since the beginning of my exhibition i've been on a bit of an adrenaline rush. in just one week there was a radio interview, a private view, a newspaper article, and non-stop talking to lots of friends, family and new people everyday. it's all been amazing. i'm tired, my voice is going but it's exciting. today i came crashing back down to earth.
i was on my way to my studio and waiting for a train at the station. a youngish guy came up and sat next to me. he was agitated and shaky and asked me, his voice full of urgency, when the next train was coming and how long it would take to get to truro. i reassured him that it was soon and would only take twenty minutes. he told me he'd just found out that his girlfriend was in treliske hospital, that she'd taken an overdose and had "tubes rammed down her neck". he said he was meant to be in afganistan today but had missed his flight.
we chatted. he is a soldier from redruth but based near oxford and has been living there for the last 5 years (when he's not in afganistan or iraq). i put him in his early twenties and his girlfriend still lives in redruth. he comes back to see her at weekends when he's not away. and when he is, he can only contact her through facebook once every four weeks. i looked shocked and he said, "trust". he'd left his wallet with her as he has no use for english money out there. i gave him the train fare realising very quickly that this wasn't a scam. also he didn't mention it.
i asked him what had happened. he said that he was due back in afganistan today and they were going to create a "hornet's nest". he explained that a road needed to be built so they were going to "stir shit up", cause a diversion so the taliban would fire directly at them. he spoke with a crazed energy constantly tapping his hand on his thigh. he was excited, couldn't wait to get out there. he was going for six months and after that they were going "through the back entrance" to iraq to do the same again. with a gleam of pride in his eye he announced that last time they returned with 2 dead and 3 injured. apparently he'd kept the "hornet's nest" bit quiet but one of his troop started bragging about it on facebook last night, his girlfriend read it and took an overdose.
i asked him if he was scared. in the same wide-eyed frenzied manner he replied, no, that it was exciting, that he couldn't wait, that he loved the adrenaline high. but his girlfriend was terrified. he said he liked the architecture, the way people live in huts. the previous time he was out there he was filming and a bullet came whizzing through the air narrowly missing his head. it was caught on camera and when he came home all his friends were round watching it. but his girlfriend walked in and saw it. i said i wasn't surprised she was in treliske.
he was totally removed. totally shut down. he just kept saying, "i've got to get out there, i've got to get out there". i asked if he was in trouble for missing his flight. he said it was fine, they'd booked him another for a few days time. i got the sense that he felt he was missing out on the action. his girlfriend was in hospital but he was so pumped up to fight that he was in another world. he spoke with such a fierce obsession, it was frightening. in his head he was already out there. he bragged about living in osama bin laden's hut, the most dangerous place to be stationed as obviously it infuriated the taliban. but he loved it. "i love the buzz".
we got to my stop. i said i hoped his girlfriend would be ok and that he would be ok too. he thanked me for the money. the train trundelled off and that was that.
five minutes later i was in the studio wrapping and packing pictures. i felt so sad for his girlfriend, so sad for him and so incredibly lucky to be doing what i was doing.