My friend James, a medic in the British army, currently stationed in Afghanistan, wrote a short nonfiction story for Goggles & Lace’s 2nd anniversary. Best, most touching gift I’ve ever received. <3
Dear Goggles and lace,
this is probably the best time to admit that I’m not very good at coming up with decent presents. My family and friends long ago told me not to bother with it anymore. I tend to give people the worst things. Once, I gave my father a heart-attack by being born on his birthday. I’ve given my mother a son with a cracked skull on hers years later and my niece got my deployment letter for her 21st. The list with bad presents could go on with a hangover from hell, a broken heart and a bruised ego, but I think the message is clear as they’ve politely asked me to stop giving gifts altogether. Which is good, as it saves me a lot of hassle and bodily harm, but makes for a rather poor visitor on birthday parties.
What to give a website anyway? I’m not technical, not one bit, so I can’t give you fancy fonts, flashy pop-up messages or even a blog post to wish you a happy birthday. A website might not require such things, even. I think a website just wants to be looked at, to be smiled at or perhaps just taken notice of, and Lord knows I’ve done all of that already. A birthday present should be something unique, I think, hence I haven’t given my father a heart-attack again, nor did I crack my skull twice. Small favours, and all that.
Perhaps it would be best to give my present to your founder, but I think it might just get awkward if I were to stare and smile at Kit for a whole day and night.
There’s nothing I can give you, it seems.
That’s not sad. It might not even result in Kit arching her eyebrow when I turn up empty-handed like my family and friends do on birthday parties, either. It might be fine, as she specifically told me she didn’t want any presents. But it makes me feel like a right tosser, nonetheless.
So, a gift. I’ve thought about writing you a short story about my life here, but they all ended in deserts, dreams and bouncy castles so that might not be the best idea, either. Instead I will give you this story:
People have said a lot of things about my hands, in days gone by.
When I was younger and far smaller than I am now, people told me my hands were made for metal. Gold, silver, copper, nickel and platinum. Strong hands, made to bend those metals into jewelry, like my father’s. Earrings, necklaces, wristbands and eventually even watches. It always made me feel like a million pounds, because when you’re seven years old, you want nothing more than to be just like your father. And my father was a watchmaker.
I would observe him, endlessly, while he worked on pieces of metal until they somehow melded into beautiful watches. Some fanciful, worn by ladies down the road, shinning and blinking when the light would hit them just right. Others more practical, plain silver pocket watches, slipped into the breast pockets of gentlemen who walked the halls of parliament. Or so I always thought.
People would pat my hands and nod whenever I told them I would be the best watchmaker in town. My father would grimace, as if in agony. His eyes told me:please don’t, while his mouth told me, you can be anything you like, boy.
Later, people told me my hands were made for mending wounds. Scrapes, gashes, scratches and torn flesh. Gentle hands, made to heal those wound, like Simon’s. The strong watchmaker’s hands became trained in gentleness. Needle and thread, stringing together those scrapes and gashes until there was nothing left but a thin line and later, a faint scar.
Endless hours of studying, perhaps more than my peers because I’m not unusually bright but instead willing to work hard. Doctors would lean over my shoulders, peering at my hands while they tried to be gentle. The doctors would smile at me, and they would tell me that perhaps I wasn’t a lost cause after all.Good hands, they said. There may be hope for you yet.
People were surprised when I told them I was going to be a doctor. They would blink and smirk, because my father was a watchmaker. My first nickname while in uni was Charity. Everybody knew my parents weren’t the ones paying for my degree, and I studied all day and night, and never managed to hold down a job because of that. It didn’t bother me. My father was the one who smiled this time, saying; yes. You will be a doctor. The best one in town.
Still later, people told me my hands weren’t meant to create things or heal, at all. They were steady, strong and precise. Wielding guns, grenades, blades and knifes. Doctor’s hands, covered in gunpowder.
Endless nights and days, filled with adrenaline and boredom. Hurry up, and wait. I didn’t need to study anymore. Instead I spend my days running a thousand laps, doing push-ups and learning every curve and nuance of my equipment. Gentle doctor’s hands on metal, once more. Gleaming, practical metal which always felt warm to my touch.
Sergeants would look at the picture of a man against a board, fingers tracing over the bullets I had fired into its head and heart, and they would smile. Good hands, they would say. Welcome aboard, private.
People were shocked when I told them I was going to be a soldier. They would look horrified and scared, because my father was a watchmaker, and I used to be Charity. My father was never horrified, and I don’t think he was scared, either. Instead he was weary and getting old very fast. His eyes would say; don’t. But his mouth always said; I trust you. Come home, when it’s over.
People have said a lot of things about my hands, in days gone by.
No-one has ever told me my hands were made for typing. That doesn’t bother me, not anymore. I’ve got good hands, steady and gentle, rough and strong. A bit callused on the trigger finger, and discoloration were I used to wear Simon’s ring .They’re nothing special, my hands. They mend wounds, wield guns and make mistakes. And in the middle of the night, they sometimes type.
Words, letters, dots and comma’s. Stringing together thoughts, sometimes at random, other times forming true sentences and even stories. Those stories are never plotted, they always just appear on my screen as if summoned by someone else. They’re full of mistakes, spelling errors and bad grammar, but they always reflect what I was thinking at the time, so that’s at least something.
I’ve never told anyone that I am going to be a writer, because I’m not. Everyone already is a writer, in my eyes. The kid who scribbles down notes in class, the man who writes a shopping list and the woman who fills in forms behind her desk all day. Everyone is a writer, and everyone has got a story to tell.
It hardly matters, what my hands are like. They don’t define who I am or what I do. You’re a writer in heart, mind and soul, perhaps, but not in the way your fingers hit the keyboard.
My hands are just tools now. It’s my brain that thought up this present, in the middle of the night, while I was traveling down a dusty road, in danger of buying yet another sheep. (It makes me laugh how you’ll be the only one outside of my world here, who’ll understand what I’m referencing to, just now.) The first draft of this gift is written on my arm, all wrinkly, wonky lines over faint scars from the times I still fell down stairs and off my bike. New over old, stark black ink over pale white skin. I rather like it.
In the end, that’s all I can give you, Goggles and Lace, and you, Kit. Wrinkly, wonky lines, the un-plotted story of my hands and a lot of spelling errors, bad grammar and mistakes. It might not be a proper gift. And if a proper gift, then a bad one. But sitting in the back of a van, or behind a desk, or in my bunk, a thousand miles away, it’s everything I have.