We Do the Best We Can
Time, the years I should say, had passed very quickly for me. It had been almost six years since my last trip here. Even then though, sun and fun, were not even under consideration. My fight to Nice was a fluke. The FA was really, really cute. I thought my life was pretty much over so I flirted with her and figured, 'no harm, no foul'. I was seventeen, her, no matter, she was a fox. A vixen even. One moment I was ready to find the lowest fare out of town, then, after a word or two with the desk agent, Claudette came back smiling. She took my hand, swinging it as we walked to the gate. Someone opened the door and she started to walk in.
I had told her a bit of my story. She knew I was running away. She also knew most everything I owned was in the luggage and bags with me. There was something about her too that made me think she could understand and relate to what I had done and why? I kissed her on the cheek, mouthed, a 'Thank You' and started to turn away.
"Not so fast 'Galahad', I need saving too!" She pulled us both into the jetway and led me to the plane. "First Class, dear. It is empty today, but since I am your FA there, I shall endeavor to keep you entertained."
Nice's Côte d'Azur Airport in France appeared too soon, if you ask me. The last hour or two of the flight would be something I would remember my entire life. Claudette curled up with me, covered us both with a blanket and we held each other telling each other stories of our lives. When we landed, there were tears running down both our faces. We kissed, kissed like it was the last kiss of our lives. Another FA strode in, pulled back the curtain and said, "get a room you two!"
Claudette got up and began to clean and ready for the arrival. I realized something while I was watching her. I had fallen love with her and did not know what to say or how to say it to her. Passengers were exiting. I just sat there. I did not want to leave her, I decided I would not leave her, she would have to leave me.
Taking me by the hand again, I went with her like a puppy dog following a new master. We got a few looks, a few comments and a lot of smiles.
"I live here, you know? It is not much, but we can walk to the beach!"
She did not have to say anything more. I had checked two bags. We got them and the Customs people seemed to be exceedingly nice to us. We took a cab, put my luggage away and looked at each other. "I don't fly again for six days. Any idea how we might spend the time?"
I sure did. When she did have to leave she told me she had two long trips then was back. She would be back in five or six days. I was in France as a tourist. She handed me a piece of paper. "My brother is with the Army. While I'm gone, see him, he will help you stay here? When he does, use this as your address and myself as a contact. Once you get yourself together, I will be here waiting for you. It will be my turn for salvation."
Her brother was not just 'in the Army' he was an officer in the French Foreign Legion. He looked at me closely, then called in a recruiter and we began to talk. English first, then more and more into French. The recruiter had been doing most of the talking, Jacque most of the looking at me. In French, he snuck in a few questions about me and what my relationship with his sister was. I decided to tell him the truth; my past, how Claudette and I had just met and the hardest for me, how I had fallen love with her.
To my surprise, he started to laugh and smile at me. "She does seem to have that affect on men, not all were worth a damn. They seem to fall in love with her though, but now, I think she feels the same way about you, my friend. She had not sent me anyone before. You should know, our father and mother are dead and she sends you to me for my approval, you know?"
The fact that I told both men my story, that I needed a fresh start and was not French made my pre-selection easier for them. The parental consent might have been a problem, until a signed form somehow was added to my paperwork. It paid to have friends I would find out. I was sent on to Augagne for selection approval. I was at the apartment waiting for Claudette to come home to tell her the news. I had been accepted for training to become a legionnaire. I had a few days before training began. We needed to talk. I needed her to understand life together would not be easy.
If I passed I would be away for five years. Would she wait for me? I would not blame her if she said no.
I was not expecting who walked into the room. It was Jacques.
"I have bad news, very bad news, my friend. Claudette will not be coming back! Her plane was lost. She was coming home. Everyone was killed near the Azores."
That feeling of being hit in the gut, all the air exiting your lungs and you leaving your body all happened to me at one time. I literally fell to my knees, shaking my head, then sobbing my eyes out. All I could start to say was 'N ... o, N ... o'.
In one way, Claudette would always be a part of my life. She had said she needed salvation. I promised myself that as long as I lived, I would be there for anyone who needed help. I told Jacques. He merely shook his head. He drove me when it came time to report. We seemed close now. Hell, we were close now. I heard later that not very many new recruits were escorted by a FFL Officer to report for training.
In 6 weeks I earned my 'Kepi blanc' and seventeen weeks later was to report to my first regiment. Training started as 'Hell', then got worse. You heard about how one platoon would stack rocks then another would take them back to where they were, well, that actually made more sense than some of the things they threw at us.
Us, yep, we became an 'us'. My new family. It just happened. Christian, Jew, Moslem made no difference. I thought sleep was something everyone ever only got an hour at a time. On our time off guess what we got; two hours at a time. Our initial duty was to last five years. After that, we had some time off and could request 'special' assignments and training if we extended.
I won't bore you with stories of what we endured. Yes, endured. Think of the five or six of the worst things that might happen to you, double that and it would be the best for us, or the highlight of what we did.
After my five year contract was over, I had some thinking to do. I wanted to sound out Jacques. We had not seen each other since I entered training. I know he got reports though and I knew I was a better man now than when I had left. My name now was Marc, from Marseilles.
Henri and Paul accompanied me. Each was motivated to recruit me, keep me out of trouble and especially make certain I extended my contract to the Legion. Neither understood nor ever expected a FFL Officer and a Legionnaire to grab each other in a hug, tears in their eyes. Claudette's memory was still fresh in mind with both of us. They also did not understand why I would be expected to visit this Officers home.
When I met his wife, then saw his daughter, I also knew why. Here was Claudette. Fifteen or sixteen years old, but the spitting image of her. It was too much for me. It was like Claudette had returned from the beyond. Jacques looked at me, no words were needed. What he said to Monique, for that was her name, would forever play over and over in my mind.
"Monique, this is Marc, he and your Aunt were very much in love. Please do not wonder why he may stare at you, for as we have told you many times, you are her twin and the poor boy has not seen such a pretty girl in the desert these last five years unless in his dreams."
He got that right. But now both he and his wife Marie were just looking at me. I of course only wanted to watch Monique. Life was not fair, now I would lose her again when I went away.
We all talked. Well really they talked, I just wanted to look more at Monique. Henri and Paul would not let me go see Jacques alone, but they would not enter the house either. Marie went out to them, she motioned them out of the dark then had them sit on the porch and brought out some food. Her comments back in the house was, "You boys and your silly rules. Your just a teddy bear Jacques."
"Don't tell them that Marie, it's bad enough Marc here is not afraid of me. I may have to beat you in front of them to get any respect?"
She hit him on the arm, put up her hands in a boxing stance and started to shadow box. Jacques just raised his hands and made as to surrender. It would be another five years of so that I would know some things that would change my life forever.
That visit ended too soon. I got a hug from 'my brother', a hug and kiss from Marie, but the crush from Monique, her arms around my neck and a kiss that sent me reeling was something I would remember until I would die.
I closed my eyes and made this moment my last with Claudette. I would never again live in the past, just this one time I thought. It would eventually be explained to me why Monique had such a deep impact on me.
Leaving was now in the hands of Henri and Paul. We had spoken of the how, why and wherefores that might happen during my decision time for extension.
Henri was 'Para'. Everything he said could be synthesized into, 'Para' is great, 'Para' is wonderful. You want to join 'Para'.
Paul on the other hand was very different. He did not talk about the what or why his selection was superior, rather he tried to get me to convince him to give me 'a chance'. Henri was probably a 'salesman' in a previous life. What was clear though was that no one made it as far as they had by being a fraud. The Legion would have weeded out people like that long ago.
Things were changing for the Legion too. Early in 2013 the US Marines had assigned teams to augment the FFL forces. SAS and Royal Marines too now fought with the FFL, especially in the 'Sandbox' (Afghanistan). What was new was what Paul was recruiting for. I found out that even he did not know exactly what was going to happen He had been given a series of requirements to look for in people. They were very simple:
One ... Follow Orders Two ... Not fear death Three ... Never to betray a 'brother' Four ... Never to be taken 'alive'
Without Claudette I almost wanted to add another, 'to know things worse than dying!'.
There was a poem, maybe even more, about the 'Charge of the Light Brigade', stories about 'The War of Northern Aggression', even songs about what a Zulu Warrior might have felt when charging against a rifle with only spear and shield, that was the quality this group were looking for.
I did not think anything could be more difficult or demanding than the Legion had been. I survived that, I thought, so anything else would be easy, I would be so wrong.
A trip to Paris was the next step. This was not unusual for many of our specialized training was centered in Paris. When we took a turn away from the city to a military airport, I got a bit worried. Paul bid me farewell. He meant until next time, didn't he?
There were 6 of us on board. No words were spoken, it was like someone had placed tape over our mouths. That couldn't happen, could it?
Well, it did for real before we landed. A hood was placed over our heads, tape over our mouths and our wrists and feet were tied together. I, at least, was carried off the plane when we landed.
From the sounds I was trussed up into a jeep or 4-WD truck, carried again to a helicopter then dumped from some height into water. Would the saying 'Sink Or Swim' apply here?
With a hood and such a graceful entrance into the water, one has no perspective as to what is up or down. I just let my body go, it righted itself and within a few seconds I began the trip up to the surface and air.
Hoods are a help going up. They keep the water out. But on the surface, they also make it difficult to get air. The tape over the mouth is not much of a help either. The only thing needed first is not to panic. Next, to tread water and try to stay afloat. Small moves then to see how far from land or a rock you are. Once somewhat stable, get the damn hood off. Once you can see, bend, stretch, contort, whatever it takes to get the tape off was next. From then on, with teeth free the rest just takes time. Again, no panic. A little bit of luck would help though.
Hood, mouth, hands, in that order were my priority. Land, dry land was the goal for survival. Survival, that's what this was about. In the FFL, that was the point of everything we did. Snow, sand, water, ice and hostile environments (read: bad guys) there was only one thing which was important; to stay alive and follow the 'Code'.
The need for sleep soon reared its ugly head. It would have been better if we were on land. We had been awake almost 40 hours now, not including the brief sleep spells we got on the plane. I should have known better when they kept asking things and waking us up.
To sink down, lose air and get salt water in your nose, mouth and eyes was a very effective wake up, for a while. The 'Dead man's Float' ended up as the best way to sleep yet stay afloat. I never thought heaven would be found just to sleep.
I thought it was a bad dream, a nightmare, as air rushed out my mouth, then my lungs, as I was pulled down underneath the water. The story of Moby Dick and Captain Ahab, came to mind.
It was my last thought before everything went black.
They said, 'Welcome back' in some language I did not really understand. From my caretakers, it might have been Chinese, Japanese, Korean or some other Asian dialect. I got a pill, some un-salted water and my IV had something shot in it that brought blessed sleep.
It did not seem that long I had slept, but they told me I was out for more than 30 hours. I never thought 'water-boarding' would have so much to it.
When several people walked into my room one day, I had a feeling that I had not had since I walked into the house to see my step-sister being raped. It was a combination of fear and rage, for I recognized one of the people.
He was my 'enemy', my reason for all this pain and suffering.
One of the men who had entered, handed me a silenced pistol. "Kill him!" came the command. I hope I did not delay, in a second or two I emptied the rounds as fast as I could into his face.
The three men just nodded, then bowed as they left the room. "There remains nothing for you now but to serve us, is this not so?"
"Yes." It was all I could say as I collapsed back into the bed.
They had fulfilled my greatest wish, second only to bringing Claudette back to life. Yes, they had given me my heart's desire, I now would do whatever they asked of me, anything and everything.