He’d never mentioned the killing before, nor his medical discharge. Did he enjoy it? I’m young too. Did the young people he’d killed in the Falklands have dads like mine? Were the people he’d killed in Ireland like me too? Didn’t they have families as well?
My insides churned around. I could see my emotions being played out before me, bouncing all over the room like a primitive fire lighting up the wilderness, keeping even wilder thoughts, and creatures, a safe distance away from my suddenly felt vulnerability. I was upside down with my head heavy from the rush of blood. Is growing up always this painful? Is it always so difficult finding out how adults behave, as stories of Father Christmas are buried and forgotten?
I got out of bed. Dad was still in the living room, sitting next to a subdued light from a table lamp, as he flicked through some old photographs.
“Dad,” I asked, “can we talk?”
“Sure, you know me – any time, any place, any subject,” and laughed gently. I sat next to him because happy memories of being a child flooded back into the vacuum of uncertainty the turmoil had left behind. I felt at ease, and more importantly to me, so did my Dad.
“Dad, what did you think of when you killed all those people?”
We shared a silence. Dad was never one for gushing chit chat. He’s always thoughtful first before he talks and gives his opinions in a measured and assured tone.
“Depends, Billy. I hated the killings in the Falklands. Young boys. I kept thinking of their families, girlfriends, wives and kids. I couldn’t get them out of mind. They’d not chosen to fight. I mean, I had. I’d signed on deliberately for the adventure and excitement and been picked for special ops because I’d put my name down for training. It’s always been my choice, everything I’ve done, even having you, I desperately wanted. Maybe to help me get rid of all the bad memories in my past, moving from pillar to post, the awful kids home.” Dad broke off into silence again, then continued.
“They were only conscripts – they didn’t want to fight, they had no options. It wasn’t right. Kids against people like me.”
“What do you mean Dad?” I said, suddenly fearing his reply.
“I’d been trained to deliberately kill as quickly as possible. They were guys just trying to survive, to reach their next coffee, their next birthday, next kiss, or next letter from a loved one for all I knew.
“But Ireland, that’s different. All their people were volunteers. They believed in their cause and pursued us like professional soldiers. They even train like us.”
“Where?” I asked.
“In the Republic, in the Irish countryside, even in foreign countries: they all wanted to do it. I didn’t hate them, and I don’t hate them now. I just think killing goes on because the politicians don’t want to make compromises to live together. And when people disagree they need some safe way to show their disagreement while living together. I don’t think they had that in Northern Ireland. I think political leaders on both sides are as bad as each other. You’ve never had to clear up a bomb blast, nor help some young kid beaten senseless as a punishment, have you?”
I was utterly silent. I couldn’t even begin to ask questions.