BROKEN A Short Story By Susan Shirley

“I can’t go on, I can’t go on, I can’t go on.”

“I can’t bear it, I can’t bear it, I can’t bear it.”

I screamed those words over and over and howled like a wounded animal, sobbing as I did so, for days on end. The pain I felt was physical, it really was. I didn’t know how to bear it. I still feel the pain as keenly as I did back then.

Oh, don’t get me wrong, nobody else knew then, nor do they know now. I still paint on the smile when I paint on the lipstick, just as I did the day after it happened. It’s just me, him and my friend Annie that know. I had to tell someone so I told Annie. But the pain is killing me. I still don’t understand how he could do that to me. How could he discard me that way? Like I was nothing? Maybe I was nothing to him? I’m not even sure that he cares. Maybe he didn’t ever care?

I play this over and over in my head, every single day. It’s driving me insane. I’m not interested in other men. My sex drive has vanished, which is probably a blessing. I keep asking myself whether the pain will ever diminish and I don’t have an answer. I suspect that now, it won’t.

“I can’t bear it, I can’t bear, I can’t bear it.”

When I’m alone, I can feel the tears welling up in my eyes and have to pinch myself hard to stop them. It seems to me that there is only one way out of this. I’ve heard it said that drowning is quite a pleasant way to die, although I’m not sure how anyone knows that. I could walk into the ocean and just keep walking, until the sea covers me. Perhaps that is what I should do?

I honestly don’t know what I did that was so wrong. I thought adults discussed things, but we didn’t discuss it. He ended it by text and gave me no chance to explain myself. I thought he would have met up with me to discuss it, but no. Yes, I had been wrong to question him by text. I admit that. It had been a hard evening.

“You do know that he’s having an affair with Emily, don’t you?” they said.

“Why would I know? I don’t know him that well?” I had become very accomplished at the lies.

“He’s leaving his wife for her.”

It wasn’t that that hurt so much, although, of course, he doesn’t know that. If, as I really suspected, it had been a one night stand, and she’d embellished it to make it seem better for herself with her friends, I’d have understood. I wouldn’t have been happy, but I would have understood. Things had been difficult between us. We’d both been working silly hours and I had been working away a lot.

It was the private things, the things he told me that only I knew that hurt; that made me think there might have been some truth in it. I would have told him this, if he’d given me the chance. But he didn’t. It was almost as though he couldn’t wait to rid himself of me. He’d needed me once, when things went wrong, when his child was taken into hospital, when his father died. How did it all change? I don’t know how to shield myself from the pain. I don’t know how to stop it hurting.

He told me that I shouldn’t have doubted him, but I didn’t know what he felt for me. My own insecurities came right back to hit me between the eyes, but he didn’t know any of that. He still doesn’t.

Of course, I don’t walk into the sea. I don’t know whether that’s cowardice or courage. I exist. I even smile and laugh, outwardly. But, inside, I am dying. Still dying. I can feel myself becoming brittle and solid so that there is no heart or soul left; just a shell of skin. People just see a shrivelled up old hag now.

It was all so many years ago now, I’m in my seventies now. It’s what, 30, 35 years ago? Of course, I know exactly when it happened. The date is imprinted on my memory. I still cry, frequently. I don’t self-harm anymore. I stopped that about 15 years ago, when it stopped helping.

My health is failing now, despite keeping reasonably fit.

I still wonder whether I should just walk into the sea.

 

©Susan Shirley 2014

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Letter to an Unknown Soldier

There is a charitable organisation called http://www.1418now.org.uk.  It was advertised on BBC Breakfast this morning.  There is a statue of an unknown soldier at platform 1 on Paddington Station.  The soldier is reading a letter, so the organisation is inviting people to write a letter to the soldier, to commemorate World War One.  This is my letter:

Dear Tommy

Are you the Grandad I never met?  The one who didn’t get to meet his three sons nor see them grow to manhood?  The one who was unable to be with his wife when his baby daughter died?

What a loss for you and my Grandmother, the one we just called Gran.  She did a sterling job with those boys, you’d be proud, they grew to be fine men, all with a trade.  She instilled morals and values in them that made them grow into honest, proud men.  They were all proud to fight in the Second World War.  And, unlike you, they came home to tell the tale.

Of course, the one of whom I’m most proud is the eldest, the one who was my father.  The one I watched playing cricket and football so well.  He must have inherited those skills from you.  I bet you would have had so much fun playing football and cricket with those boys.

How awful was it for you in those trenches?  I don’t know much about them, except that you were standing shoulder to shoulder with your mates, ripe for the killing.  That they were wet and full of rats.  That the clothes you wore were really not fit for purpose,  and it must have been horrible.  I bet you must have felt so lonely and that makes me feel really sad for you.  I bet you missed having your fry up for breakfast in the comfort of your own home, and your roast beef and Yorkshire pud on a Sunday.  Gran was a fine cook, so you’d have been well catered for.

Did you know that she ended up as a cook in one of the richest households in London?  In service, as it was called in those days.  She worked her way up from the bottom, and ended up in that exalted position of cook.   She left there to go to Carshalton Childrens’ Hospital, and the stories she told from there were something else.

What was it all for Tommy?  Oh, I know what the rhetoric, of course.  There’s always rhetoric.  But really, what was it for?  We, the Allies, lost about 6 million military personnel. Somewhere between 700,000 and 800,000 of them were from Britain.  I assume that’s mostly soldiers, but I don’t know.    Over 20 million people were wounded, and if the TV programmes I’ve seen are anything to go by, some of those wounded were amputees, or worse.  I know that we shot soldiers for desertion when, often, they were suffering from what we now call PTSD.  So what did it all achieve, when, only 21 years later, we were at it all over again.  I’m not a historian, but I somehow think that there was a link between the two wars.

I’m sorry I didn’t get to meet you Tommy, but I’m grateful for what you did.  If not for you, I might not be here now, sitting up in bed, typing on my laptop.

Thank you Tommy, to all of you Tommies.

With love.

 

©Susan Shirley 2014