Anton's Ideas

Anton Wills-Eve on world news & random ideas

Category: true romance

EVERYONE I HAVE LOVED – 2


<a href=”https://dailypost.wordpress.com/prompts/recognize/”>Recognize</a&gt;

recognise chapter 2 of my story

EVERYONE I HAVE LOVED – 2

BOOK 1  

SANDIE

Chapter 2

Leaving a school where I had a lot of friends, though none very close, was naturally quite a wrench and above all a somewhat sad time as I knew I was no longer going to be with my friends of nearly four years, well most of them very seldom and several never again. I never had a very close relationship with the teachers at Pathways because at that age they were people whom one was always trying not to upset by breaking rules and talking in class and such like. But on the whole I think they liked us all and none of them had favourites. Also when I left at least I was not severing my ties completely as my sister was staying on until she was thirteen. For girls the academic teaching was very good to this age and Michèle did not want to part from her friends yet. My parents were quite happy with this. Indeed they could see she was happy at Pathways and in those days that was all the ambition many parents, especially wealthy ones, had for their daughters.

But for David and I things were very different. Firstly we had to get new school uniforms and neither of us liked them. Even aged eight they were herring bone tweed suits, with short trousers to the age of ten, and school house ties and white shirts with starched collars that rubbed the neck off you. The school caps were naturally compulsory and nobody liked them. Also our grey knee length socks did not suit us and if we arrived in the morning with anything other than shining black leather shoes we were in trouble. For some unfathomable reason we also had to wear a different pair of black shoes inside school, so every boy had a small shoe locker which wasted five minutes every time we had to go out to play, have lunch at the main school or change for games. I should have mentioned that we started in the junior school which was almost in a campus of its own, a separate large old Victorian mausoleum for the seven to eleven year olds. For those who were eleven before the first of September in any school year this meant moving up to the middle school for two years, eleven to thirteen, again in a building and area of its own. We discovered why later.

Now you may have guessed from what I have already written that my background was a little different to that of other pupils. For a start my uncles and aunts, with occasionally mum, were regularly appearing in West End theatrical productions and Michèle and I spent some of our free time, either at weekends or early evenings, in dressing rooms full of stars and well known entertainers. But our mother gave us one really important lecture when we were six and seven. She took us into the playroom and said she had to explain to us something which most parents did not discuss with their children until they were a lot older. We then got a wonderfully explicit and highly dramatic account of every type of homosexual perversion. This, we were told, was so we would know what was happening if any male or female homosexuals tried to interfere with either of us in any physically abusive way. Apparently the theatre world was full of them. My instructions were to immediately tell any such men that I knew what they were doing and was reporting them to my relations, and to any such females that I was reporting them to the theatre manager. Don’t ask me why my mother told us to discriminate in such an odd way, but she did say one thing that I really loved.

“And remember, I was probably the best male impersonator the stage has ever seen so people will expect you to be odd. Therefore you must politely tell them that you have nothing abnormal in your own sexual make up and they will understand.” As it happens no one ever did try to abuse either my sister or me in the theatre, which rather disappointed me as I was looking forward to giving such a person the fright of their lives. I am old enough now to realise that I would probably never have been so approached because of who I was. But to return to school. Listen to this. The week before going to a public school for the first time, not a boarding school I am glad to say, mum told me that most boys would probably try to experiment, as she put it, sexually with each other but I was not to get involved. If any teacher tried to do so I was to tell either her or dad at once. She had had a series of boyfriends who turned out to be homosexual, and one homosexual husband who committed suicide in front of her, who all told her that such behaviour was normal in English posh schools. Rather like allowing caning, and other dreadful forms of corporal punishment, she believed such schools to be hotbeds of many painful practices. But it was just part of growing up. As you will hear I did not accept that side of life with my illness at all.

The worst thing about the first couple of months at our hallowed school was the absence of any girls. I had always loved female company and, I must freely admit it, showing off to them with what I was later told was my very charming and amusing manner. I was not handsome in any striking way, I certainly never even thought about it, but for some reason lots of girls always seemed to want to make friends with me. I cannot deny that I liked this, yet I also enjoyed playing all types of sports and games with other boys. But David soon saw how much I was missing having Sandie near me during the day. I saw her on occasional weekday evenings, but it was the weekends that mattered. And this is how I managed to kill two very tricky oiseaux with one pierre. About two months after she had come to Mass with me and a month into my first term at my new school I went to confession one saturday afternoon. I told her I was going and that I was going to tell Father Fagan about her. To my surprise she insisted on coming with me as she said it concerned her just as much as me. She sat at the back of the church to wait for me. It was one of the oddest confessions I have ever made. I entered the confessional box knelt blessed myself and began,

“Forgive me father for I have sinned, it is eight weeks since my last confession. I do not think I have done anything especially wrong but for one major thing, and Father please help me. You see I don’t even know if I’ve committed a mortal sin or not.” At this point he interrupted me in a friendly voice which made it obvious he knew who I was but could not actually say so.

“Well, what could you have done that is so seriously wrong at your age and not be sure whether it is a sin? What have you done?” I took a deep breath, paused and said in a rush,

“Please, Father. I have converted someone to the Faith. But I think I’ve gone too far.” I have never experienced since that day such a long silence in a confessional. It seemed like hours but was probably only twenty seconds before the priest asked,

“What on earth do you mean you’ve gone too far? Now take it slowly and tell me clearly exactly what happened.” So I very precisely told him how Sandie accompanied me to Mass and received Holy Communion. I mentioned no names but when I had finished I asked what should we do and was it a dreadful insult to God, even if she now loved him as as much as I did. His reply was so short I could not believe it.

“It was a beautiful thing to happen to both of you. Tell her she is loved by God as much as she loves him and both of you stay close friends until either she or her family allow her to come to confession. When that is arranged she may receive the sacrament as often as you do. And do tell her all her sins are forgiven as she has expressed sorrow for them. It is obvious she understands far more than you realise. That’s all. Now, for your penance just ask God to stay close to you both.”

That was it. That was all he said or did. He never even thought I’d done something sinful. Wrong, yes in one sense, but not on purpose. And then I remembered you could only commit a sin if you meant to and understood what you were doing. Apparently he and God could see that there was not a sinful or even wrongful intention in anyway connected with what happened that day. I said a very short prayer to ask God to look after us both, as I had been asked, and signalled to Sandie to come outside with me.

She was very happy when I told her what happened in the confessional and said she would try to get her parents to let her become a Catholic properly, as she put it. “But Ton, if they won’t let me I shall keep on trying with you and Father Fagan for as long as I have to until they cannot stop me.” Incredibly she seemed quite happy with that solution and almost dropped the subject for more everyday and ordinary topics. We went on seeing each other a lot that term up to Christmas, mainly at weekends when I also gave her beginners’ piano lessons, and she soon settled into a great relationship of friendliness with me that centred almost entirely on us just wanting to be together. But life at school slowly began to accentuate aspects of my phobia which I never expected. I think the worst was the way we were punished and the reasons why. I noticed that to break any school rule seemed to involve being physically smacked, caned or hit really hard with a leather strop depending on the seriousness of the offence. This is an example from late in that first term when I was eight and a half years old.

The junior school headmaster, Father Jerome, was the only master allowed to hit pupils and then at first not very hard. One might be caught talking in assembly when school started and would receive whacks on the left palm with a wooden ruler and told to do what one was told in future. I made my first terrible mistake the first day I was sent up to the head.

 

But Father, nobody told me not to talk in assembly. What did I do wrong?”

“Wills-Eve, it’s written on the rules on the main notice board that no boys may talk in assembly. A teacher saw you talking and so reported you to me. Therefore you have to be punished.” I felt something was going very wrong and then I probably said too much.

“I repeat, Father, nobody told me not to talk in assembly. I have never read the notice board, who does? And even if I had it would not have constituted somebody talking to me, telling me,  would it? It is merely a list of suggested forms of conduct at the school. It calls them rules but at no point on that board does it say we have to behave in the way they advocate. No, I’m sorry but those rules are merely suggestions, certainly not someone giving verbal instructions, so I maintain I have done nothing I was told not to.

“Oh heavens, but wait. They aren’t sins are they? Those I would not commit.”

In many respects I think I was lucky it was the first time I was sent up to him because he could not expel me. For minor offences one had to be found to be flouting the rules deliberately three times before the ultimate sanction could be imposed. The poor man just stared at me.

“It has been drawn to my attention that you are noted for your clever talking, wit and occasional remarks very close to insulting the teaching staff. Well I shall take this conversation as my introduction to your extremely rude behaviour and warn you never to repeat it. I am neither amused nor impressed by you!” And I was asked to hold out my hand. He was so cross he did not notice it was my right hand I put out. He struck it three unmerciful blows. As he was about to forget himself and deliver a fourth blow I pulled my hand away.

“Only three times Father. I believe that is the custom for a first offence. Also it should have been on my non-writing hand. I shall not be able to inscribe anything for the two hours remaining before lunch!” He was almost apoplectic by this time, but I was already on my way out the door. Actually I had behaved like a show off and an idiot because he was never going to spare me again. Then a thought struck me and I went straight back into his study. He could not believe it.

“Oh Father, you forgot to ask me what I was talking about when the teacher apprehended me. I was telling a boy next to me that I was feeling very ill and wanted to leave assembly at once. By attracting the teacher’s attention I was sent up to you straight away and so achieved my aim. Do thank him for me.”

You can see that I had not started off on the right foot. But I did gain one advantage from the encounter. When striking my hand he accidently broke my index finger at the second knuckle. My finger grew slightly out of shape from then on and by the time I was thirteen I could spin a cricket ball so well I was the best slow bowler in the school. I remember going up to him when I had taken eight wickets in an innings in a school under fourteens match that year and thanking him for what he had done five years earlier. By that time I was an established anomaly amongst the pupils of my age and he ignored me. Luckily my odd finger did not hamper my piano playing.

However the whole of my first year at school was taken up with with playing the piano, for an astonished music master who regretfully accepted my refusal to play in front of any type of audience for ‘nervous’ reasons, and working out how to control my phobic panics in everyday life. At home only Michèle could tell that I was actually ill and not just acting the fool. In many ways this was my own fault because I was a very good actor and so people took my exhibitionist behaviour and exaggerated pompous speech in several languages as merely showing off. It was not always, but often let me cover up for times when I could not behave normally. Like David, Michèle played with me a lot and when I was not far short of my tenth birthday she asked me one night when the grown ups were either out or listening to the radio,

“Anton, have you actually got anything wrong with you? I mean, it is plain to all of us that your linguistic and acting ability is very advanced for your age but is it just put on to impress people who know your background and how many languages are spoken in our family circle all the time? Well I speak five already and I’m only eleven and a bit. But you also look very scared at times, I’ve seen it often, and wondered if I could do anything for you? I mean, what’s wrong?” I told her in detail and she was in a dreadful state when I’d finished. But the one thing she could see was that I could never tell our parents unless it got hopelessly worse. My mother was far too ill, Dad would have had to tell her and my grandmother could never keep her mouth shut try as she might. Michèle dried her eyes, kissed me and said she and David would look after me for the time being.

Can you now see what a strangely abnormal world I was growing up in? I begged them not to tell Sandie either as she would be far too upset, so they agreed at that time and then came a really bad shock that nearly finished me off for good. Just before Easter in 1952 Sandie, her face gaunt and drawn, told me they were moving. Her father had been posted abroad, to Switzerland, and she would hardly ever see me for two or maybe three years. I literally fell on my knees by the bed that night and asked Saint Rita what I should do. It was the second time she gave me audible advice.

“Antonino, I will help you, but be very careful of the ways you try to treat your phobia and loneliness when Sandie is not with you. It will be very hard for you but I will do all I can.”


Our school staff included about 14 ordained monks who were also academically distinguished scholars. But they never treated us as anything other than youngsters whom they had to show how to live as God wanted them to. Thus for them the idea of following a rule, as they did spiritually in their daily lives, was the obvious way to help us to organise our own lives. But it did have its drawbacks. They also carried this to the extreme of obeying school rules in our everyday lives in such a way that they did sometimes get things horribly out of proportion. The panic attacks which accompany my phobia can still occur when just faced with the prospect of not being able to seek shelter when left on my own’ This drives me to a fit of breathless horror when knowing I am going to have to go through any physical really painful experience because my phobia has conditioned me to fear something unpleasant happening to me just as much as the panic symptoms themselves when they occur. Added to the mental side, anxiety neuroses are themselves physically very painful, as well as tiring and terrifying.

This is not cowardice, just simply the inability to deal with the apprehension which attacks me when I know I am going to have to undergo such a horrible experience. In short, by the time I reached a master’s study to receive a severe thrashing I had already had my punishment and almost no longer cared what happened to me. Just Imagine poor Saint Benedict having to apologise to me for his followers’ mistaken interpretation of his rule. But also imagine Saint Rita hanging on to me like grim death outside the headmaster’s study and smiling at me as she promised me I would soon be okay and it would all be over. They were really terrific, both of them, and in fact were the only reason why I did not report the school to the education authorities for excessive brutality as I was thrashed to within an inch of my life for regularly being reported for misconduct both verbal and physical. A threat my father would have carried out had I told him what I went through.

Did I hear you say, ‘what on earth had you done to get so severe a punishment?’ Not a lot, just being late with my homework, talking in class or obviously not working as hard as the teachers knew I could. But in 1953-55 those were very serious offences! Also my mother was terminally ill at this time, which the school knew, but did not know that she hated to hear that I had ever done anything wrong. She berated me, told me it made her feel worse, and went through the whole gamut of her actresses’ emotions to convince me that I was ungratefully repaying my parents for all the sacrifices they made to keep me at such a good school. The trouble was I believed her, never wondering what such sacrifices were given our wealth. So you can see why I never told the school that, if my punishment for something was, for instance, detention after the last class of the day, I would just not do it. I would just go home at the usual time and thus not upset my mother even though I knew the price I would have to pay at school the next day! But I had a third and stronger reason for this by the time I was thirteen.

If my heavenly friends tried to lessen my pain and mental anguish, they also did a lot to help me and in such a glorious way that I have never held any of the really awful events of those years against God in any way. You see I lived near the Abbey attached to our school and the one thing I loved doing more than anything in life was serving Mass. Standing with the priest on the altar made me feel so happy, so full of God’s love, especially at the Consecration, that I would have gone through anything to be able to do this as often as I could. In fact I served Mass at 7.00 am every weekday I was available and really thanked my spiritual friends for making this wonderful experience possible so often. The major difficulty was the way my phobia meant I could not walk the length of the long aisle down the centre of the Abbey, or stand alone and exposed on the high altar. But we had a series of small altars down one side of the church where most of the monks said their daily masses. These I could manage, and did. Whenever I served Mass God and my favourite saints made my life truly great and compensated a thousand fold for all my mental illness. Eventually I was so ill with my phobia, and two major nervous breakdowns between the ages of thirteen and sixteen, that I was finally excused several school activities because I just could not do them. The classic one was parading with the school army cadet force.

I finally told the senior school headmaster, who mercifully did understand my phobia, that I was not hamming it up when I could not breathe if asked to stand silently to attention. In the end, after a medical examination from a doctor who did not have a clue what I was talking about, I was excused corps for my last three years at school. Also they respected my wish not to worry my parents with my nervous condition.

I think my other main memories of early school life were loving all sports at which I was fortunate enough to excel, coupled with the subject of Saint Rita’s warning. Can you imagine a ten to eleven year old playing cricket and doing really well for the school under elevens side thanks to nearly half a bottle of scotch he had to drink to manage to cross the cricket field?! David knew about this and became very worried at first. But as I never appeared drunk, and the booze only calmed me down and did nothing else, he put up with it for quite a long time. The other sports memory was what I called the unnecessary side. I was regularly punished for not doing things which I could not manage because of the limitations of my phobia. For instance I could not do a cross country run outside the perimeter of the school grounds or playing field – well who could with my illness? So I just sat out such races and was of course reported for being lazy and disobedient. And then the awful added anxiety of waiting for three days before going into the headmaster’s study to be thrashed for being too ill to run. I remember first getting thoroughly fed up with this senseless torture when I was still only nine and holding out my right hand and saying to the new junior school headmaster, his first term in the job,

“Look Father you use your left hand to hit me and we’ll see who comes out of the contest best”. He did not have a clue if I was being impertinent or genuinely trying to crack a joke. He smiled and said, sorry it wasn’t negotiable. Following this I pulled my left hand from behind my back and said, “Sorry, but I fell off my bike yesterday evening and I’ve broken four fingers. You can’t hit that one.” He stared, put the ruler away and said

“Okay we’ll make that your punishment for a couple of weeks’. But I finally had him.

“No Father. That’s the last time you’ll ever hit me. I told the doctor the injury was the result of the ferocity with which we were thrashed at school. My father is taking no action, much as the doctor wanted him to, but he will if you ever touch me again.” Nobody did hit me again in the junior school so I had managed to stop that double torture without the family knowing about my phobia. But my father’s added condition was that no boys in the school aged under eleven should receive any form of corporal punishment, and as he was a well known journalist they did not argue with him and the rule he demanded was brought in.Actually what annoyed me most about that incident was not being able to play the piano properly for three weeks.

Finally I must briefly outline the last part of the story of my introduction to the Faith, the Charity and above all the Hope which control my soul. Let me explain what I believe spiritually which reached it’s final complete stage by the time I left school in 1960 aged eighteen and a few months. This will complete the background to the many exciting, dreadfully sad and unusual events that occurred during this part of my life. Above all, after this short explanation of how my soul loves God, my readers may better understand all the subsequent loves of which I write. It is best summed up by telling you about five saints who have long been very special friends to me in heaven.

Firstly there is my name saint, Antoninus, on whose feast I was born and has been with me all my life. Every day I ask him to make me worthy of his name, but nobody could ever aspire to the level of holiness he attained in giving all he had and devoting every word he preached to helping the poor. I try to imitate him but am very definitely only a very pale shadow. Secondly in my life came Saint Rita of Cascia. I have already introduced her to you all and made you aware of how much I rely on her help to get through every day of my life. Thirdly I learned about Saint Benedict, founder of the religious order which taught me for ten years. He has always reminded me, through his incredibly sensible directions for reconciling our humanity with our love of God no matter how often we stumble all over the place in all directions, how to get back on our feet whenever we fall.

Saint Caterinetta, or Catherine, of Genoa, the fourth saint I came to know, has probably played the greatest part in teaching me to trust in God’s mercy by refusing to condemn anyone whom he loves for any reason at all and to God, she realised and made clear to me, that means everyone because God created everyone and loves everything he created. She is more responsible than anyone for my approach to God, that is my personal relationship with him in this life and the next. Like hers, my spiritual relationship with God is totally just him and me. Not even the church gets a look in when I realise how much I love loving him and being loved by him, both now and eternally, provided I never forsake or deny him. And finally I pray every day to Pope Saint John XXIII to help all my friends who once professed their love for God but now doubt him. Why a man who was only made a saint less than three years ago and holds no special place in most people’s hagiographical knowledge? Simply this. I met him and knew him in the early 1960s, as did many people who need his help now for the reasons for which I ask for it.

Well that completes my very brief spiritual story from the summer of 1950 to my last days at school when eighteen years of age in 1960. In order for it to make sense I have had to write it straight through to let the events of the rest of my life during that decade show up against the background of the person I was. You will see how much of my life seems quite out of keeping with the spiritual love that underpinned everything I did, fought, or tried to do.

But I would like to end this chapter on a pleasant note, and they don’t come pleasanter than Sandie. It was my tenth birthday party and we all played hide and seek in our big garden. About ten boys and ten girls from near where we lived came to tea and games at our house. May is a lovely month for a birthday, yet Sandie seemed strangely shy and very upset.

While playing hide and seek I partnered her and knew a perfect spot behind the orchard fruit shed where no one would find us. I smiled at her deliberately affectionately, “Now what’s got into you since I saw you a couple of weeks ago Sandie? It can’t be just missing me for such a short time.” A tear ran down her cheek as she answered.

“Oh, Ton. It’s not that. At our age grown up life has not even started, no it’s our moving abroad soon for maybe three years. Dad’s been posted to Switzerland as I told you, so I’ll be a long, long way away from you.”Amid sniffles she added,”I promised myself I would not spoil your birthday. I’m sorry, I shall be good from now on. I looked round, saw nobody could see us and placed my hands on her shoulders and gave her the softest kiss I think I’d ever given anyone by then as I said,

“I agree with you we are too young to be in love as grown ups are, but I promise you this, my Sandie. I love you more than anyone I know and I hope I always will. So please just keep writing to me and as we get older we may get to love each other more every day. I am sure I can talk the family into a holiday in Geneva this summer as well. It needn’t be too bad.”

She said nothing, just put her arms round my neck and returned my kiss with ten times the love I had given her. She hung onto me for five minutes, wiped her eyes and completed the promise to write and never lose touch. She stayed very close to me until they moved two and a half months later. What I did with my family, David, and in different countries up to the end of 1956 follows next.

End chapter 2

 

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MY EPITOMES


<a href=”https://dailypost.wordpress.com/prompts/epitome/”>Epitome</a&gt;

a heart wrenching memory  can be the only real epitome of love

MY EPITOMES

As I grew up I always knew that everything I wanted in the girl I loved would have to be exactly as I imagined the epitome of my putative wife. From early, wondering years of innocence, yes even then when I was only ten, for my life-long lover to mean to me and I to she, everything I desired. I knew I could not live with any girl who lacked the following four outstanding qualities.

For a start, I was certain I could not live with someone who never smiled or laughed and, being vain, especially laughed at me. I mean of course in the sense that she should share my sense of humour and fun so that everything we might enjoy we might enjoy as one. I had such a tiny space for shared virtues in that partition of my mental world; there could never be room for more than two of us at once. Well not for another goddess-lover anyway because of my imagined lover’s second requisite quality. She had to be somebody, and this I think I knew beyond doubt when only fifteen, to whom I would want to be always faithful. And she always true to me. I wanted someone I could place upon a pedestal and to whom my wedding vows of love and constancy would not just be words, but the sincerest feelings I had ever felt. Promises that, were I to break them, I might as well have taken a cleaver to my heart, almost smote it in twain with all the strength I had.

Then her third necessary adjunct to her humanity would have had to be the depth of her love for me. How selfish can a man become when all he can see throughout his life is being worshipped and adored by his wife? But I also had a safety valve for this particular emotion, this necessary quality in the object of my devotion. It was this. If ever I should stumble, trip or fall and for a few moments gaze upon another girl. Then, should the wife that I had chosen, out of despair, disappointment, sadness or for whatever reason, take her revenge by similarly deceiving me I would totally and unconditionally forgive her. Providing she never asked me to confront the object of any brief and physical desire, I would absolve her, never query, question ask or threaten her. Just forgive. I could live with such a normal human thing. I could forgive, but only if I realised I too had been capable of setting her aside for the same reason, the same very short season and one that I could know would never last. Indeed, that I would have to know had already passed.

Her fourth quality? I am surprised you have not wondered, well you have not, have you? Why I have not included the beauty of her looks, her personality or her physical attributes. You know, they would mean nothing to me. I firmly believed this from my late teen years as so many girls of beauty, normality, shyness or vivacity had all seemed so alike to me. No, the other thing I knew she would have to have would be a deep and gentle love for her fellow men. In short she would have to come to me unburdened with any type of prejudice arising out of unreasonable hatred or dislike for others. I was sure I would place that quality above any fair features in her face or figure. I could only hold her really close and really love her, if I knew that she loved all humanity as much as I did too. So did I ever find her, this paragon? Or was she just a fairy dream?

Oh, I found her once. Then twice, then thrice and am settled now with my fourth wife. But every time the severance I had to undergo was due to the ending of her human life, and each widowing hurt me unbearably. But were they all the epitome of all those qualities I so innocently insisted I could not live without? Yes, of course, they each predominantly had one. My first brief Italian love loved me so much she would have given me up rather than fail in her duty to her suffering family. Lucia, of the four, was the closest to a saint in her love of others. My second, my deepest love, was in Vietnam. Anh, gave her life to nursing the destitute and in her way gave me the strongest reason to pray for another human being. She and my baby daughter were killed in a war, it tore the heart out of me. Of all my loves she was the epitome of selflessly devoting every second of her life to me. She left me the softest smile I ever craved.

My third wife Anne, left suddenly of a cardiac disease. Ours was the briefest, oddest joining of two people. Before she died so suddenly she was the cause and the epitome of total forgiveness between two normal, morally fragile human beings. Her parting present in atonement, one for one, was my eldest son. Lucia ‘s gift was twin daughters, their families still and always a part of me, though living many lands away. Anh offers me herself every day with memories of our lovely little girl. And finally my fourth, my longest, my most enduring love is still the epitome of everything that cheers, shares laughter and loves how much she loves loving me. Her gift is my last and youngest son. The epitome of any happy union with anyone.

AWE

LOVE, FEAR AND SURVIVAL


<a href=”https://dailypost.wordpress.com/prompts/safety-first/”>Safety First</a>

The closest I have ever come to death.

 

LOVE, FEAR AND SURVIVAL

The only way to discover whether or not the main force of the rebel troops was on the Vietnamese side of the river when dawn broke was to risk taking helicopter reconnaisance flights along the edge of the river. This way we hoped to spot them before they took cover in the dense forest a few miles north of the temporary press corps H.Q.

It was a question of who would travel in the main helicopter, which held some 20 people, and who would fly in the little observation craft which only had room for the pilot and a gunner or journalist. The 23 members of the press who were assembled agreed to draw lots so 20 would go in the large Chinook and three would be alone in a small aircraft with just the pilot. Lucy had come out of the tent to watch. She was obviously very nervous and implored me not to go.

Darling do you have to? You could ask the others what’s happening when they return.” No way. I shook my head as I kissed and hugged her. She broke down and said she could not whatch them drawing lots for the unlucky three, so returned to a safer point. I drew a short straw.

The small helicopter I was in had an an excellent view of a wide strip of the River and I could see there were no troops anywhere near our position. I ordered the craft to return to base, but at that moment several shots rang out. The pilot, Charlie, shouted over the noise of the engine and rotor blades, “Don’t worry Sir, I can land her”. I was not so sure. In fact I was petrified and felt an awful panic attack starting.

The aircraft started to drift towards the treetops on the river bank getting further and further away from the press tents, until eventually they could not be seen at all. It was only then that Charlie admitted he thought the had lost a rotor blade and might not get the chopper down. I started to sweat and choke as we descended fast into the edge of the forest. About 25 feet from the ground I could risk no more ,

I’m going to jump Charlie, you will never land this thing”, were the last words I shouted. In desperation I pushed the gun mounting across my lap to one side, unfastened my straps and jumped. A branch almost hit me in the face but I somehow managed to hang onto it for a second or two slowing down my fall. Then I watched in horror as the whole aircraft exploded in a fireball above me. The branch snapped and I fell a long way before hitting the ground in agony and sank into merciful unconsciousness. I did not know it but I was trapped between a tree and the river bed half in the water and half wedged between two tree roots. Before entering the water, I learned later, my back had cracked against the tree trunk as I slid towards the Mekong.

I have decided to write the next part of this episode in my life in the third person, as my friends later described to me everything that happened on that last day that I worked with Lucy in Indo China. She had insisted on coming to Cambodia on my third posting there, saying that waiting for news of me in Singapore or Saigon was far worse.

———————

The Chinook had not taken off when a helicopter was seen descending fast into the trees to the north of the journalists’ camp. Military personnel rushed towards the direction in which it was coming down when an almighty explosion totally destroyed the aircraft and its remains showered down into the trees. Nobody knew who was in it but radio contact with all three observation craft was made immediately. The pressmen on the large craft streamed off to see what was happening and the senior officer told them what had happened. He was still talking when Lucy raced up. Mike saw her and stopped her, putting his arms round her shoulder.

Luce, we don’t know which chopper it is yet, but they are checking the other two by radio now. I think we’d better wait here till we know who’s been lost. I’m afraid Anton, Joe and the Belgian radio man were the three in the small craft.” She almost fainted on Mike’s chest. Then she fell to her knees,

Oh dear God, not Anton. Please, not my ‘Ton.” She had seen so much horror in her time in Indo China that Mike knew she could not take this if it was her husband. They listened as the colonel updated everyone.

Ladies and gentlemen the two helicopters that are still airborne and safe contain Mr Joseph Williams of the United Press and Monsieur Guy Bichaud of the Belgian radio. We have no news of the condition or whereabouts of th…..at this point Lucy collapsed completely round Mike’s ankles and he knelt down and put his arms round her. He could not see her face but other friends and colleagues who approached them saw the tears streaming down his face. Of the people in that jungle clearing he was not the only one who could not control his feelings.

As the inferno that many of the military had seen explode in the trees by the waters’ edge was still crackling in the jungle, it was accepted that Anton and the pilot had both perished. The question of what to do with and for Lucy seemed to be the biggest problem. It was arranged that a small convoy would return to Saigon when she was recovered enough. However, this took several hours and it was well after noon before everyone was ready to set off. But just as they were about to leave one of the native scouts came running into the clearing waving his arms and then making for the US officers’ headquarters. He was met by one of the Americans, who spoke Vietnamese, and he in turn signalled to the convoy to wait. Then he ran across to the jeep that Mike and Lucy were in.

Mrs.Wills-Eve, hang on we may have some news. But please don’t hold out too much hope.” Lucy had been given some tranquilisers and did not seem too clear what was going on. Just as well. “Some native villagers on the riverbank have reported seeing a man jump from that helicopter before it exploded. He swung on a branch for a minute or two and then fell. But although they have searched the area they have found nothing. But I have told the colonel and he says we must have a proper search before it gets too dark. Some men have set off already.” The effect of this news on a confused Lucy was odd. She seemed to assume her husband had been found, but could not understand why he wasn’t with her. Mike took her back to the tent to calm her down.

The search went on until the very quick sunset began over the Mekong, and they were just giving up when an unmistakable whimper rather than a cry was heard coming from the bank. Two troopers reached Anton first and then stood back in horror.

He’s alive sir,” they said to their officer, “but he seems hurt real bad. Do we have a medic with this team?” They did, and men with a makeshift stretcher were also on hand. In the fading light the doctor could not see how badly hurt the patient was, but from the angle of his back, the length of time he must have been half in the water and the pitiful soft groans that were now constant, they all knew he had to be got to a hospital as quickly as possible. They carried him gently but speedily to the HQ where has was transferred to a proper ambulance to be driven to Saigon.

Lucy gradually returned to normal and could not contain her hope that they had reached her husband in time. She was present when he was carried towards the ambulance and dashed over to him. She looked down at him and realised how badly hurt he was. But as she got into the ambulance she thanked God that at least he was alive.

—————————————–

I have no recollection of anything before waking up in a sunny ward in a military hospital with an awful pain in my back and unable to move my legs. I was on my own and only the US flag on the wall of the ward told me where I was. But within minutes a male nurse came in and seeing I was awake imediately rushed to tell doctors, nurses and best of all Lucy. Without even knowing how badly hurt I was she put her arms round my neck and kissed me, the tears streaming down her face. I tried to raise my hands to touch her face but the pain was too much. I could barely speak, either and yet I had to ask her to let go of me as she was hurting me so much. She shot back in horror and then collapsed on a chair by the bed, her head in her hands.

The next few days, I had no idea it was more than a week at the time , were taken up with getting me sufficiently fit enough to be told I was being flown to hospital in America and my wife was coming with me. The day before we left Mike put his head round the door and was allowed to chat to me for a few minutes. Lucy told me how much he had helped her, but all he said was,

“You know how much I owe you, fellah, it was the least I could do.” The journey from the hospital to the plane was dreadfully painful but Lucy’s hand was better than any pain killers. She told me she had given the medical authorities a full run down on my health and soon I could feel the aircraft taking off as we set out on a new chapter in our life. How I would cope with my partial paralysis or occasional memory loss I had no idea. But I had my Lucy and what we did next is another story which you must remind me to tell you some time.

AWE

 

THE SUN, THE CLOUD AND THE SILVER LINING.


<a href=”https://dailypost.wordpress.com/dp_prompt/but-no-cigar/”>But No Cigar</a>

a rewrite and corrected version of yesterday’s post, ‘run that past me again’.

THE SUN, THE CLOUD AND THE SILVER LINING.

 

Nguyen Oanh Anh had been warned by her family not to mix with Americans, especially the military, as they were rich, boastful, amoral and selfish. They really had it in for the US because they could think of nothing pleasant to say about the race that had taken over their capital city and were seducing every Vietnamese girl in Saigon. Anh was told they were off limits and no exceptions. But to be fair to her parents, they had a reason. Her elder sister, Tuyet, had become pregnant and in her shame had run away. A month later one of her friends told the family she had killed herself. So nine years later in May 1968, on her eighteenth birthday, Anh went to work in an orphanage for blind, abandonned children.

In early 1968 the Chinese new year was also the signal for a new Viet Cong Communist offensive against the American military in South Vietnam which rocked the anti-communist government. This turn of affairs involved many news organisations increasing their staff in South Vietnam and it was the worst thing I could ever imagine happening to me. I had worked for The largest British news agency for just over a year and was doing well for my age. I had been sent to the Middle East during the six day war in 1967 and then returned to London at the end of August. I was promised a permanent overseas posting in the new year and my fiancee, whose family I had known since she was a little girl, was hoping we would get married when she got her university degree in June 1968. I would be twenty six in May that year and she would be twenty three the November after we married. Everything looked great and we were both very much in love with each other.

The following January I got an awful shock. I was offered an overseas posting, as promised, at the end of January. I was to join the staff in Singapore, the office from which we ran all our news operations for Asia. This was great as it would double my salary. But there was a horrible caveat attached. As I was unmarried I would probably be sent to Vietnam fairly soon and might spend as long as a year there. The full posting to Singapore was for three years. But the condition was that I would not get married while in Vietnam. This was company policy. I had not told them that I was engaged but now I had to. They were very understanding and said they would send me to Saigon immediately and after a year would pay all my fiancee’s expenses to come out and join me to get married. I was distraught.

We had a long family discussion during which my fiancee, Lucy, told me in no uncertain terms that she could not stand a year without me. Not from the point of living together, but because she would not even see me in all probability. So we hatched a plot unknown to either of our families or my employers. We agreed that Lucy would join me in Saigon in June at the end of her exams and we need not tell my company. This was the best solution , but as we said goodbye at London airport she insisted on one thing, “Sebastian. I cannot go a year without marrying you and as we are both Catholics could you arrange for us to get  married in Vietnam as soon as possible after I arrive. I’ll have all the documents I need on me and get yours from your family.” That one promise made the rest of my parting possible.

Well Vietnam turned out to be a strange mixture. Being bombed and having mortar shells fall on us most days was far from fun. Flying around a war torn country in helicopters that were often overloaded was terrible. And finally, after four months of near hell it was all capped with two of my closest colleagues being killed in an ambush. If Lucy did not arrive soon I would be a total nervous wreck. I could feel it starting already. Early that May in the major worsening of the war in which my friends were killed, I was caught up in a street fight in the riveside area of Saigon and had to take shelter as best I could in a bombed out building. As a non-American correspondent I never wore military clothing of any type, just ordinary summer shirts and slacks. Several of us did as we thought it safer if we ever got captured. Well as I crouched down in what was left of  that building I saw a girl who looked about ten or eleven wandering around, shell shocked I presumed and seemingly unaware of where she was. I raced over to her and in my extremely basic Vietnamese asked her was she alright. I understood enough to know she had asked me if I was American and then I wondered if she understood French. Many Vietnamese did as their parents were brought up speaking it as the country had been a French colony. So I replied in French that I was British and asked her if she understood, She was unable to let go of me.

She grabbed hold of my arm and  told me in halting French, it was no problem for me as I had been to university in Paris, that she was lost and worse still was blind. She had no idea where she was. I have never been so grateful for aything as I now knew what to do for her. One of the secretaries at the British Embassy helped out at an orphanage for the blind and she had shown me where it was. I wrote an article on it. The girl told me her name was Marie because her mother  wanted her to be a French lady. I smiled and bet she could not say Sebastian. She pronounced it perfectly. “Oui je parle assez bien.Tu vois, Monsieur, she suis gatee d’etre aveugle!” What a beautiful thing to say. “You see how lucky I am to be blind,Sir. it makes me speak better.”

Naturally I made my way across town with her and after more than an hour I made the orphanage where a couple of the staff remembered me. Marie told them how we had met and what  I had done. The stiflingly hot, dusty building where they were housed was little better than a shelter, but one of the helpers, she introduced herself as Anh, said how kind and thoughtful I had been. Marie did not want to leave me but I explained what I did and why I had to go back to work. But I promised to see them all from time to time and asked Anh if there were any provisions or medical requirements that I could get them. She was delighted but did not hold back, giving me a very long list. We both smiled as we shook hands and I couldn’t helping noticing how very pretty she was in her flowing, white Ao Dai, the Vietnamese national costume.

Well I visited them all a couple more times by the end of the month and then came the minute I had been waiting for. Lucy had got a visa from the South Vietnamese embassy in London and was able to travel straight to the Vietnamese capital. I had got to know one of the US army chaplains, a Catholic like Lucy and I, and he was sure he could arrange an acceptable marriage. I will never forget the scene at Tan Son Nhut airport where Lucy just seemed to appear out of a haze of dust, cigarette smoke and armed soldiers everwhere. As she saw me she staggered towards me with two large cases, dropped them at my feet and threw her arms round my neck unable to let go for what  seemed like a lifetime.

“Oh darling, I don’t know how I’ve got though the last five months. I wouldn’t have credited that one man could miss one woman so much.” She didn’t reply. She couldn’t through the tears that would not stop flooding down her cheeks. She was fascinated by the street scene of speeding mopeds with whole families on them as I drove our office car back to town narrowly missing half a dozen poeple. “You’ll get used to it, Luce, you will. But I must warn you. You haven’t come for a luxury holiday, more a little glimpse of hell.”

Father Timothy and several of my fellow journalists took to Lucy right away and everyone told me how lucky I was. I had a bedroom above the office but of course I had never slept with Lucy and was at a loss what to do. I needn’t have worried. “Darling, before leaving London I did something I didn’t think you’d mind. I changed my surname to yours by deed poll so that from now on our passports would look as though we were married. Your friend, that nice chaplain, will marry us in the Church as soon as he can, won’t he?” I nodded on realising what was happening. That was the first night I slept with her and I loved her so much more that I knew beyond any doubt that we could not have done anything wrong. At least that was how I felt. I am sure we both did.

The two things facing us now were how quickly we could be married and secondly what Lucy was going to do while she was in Saigon. Well Father Timothy and about twenty journalist friends, as well as few of the British embassy staff, made it a lovely wedding. But sadly it was only in the eyes of the Church. As we already had the same surname the civil authorities said they could not legally marry us. We did’t care a bit. But it was Anh who solved our second problem. On discovering that Lucy’s degree had been in French and Spanish she suggested she should work with them at the refuge for the blind. It was the perfect solution.

Our set up lasted really well for a couple of months. I even got a letter from my company saying they thought it was very clever of us only getting married in Church as that meant, for insurance purposes, they did not have to consider me married. I hadn’t thought of this before. But life is never what you hope. Well not in my experience. It was in mid August that a mortar shell hit the refuge and literally flattened it while also setting fire to to the building. Chaos!

Many journalists who knew my connections at first tried to keep me away from the scene which I found odd, but when they did not join me in looking for Lucy I knew something was very wrong. They found her body, hunched over  two terrified children. Half her head was blown in, but nobody would let me see this. All I was told was that she had died saving the lives of two blind nine year olds. I was lost. No, I mean totally lost, my world in tatters and my heart just the shattered remains of my former self.

“Hey, come on Seb. I know it’s tough mate, but we’ll help you through.” An Australian chap who had become a good friend had his arm round my shoulder and he was crying as much as I was. But, if possible, worse was to come. As the ambulance took Lucy to the military morgue chapel and Father Timothy was everywhere at once trying to help and console people, I flopped down on the remains of a stone wall and could not get my mind straight. That is until a little brother and sister, or so they looked, slowly approached me and tapped my arm. There was somethng wrong about them and I soon realised what it was. They could see. Who were they? I soon found that out too. In our broken, slow Vietnamese, they had no other language, they managed to ask me.

“Where is out Aunt Anh? We can’t find Auntie Anh.” I was so overcome with the fear that she too had been killed that I could not even reply. Eventually I said I didn’t know and would start looking. As all three of us were scrambling through the rubble I saw Marie sitting by herself, blood stained and weary. The two children ran up to her. “Marie, Marie where is Auntie Anh?” Marie knew their voices at once and opened her arms for them. Of course she had not seen me. But I knew just enough local language to realise she was telling them their Aunt was dead. I was almost too afraid to approach them. But thank God I did.

“Marie? C’est Sebastian. Comment va tu? T’es pas blesse?” I had asked her was she hurt. But her reply was the biggest shock of all.

“No, Mr Sebastian, but Anh is dead. I have been told. These two twins are her nephew and niece. They will soon be looking for their mother.”

“They know who their mother is? But they aren’t blind, does she live near the  refuge?”Then I almost wished I had not asked. She told me they were the children of Anh’s elder sister who also worked with Anh. She thought I must know her. Her name was Tuyet.”

I knew her all right and had in my mind the picture of a pretty, hard working, lovely girl who looked almost exactly my own age. I exclaimed to Marie,

“But I was told she was dead, that she had killed herself!”

Marie shook her head. No, Anh’s family were fooled by some foul tongued gossips  and when she heard the truth she searched for her sister and brought her here. The twins  were her life, and she provided for all three of them. I think a lot of the things you gave her she passed on to them.

“Mr.Sebastian, could you take these two back to their mother and break the news of Anh to her as gently as you can.”

All that was five years ago. The twins, now aged thirteen, are a happy, smiling pair of rogues beloved by all at the good school I got them into in London. It’s not very far from the large house where Tuyet and I live and where we also look after Marie who is making great strides despite her terrible handicap. But she loves helping us look after our two youngsters, a boy and a girl aged three and one.

God, the cloud of  war’s a bastard. But it has its silver lining too!

Not Tonight Josephine


In response to The Daily Post’s writing prompt: “Bone of Contention.”

<a href=”https://dailypost.wordpress.com/dp_prompt/bone-of-contention/”>Bone of Contention</a>

couldn’t resist this chance to write another acrostic poem. It’s not so much about a bone of contention as a ‘Bone- Apart’.  🙂

Not Tonight Josephine

(an acrostic poem)

Napoleon was the ruler of the whole of France,

Oh to his tune how everybody did dance,

Thinking him without any doubt to be

The greatest soldier in the French army.

Only his pretty girlfriend, Josephine,

Now an empress but never a queen,

Invites him regularly for an evening of fun,

Generally after a day of playing with his gun.

Hence his reluctance, so we’ve been told,

To accept her advances, no matter how bold.

«Josephine, pas ce soir, cherie, je t’en prie

Oof, how much your loving takes it out of me!

Soldiering is such a very strenuous thing,

Even so, though, I do love our occasional fling.

Perhaps, Ma Petite, you’re so greatly to be desired,

How about tomorrow evening if I’m not too tired?

Indeed I adore you, Ma Cherie, mon amour.

Nothing turns me on like approaching your door.

Eh bien, Josephine, ce soir let’s try it encore!”.

Anton Wills-Eve