50: Because I Saw Alan

50: Because I Saw Alan

From Chicken Soup for the Soul: Messages from Heaven

Because I Saw Alan

Sometimes being a brother is even better than being a superhero.

~Marc Brown

“I woke up last night,” I said, “and there was a soldier standing by my bed.”

It was 1960. I was six years old, sitting at the breakfast table one Saturday morning, and, although usually — and for good reason — a very quiet child, I thought this news of my night-time visitor was interesting enough to risk saying out loud.

Sadly, the barrage of scolding that followed was all too familiar.

“Don’t be so stupid!”

“Shut up. You’re always telling lies.”

“How dare you say such a thing.”

“You made that up. You’re a bad girl!”

“Do you want a good slap?”

It was unusual, even for my dysfunctional family — my parents and siblings — to react quite so strongly to something I said. Although as the youngest I’d certainly had my share of bullying from all of them. Even at my tender age, experience had taught me to keep quiet and stay out of everybody’s way as much as possible. This time — I didn’t know why — I stuck to my guns.

“I’m not lying,” I said, as bravely as I could. “There was a soldier there. I saw him.”

My father, a perpetually angry, tyrannical man, leaned across the table and fixed me with a stare.

“If you dare lie to me again,” he told me, in a quiet, menacing tone, “I will hit you so hard. . .”

He let the sentence trail off because it was scarier that way.

There was a moment of tense silence, then a chorus of “She doesn’t know what she’s talking about” and “She had a dream, that’s all.”

My mother and my older brother and sisters were trying to nip Dad’s temper in the bud, not to protect me, but rather to prevent a bad morning becoming a really bad day.

To everyone’s relief, Dad’s temper did fade. I was told that I’d dreamt up my soldier and I knew better than to protest any further. But I also knew I hadn’t been dreaming. I knew without any doubt that I had awoken during the night and that I’d clearly seen the young man in uniform standing there.

He was facing the window, and although the curtains were closed it looked like a shaft of silver light shone through them. I saw him lift his face up to the light, his eyes closed, as if he could feel its rays on his skin.

He was wearing — though only later did I know the right words to describe it — khaki battledress, and a black beret pulled over to the right, with a silver badge on the front.

I wasn’t the least bit afraid — odd for such a nervous child. I know now that I was deeply afraid of my family but too young to understand or express it, and so I developed a whole raft of small fears that I could express. I was afraid of the dark, afraid of shadows, afraid of spiders, afraid of strangers, afraid of so many things. I was crippled by shyness too, and although I was bright and could read well, my timidity made me invisible at school. I had no friends, and teachers would mostly overlook me in favour of the more confident, popular kids.

I looked at the soldier for just a few seconds before he turned his face towards me. The smile he gave me was gentle, and the kindest smile I’d ever seen. He looked at me with love. When I was older and wiser I realised that his smile and his expression were tinged with sadness, but right then, in that little fragment of time, I only knew that I felt more truly loved than ever before.

I was happy and warm and cosy. I felt pure joy for a little while, but then my eyes closed, I was asleep again and the most magical moment of my childhood had ended.

It was several years later — I don’t remember the exact circumstances — that I discovered the identity of my soldier. After the angry reaction I got that Saturday morning when I was six, I had never spoken of him again, but I thought of him often and remembered every detail of his all too brief visit.

Eventually the family secret was revealed to me — I had had another brother, Alan, who had died when I was just a few months old.

It was less than ten years since the end of the Second World War, and in Great Britain young men were called up at the age of eighteen for National Service — a period of two years in the military. Alan became a Sapper with the Royal Engineers. He was nineteen years old when I was born, and was home on leave three weeks later. He saw me and held me, and I’m told he was very tender and loving to his baby sister.

Alan’s unit was stationed in Germany. He and his fellow Sappers were engaged in a bridge building exercise when the accident happened. Alan was drowned in the river, pinned underwater by a fallen girder.

•••

Life in my family never got any easier. In death Alan became Dad’s favourite and best friend, but in reality Dad had been every bit as mean to Alan as to the rest of us. Once I knew the secret, Dad would tell me often that he wished I had died instead of Alan. It hurt, but I had something precious to comfort me, something Alan gave me that nobody could take away — the gift of faith.

Ever since those few treasured moments when I was six years old, I have never doubted that there is a life beyond this life. I didn’t know at first who my soldier was, but I knew in my heart that he came from another place and that although he was not a part of my little world, he was real, and he loved me.

I have never seen him again, but I have felt his presence, gentle and strong, many times over the past fifty years.

On several occasions psychics have told me that a young man in uniform is with me, standing just behind my right shoulder. He has always been with me, they say, as my guardian and guide.

Inevitably, with my experience of childhood, I had many difficulties in my adult life. I battled depression, low self-esteem, and the consequences of making bad relationship choices.

I have buckled sometimes, but never broken. I worked hard, had faith and persistence, and I survived — because I saw Alan. He gave me strength and brought me through.

Now, in middle age, I have a happy life. I found a wonderful husband and left England for a new life in the USA. Alan has been with me all along. He was there on my wedding day and I felt his joy alongside my own.

I shall see Alan again one day, of course. It will be good to thank him for being with me all this time, and to tell him how much I have always loved him.

~Grace Rostoker

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