My Broken MenBy: Kim Walker-Beaumont (Sep 19 2003)
An extract from an Auto-biography, by Kim Walker-Beaumont
Copyright © P. Walker-Beaumont, 1995-2003
A long time ago, when my world was young and my game was the business of the game, I was doing very well; so well that I could regularly sort and choose my customers. Today, the day of submitting this to MAG, is Remembrance Day, and I am prompted to open my writings and bring out a couple of pages about some of those ordinary blokes, who were not-so-ordinary, and whom I loved the most. I hope you feel my feelings.
My Broken Men?????
Demand increased, selectivity essential: culling its own reward. Kept those I liked, nice people with money, largest group, paid more; nice with little money stayed, paying as before. Disabled ones: Totally and Permanently Incapacitated, Civilian Maimed and Limbless stayed, a matter of right, free. These people, my people, special perhaps beyond all others, heroes of the world returned from wars lauded and applauded. These men so honoured: but only in their absence, in the abstract, never in parades, not even on Anzac Day. Heroes all, but only of the good-word, in the prayer of thanks to Almighty God, and around the bar in the grand-sad story: “Remember Alby, remember Bill…?”
In that word remember, amongst stories of the dead no admission, not a hint. Alby and Bill, and those like them, not quite dead: only almost, only might-as-well-be. They, mutilated, maimed and limbless, missing parts, parts of this, parts of that, twisted, contorted, burned with no more human face, one eye, a drooping socket, half a mouth, nothing down below where scalding oil, flaming fuel, had burned away their manhood, their guts, their thighs, leaving only twisted ropes of scars matted, interlocked, intertwined: brown rock-hard ridges, and in the valleys in between always tender, thin, red-pink skin. Remember Alby, remember Bill, in their absence their mates would say with raised glasses, tacked on to the toast to the dead.
These heroes-in-the-abstract made in their mates’ minds fear too terrible to contemplate. “It might have been me and, if me, then living would not be worth it.” Too terrible to visit, so terrible that even in the sharing of-those-who-knew, their sight beyond enduring, and as for the public, better they neither saw nor knew nor even suspected lest they be disturbed, unsettled, raised questions.
These men, once in Repatriation Hospitals’ hidden wards, with Korea returnees now needing space, had in Mental Hospitals’ deeper labyrinths of shame been secreted. In these places of putting-away, out-of-sight, out-of-mind warehouses for those who embarrassed, could be forgotten, never to trouble consciences or with their gross putridity offend the eyes and noses of decent folk.
Of course, such pitiful creatures could never want that. Could never have a need. Could never have a feeling. Could never have a yearning for what once was. No. No! The idea is obscene…!
In one institution, in a bungalow in the grounds, though subservient to the Superintendent, Matron lived with her female friend. Stepping determinedly from the garden, never from the corridor, in starched uniform she would by her own hand, without a word, but with a movement designed to make sure all knew tonight was the night, ensure the French doors to the wide veranda were left open. To that place, sharing through her driveway access to the unlocked world, accompanied by another boy, and when I could round them up a working girl or two, together in darkness we would make our way. Carrying beer, whisky, and ourselves, all equally forbidden, banished from these men’s lives: from the lives of the living dead, so disposed in joyful illegality, once a fortnight we would deliver freebees. If the others were broke, which chances are they were, I’d pay them.
In those days women, not even working girls, especially not working girls, from self-respect would never give head: yet that, of all things by men most wanted. Head for queers the province of their fellow men: for squares, the paid-for services of boys. For these broken men, depending on what had been cut off, what was left, what parts moved, what lay leaden-dead and heavy, some with acrobatics and a cooperative girl could perform, and if they couldn’t, nothing, unless that is, a boy. In this reliance on warm lips and mouth of youth they were not different from their mates who did it too when so inclined, or drunk: but in their distress they seldom saw their similarity.
For some, head did the job; but what if nothing working, or nothing left to work? If on the outside no key to unlock the lock, then you searched within to find the knot. This by cock, finger, or small hand could create with caresses that miracle for which they longed, and from lack of which they knew themselves not men. The proof of this: had not one-time girlfriends and wives gone on to find a whole man, to get on with life? After all, life is for the living not the dead.
If the knot alone was unresponsive, then other sensations could be created by the stroking of the walls of that dark, warm space, that place by respectable people so reviled: and in response, rolled up, half closed eyes, stretched back head, throaty groans of pleasure, deep breaths of happiness. These all as real, as life affirming as those of any young buck in his glory basking: and they were: like my old, old, oldest men, young bucks again for just a moment.
If they had no anus, just a bag, or a tube through bedclothes winding down to open bowl, cloth-covered on the floor, often filled and overflowing, sometimes spilled, smelling always, always vile, then there was at least their skin to stroke and lick. I can still taste the carbolic soap. Then there was the mouth inside with tongue, in tongue-to-tongue embrace, and the face, and ears; forget the earlobes if there had been a fire, for earlobes, hair and scalp went first. If they had them, upper arms and forearms when caressed by fingertips produced sensations for the touch-sensation starved: similarly their legs and thighs; and if desperate, whatever you could find. When thus played in love with imagination, their instrument of parts remaining could be made to sing a symphony as in our hearts was shared a song of joy.
When, after a few visits, they got over the shame of it all, for games and amusement, and the so much needed expression of masculine aggression, they could poke whatever they had into you, rough you up, slap you about a little, laugh, get drunk, and pretend for just a while in their own eyes they were men again. Then late at night, ‘midst mumbled reminiscences, angry ravings, and sobbing of well-deserved self pity, they would fall in love with you, totally, absolutely, passionately, wildly, madly. Knowing always that before dawn you would be gone, and they knew it; but you would be back, and they knew it, relied on it; and you never had to burst the life-sustaining illusion.
To these men, judged unfit to be looked upon, You, Me, I, We became their reality as down the weeks, the months, year-on-year no girlfriends visited, no wives, ex or might-have-been, no kids; “…its best you forget him, build a new life…he died in the war”; and almost never, mates.
This I could not understand, that mateship thing. Die for each other, defend, lie for, protect, support, but to these grotesque lumps of once-were-men no visits? Left alone to rot, except that is for the Brass. Strange. Really Top Brass with all those jingling titles who had never personally known them, never were their mates, for conscience, or for compassion, or was it love? For reasons deep inside themselves visited regularly and often. Once, a really big Brass must have heard some gossip, asked to see me, and though throughout the chit chat with the men almost ignored me, in front of them all suddenly, as if he’d been thinking out what to say, turned and in a clear loud voice for all to hear, said, “And you young fella, thanks, and your friends from up The Cross too.”
A few years later in pillow talk with a much brassed, much loved warrior, discovering he did the same, asked the question why. “It’s because they never really came home you see. Its because they’re still lost in no-man’s-land, forever: and we sent them there, and memorial services for the dead don’t suffice.”
Of all my men, these men, my broken men, more than any others at my heartstrings pulled and tugged, and as in before-dawn coldness from their ward I walked, the saddest-happiest joy flowed through me, and from my eyes the strongest flood of tears I have ever known: and this every single time. Alby, Bill, and all you others, I wish you were here to speak for yourselves now, and for me. Today I think I need you.