I was 15. Sitting on a chimney top, crying, positioning myself to jump. I remember looking down, 3 stories, seeing the metal prongs of the fence below. I’d land on those. Putting my hands on the edge of the chimney, ready to push off. It was a place I often visited, somewhere private, to be alone and view the world.
I don’t remember what sent me up there that time, but I do remember what ran through my head. What I wanted most in the world was a friend, someone to talk to – anything more than that was too awful to contemplate. But I was stuffed. A lifetime of school spent as the retarded kid, left to amuse himself in the library rather than disrupt class. Unable to say hello to anyone, too badly damaged to ever have a normal relationship, let alone an intimate one. I hated being touched.
I thought about the years of abuse, and realised that I was no longer in danger of any physical abuse, and the ritualised humiliation at school was over too. At my new school I was just an embarrassment, weird, quiet but no longer bullied. Just too damaged to function.
The people who’d reduced me to such a crippled existence were no longer around. And with them it hadn’t been personal – I was handy local prey to every local nutter. My family found me moody, unfathomable and angry. Killing myself would have no impact on anyone, no-one would give a toss.
I hated being a victim, but I couldn’t undo the damage. I realised that instead I’d have to suck it all in, accept the damage as part of who I was now, live with it, make the most of it.
I wanted to try living. To have the opportunity, one day to have a place to myself, to decide hour to hour how to run my life. To read, eat, do what I wanted. Even if I was alone, at least I might find somewhere safe. I hadn’t lived, not like other people, whose existence seemed like some Enid Blighton novel, with loving families, friends to play with, happy times. I wanted some of that.
My options were to run away (tried that, knew where that road went), kill myself, or stay at school. I decided to stay at school (awful though that was, I wasn’t being hurt) and try and learn how to hold a conversation. There was a guy in class, dim but open about it, self mocking and sublimely casual. I’d ape him. If I fucked up, then I always had the option to duck out.
I backed off the chimney.
And that’s what I did. Cautiously, over a period of about 10 years, I painfully learned to talk with other people, make friends. And even had real relationships. Now I’m married, with children. I’ve a great career. I’ve travelled the world, I’ve a beautiful house. Sure, I still get staggeringly black periods of depression – but it’s like having a limp, you ignore it. You know that there will be times when part of your brain kicks in and screams for you to kill yourself, cut yourself. But I know these moments or days will pass. They’re scar damage. They’ll be with me till I die. As I get older other stuff gets added to the list, a dodgy knee, a crap back.
That awful childhood and those terrible times gave me a focus and a determination to create a life, a career, that suit me. I’ve had a hugely full and fulfilling life. I realise it’s made me formidable, able to withstand huge pressure and laugh – bring it on.
That moment on the chimney stack was the making of me.