Soulmates & PTSD Survivors – My Soldier
By Clara Autumn

And there he was.  Standing on my doorstep looking at me with a face that my mind instantly recognised it had the future with.  Dressed in a smart suit and beret, Medal from Afghan sat proud on his chest.  I’d never before been the type to swoon after a man in uniform, but hell, there’s a first for everything.  It was there, in that second on the doorstep of my old converted church, that I knew I was really home.  Even before I knew that we were both PTSD survivors.

My soldier stood on my doorstep

I am not one of those sentimental women that believed that there was my second half floating around the planet somewhere waiting for our energies to be drawn together.  After all, I was a 28 year old divorcee.  But I will remember seeing my soldier stood on my doorstep looking like the man I’d always loved, until the day I die.

It all starts somewhere. For me it was with nothing more romantic than the installation of an online dating app on my smartphone and swiping right.  Ahh, the brutal age of technology, where finding your soul mate or just a shag is as simple as a flick of your index finger.  I had created my profile with little effort; after three disastrous previous online dating stories I had little chill for anything but the real deal.  I guess, while we’re here, I should tell you about the runners-up, as it makes for good meaty reading material.  And in fairness, it was a disastrous mixture of horror and hilarity.

Disastrous dating stories

First was the long haired sensitive pagan.  He lived relatively locally, had a couple of kids and the conversation was pretty flowing for a couple of weeks.  We went for a drink one night, and after I left Mr Sensitive he opted for a few more drinks in town.  A couple of hours later I received a txt from the guy, saying that he had met up with ‘Jade’, that they were having a couple of drinks and I should join them out.  By this point I was in bed, eyebrows off, and zero fucks were given for even contemplating stepping out the front door again that night.

In the morning I rang one of my close friends to give her the info on the night before; this particular friend was also called ‘Jade’.  Are you seeing where this is going, folks?  Yep, that’s right.  My best friend had met Mr Sensitive in town while she was out.  He was looking for a light for his smoke, and she obliged.  After clocking this, I messaged Mr Sensitive to say how strange it was that he ended up bumping into my friend.  He agreed, and for the next week or so continued messaging.  Until one day I was in Bristol, sat in a pub full of kitties (as any self-respecting weirdo would be), and I received a phone call from my friend.

“You do realise that this guy has been trying to date me too, right?”
“Fucking seriously?” I spat out.
Obviously, full of fire and female fury, I called this asshole out on his less than chivalrous behaviour.  And his reply was something that on retrospect I kind of wanted to commend him on.  Well, that is, if I didn’t want to force his nutsack inside his body with my knee so bad.
“So I guess a threesome is out of the question?”
That was, definitely, the end of that.

A ‘bit of a record’

Our second runner up was a little less of a humorous story, more like something you would read in those shitty female reads for women with too much oestrogen and not enough brain cells.  He was a couple of years older than me, ex-army, into motorbikes.  We met a few times and he genuinely seemed like a nice guy.

One day he invited me out for coffee, and mid conversation he quietly slipped it into conversation that he had a ‘bit of a record’.  But divulged no more at the time.  I, as stated, am a far cry from one of these simple Women’s Own readers, so actually decided to do my research.  On returning home I rang 101 where I quoted “Katie’s law”, a system where anyone can access the criminal history of a partner if related to violence or domestic abuse. The operator seemed a little hesitant when I provided the location date of birth and name.

“I apologise for asking again, but have you got the correct name?”
“Yeah pretty sure I have, but in fairness I don’t know this guy too well”
I gave the operator all the info I had, and they stated that an officer would contact me in up to 10 days if there was anything to be concerned about.  The Public Protection team for the local area were on my doorstep the next morning.  Grey suits and badges are never a welcome sight on your doorstep, but especially so when it’s related to someone you were thinking of dating.

This man had JUST been released from prison

This man had JUST been released from prison after doing a 24 month stretch.  His offence, however, was something I never thought I’d come into close personal contact with.  He had been sent down for ‘violently shaking a 1 year old child’ to the point where the little girl’s retina had disconnected and she was left with brain damage.  The mother of the child was a woman that he had met online.  I instantly felt sick, without question of a doubt I never wanted to see this man again, and I ghosted him without remorse.

Notifying social services

I had to notify social services that I had had contact with this man but my child hadn’t, just to absolve myself of any involvement in this morally reprehensible piece of shit.  It was a couple of days where black clouds of shit followed me, all due to someone’s horrific predatory history.  I just thank god that I have enough about me to not be that woman who jumps in head first without doing the leg work on someone.  And the worst part?  When I restarted my dating profile a couple of months later, he was still online.  Still looking for someone to victimise I presume.  But hell, not today Satan, no thank you sir.

And finally our last runner up, ‘Uncle Fester-looking motherfucker’.  On my relentless search for someone who wasn’t either a fucking asshole or attached to a murky criminal history I came across Uncle Fester.  He was from my area but was currently living in Ottawa Canada.  (The soldier has nicknamed my ‘generic man type’ Uncle Fester-looking motherfuckers, the name just stuck!)

One guy expected a nice compliant woman…

I had been looking into emigrating to Canada for a couple of years and had planned to holiday there, so after a couple of months, flights were booked to head on over.  I’d done the sensible thing of booking ‘safety hotels’ along my route and hiring out my own set of wheels in case he went ‘all hills have eyes’ on me.  Which considering my history to this point was a realistic possibility.  Cutting a long story short, this dude was expecting a nice compliant woman that he could subdue by opening his fat wallet from his equally fat trouser pocket.

And by now my friends, I’m sure you can gather I am far from the shy and retiring type.  Regardless of how much money is being flashed in front of my face, I’d happily rather be poor and loved than rich and miserable.  Goodbye runner up number 3, I drove away from Ottawa in my 5.7ltr dodge ram, off to find the next adventure.  Little did I know, it would be waiting for me just 13 days after touchdown.

Something was around the corner

I returned to the country on Halloween; walking through the centre of Bristol I felt half dead.  Which was fitting, seeing as I wondered into the annual Bristol Zombie run by sheer coincidence.  But I fitted in a treat after 48 hours of traveling.  On returning home, I unpacked my stuff and sat down for an evening of eating sweets and watching Creep Show and old episodes of Goosebumps with my small person.  I recall sitting there with a warm feeling knowing that something was around the corner, you know those moments of eerie foresight that you sometimes get?  Perhaps it was just too much horror and sugar that night.

I signed myself back online a few days later, and not long into a depressing session of left swipes (or for those of you not familiar with the murky world of online dating, right swipe = yes, you are indeed not bad, left = sweet Jesus, I could never be that desperate) and wondering why so many men on dating sites either pose with their arms around other women who look like either a current or ex-girlfriend, or in posed pictures with carp.  Yes, you heard me right, that’s carp, I swear there is some kind of phenomenon, and well either that or they took the name ‘plenty of fish’ a little too fucking seriously.

Handsome as hell, with attitude

I came across him, there was no denying it he was handsome as hell and looked like he had equal quantities of attitude.  It was a black and white photo, his face had the look of a young James Dean.  I couldn’t quite work out or not if he was going to be a handsome and he knew it type, I really bloody hoped he wouldn’t be.  But alas, online shopping hadn’t proved all too fruitful up until now, had it?  My phone vibrated in my hand with a notification tone calling shortly after.  He had added me to his favourites.  What the fuck just happened?  Wait, this handsome as shit James Dean looking piece of man candy had looked me up too??  This was definitely someone I wanted to know a little better (yes, and his personality also you filthy bastards).

Thinking about him a bit more often each day

We had been talking a few days when Remembrance Sunday came around.

“Morning you, I have to say after meeting a small selection of what seemed like the cast of Deliverance I’m naturally pessimistic, however I find myself thinking about you a bit more often each day.” I typed, then re typed without the hilarious autocorrects.

“I would be lying if I said I didn’t feel the same, fuck sake woman, what have you done to me! x”

“Been my naturally magnetic self, I’m like a gothic force of dating. Xx”

The morning passed by with the usual arguments with the boy about not being able to wear his Spiderman outfit outside, and his general dissatisfaction about being made to wear smart clothes to attend the Remembrance Day parade.  We arrived in the town centre where there were some of our biker friends leading up the parade, so the boy could stare at the shiny things while telling me he wanted a ‘bright green triumph rocket 3’.

I like you a little bit more each day

PING!
“There are so many cunts with man buns here, I literally want to drop kick every one of them in the face.”  The soldier: “I think I like you a little bit more each day darling…”

It was refreshing that someone I found incredibly attractive also possessed a hearty love of sarcasm and violent humour. And didn’t appear to be a massive twat, holy crap I think this one may actually make it first date.

Little was I to know that “first date” was to come sooner than I had anticipated.  On returning home from the parade I’d swung by the supermarket to get a couple of bottles of red, already pre-empting a night in front of the screen with the mythical man.  Propped up on my work surface in the kitchen of the old church, glass of red in hand, I was preparing some food and listening to a nice bit of therapeutic Heavy Metal when PING!

“I could just get in my car now you know?”

Fuck, shitty fuck, crap. How do I respond to that, oh god, this was fucking unexpected. Damn it!
“Soldier, you’re drunk”.  Yep, that was cool enough without shutting down the future prospect of seeing his penis.
“I’ve not had that much, darling.”
“Fuck” (yes I actually typed fuck in response to that, ten points to me for typing out loud)
“Why am I actually debating that!!!!” –  Oh crap, why did I say that, I look like shit, the house isn’t up to new person standard and I think I need to shave my vagina.
“How about a quick face to face, and if you change your mind in the meantime just message me?”

Shit, my arms

I took exactly 8 minutes to respond to that message.  8 whole minutes of deciding if I was ok with this.  Can I get myself looking palatable in the 40 minute journey that it took from his to mine? Can I shave everything in 40 minutes?  And put on enough make up I don’t look like a crack head but less than looking like a prostitute in 40 minutes?  FUCK IT.

I sent my address. And a safety text to my friend next door just in case he was indeed a knob, but hiding it slightly better than the others. I was absolutely brimming with anticipation and fear.  Until, shit.  My arms, we haven’t had that strained conversation that was inevitable, “By the way, you are sexting an ex self-harmer”, yeah that one.

I have a lot of scars

“I think I should tell you before you come over that I have a lot of scars on my arms. I’m guessing you can presume what they are from.  Sadly most other people have the privilege of hiding their past more than I do.”
“………”
“So do I, in bad places. Please don’t worry darling, I’m not one of these judgmental fuckers.”

Wow, that was a refreshingly easy conversation to have.  I’ve often had men look at me like damaged goods because of my scars, regardless of how much I’ve had to offer.  However, it proved a relatively handy shit filter for those that I wouldn’t really wish to have in my life anyway, every cloud and all that.  The remaining 40 minutes seemed like the longest I had experienced until, PING!

“I think I’m here!”

I tried to leave it a couple more seconds than my body wanted to allow to get to the front door.  I think if my legs had their way I would have fucking sprinted like a painted antelope.  I opened the heavy dark wood door to the outside world.  It was dark outside, and I had no idea what car he drove so was blindly looking while trying to look smouldering.  And there he was.  As you have gathered by now from my little intro, he was pretty much all that was in picture in reality.  And if I’m honest, I didn’t know what the fuck to do in this situation.

First date, first meeting… and first time

Well, that’s actually a lie. That’s why I don’t ever refer to this encounter as our “first date” in public. Because in reality the first date, first meeting and first time I saw his penis were pretty much one and the same.  And not everyone is ok with that kind of openness, sorry mum.

Over the coming months I discovered something beautiful.  You can have a functioning relationship that is void of co-dependence when you both have mental health issues.  My soldier, you see, came back from a tour in Afghanistan with combat PTSD.  It’s not something that would stand him out as distinguishable in a crowd.  But at night, then you would know.  His body won’t cease shaking and violently jerking in my arms because his mind is reliving the horror of war.  Those nights, I hold him a little bit tighter.  I don’t think he remembers in the morning but it makes him stop.  Like he subconsciously knows he’s safe.

“These are to keep you safe”

The first time he saw me having a “mental health” moment was when I myself woke from an afternoon nap.  I was dreaming about things that I didn’t wish to remember.  I couldn’t stop my eyes crying although my face wasn’t expressing sadness.  He had to go home that night, but before leaving he went to his car to get something.  On returning to the porch he held out his hand and reached for mine. He placed his army dog tags in my hand, with these words. “These are to keep you safe when I’m not here to.”They have never spent a day away from me since. And that night even without him there I slept soundly.  Knowing that there was a person in the world that cared enough to think of me beyond the moment.

I saw that my soldier understood the dark places a person’s mind can go to when he sent me a link.  I didn’t know what this cryptic YouTube video was, until I watched it.  It was a Veterans For Peace video that had been taken in Santiago.  My soldier was on stage speaking about the effects of war on his mind.  And how he was treated, as a veteran with mental health issues, on return. He read poetry that he had written about his experiences.  In honesty I couldn’t help but cry, a real actual tear. Yes, goths can cry.

PTSD survivors together

My soldier and I now live in a little cottage in the foothills of Glastonbury, with our husky and two little boys.  They are coincidentally the same age.  A friend once said to us, “I just want what you guys have”.  But we are far from perfect, damaged by people and scarred by war.  But still somehow we fit better than anything we’ve had before.  Maybe it’s a mutual understanding.  Nothing we can experience together will ever be as bad than what we’ve been through previously, as PTSD survivors.  Maybe it’s just the fact we talk.  I mean, we talk about the big stuff, the small stuff and the fucking uncomfortable stuff.  Maybe it was fate, however I’m pretty sure my soldier would tell me to stop being such a hippy cunt.

But maybe just maybe it was just the fact he was spectacular in bed.  I’ll leave you with that thought, reader.


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