Three white candles flicker and dance quietly through the darkness on my coffee table. There are in fact four.. But being a Virgo I naturally strive for balance and order in the general chaos of life and so for the purpose of the story we shall imagine there are three evenly spaced across the hand-painted tiles…. Three candles to represent a beginning, a middle and and end to my tale tonight. However in this case the writer is as much in the dark as the reader as to the ending of the story… So we shall continue as see where this takes us..
The power is out yet again. Fuck… No internet, no light, phone battery dying.. The joy of living in a tiny village in Spain during a thunderstorm in September. “So why not use this opportunity?”, I think to myself. Why not put on some nice chilled music, pour a glass of wine, cuddle my cat Oscar and write… So I suggest you do the same… Light a candle, pour some wine or grab a nice cold beer from the fridge (go on your deserve it), and let’s begin… For tonight is an investigation, an analysis some would say… And I know I’ll need a drink for this one…. It may be a rather rough ride back in time.. All the way back to 1993…
Now you understand the title! Altea is know for it’s power cuts sometimes lasting 5 minutes and sometimes 5 hours. However it has a secondary and much more significant meaning in this case. You see it’s my birthday week and whilst most of you out there would be planning a party or get together or having a meal to celebrate, I ignore it, or rather try to ignore it each year. Friends and family are confused as to why I do this, they are frustrated with my requests for no mention, no cards, no gifts… and to be honest I’m still trying to work out why I feel so uncomfortable about it myself, hence this meandering and rather strange blog this evening. It should be such a happy time, one’s birthday.. But for me it’s not. In fact I start getting anxious around July and as the date draws ever closer my anxiety increases to the point where I dread the entire month or even the mention of it’s name.
Anxiety is a strange and unusual beast often understood only by those who suffer from it in their own way. The tiny seed inside of us which at times roots and grows, spreading slowly upwards and outwards until it becomes a weed and then a vine which wraps around us and will not let go, growing ever tighter and tighter around our chest. Our rational selves transformed into this weak, shivering reflection we see before us perplexed and then frozen by our seemingly completely irrational fears. And that is the problem you see.. Anxiety is invisible, it is a ghost, or a monster only visible to the sufferer himself. It is the monster under the bed. The shadow in the corner of the room. It is not a cast on a broken leg n’ore a bruise or a black eye. There is no outward physical sign of the tremendous trauma this person experiences. The paralysis of their own emotional torment. And worst of all it happens not only once, but over and over again and can strike at any moment, at any time, without warning. And for all of us it is different. A unique and hand-crafted cage of self-doubt and self-punishment from which it seems almost impossible to escape. A creation of the monster in our minds only visible to ourselves.
The best explanation I can come up with for my own anxiety is that each and every September, my dreaded birthday month, I had to go back to school to begin yet another torturous year as a child and then as a teenager (naturally an even worse and far more complex time in my life). I remember waiting in fear for the dreaded trip to the dusty and depressing and old fashioned clothes shop in the next village which sold the school uniforms. My Mum practically having to drag me there to try on the ill-fitting and often oversized grey shirt, grey trousers, purple and black striped tie (which years later I burn with great pleasure), purple jumper and purple blazer and those awful black shoes. And all the while I knew what I was in store for. Like a prisoner standing at the gates I knew that for me there would be no immediate escape from this new and horrendous reality of the prison I had been sentenced to. As Summer’s light began to fail and the days grew shorter the cold harsh darkness once again began to creep in..
As a teenager I decided to rebel you see. I grew my hair long, pierced my ears in a dozen places, smoked cigarettes and used those dodgy gay chat lines at the back of the papers and magazines (not being so familiar with the internet back then) to contact older men for occasional sex in the back of Ford Mondeos and although I got good grades passing all my GCSE’s with flying colours I did everything I possibly could to distance myself from the cool crowds, the prefects, the sports days, the social functions, preferring instead to spend my time in the Art Department or the Music rooms. I read books constantly hungry for knowledge and escape. It’s amazing how words can transport you to a different time, a different country, a different place where your own world melts away. All the problems, all the fear, all the hassle and for a short while all the pain just melts..
When I was young I was punched and kicked, but as I grew older the bullying became less physical and more psychological chipping away at my very core. They were clever, even at that tender age of 14 or 15. Those fuckers knew just how to hit your weakest points. Words.. Words like ‘Queer’ and ‘Fag’ and ‘Bender’ and ‘Freak’…. It was not a single blow but death by a thousand cuts. Monday to Friday, 9am to 5pm, every week, every month, every year. The pain and isolation and loneliness and self hatred were almost unbearable. From that moment I stepped foot on the school bus in the morning until I arrived home in the evening, having walked the two miles up the winding single track road that ran out of the village and up into the dark hills high above, there was pain and fear. And even in the dark, in the night, lying there in my bed, there was the fear of what was to come to next day. I was the perpetual prison on death row… waiting… terrified..
Governments realised a long time ago that Psychological Warfare is one of the most effective forms of attack against another country (or indeed it’s own citizens), one only has to look at September 11th 2001 for a perfect example of this. Fear can be a tremendous weapon because the thing about instilling fear in a person is that it stays with them long after the event itself. It’s eats away at the victim’s mind like a virus like a parasite. It destroys all sense of emotional stability until only the brittle exterior of the person remains…. A shell, a faint outline of their former selves. A faint reflection….
Sitting at the large wooden desk in my bedroom, my santuary, one night, staring out into the darkness, the night sky filled with stars and the moon filled with sadness looking down upon me, I made the first cut. I can’t remember the pain only the sweet relief, although there must have been pain also.. It wasn’t deep but blood seeped out from the long straight line on my forearm and I watched as it ran slowly down the curve of my arm and pooled onto the cold wood of the desk.
At first it was just one. Just one scar that would never heal. A reminder perhaps that I could survive, that I could heal, that somehow this pain would go away. But then there were more growing up my arms like souvenirs or perhaps medals of war… My scars.. An outward image of my internal pain. Visible finally…
I took to wearing shirts and sweaters even in Summer to hide the many scars that ran up and down my arms. I wish I could be more consistent in the details of this time of my youth but I struggle to remember most of that time. My mind has blocked out most of my memories. Now at the age of almost 38 years they are no longer painful, but it is almost like recalling the scenes of a movie one has watched whilst completely and utterly trashed on class A drugs. I was prescribed a cocktail of anti-depressants you see from the age of about 14. The combination of the trauma of that time, the suicide attempts, the three month period I spent in a Psychiatric hospital (for my own good and to avoid more self harm) and the medication has made my memory so fuzzy, so broken, like searching for polaroids in a dark attic. It is like looking back at another life, another person.
After many years of shaving my head I decided earlier this year to grow my hair. I’m very lucky in that it’s still pretty thick and healthy, thinning slightly at the temples but of course that is to be expected in a man of my age, compared to my father who began to lose his at the age of just 21. My hair was red as a baby, flame red. It quickly turned blond and my eyes were very blue, I looked almost Scandinavian perhaps something to do with my mother’s Jewish roots. And then as I hit puberty it grew darker with more gold and copper tones. Since arriving here in Spain it has lightened with the help of the occasional application of lemon juice and a blast of Spanish sun. Why am I growing it? I guess mainly it’s my last shot at having long hair and I want to make the most of it but perhaps to shove a finger up at the bullies at school all those years ago who taunted me so much.
I imagine them sometimes, growing old and fat and bald, having never left that tiny sad little village filled with regret. Closed hearts and minds all around going about their day. Always the same, never changing. The coldness of that sea air wrapping around them, biting into them. Their lives wandering down famililar paths. Each night in the pub downing another pint of Guinness, perhaps the disappointment of their lives staring back at them, perhaps not? I wonder if they ever think of me?…. I’d like to hope for happiness for them.. I’d like to forgive the damage they have done. One day…
That day outside my history class I had no idea the boy behind me had the lighter in his hand, his mate had distracted me, I only became aware of what was happening when I began to smell the burning hair. Luckily I turned around quickly enough and was able to put out the flames before my skin was burned. But it was pretty bad. I cut it soon after, perhaps even the next day. It had taken years for me to grow my hair but in an instant it was gone, destroyed… And I humiliated in front of 30 laughing kids. They say school is the best days of your life, but not in my case….
Clippers for me became a way of getting rid of the pain and I used them often at times of great anxiety in my life. Clippers replaced the razor blades and Stanley knives I think, a way of punishing myself without the physical pain or scarring. In my previous blogs I think I’ve written about the reason I have tattoos on my right arm, to cover the scars of my youth.
Where am I going with this blog tonight? Maybe just to get some of it out. A release. I’m not really sure. I find it uncomfortable to write about my forthcoming birthday but what I will say is although this week is sad for me and very hard, I am happy that I am now into my second year living in Spain on my own, completely alone really apart from my cat Oscar. I am proud of myself for doing such a crazy thing on such a small budget and taking a risk.
I’ve always loved Spain and it is nice that I can look at this world around me and not be reminded of the past. I love being surrounded by a different language and more than anything else the anonymity that comes from being a stranger. Effectively I have crawled into the pages of the books I used to read at school, whilst hiding from the bullies during lunch hour, never to be seen again….
But the question is.. Can we ever really escape the past and indeed ourselves for here I sit writing for you by candlelight in this strange, hot, sweaty, foreign land and all these years later I dread a day that should be filled with happiness and celebration. Yet I am no longer that boy sitting at the back of the class, at the back of the bus, at the back of the assembly, hiding his scars and his pain with over sized sweaters and wishing he could escape, for he has escaped… His attackers left far behind across oceans of time and space and experiences.. Distant memories..
Perhaps we all keep that 14 year old version of ourselves inside of us and sometimes he returns to haunt us. I guess the only answer is to embrace each and every version of ourselves across the span of our lives, each stage, each year, each metamorphosis because we are never simply a moment, a snap shot in time, we are a collection of memories and states and versions of ourselves and our experiences whether good or bad make us who we are.
So I am going to pour a glass of wine and salute that 14 year old version of this 38 year old man who writes for you tonight, for without him, without his strength, his courage, his fight for survival in those dark days and without his persistence and unfailing belief in something better in a place where he wouldn’t have to be afraid all the time and in a world were he could finally be himself and express himself however he wished, I would not be here today.. Thank you and Happy Birthday A. x