No. 2: Life goes on
Schooling for me had always been a chore. I attempted during my time there to get as much life experience as I could without having to go very far or talk to anyone. This led me to karate. It had discipline, people of all ages, and happened every Saturday. Of course I enjoyed going, but not for the people. Somehow even here I was the butt of people’s jokes – the instructor included. During my 3 years attending this class my enduring memories are of quitting when only 2 belts from black, and of getting the biggest most painful verruca of my life.
I had no good reason for leaving. It just seems that for some times in my life when things fall into routine, the tornado inside of me feels the need to disrupt things. There was only ever one person who could calm the storm, but she comes later in our tale. Karate paid me in uniforms, belts, and certificates. It did not pay me in strength, fitness or skill. I feel cheated when I gaze back on this part of my history, but it was myself I was cheating.
It took me some years to figure this out, and by that time college had passed me by. These my sixth form years were not my favourite. I had the misread understanding that because I had aced my GCSEs that this would allow me to pass my A-Levels with flying colours. Further from the truth than I am to Jupiter, this led to all out failure. One of my ambitions had been to become a doctor. My mother had politely informed me as a child that should I become anything other than a doctor or lawyer that she would be disappointed. This was a light-hearted joke, but for a boy with my view on things it was as serious as a pick axe.
And so the day came for my chemistry teacher to take me to one side. He impolitely informed me that should my ambition be doctor that I would fail, but that if it be failure then I would succeed. Much obliged by this encouragement and motivation, I went on resenting him for years to come. He became my litmus test for whether I would succeed in life. This ambition was always my mother’s, but my own was simply to help people in whatever form that took.
In my free time I would find jobs, apply, succeed, rejoice, start work, and become utterly bored senseless. What was there to do that would challenge me everyday, have a different work environment than anywhere else, and that would allow me to help people? I settled for Matalan. I worked in customer services and I mastered the cashier till system within a week of part-time work. I was billy the kid with a returns rail. Some old classmates that worked there invited me to see the Red Hot Chili Peppers live with them. I had to sleep on the floor of a hotel room, but it only added to the atmosphere. A workmate was attracted to me from the moment I first walked through the door (I was later told). I was besotted back. For the first time in my life I felt the pull of something that was worth taking a risk for. She was the first real time I could feel my dull heart beat. And boy did it beat!
I caught wind that there was a sixth form party for her cohort. My insider was a boy with whom I had shared a mutual hatred in high school. He had moved on to a rival sixth form college, and it just so happened to be hers. He bought a ticket to the event on my behalf and I sat waiting for her in the club – Merlin’s! As I sat there I cared about one thing only, and that was her. More and more people arrived, but not her. I heard reports from people she knew that she couldn’t wait to see me, that she was becoming gradually more drunk, and that she would mount me in the streets. This I thoroughly approved of.
As my cares lay elsewhere I lapsed in my notice of a girl sat by the table to my left. I struck up friendly conversation and she returned in kind. The moment that my girl walked through the door I leapt at the opportunity to join her on the dance floor. I received a prod in my back, and I turned to see the girl from the table in a dark corner throwing me a sultry gaze. Oblivious to a woman’s wiles I simply said ‘Hi!’ and turned to see my girl put her tongue down the throat of a boy with whom she had shared a ‘will they won’t they’ relationship for years. I felt shaken to the core, heartbroken, and truly cold. With some hesitation I left Merlin’s and found a taxi home.
This litmus test had failed its primary goal, yet another byproduct had appeared from the wastes. I had taken a risk for something I knew was a long-shot. It was the first risk of my life, and it led me down a road of destruction. In one moment I felt more alive than ever before, and in the next I felt like digging my own grave. This period of my life contained the first big trial that I actually cared about and – although I had failed in most of my endeavours – I had succeeded in feeling human. When at last I became 18, I felt that this should be commemorated in some form or another. And so it became my first tattoo. I made a choice on what to base the symbol of this era. It was not ‘Matalan’ or a chemistry set. It was not Merlin’s beard or a finger in my back. It was the symbol of the Red Hot Chili Peppers. That night may have hurt my back, and Merlin may have hurt my feelings, but I felt alive for the first time and I was hooked.