Seventeen years ago this week, I was the victim of an attack. The immediate effects are gone, but the date still registers each year as one of the most important in my calendar. It’s a day that changed me forever.
These days, I’m wary of using the word ‘attack’ – it was probably a prank that went too far, and my head probably blew it out of all proportion. But whatever it was, it had lasting consequences.
In the unlikeliest of circumstances (for peak-time), I found myself alone on Central Station platform in Newcastle alongside two boys with whom I travelled to school regularly.
There was an argument around homework, because I refused to give mine away. For that, there had to be a punishment. One restrained me from behind, slipping a spiked metal chain around my neck and pulling it tight, inviting the other to beat me up and to take whatever he wanted.
We were close to the platform edge. There were any number of things that could have gone very, very wrong. Fortunately, a train arrives after about a minute. I get released, knees shaking, weak breathing. They continue their journey.
Too many consequences
I had no choice but to report it when I got into school – there were visible scabs around my neck that would take weeks to go away.
I remember being pulled from my first class. It was up on the school balcony. I could see the two sat in the main hall below. One – the onlooker – looked utterly contrite; the other – the perpetrator – looked completely unrepentant. I was told they would be placed into lunchtime detention and asked to reflect upon what they had done.
Unfortunately, the signal that conveyed was that it wasn’t particularly serious – a minor transgression. And I didn’t have to wait long for the consequences to unfold. Transferring between lessons, I heard a bellow across the main hall.
A messenger had been sent to deliver threats. He (my attacker) was furious – he’d done nothing wrong, and I was now in serious trouble. He was going to wait for me and kill me.
Given what had come before, I believed it.
I break down in a blind panic. To their credit, a number of classmates circle around me. One dispatches the messenger (via the floor) and warns him that nobody is touching me.
Obviously, the commotion had attracted attention. I get taken to a side-room while the aggressors are tracked down and dealt with. The threats, by some strange token, were treated more seriously than the event itself. The perpetrator was suspended for two days.
The shape of things to come
Events, and moments, shape our lives more than we care to admit, and often more than we’re able to control.
That day sent me into a spiral, played out in private, and the consequences almost grew out of hand. I became a very heightened, timid, fragile teenager who somehow lost his mind as a result of one day.
I felt things more intensely than before. I didn’t like going anywhere on my own, where I could avoid it. Fear has strange biological effects as well – I felt catapulted through a stage of puberty.
As I’ve admitted here before, I didn’t have the communication skills as a teenager to deal with layered complexities – though it’s another reason why that ended up becoming a real priority in future years.
For better or worse, the song that accompanied me through the shadows. This video is so pertinent as that’s the sort of view it accompanied most often.
How do you explain it?
On the night of the incident, I was called by one of the girls I also occasionally travelled with. I don’t know how she got my number, but she was so lovely – so apologetic. She promised the two involved would no longer be welcome as part of that group.
The attention was overwhelming. But within a week, it had been forgotten about. Other people move on much faster than you do.
What that does is consolidate your own sense of singularity in the world. There I was, 15 years old, and nobody owes me a crumb of loyalty. Nobody’s got my back.
So I become an internet fiend, looking for people to turn to and trying to find some self-esteem. One of the lasting consequences was a perpetuated turn against self-appearance.
I was an ugly kid – that much is true. But nobody deserves to feel so rotten about how they look. When you end up in a bad place and you don’t have answers, you find your own reasons to explain it all.
So, for confidence, assertiveness, self-assurance, I’ve always been behind. And these days, because we’re far more mobile and there’s far more choice about how and with whom we spend our time, that really matters.
It’s no coincidence that those who lack these sorts of traits tend to be left on the side-lines.
But there we are. There’s my two younger sisters – one married, one engaged. And me? God knows. I’ve slowly built the blocks towards a normal life, whilst still susceptible to setbacks in those traits made ever more vulnerable by that October day.
There’s no room for excuses, and this certainly isn’t written in search of them. I’ve just got to get better and stronger every year until crumbs of loyalty build themselves into loaves of fruition.
Untitled Thoughts on 28/10/99
Oh, let that day from time be blotted quite.
Fountainous dew expires in the autumn sun,
Rediscovered cold spreads a glacial touch
That’s familiar, safe and sound.
The memories shouldn’t all be mine.
But that’s how it was in ninety-nine:
I, down in a tunnel, found
Skin to metal all too much,
And what was meant to start out as fun
Made each passing day a journey into night.