So I finally took the plunge. I finally got "inked" (Oooooohh the excitement!!!). Amazing, how it took me so long to commit to my first tattoo having been in the Legion over two years. That’s considered "delayed adaptation" chez nous. You see, while not technically a contractual obligation, a tattooed Legionnaire forms quite the agreeable clichéd image. Not that I’m a fan of clichés, nor of being considered one. But this particular tattoo conveniently presented me with a dual opportunity of expressing a philosophy and further-integrating myself into my ever-more-familiar, eternally bizarre surroundings. Duality itself is a rather prominent player in these parts, or at least it is when I send it sprinting out on to the field.
Now, being proven wrong is never nice (unless it involves under-estimated shopping budgets), and finding a cosy spot on the fence is becoming evermore appealing when laid bare beside making blood-rushed, panic-fuelled decisions to form opinions faster than Anti-Sarkozy protest groups in Romania. I spent a long time deciding to go under the artist’s needle, and while weighing up the pros and cons of having an indelible mark voluntarily imprinted on my skin, I found myself unconsciously procrastinating over another permanent print hovering dauntingly over my shoulder. My guys. My lads with whom I share every waking moment, every slumbered snore and fart, every under-heated ration tin and over-stuffy APC. These fellas provide the backdrop, the foreground, the lead and support , the props and make-up (sorry, did I say "make-up"? - I meant WAR PAINT), and yet I can’t seem to bring myself to consider them outside of the candy-striped big top.
Recent talk of relationship building, dismantling and purgatorial indecision shone a personal light on my negligence towards the other legionnaires in my world. Held at arms-length from the beginning, I never honestly envisaged myself forging genuinely lasting friendships with my fellow brothers in arms beyond our service together. It’s funny really; you’d happily fly off for a 6 month mission to Afghanistan with these guys, immersed in cramped conditions, stressful environments and every explosive substance under the sun, but wouldn’t for a minute consider inviting them round for dinner due to a lack of table manners. Guns cracking and table-side lip-smacking should indisputably be kept apart, but I’m beginning to think that certain characters in here deserve their chance to shine somewhere outside of this grand, spiralling mental projection I’ve painted myself into. The train ride down south after 3 weeks holidays spent out of the Legion, out of the country, out of my mind with doubts and considerations was far from pleasant. I was so unsure of my plans, desires, my future in general. Mindlessly allowing my vacant stare burn a hole in the carpeted corridor between the rows of seats while listening to blaring heavy metal on my Mp3, several passengers could have been forgiven their apparent sense of bemusement and unease. But as soon as I stepped off that TGV and descended the steps to find two camarades seated on a bench, warm smiles and open arms greeting me (more out of relief due to my arrival further diluting the shared taxi fare back to base), I knew where my head was at, where I was at, and where I’m going on this crazy rollercoaster ride. I feel like I’m suffering from bi-polar disorder in here at times, but it’s all part of the game I guess.
Going back to my very first entry in this blog, I quoted Van Gogh as saying how "Great things are not done by impulse, but by a series of small things brought together". With under two months to go until that plane departs bound for Afghanistan, I’m gradually rubbing the eyes a little harder and subsequently finding increasing numbers of not-so-small but quite great things right at the end of my own nose. Whether that greatness will return intact and stay as such after the mission and beyond remains to be seen, but for now I’m sure as hell enjoying the company.
Speaking of Van Gogh, his suffering from bi-polar disorder is rather interesting given that said disorder had been thoroughly researched and re-imagined in its more contemporary guise by French psychiatrists during the early to mid 1800s. Coincidentally, that was right around the time that King Louis-Philippe created the French Foreign Legion. I wonder what ever happened to all the test-subjects used in their "research"……….. VIVE LA LEGION ETRANGERE!
(for now.........I think).