It was cathartic to write about the trauma of teenage schooldays at Westcliff. Hitting the ‘publish’ button was a ceremonial moment. Pulling the experiences and feelings up from my depths and transferring them into a space where the pain and shame is acknowledged and in the open. Through a magical, technological portal.
Perspective isn’t absent. I can understand that my feelings of humiliation may seem trivial to some. I get it that teenage testosterone and horseplay may appear as a universal gauntlet. I get that some people prefer to skip over past pain. And that shit happens, for sure.
But the fallout from those years was immense. Massively bad, but also colossally good. The negative was a further depletion of my trust in the world. Nobody mentored or steered me through crap where I knew nothing other than to grit my teeth. In 1979, some nine years after the school torment started, the inability to discuss my worries led me into an extremely ill-judged act, with repercussions that affected me for almost two more decades. Then again, in my early 40s.
For large periods across the rest of my life, I have struggled to fit into any group. The rejection of Steve and Tony was a classic example. As is the track record of mainly working alone. It is a rare gathering where nobody is vying for leadership, making me groan and seethe at the manipulative machinations. The Buddhist group that I spent time with in 2012-13 was an exception. A friendship group that begun at about the same time, nicknamed the ‘Catholic Club’, is another. My jury is still out on the Ubuntu group.
Banter still makes me deeply wary, unless it trips from the mouths of the kindest people. Because it overlaps too easily with put-downs. Can’t abide those. Frankly, unless you behave with kindness, you can fuck right off. Don’t want to waste time with you. I’m not sure if this is an unrealistic, fucked-up way to be. But I know the provenance.
I have cried on just a handful of times in the intervening years, and held in the rest of my grief. It takes a tidal wave to breach the barriers I have erected, due to what is now termed ‘toxic masculinity’. I wept copiously when our cat Henry died in 2014. He had given me unstinting love.
I could waste time wondering if karma was at work. Karma from not sticking up for Sharon Brown. From firing the air rifle at Neil, and dropping a brick on a frog at around the same time. There was a moment, aged 12, when I was helping to coach the cubs’ football team and told one of the players that he “made me ill”. A move straight from Eric’s coaching manual. Did all of this make it inevitable that I ran into shame and fear at some stage?
Or can it be programmed in the DNA? Thinking back to Blog 8, and the suggestion that our genetics can contain memories of ancestors’ lives. Part of my family were Huguenot, who fled from French persecution after the 1685 Revocation of the Edict of Nantes.
It’s so much better to dwell on the benefits. They take up less space, but are not easily dismissed. I think you get bigger and the world gets better when you prioritise joy. I’m confident that I have been a good dad, having seen how not to behave. Our three know they can ask or tell me anything – and are learning to reciprocate with this blog!!
As for friendship, I learned how it doesn’t work. I’m so pleased to possess a kind, feminine side. I’m a great listener. A tender, empathic bastard, as well as unpredictably witty company. A bloke with an artistic mentality, not a competitive twat.
And I know how to endure. That has been so useful across this life. Jumping ahead, I don’t believe that I would have met Maureen, without the teenage turmoil. I would have stayed in Birmingham after university but for the fallout. And so no love from my darling wife, and no Lauren, Josie and Rory. Maureen also had her heart broken at school. We agree mutually that we are both “damaged goods”, unable to function ‘normally’
I did harbour seething resentment for many years, but grew out of that. The old mental habits kept churning for a while like the blades of a ceiling fan long after it is switched off.
It would have happened quicker but for a remark by one of the tormentors. He was 20 then, no longer excusable on the grounds of youthful exuberance or immaturity. “I could still make you cry again if I wanted to Kev,” he said, coolly.
Not “I’m so sorry mate for the shite I caused you.” A declaration of toxic malice. Spiritual warfare.
Maybe forgiveness can happen without the transgressor repenting or admitting to their wrongdoing. You can forgive them for being the thing they are just like you can forgive a crocodile for being a man-eater. Forgiving someone can just be letting go of the idea that they would have done anything different given the chance. And then getting away from them.