Two words are prevalent in my mind as I begin to write the memoir of my time on the road: fucking hell. I do not plan to share further chapters of this with anyone other than my close circle of test readers but as I put my mind to the task in hand, the introduction – as it turns out – is quite a hook…
It came from nowhere and everywhere: it suddenly dawned on me that I’d fallen to the lowest place possible before death, yet the situation was of my own making. I hadn’t been trying to kill myself but it turned out I’d been doing a pretty good job without realising.
There were many times when I could quite easily have met my end or come to more harm than I did in the event. In a way, I wished that someone else would end my life because I lacked the courage to do it myself. I did try. I took two overdoses but didn’t do a very good job of it: the story of a life which was doomed to continue.
Other people had a go. There was a time when I asked someone to help me.
Tom was an ex-Royal Marine. He’d been retired through ill health, largely because he bore mental scars from an act he’d had to commit whilst on service. He was an alcoholic. He had a better excuse than me: whilst serving in Afghanistan, Tom had killed a three-year-old girl. She’d already been raped, front and back. Her parents had been killed by the Taliban. Tom cradled the girl, trying to shield her from the crossfire around them. A Red Cross ambulance was en route but it was blown up by an IED. Another ambulance was at least a day away and there was no realistic prospect of rescue by helicopter. Surrounded by the enemy, Tom shot the girl through the head.
Tom and I were staying in what we generously referred to as the concrete bunker at the time. The bunker was literally that: a concrete shell. It was cold and damp but it did at least offer a degree of shelter, though little else.
Safety was sometimes improved by sleeping in shifts but in reality, we were both so drunk that we shared a hope that we’d fall asleep and not wake up again.
Tom actually climbed to the top of what we called “The Drop” as many times as me. The Drop was a death machine: we’d built it with one purpose in mind. Quite simply, it was a ladder propped up to the skylight we were fortunate enough to have. The skylight was broken, so we were also fortunate enough to have running water and air conditioning, thanks to the winter elements.
We’d spent many minutes setting up our operation: the ladder was at a 45 degree angle and we’d fashioned a length of electrical flex into a noose, which hung from the underside of The Drop.
I really wanted to christen the thing. I climbed the ladder and was about seven feet up when I put the flex around my neck. I hung from the underside of the ladder, with my arms holding the ladder behind me. I’d have looked like some sort of angel, my arms splayed behind me like wings, my chin on my chest as I looked at the concrete floor below me. Tom just needed to kick my heels.
For whatever reason, he missed. So I jumped. What we’d not reckoned on was The Drop being around seven feet and me considerably less.
And so things continued. It was a life lived on the edge but one which turned out to be worth living.