Its a few days before Christmas.
Dave, as I’ll call him, an only son has come back on home leave. He’s in the Army. Its dangerous and stressful. He has been looking forward to coming home for months. He’s 18 years old and is looking forward to time with his family after a tour abroad and some beer with his mates.
He meets up with his best friend who I will call Steve. They go out for a couple of bevvies, meet up with some more friends and over the night and the talk of foreign places, catch up what they have been up to and keep no count of what they drink, why should they ?
Steve plans on leaving his motor bike in the pub car-park and walk home with Dave, who will be at his parents nearby. It gets late, too late and somehow the decision is made for the both of them to ride home on the bike.
Don’t know who made it but its too late to change it.
The tree at the roadside, on the bend, never even flinched.
The bike ?
Well that was left in bits all across the road. Amongst the bits were two dials that held some secrets. They gave the road speed and the engine revs at the time the bike, Dave and Steve met the tree.
The people who can work these things out gave about 70 mph. Some of us tried to help them, to help the bendy-toy like bodies and the mess inside the helmets. They still groaned for help but nobody could have helped.
Some of us preserved the scene but we were unable to preserve their lives whilst the ambulance crew told us what we already knew. Others busied themselves with directing the passers by out of the way and towards the detours around the scene.
Then some of us had to go to visit the homes of these unfortunate lads, just young boys out for a great time.
The parents of Dave knew exactly. They knew that we brought bad news, even before their doorbell rang.
Parents can sense things, read your body language.
Just exactly how do you tell someone that their only son was not coming home for Christmas ?
How on earth do you try to share their dread to try to make it easier for them, or perhaps easier for yourself ?
You can’t, no training can prepare you for this moment.
Are you the parents of Dave ? etc etc etc. You know and they know. You know that deep down inside they know what you know, not the exact details but that you hold a horrible secret. But they still hope that you have somehow made a mistake, a terrible,terrible mistake. Perhaps they have not heard you properly, in their personal moment of momentary denial that they have not heard you correctly, that this is some sort of a nasty dream.
But it is not.
Your mouth is dry, you got that funny thing fluttering in your stomach, you try not to stutter or mumble and get your message across clearly, concisely, as humbly and respectfully as possible. Their eyes ask you the questions that they simply do not know how to begin to ask you out loud. Someone has to go with them, luckily not me. No awkward questions or even more awkward silences.
The parents of Steve wondered what trouble he had got himself into this time and couldn’t see the signs, too quick defending their son against all comers and thought there had been some form of conspiracy. Another case of mistaken identity or the wrong crowd he had got in with.
There had been no conspiracy. No wrong crowd. Not this time.
Only some terrible, terrible news. Then they were quiet.
We leave them to their grief. Here we are necessary trespassers but only for a short time.
Whilst we were left with protecting the scene for a closer examination the following day it dawned on me.
At 3 o’clock in early hours of a cold and frosty December night a new picture emerged that no-one had seen before.
A tyre mark, illuminated by the frost that ran for an awful distance around the bend, that bend, nearer and nearer towards that damned tree. Clear and vivid as though it had been painted onto the road.
No-one else had seen it, just me.
Closer and closer until it also met the same tree. Again the tree never even flinched. It all came back again, more vivid than before.
People moaned because the road was closed, how inconvenient for them. But they would probably enjoy their Christmas. They would be the lucky ones. I never slept for 3 days, never slept properly for weeks but I did have a Christmas, of sorts.
Like the birth of your child, the laugh of your loved one or the thoughts that make you smile, somethings you never, ever forget. There are darker, helpless moments when you realise just how insignificant and useless you really are and how little you are able to change.
We never found out who was driving or who was pillion.
We only knew that two families would have a miserable Christmas. Lots of friends of the two families would be full of sadness. This would be a Christmas to remember, but for all the wrong reasons.
We just put it down to another life experience that helps us to deal with the next life experience in the hope we make a better job of it next time.
The bosses say to you, ‘be professional’. But they never tell you about this. Nobody tells you about this but the voices in your head remind you, every year, without fail. It becomes one of the many special annual anniversaries we carry with us.
Like the birthdays and anniversaries of the special people in our lives, we remember. We always remember.
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