let's start at the very beginning
Updated: Jun 9
When I was 11, do you know what I wanted for Christmas?
No ... well neither did I.
I thought I wanted a bike but what I really wanted, was a friend. It’s a common mistake, to use “things” to deflect attention away from the screaming void inside an empty heart. You have a quick look over the edge at the black chasm of your life, and before you succumb to vertigo you buy a bucket of ice cream and binge-watch Netflix. We all have our escapes. As an 11 year old whose only emotional language was “big boys don’t cry”, a dark purple racer bike with drop handles and five gears was a pretty good deal.
Like all good therapy, let's start at the very beginning, which is a very good place to start.
In January 1960 I was born in Lennoxtown Castle, just outside Glasgow, an auspicious place to begin one’s life you would think. Except, this castle was a “Certified Institution for Mental Defectives”, one of the worst lunatic asylums left in Europe. It also had a spillover maternity wing and, thankfully, that’s where my mum was, not in the other bit.
After a few days, I was taken to my first home in Springburn. What happened next has never been truthfully explained. Not long after I was born my dad had left home and travelled 400 miles south to Harlow in Essex “in search of work” apparently. I think the idea of being a 21-year-old married man, stuck in a one-bedroom hovel with stinky nappies and a crying baby was not too appealing, so he ran away.
At the age of six months my mum, and I followed him. This was the first of many such journeys. It seems that some adults don’t have a very good emotional language either. When life got too difficult in one place, my parents opted for the “runaway” model of coping with problems.
Can you remember going to school for the first time? I can and I was bursting with excitement. I said to my mum “you can take me to the gate but don’t come in”, I was a big boy and I didn’t cry. Eleven years, ten house moves, eight schools, and three countries later, I finished my formal education and left home.
I always seemed to arrive halfway through a term, the school routine was established and friendship groups formed. I was always the new boy, always the boy who talked different, dressed differently. Adapting to change becomes a matter of self-preservation, this is not the time to discover you are an introvert.
The key learning point is to blend in, become invisible, be bland, be all things to all people. If you are not a fighter (I’m not) then learn to run, really really fast. Things will get better, bullies will hunt slower targets, most children want to make friends, it will be okay.
If making friends and allies is vital to instant safety, then being able to forget them is important to continued mental wellbeing. I can’t waste time grieving lost friendships, I am starting again in another school.
I move on, as I always did, I simply “forgot” my old friends, I stopped remembering them, deleted and trash bin emptied. I am the king of making new friends but the pauper at keeping them.
I got a bike for Christmas because getting a friend was too painful.