The worst dreams I have are those in which my dead brother, killed by a landmine almost 30 years ago, stands at the foot of my bed and tells me how much he wants to live.
This was a day that started so well and it seems to be ending very pleasantly, but there was what the French call un mauvais quart d’heure along the line. I fell asleep after six hours of writing in which I finally reached 31 000 words of the Nanowrimo novel, as well as two hours of editing. I am working flat-out, can hardly stop to think. Not a good idea in early recovery. I fell asleep and I had a nightmare about my little brother who died so long ago.
In the Third World we all understand war. We know that deep and literal psychosis around violence, we know the derangement of values that follows. We know that because war is unspeakable, there is nothing to say about it. I have lain awake with old Hunter bombers tearing overhead into Mozambique, I have lain awake at night while rocket mortars ripped into the front of the family homestead, I have lain listening to mortars explode into the town in which I grew up and smash even the taped-up windows of streetfront shops. I have lived through raids into Lesotho, waking at 2am to the armoured vehicles in the streets and the sound of gunfire. On my bedside table there is a photograph of a lovely friend with her baby daughter. The baby is awake and smiling at the camera, her mother is dead with congealed blood on her face. And I have woken up in Kenya and turned on the bedside radio to hear the military music that signals a military coup and the seizure of airports as well as radio stations. I have seen foreign forces launch air strikes into the Horn of Africa and the Gold Coast and helped sit with the dying when there was no medical help available, sat with screaming people waiting for morphine that doesn’t arrive. At funerals I have seen armed police open fire on mourners with live ammunition. I have been teargassed and imprisoned and arrested again and again. War is like a subtext to my life. This is not about me, it is the story of my generation.
My alcoholism has nothing to do with any of this. War experiences may have exacerbated or accelerated the progress of that alcoholism, but the causal roots lie in my genetic history. Many others went through what I did and worse, and they did not become alcoholic.
When i was interviewed at the Tavistock Institute in a quiet street of Bloomsbury in London for a project on war trauma and post-traumatic stress disorder, one very gentle and kind psychiatrist with a fluffy goatee and smll nervous hands said to me. ‘You must feel others get off very easily.’
I was completely gobsmacked for a minute or two.
‘No’, I said to him. ‘I don’t think anyone gets off easy in life. But war is an aberration and nobody should have to endure it. In an ideal world.’
How I love my life now. The simplicity and appreciation for each day without drama, violence or tragedy. And how I miss my brother, cheated of his life. Ave atque vale, my beloved brother.