I was walking to work in the rain this afternoon, having just eaten a boulangerie out of its stocks of pastries. I felt full, I felt positive and almost content. The refueling stop, in lieu of the usual cigarette, wiped away the memories of the usual torturous dreams and nightmares of the previous night. But then as if somebody exploded a dam, I just started crying desperately.
To that point my humility had been momentarily replaced by a twinge of pride: After everything, look at me. Walking down the road, in Brussels, on my way to work. The words of ex-prisoner Tom, who knows me inside out, echoed in my head. He spends a lot of time in counselling sessions telling me I shouldn’t hate myself, that I’m okay, that he loves me. “Stop, come on, please” I say too often. “You didn’t deserve what happened to you man. But you’ve got to stop hating yourself. You deserve good things in your life, you’ve worked hard man, you’re okay”… and so on.
Waking From a Dream
I looked down at my boots splashing through the puddles. I always wanted boots like this. Look at my boots! How my boots keep my feet warm.
And then, as if I’d woken from a dream, I was back there, 18 months ago. My boots had turned into those charity shop shoes I’d bought for £3 a few weeks before. Each step invited a small deluge of water back in to the shoe.
I didn’t feel anything at the time, just numbness. I knew it wouldn’t be long before my partner and I would half inch some food and probably wine from M&S, so my tummy would feel less empty and my heart less anxious. But what of my feet? If I put plastic bags on them the water would be trapped and the shoes would smell even worse…what to do?
I imagined my dead Dad watching me walk by, my children seeing their chaotic father trudge down the road with the sole hanging off his shoe, wet as a drowned rat and stinking to high heaven.
What was the fucking point of doing that to me? What purpose did it serve? That haunting circular thought process – the magistrate who truncated the hearing so he could go on holiday….did he read the reports after the court hearing? Did he feel sorry for me, now realising some fuckers ain’t been telling the truth?
I watched my foot splash into a big puddle and continued to cry as the trudge went on. Yeah, fuck it, I’m allowed to feel sorry for myself, Tom told me I could. But then Tommy’s words came back to me “You’ve got to learn to hate yourself, slap on the back of the head, man up”. Ex-prisoner Tom again: I’m the strongest man he’s met. The social worker echoed his words as if they’d agreed a script. My best mate: “Proud of you bro, I knew you’d make it through”. Don’t want to disappoint. Be strong, back straight, walk on. People are counting on you. But I wanted to cry.
The girl in the street watched me pass with a sad expression on her face. Now look what you’ve done – you’ve made her sad too! But I wanted to cry more.
Poor me. What would I say to my child-self: you’ll be a good boy, but you’ll make one mistake for 20 seconds and then they’ll take your life! I felt sorry for me as a child, to have this to grow in to.
Us Privileged Men.
I thought of Michael Irwin smashing his plates in upset. I thought of Michael O’Brien losing his children while in wrongfully imprisoned. I thought of the psychoanalyst who went to prison for trying and failing to help someone. I thought of Peter’s eyes, of Tom’s eyes, those moments when they slip into the past. I thought of my mate Paul “I’ve unresolved issues from prison”…he still shakes years later. Maybe I’m misreading signs but it seems their traumas will never end, despite the smiles and positivity.
I thought of yesterday’s Guardian article where three campaigners had the gall to suggest that all this was designed by me and the two Michaels and our type, somehow for me and the two Michaels and our type. We’re privileged, you see. I let myself cry in frustration.
The Great Escape?
Have I made it out? No. The main thing lacking is a name, but that’s the bit that hurts most. Will I ever make it out? I can’t see how. I know that forever I’ll be woken at night with my mind going over and over: I apologised for what I did, but why did you lie thereafter? What was the point? Why hasn’t anyone noticed? If I was like that why was there no rehab? Why did they just dump me out and leave me? Do they know it was so much bullshit but they’re afraid to admit the mistake? It goes round and around and around.
What makes it worse is that while you’re in the trauma of conviction and punishment – that delightful world of pleasure made by men for men – it’s so raw, you hardly feel it. It’s a bit like the paper- or knife-cut that the brain fails to register in the first instance. It’s not until the cut starts to heal that it really hurts. As the skin re-seals to create a sense of normality it’s that scarring that causes the pain.
Perspective and Pain
The sense of achievement here gives perspective to the destruction there. It almost makes one want to give up, to slip back into the comfort zone where punishment is the great leveler, where booze and drugs numb the mind and hopelessness is reassuring.
But one’s got to keep on keeping on. That pain, the remorse, the indelible rage….it takes effort, its tiring but its power when diverted into positive acts is impressive.
Yes, sometimes I want to break the world. Sometimes I want me vengeance. I want to go underground, to pop up devastate and disappear, sometimes I scare myself … but that’s when I’d lose. That’s when they win. That’s when I cease to be the person I was, the person I am. That’s when I become the label that’s when the lies win and the judgement of ignorance prevails. It can’t happen, it won’t happen.
It can be anything that triggers traumas of times past. One has to be constantly vigilant. Yet it is paradoxical that good things can also be the trigger for bad memories. The process of rebuilding is complex and contradictory. Be vulnerable, cry and cry, feel sorry for yourself, lose hope, but just keep moving forward, walk, run, crawl, drag yourself blowing snot bubbles out of your nose as you weep, but keep fucking moving forward.