Know your place.

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The kid was screaming in her pushchair. Really letting loose. High pitched. No words, just the air-splitting. I drew level along the path. It was a beautiful place. The father turned to me and said, ‘Morning,’ then shrugged his shoulders and sighed, nodding his head towards the screaming.

‘Good fun?’ I asked. He didn’t answer.

It took thirty seconds to walk to the corner of the viewpoint. It’s a popular place to scatter ashes but I couldn’t see any fresh ones down below. And no new flowers. Down the trail the young girl was still screaming. Dad had had enough. He leaned his face right under the cover of the pushchair and screamed back, inches from her face, ‘SHUT UP, POPPY. JUST SHUT UP. NOW!’

It did the trick. She stopped at once. Adult aggression had overridden whatever reason she had for screaming. She knew her place in the scheme of things and now she understood that adults are big, powerful, and threatening. Would Dad forever be a symbol of hurt and hate? She could see rage, twisting his face as the spittle flew from his mouth. I’d seen it at her age, too. Many times.

I walked the usual route from the viewpoint down the incline and back along the canal. The crowds were out but most of the people I said ‘Hello,’ to as I walked along didn’t answer me.  At the end of the canal, tourists grouped like muted bees around the car park. Pastel shades of mail order outdoorsy clothing everywhere. Kids paddled around in canoes. Ducklings floated around near the rushes. Typical Bank holiday scene from any English beauty spot. Solitude for the masses. I sat outside the café in the sunshine. Drank a diet coke. Took some diazepam. Thought about why I’d had an urge to kill myself yesterday. Two women at the next table talked about ‘Immigrants’ being The Problem. They were wrong.

The boy on the Island

Cigarette butts and splashed ice cream on the pavement below, screaming from the gulls overhead, a little blonde-haired boy hiding up high in a tree watching the clouds and praying for dinner time to never come around. The island sat in its muddy bed and hardened in the sun. That summer felt longer than the others.

Inside, another argument was booming around the large house. Things were going to be bad around the kitchen table when it came to eating later. Gritted teeth, fists coming down hard on the pine top, me sitting there waiting for death. I never knew what started it. I was just sure that I didn’t deserve it. I mean, what kid really needed to feel that level of terror. None. Doesn’t matter what the circumstances, the spark on the fuse. I guessed it was a hungover adult mind regretting my conception in the first place, but truth is it could have been anything. Sometimes it seemed like there never really needed to be a good reason. Things just happened out of the blue, catching fire quickly, ending up with me being the dog to kick.

Down by the beach the tourists ate cheap ice cream from the grey concrete parlour which smelled of mice and also sold plastic beach toys – nobody ever really successfully played beach tennis. Or made their shitty kite last more than five minutes before the onshore breeze shredded it like newspaper. Beach huts lined up facing the sea and families from London sat in the relative peace of tea brewing old England comfort and made jokes about fat people in bathing suits. The English coast. Tea, tins of lager, sandcastles. Sand giving gritty new meaning to cheese sandwiches. Beat the metropolitan fug of warm summer. Bracing sea air. Happy times for many. Happy faces.

I’d walk along the sand and shells imagining I could go live in a beach hut forever, or leave with another family and take my chances in London. I searched for weird stones or the flotsam on the high tide mark. Fishing floats, old bottles and, one time, some syringes and empty pill packets behind a sand dune. I played on the mud flats when the tide went out. Sticky grey goo, staring out at the nuclear power station across the water.

Back up in the tree I lay on my back on a heavy limb and the clouds hung delicate above. I turned my head with every noise that came from the house. There was no getting away from it. Sooner or later I’d be in there, right in the eye of it all. Confused, scared. Maybe I’d be punished, too. I made a promise to myself that it wouldn’t always be this way. Eventually the sky closed in. I found out years later that I had learned to dissociate in times like these. It dulled the terror. Made survival easier and stopped any crying. Crying got you nowhere.

A door slammed. More shouting. Somebody growled, then screamed with rage.

The holidays. Same format every year for the grown-ups: Time off work. Parties with rich sailing buddies. Drunk. Headaches. Aggressive arguments. Punishment. Regret. The slightest slip-up from me and that was it, bedroom door would come crashing open, followed by gritted teeth, shaking up above me with rage, fists pumping.

The night came soon enough. Dinner had been tough but there were no words, just the normal red-faced anger and noisy crashing crockery. That night, in bed, the house creaked as it cooled. I turned off the night light and stared at the darkness. There was no sense that I’d gotten away with another day, no relief, just the knowledge that tomorrow would come brooding and ready to spark off without warning. When you’re young you think these things will be repeated forever. The drip drip drip of fear. Constant adrenaline and self-protection. Terror. Faithlessness. Suspicion. Hatred. Anger. Sadness. Completely cut off from the positive normal emotions of a seven year old. Sitting alone in the treacherous currents created by fucked up adults who should have known better. On an Island.

What happened?

‘You used to be alright. What happened?’

Disbelief, generally, from every friend – well, most of them: the ones who didn’t know me very well. From High School student, up into A levels, then University and onwards to a job, house, car, marriage, dropping friends along the way and never making up the numbers with new ones.The people who thought they knew me fell off the ledge and never got replaced. All I became was a load of half-hearted memories of drug-fuelled nights and days of summer haze and forgotten words. ‘He was ok back then. I heard he had a breakdown or some shit. Never liked him a lot anyway.’

Words that I’m sure were said a few times, with meaning, and with some sense behind them apart from the breakdown bit. I don’t think you can call four decent suicide attempts in a year a classical breakdown. It was more a time of pronounced emotional fervour; symptomatic heightening from my diagnoses (Borderline Personality Disorder and Bipolar Disorder). Things had ramped up to another level, that was all. I survived, obviously. And what doesn’t kill you makes you stronger, ho ho.

I was never ‘alright’even from the early days. Not that anyone knew except, perhaps, my Mother and the people I hurt in fits of violence. Back at Primary School I’d wait in the playground for one of the older kids to start on a smaller kid then I’d leap in and start fighting, getting them to hit me as hard as they could so the rage could rise in all it’s glory. That’s when I started getting into trouble: I used to win, sometimes after knocking out adult teeth in child heads. The pain kept me sane. By 12 I’d learned to control all of the rage. I was internalising it, cutting myself, punching myself. Easy to do, no Police officers or bad school reports. People never see what you’re up to in the privacy of your bedroom, in the dark, alone. And I’d become a great actor in daytime, when I was called on to be alright, normal, to fit in. Inside I’d be in agony.

There were the moving pictures I’d see sometimes, ghosts if you like. There was music, strong feelings that came and went and crazy ideas which couldn’t ever be realised if I wanted to remain out of jail. Disfunction, sexual mania, drug-induced relief , and deepening confusion. And still people couldn’t see. I duped them all. I’d should have gotten some kind of macabre Oscar – the ‘Mentally Ill Best Supporting Actor’ in the story of my life. Nailed on winner.

Now, outside, it’s about to rain heavy. I’ll end this one here. Not much point in going through the past in any serious detail just yet. And I haven’t got a hand to hold today anyhow to help me through. Funny how outwardly tough people are really just broken and frightened inside. It’s a cliche, I know, but it runs true in my experience. Little broken children, that’s all we are despite the rage and the sad confusion.

My CPN is due tomorrow, then a rare home visit the next day by my Psychologist. They are determined to help me get well – to be alright. But who cares, eh? Not my old friends, and not, I suspect, you either.

 

Trauma Therapy

My old Clinical Psychologist is back. Today was our first appointment for a year. She’d been off to have a baby. She said I looked well and that she was glad to see me. It was a small lie but I took it anyway. Nobody can really enjoy sitting all day listening to shit like I come out with, but I like her. Savvy people are hard to find, in my experience. And she is savvy, despite what she has to go through at work. It hasn’t dulled her intellect or her soul. I’m thankful for it.

She’d heard about me breaking a couple of my own ribs a couple of months ago by punching myself. She didn’t even blink when I talked her through the moment. It’s things like that which give you a clue to exactly how much pain and anguish people like Psychologists get to hear on any given day. I don’t blame her for it. And I don’t envy her.

We are starting something called ‘Trauma Therapy’. It’s all about digging through the cesspool of my past and finding the really stinking, rotten parts. She warned me it’d be tough and that it might test our relationship. I told her I was ready for it – I mean, how hard can it be to relive the bad things you’ve been through and have replayed again and again for years? She told me it might raise my propensity to self-harm and my suicidal ideations. I told her, ‘So what?” and she sighed. I guess it’s hard to get across to the uninitiated exactly how little regard people like me can have for ourselves on any given day. Elon Musk wants to go on a tourist trip to the moon, and if he gets back without being fried into tiny microbes by the 3000 centigrade re-entry phase then he’ll never adequately be able to explain how it felt to look back on the earth. I guess that’s as good as any analogy for what I’m trying to say.

But I’m glad my old Psychologist is back. She’s a highly intelligent woman with a good sense of humour. If we’re probing the depths then I can’t imagine anyone I’d want to guide me through the whole foul mess more than her. It’s not something I’d do for a living, but then again not everyone can be a circus clown, or the president of the USA… Oh, wait..

So, here’s to the future – or at least the next year – digging through abuse and childish nights of terror and torture. Here’s to the loss of my childhood.

It’s codeine time. I think this is about the right place to stop typing.

 

 

  • Painting by Anthony Caruso.

Rape

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The doors to the barn were open. Inside, the dark was hardly troubled by ten or fifteen candle lanterns. Perhaps a hundred bodies moved to turgid pop music. Someone whoooped. It was hideous. The local yokels groped and drank, shuffling, stomping, shouting above George Michael. Mating calls in the gloom.

Across the road, four young boys lay on the earthen flood barrier on the bank of the River Trent and watched, and drank vodka from a stolen bottle. I was one of them. The clear summer night was being sullied by the shitty sexual drama below. We understood hardly anything about sex, but we knew the men inside wanted it. You could almost smell the desire. Farming folk, and the youth of the countryside churned up the evening like silage. They were ruining the night for us but we couldn’t take our eyes from the scene.

After an hour or so, vodka warmed, we watched a young couple leave the front of the barn for the long asbestos side and more dark. He dragged her skirt upwards as they kissed. She tried to stop him at first. We wanted her to stop him, he was rough, demanding. Shit…he was raping her. She gave up and let him hulk over her, unzipping his fly and thrusting it in. He turned her around and she let him, but it looked to me that she was limply just letting him get things done as soon and safely as possible. He came, throwing his head back, in no time at all. Shook his cock and did his trousers up, tucking in his farmers shirt. He slapped her arse, she was still facing the wall, and went back inside to a loud cheer from beery friends.

We watched her stand and put her hands up high against the wall for a moment and bow her head. Then she turned and walked down the road towards the dim lights of the nearest hamlet.