In bed, centrally-heated and well-fed, I was light years away from my Epping Forest under the stars accommodation or the hard wooden benches of Lloyd Park. It was then I was beneath all the markers of poverty and dare I say ambition. It took friends to drag me out of that predicament and years of unpacking the elements of PTSD and the childhood and indeed adulthood lost. Post-trauma was often a sleepwalking into chaos for me and more than once I had no one to aid me. The State kept me in a parlous condition and getting a doctor’s appointment while homeless was an almost impossible and hopeless task. There were kind people. In short supply, but that was always my experience.
Years of recovery later and I am functional and content, though far from where I’d like to be. I’m still haunted by the sounds of helicopter blades, gunfire and inhuman howls. Nights are often the worst and I take refuge in writing and music. Film annoys my tired eyes and nipping brain. I sleep during a lull in the proceedings. Luckily my writing gives me a basic income and I even do workshops for budding creative scribblers. I feel a fake even at this juncture and despite being widely published. I will always be battling those self-doubting lines, stolen from the past. Firing them onto a page aids my continuing recovery. It will be life-long.
In Basra, it was survival. Here, in the capital, it’s the DWP, the crumbling NHS and attendant cuts I and at war with. At least my partner is on my side.
My father had finally gone. My brother is bankrupt and a humbler version of the formerly bombastic Michael appears now and then for a tea and some words of comfort. He ignored me in my many hours of need and I wasn’t about to fall into the same pattern. I was rising above those inadequate familial examples set by him and dad and would enjoy the small buzz of moral high ground it afforded me. Altruism has more than its own reward in this case. Michael is broken by it and his fragility reminds me of my own strength of character. That psychopathic modesty we Scots of my generation have is like an inverted hubris. It does so much damage and never allows us much credit for anything we may have achieved including choosing to live and love. I chose love over fear; self-fear especially. I could have easily given into self-created forces and phobias. Michael sits quietly while I recline in my bed. He usually catches me when I’m about to have an afternoon siesta. I am his only brother and I don’t begrudge him my precious time.
He weeps when he admits his guilt ‘I made so much money from attack helicopters, Christy…so much….’ I smile and grasp his shaking hands. I needed to hear that for years and now it matters so little to me, but so much to him. I had plenty of time on my uppers and in crappy bedsits and outdoor skippering venues to mull over these thoughts. I was too busy trying to retain physical integrity and sanity to let them flow out like it just had with Michael. He sobs and I get up and give him a hug. The first one in living memory. Miracles are small and significant, especially within my family. He holds on tight and eventually I let go and pace over to the kitchen to fetch some brandy. I used to have a few emergency drops when I was destitute. My one and only mild extravagance. One half bottle lasted me months then.
Michael looks like his ten year old self. His moist eyes reminded me of when he was bullied at the Cubs and we set about the bullies later. Petty revenges. Scottish feuds long forgotten until now. I passed him the glass of brandy and watched him sink it down like the pink stuff we swallowed as sick kids. My mother was a good one; at least we had one decent parent. Michael was dad’s favourite and I was the thick army laddie. Not even officer material. When I came out, medically discharged and out on the edge, dad gave me a week before I was literally on the streets of Glasgow. Now, mercifully post-mortem, Michael is the son without a home or job. I take no pleasure in any of this, I mean, who would? Michael is a pathetic soul with a conscience only emerging now that he’s ruined financially.
He leaves and I sadly look at some family snaps. He is always with dad, smiling and looking happy. I am sullen and dead-eyed. I look in my bedroom mirror and see that I am converted. A more robust human, with a glint in my viewing field and an wry smile. I have a brandy on my own and return to yesterday’s canvas. I see that it looks like an abstract of two small boys on a beach. I think of a title: Anstruther 1973. A boring holiday in a small town in Fife. Michael getting all the attention and mum, even then, tired out and needing bed rest. Dad let me almost drown one day as a lesson to me. An inadequate man. I forgive him. And Michael. It feels divine as I paint over this memory. All is erased, re-painted, undone.