I need to deal with it: “I tried to drown my sorrows, but the bastards learned how to swim.”
1984, somewhere in Namibia (formerly, South West Africa)
The unmistakable cloyingly sweet smell of fear oozed out of my pores, mixing with the dirt, grime and sweat; a consequence of being unwashed for 15 days.
All 10 of us stank of fear as we lay flat on the ground in our ambush, our rifles aimed at the kill zone.
Contact and probably death was imminent. >>>
At that moment, a romanticised notion popped into my head. Death and fear smell the same. It’s the smell of soul. In death, when the soul is released to go home it’s sweet. When we anticipate death, it’s not fear, but excitement that we feel because the soul finally gets to go home.
No matter how I try and romanticise fear and death, it’s an unpleasant smell for me, probably because I’ve experienced too much of both.
>>> The footfalls on the barely discernible path are close, too close. My finger tightens on the trigger, my eyes squint and my breathing slows.
They appear. Two souls. Time stands still. My brain registers something out of place, and my heart stops.
A wizened, weather-beaten old man, holding the hand of a young girl-child wearing a ragged faded yellow dress, came into my sights.
The 10 of us connected to a Hive Mind that has been forged from being together for 17 months, acted as one. Ten fingers removed themselves from their triggers.
Our haunted eyes welled with tears and our hearts wept with relief. No one died today.
The old man, a grandfather of the young child as it turned out, looked at us, his smile beaming from ear-to-ear. He said, “Welcome. We saw you come here, and we thought that you might be hungry and thirsty. We brought you food and water.”
It was more than I could bear, and it still haunts me today.
In the border war (SWA/Angola – 1966 – 1989) around 20 000 civilians and soldiers from South Africa, SWAPO, ANC, Angola, Cuba and Russia died. Countless others were injured.
The survivors sit amongst you (some may even be reading this). You’ll know them: they’re your fathers, husbands and grandfathers. They’re anywhere from 55 upwards. But they’re all going on 100, haunted, lost and traumatised.
Be kind to them because they can never be kind to themselves.