Three pieces about loss following the death of The Man I Called "Dad."
The nightmares began the day my father died. Harrowing, torturous things which come to me as soon as my eyes find sleep and leave my body contorted and struggling to wake. Sometimes they toss me around and leave me fighting all night and at other times I manage to pull myself from their grip almost before they begin. But they do always begin, and it's been so long now that it feels like they've been plaguing me forever.
The dreams are always different and the dreams are always the same: My father, dying, stretching out for me and pleading for help. Sometimes he is in a hospital gown in a hospital bed. The bed is in a room and the room is white. It is all that exists in the universe. There are no windows, but it is dark outside. You can feel it, an infinity of black nothingness stretching out into forever. We are deep into dreamscope.
I am standing either just inside or just outside of that room. I have a profile view of my father from the left. He is on his back, slightly propped up in the bed. A sheet covers his body up to his neck. He looks smaller than I remember, weaker. He looks dead. His face is drained of all tones but grey. Over to his right is a machine. A calm green ripple runs across its screen. It's the only real colour in the room. My father opens his eyes. The skin around his cheekbones stretches a little tighter. Without moving his head he shifts his eyes across so that they are looking at me. Like that he speaks, his mouth talking to the space above his chest. He always starts by using my name. His voice is normal but quivers with fear.
“Shane, is that you? Shane???”
“I'm here Dad,” I say. He becomes agitated. Not at my presence but because someone is there and not ignoring him.
“Shane, where's the doctors? Shane, why are there no doctors? Shane, it hurts. I think this is it. I can't believe it. Two hours ago I was fine and now I'm dying. Death's here. Shane, this is it. Shane, do I look bad. Shaaane?”
By now his upper body is uncovered. His face is stained in hard and ugly ways as he tries in desperation to reach an arm out towards me. He looks like an old religious painting. His eyes are straining so far in the corners to keep fixed on me that they're almost looking back in on themselves. He starts saying my name over and over....
“Shane... Shane.... Shane. Shane, I'm dying. Can't you do anything? Can no-one do anything? Shane, it hurts. I'm hurting. Living hurts.”
I want to tell him he'll be OK but it seems useless to say that, and I don't want to admit nothing can be done because that seems even more hopeless. And so I say nothing. I stand there and I want to run. He is reaching out to me with ever more desperation. I'm not sure if he wants help or human contact. Whatever, it scares me. I want to cry and I don't want to cry. I need to cry. But I don't cry. He's never seen me cry and to see my tears now will only terrify him further. I want to tell him I love him and have always loved him and that HE is my father, but I know if I tell him that now, here, like this, it will surely kill him. And so I do and say nothing. I stand either just inside or just outside of the room, watching the strain of his reach and the strain in his eyes. And though he doesn't know it, that look he is wearing, that perverse, twisted face of desperation, is the first manifestation of death in hs body, making it pull strange and ugly shapes. It's a real nightmare. And as my father struggles to live, I struggle to wake – we struggle together. I am somewhere between two worlds and for once I want the waking world.
In another dream my father appears out of a smoky distance. He's limping and in pain and looks like he's come home from a long hard war. His head is bandaged and there is blood, red on white, as he limps out of the dust of time. He's not old but more as I remember him as a child, as my father, invincible, The Man with Tattooed Hands, a gold tooth, and a square and solid jaw. There are tubes up his nose, black sensors on his body and a drip in the tender region of his wrist. He limps on in pain and he tells me it hurts and that I'm good with needles and could I remove the drip. He is deteriorating by the second and his lips have a faint blue/grey tint. He looks awful, kinda braindead, but he isn't – he's just scared. His eyes and cheeks are sucked in. It's like his body is eating him up. He's heaving and spluttering and a constant groaning is rising up from his chest. “Yesterday you was a boy and I was your age,” he moans. “Yesterday.” He says other stuff. I can't make it out but I know it's sad. He groans in pain but never stops to allow me to help him. He staggers right on past like he can't stop even if he wanted to. To stop is to die and to carry on is to die too – just a longer way about it. I don't fight his wishes, there's nothing I can do. He's not dying in a way which can be helped, and it's not his physical pain which is my nightmare. I watch him walk on. Trailing behind him are tubes, a leaking drip bag and wires torn from a machine. He is heading towards a shed, a shed which is an airing cupboard, the same airing cupboard that my mother's cat crawled into to die.
There are other dreams, a thousand different variations of the same theme. And in all these dreams, no matter how bad or ill my father looks, the worst thing is that he's always fully conscious of his condition. He is living through his death, aware that it is in him and taking a hold. That what only yesterday was an abstract thought is now here, conquering him. But my father is never conquered in the dreams - he never dies, just suffers on. And that is the real, real nightmare.
Each night, at the peak of my father's pain, my eyes shoot open and I wake exhausted sat up boltright in the bed. And in the dark of the night, with the aura of the dream still fresh, I light a cigarette and lay back down, blowing out smoke as warm tears run free and curl up behind my ears. And some nights I let out a squeak of pain and sob “Dad... Dad”, but mostly I don't. I just lay there in the dark, on my back, in silence, not wanting to sleep any more. So agitated I'm awake and up, writing or mopping the tiles or doing the dishes or arranging my bookshelf. When the sun comes up I'll bed down, I say, it's much more peaceful that way, and cooler. I tell myself it's the summer and that the heat is unbearable and that when winter comes I'll sleep much better and at normal hours. And I will. I believe that. It's just been a long hot summer.
60 Rosaline Road, Fulham, London, SW6
The house doesn't look the same any more. The door's been painted, the crumbling front wall fixed, the missing windows replaced and the weeds from the front yard pulled up by the roots. But the house is still there, and no matter what repairs it has taken it still faces the east, still takes the best part of the sun on summer days, and no doubt the back rooms are still dark and suffer from damp. I think often of that place. It's a good memory, even the bad times. We were all there, all young, all alive, and it was home, as tragic as it was. But a new family lives there now, maybe a happier family – I don't know.
When my father died early on this year he was no longer living in the old house. He'd moved out years earlier after my best friend had succumbed to a slow and suffocating death up in one of the top rooms. He said he couldn't bare living there after that, that death seemed to have a permanent presence in the place and was always on the prowl. He said he could feel it in the rooms at night, creeping in on him as he sat watching TV alone. By the end he'd moved everything down into the small front room that looked out onto the street, living there without visiting the other rooms in the house. Then he moved out, into a property opposite.
In a way, my father living across the road was even better. While visiting him I could then look out his window and stare over at the old ghost and reminisce of all the comings and goings, the tragedies, the fights and all the broken people and lives which had staggered to and from it over the years. Somehow, like that, it took on an even greater significance in my life. I suppose because I could no longer enter inside that it felt more like an encased chapter which could no longer be meddled with, or meddle with me. From my father's new place I could watch the old house and fantasize about getting back inside, taking a walk through the rooms and seeing how the new family had arranged them and if they'd discovered the loose floorboards under which I'd hid many young secrets. And while my father was still alive it remained like that, a presence across the road and something which housed an era of memories which seemed to grow dearer each year.
But my father is dead now and the council has taken back the property he died in. The name Levene has no residence or business on that road any more. To see the old house now I must specifically go there for that reason, and even then I could only pass by as slow as I can to try and savour the moment and remember how things happened and how we all used to be. If I go there now I'll be a wanderer; at home and with no place to go. When my father vacated his space something else went with him, but it's not quite clear what. That's when I started searching
60, Rosaline Road, Fulham, London, SW6. That's what I'd type into Google Maps. The address. I'd zoom right in and visit the street, walk down to the house and turn into the yard. It felt real. Other times I'd zoom in 400% on the house and look through the windows, examine the brickwork and guttering, searching for some trace of our old existence there – a name scrawled somewhere or a piece of brick I remembered knocking out. After I'd make my way up the street and think of how we'd play football out in the road all summer long and how we'd peddle our bikes to freedom around those streets. I'd go down to the opposite end of the road, the place where Josh's garage used to be, and imagine how my father used to look coming around the corner after losing all his money in the betting shop and with only twenty paces left to figure out how he'd raise money to feed us that night. Other times I'd follow the route I used to take to school and observe all the things that have changed just as much as all the things which have stayed the same. It seems like a different time now. Just invisible footprints and dead skin in a street I still think of as mine. And the weird thing is, after all that happened, after all the blood and years of life that was spilled in that house, if it came on the market tomorrow, and if I had the money, I'd buy it. I'd prise open that encased chapter and risk more tragedy. I'd move in, alone or with a lover or a dog, amongst all the old ghosts, visiting the little corners of the house where mighty things had once happened.
Sometimes, just for tears, I wish I could go back.
The Snail Bank
I think it's only normal. After the passing of my father I've been preoccupied with death: His, my own, and everything from bugs to plant life. Somehow death and dying seems more real, and at the same time, more mystical than before.
I pull a petal off a flower and look at it. “That's death right there,” I think. “It's in my hand... gone for all eternity.” At the bushes, across from the bench where I sometimes sit and smoke and read, I look at the symmetry of the leaves and try to work out what birth and life and family and death really is. I try to understand why the death and rebirth of leaves and flowers seem so natural and acceptable, and yet the same birth, growth and death in humans seems tragic and flawed. At home I stare at the dead flies and moths on the window sill and it seems impossible to believe that they can never be re-animated. That even given infinite time these things will never again Be. A fly – It's hardly made of anything. Why can't such a little thing be fixed? It's hard to understand. There is no understanding. One moment things have a conscious existence the size of their known universe, and the next, the lights are out are we exist no more.
From my bed, as I write, there is a bug making its way nimbly across the floor. It's a small black rain beetle. They get in here all the time, crawling in from out the cold and wet of the plant beds just outside. My instinct is to jump up and squash it flat. But I've given up killing bugs, instead I drive them into a glass and then rattle them to freedom out the window. The other night I even went outside and picked up all the snails which had slithered out after the evening rain. I carefully unstuck them from the concrete and moved them out of harms way so as they didn't get crushed by the evening crowds. Why? I don't fully understand, but I know it's because my father's dead.
- - -
Thoughts and Wishes to All, Shane. X
Labels: The Death of My Father
I'm not sure if it's the booze which turns me psycho or if it just brings it to the fore. In any case it mattered little: It was a freezing December evening and I was nineteen and hanging off Leatherby's balcony - fourteen floors up, above a spiked metal railing with gravity and the weight of a gallon of beer and whisky conspiring to pull me down. And while hanging there like that, with the muscles and tendons in my arms stretched to snapping point, I realized I had gone out too far, that I was no where near strong enough to heave myself back up and over.
“So this is how it's gonna go down,” I thought, that I'll hang here until I can hang no more and then drop down to a useless, messy death below. So when they somehow managed to pull me up, a man wound tight around each wrist and tugging my arms out of their sockets, I collapsed back over the safe side of the balcony wall, clean cut sober, and promised: “I'll never drink again!”
They had no choice but to arrest me. Even if I hadn't have refused to come on out. An opportunistic play of sheer idiotic drunken lunacy: crawling under a police van as it sat quietly at the lights on Wardour Street. They at first must have thought I'd stooped low to pick something up, and when I hadn't resurfaced by the change of lights had sent one of the officers out to find out what the hell I was up to down there. He must have spied the back sole of my shoe or something, disappearing under the van, as next I heard his astonished voice: “Guv, you'll never believe what this fucking idiot has done! Fuck, we've got ourselves a right one 'ere!!”And then I heard the back doors of the Sherpa van push open, and looking out under the back axle I saw at least six black booted feet drop to the ground, and then four eyes were peering in at me and demanding that I come out. I refused. "I'm never giving myself up!" I screamed, “Fuck the Brits!” Over across the road I could now see an assortment of various other ankles and shoes, and further back down the road a man was down on his stomach, pointing my way and saying, “I can see him... I can see him!!!” Of the gathering crowd, brought together to watch my drunken 'non-protest', there seemed to be quite a healthy split of opinion: Some were urging me on, and others were a little less sympathetic, advising the police to run over me and invert my spine. They didn't. There was a much easier solution than that. Two of the officers knelt down, grabbed a hold of a foot a piece and tugged me on out of there – me trying desperately to claw into the tarmac and screaming all the while. When they finally had me out they cuffed me straight and then rolled me over for the big unveiling: an imbecilic young face, red and smiling with the drink and saying: "Go on then you bastards, beat me up!" They didn't. And I swore: I'd never drink again.
So it seemed like a dream when I found myself that Christmas Eve swaying on the edge of the underground platform, staring off with contempt into the pitch dark of the tunnel and praying for a tube train to come along so as I could chuck myself out in front of its thunderous rage. And as I stood there rocking like that, and sucking in the smell of carbon dust and electric current, the double rows of white fluorescents above seemed to glare and fade and glare and fade, pushing and pulling me in and out of some cynical world of self-hatred and bitterness. And I thought: "Fuck you!" to the sickly couple petting on the seats behind me, and “Fuck YOU!” to the young boys just over there smelling of Stella Artois and kebab and Xmas joy, and “FUCK YOU!!” to the sober Underground worker standing at the far end of the platform and looking down at me (or maybe just looking down). And sometimes the place seemed upside down and topsy turvy, and other times other worldly; the large pasted advertisements appearing ultra bright and ultra real and ultra evil like they'd been put there just for me. So then I'm laughing bitterly at some deranged thought which has passed through my head and before I'm even finished with that craziness I'm then dreaming of bed and imagining trying to stub out my last cigarette so I don't set the place up.
And then I felt a breeze. And somewhere far off into the black of the tunnel a spark shot out like a sharp elbow. Then came more cool black air and with it a low constant rumbling and I edged myself a little closer to the platform's edge. The rats scurried for safety well before the first bolt of electricity bandied down the tracks, and for a moment I wasn't sure if it was the drink playing tricks on my eyes or if the tunnel really was alive with blaring light and noise. But there was no mistake about it: a tube train was hurtling down the tracks and headed my way.
Since I didn't much fancy flinging myself out onto live rail, being electrocuted first and then decapitated, I knew I had to time this to perfection. I thought of toppling off the platform, not really jumping but kinda just relaxing and falling into the trains path. I reckoned that with the drink in me and the speed these things blast through at I probably wouldn't feel a thing. And barely was it decided that that was how I was going to enter history than my face was being blown back and I was growling and laughing at compartments full of people in their Christmas merry as they flashed by all blurred, the train inches from my nose. And I thought: "Fuck it, next year!" and then swore I'd never drink again.
And so I'm in a house in Chelsea with my brother and some weird girl who we'd met as we left a bar. We'd followed on behind as she danced off in front, bare-footed, screaming over and over: "I'm late, I'm late! The rabbits late! Follow Me.... " An upper-class, schizophrenic, problem child, left alone by her father and so she'd ventured out searching for bad boys like my brother and I. Well, she had found us. And the house, OH THE HOUSE, Jesus! Antiques and paintings and silverware and cameras and jewellery and now the trash of my brother and I acting as a counterweight against all that opulence. And with no talking, no discussion, not a single word at all, we'd been led in and straight up to her bedroom. And this crazy, unwell-bred girl, with a protruding forehead, pushed out by a deformed frontal lobe, was then showing us her forearms and tops of her breasts boasting how she cuts herself up with broken glass and sees a psychiatrist twice weekly. On hearing that I said to my brother: “We could be in here... I'll fuck her first!" And the girl heard. And now she was no dumb rabbit but Alice, on the bed, washing down a handful of psycho pills with red wine before pushing her trousers and panties down and laying there with her legs crossed but her muff out. And as planned I went first, though not as planned Madcap Alice was suddenly up on her knees, waving around a huge real psycho knife and warning me to stay back and not to rape her (all the while screaming that I HAD raped her). And then, when she felt she'd done enough to prevent me from violating her, she asked: “Are you boys hungry?” Said she'd fix us up a full Sunday Roast (from scratch) but after that we'd have to leave. Then just as quickly as she'd lost it, she lost it even more, saying that she needed DRUGS. Any DRUGS. So I said that this was Chelsea and that The Kings Road was packed six to a doorway with the homeless and that we could easily score DRUGS there. My brother found a bottle of Scotch, named it his, and we left.
Back outside and the night air was frosty and cut through with ice, but we were warm with booze and excitement and I had a hard-on and maybe my brother did too. And because I had mentioned the homeless and drugs and how easy it was Madcap Alice had then gone skipping and dancing up to a pair of beggars dressed in sleeping bags.
“Can you get me DRUGS!" she asked. And she wasn't even sane enough to know that there are different drugs, and that no-one in the entire history of scoring has ever tried to score just 'DRUGS'. So I pulled one of the beggars aside and said: “Look, the girl's completely cracked! My brother and I just wanted to fuck her a bit but she turned all mental and threatened to kill me. But tell her you can get 'DRUGS' and come on back. She's alone in her father's three storey house and it is packed to the top ceiling with every kind of shit that could probably help you guys out!"
And so Alice is once again out in front, leading us all back to hers, having started up with the rabbit nonsense again. My brother hands me the bottle of scotch like it's a relay baton and then goes dancing away too, trying to catch up with Alice and fuck her before I or the beggars do. I hang behind with the beggars, still dressed in sleeping bags and looking like winter caterpillars up on their hind legs. The beggars are either merry with the prospect of getting out the cold or they have realised that this is for real. As I stagger along sipping at the whisky, each one is at either of my ears asking again about the house and drooling and rubbing their hands together as I describe it over and over again.
We're in the Hallway of Madcap Alice's house. The beggars are staring up in astonishment at the low hanging chandelier.
“It's a reproduction,” says Alice, “everything's a fucking reproduction!” The beggars don't seem to mind though, and Me, I think: At least there'll be no trouble replacing everything then! Once again we're led up into the bedroom, only this time there's five of us. Alice is the only one who sits. The pills she'd swallowed earlier seem to be coming on strong as she's rolling her head around and laughing and saying weird things as if she's tripping. But she's not tripping. She just thinks that's how DRUGS make you behave. She's seriously whacked. Getting down to business one of the beggars asks: "OK, so how much DRUGS do you want?" Madcap Alice pulls out some notes from her jeans and says: “This much!” She's not got a single clue as to how much cash she's even produced. Still, as crazy as she is, she is not crazy enough to give the money to the beggars. Instead she gives it to me, maybe as payment for raping her, and that's even worse. I stuff the notes in my pocket, my brother now diving in and trying to take his half. I fight his drunken hand out my pocket and tell him: “Later!”
The beggars say that to get the DRUGS they have to make a phone call. Madcap Alice, really out of it now, flings a hand towards the door, as if to say: “It's somewhere through there.. I don't know!” With the Beggars now roaming the house (casing the joint), my brother and I collect a few select things ourselves. I take a fake Ming vase, a brass fire poker and a Toby Jug while my brother fills his pockets with Silverware. Now resigned to our fate – a wank in the dark before sleep – we decide to call it a night and tell Alice that we're leaving, and that the two beggars are ordering her DRUGS, but to be very careful as I think they're planning to rob her. But Alice isn't as stupid as she is crazy, and she realises that I've told her that but am preparing to leave with a body load of stuff myself. She says that my brother and I can keep what we've taken and just to go, that EVERYONE MUST GO! My brother and I agree, and so drunk to hell we head off, now with Alice firmly behind us making sure we go. As we make our way down the stairs and off through the open plan living room we pass the beggars who are on the phone. But it doesn't sound much like DRUGS they're ordering: "Yeah, bring the fucking van, mate... I'm tellin' Ya, we can empty this fuckin place!" And then I wake up on a night bus and I'm kicking to rouse my brother as it's pitch black outside and I think we've overshot our stop. And we have. And it's raining and it's freezing and we're walking the five miles back home, weighed further down with the odd and useless bits of antiques we have. And my head seriously hurts, and my ears and the base of my skull are frozen. And not only am I trying to hold myself up but my brother too, and if this walk doesn't kill us I promise: I'll never drink again.
So I'm trying to light a cigarette but I keep missing the tip and it looks like the flame and tip are aligned but they're not and people around are pointing and laughing. And then the cigarette is lit, but I still can't get a drag off the thing, and it's there I realize I've kinda lit it in the centre and it just gives up the game and falls apart. I fumble another one out the pack and try again. And that's when the thick end of a pool cue cracks me a good'un right around the side of my head, and the fat loud-mouth guy in the QPR football top who'd been my best friend all evening is now accusing me of having made moves towards his old lady. I hear the wrap of the pool cue off my knuckles as I raise my hands to defend myself.
And it's a black wet night and I can see the moon and a fist keeps punching me in the face. I don't even try to stop it, just walk on into it, undefended, telling the fist I'm sorry and to calm down for just a minute. And then the police are there, blue swirling lights and radios in the night, and I'm saying: “Nah, he's my mate... he was tryin' t'help. It was someone else altogether who did this.” And then the police are gone and My Loudmouth Friend has his arm around my shoulder, shouting a drunks' whisper into my ear : "Nice one for that mate! They would've 'ad me back in The Scrubbs! Fuuuuck!” And then I'm back inside, being paraded around the bar as some kinda “Stand-up Guy”, and that's really amusing as without my friend holding me up I'd be a dribbling drunken pile on the floor. And I'm smiling, a huge wide affectionate idiotic thing, as My Loudmouth Friend shows me off to each table: “Look how I fucked his face up and he STILL didn't rat me out!” And everyone is patting my back and shaking my hand and somewhere in the haze I take a drag of a cigarette and it's strong! So now my head is spinning and the room is spinning and sounds are far away and then real loud and every thing and everyone has this blurry halo of light around them and I feel detached and heavy-headed. And then I'm falling back down into my seat, across from HER, and I'm not sure what is real and what is not or what has happened or what has not. Then my friend is back, crashing a pint down on the table in front of me, an inch of beer jumping up and out over the lip of the glass, and it's the last thing I ever want to see. And I think I'm sliding down off my chair, like a piece of meat or a dogs exhausted tongue, flopped out and struggling to see and so I'm squinting or peering or doing something, over across to the girl who started all this trouble. I put a cigarette in my lips and let it dangle. I'm thinking of fucking her and I imagine I look pretty smoky and sexy and cool, but now, I'm not so sure I did. And certainly the beating was real. I can feel it in my face, a swelling numbness that normally only dentists dish out. But maybe it helped? Maybe my friend's punches saned or sobered me up, as his woman now looks quite different too: Older, fatter, stupider, more vulgar, less leggy, less sexy, less fuckable, unfuckable, unanythingable, and God. is that hair on her face? And I swear: I'll never drink again.
And then it's broad daylight, around eleven o'clock (maybe), and I'm staggering down the centre of the road of Kensington High Street and I've got my cock out and I'm pissing along the white centre divide line. Cars and buses and taxis are hooting me but I carry on regardless and I think I put my dick back inside my pants while it's still pissing. And I did. So I scream: “ROCK N' ROLL!!!” and swear, I'll never drink again!
And then I'm in France, and I'm at a companies Christmas do, and I'm not sure how I got there but I recognize three people and so suppose they must have invited me. And before we've even finished our starters I've started: throwing food about and having a great time. And I go to the toilet and return with the handle off the door, and we're all laughing except one boy who I don't know and who seems to have taken a passionate dislike to me. And as a drunk the most annoying, boring fuckers are the sober, and no matter how blind drunk you are you can always see a sober man: and this man was SOBER. So now my attentions are on him and I start up with clever quips and subtle insults until the entire table is laughing him down. And I'm knocking back the wine and peering at this shit through two scrunched up eyes, and someone is obviously enjoying my insanity as they keep topping up my gtlass – and every time it's topped up I empty it again. And it's soon that I straighten up after my latest throatful of Beaujolais to realize, once again, that I'm floating on a different plane to everyone else, and I'm suddenly not sure if the table are laughing at Him or Me. Then I realize it's ME! I'm being ignored, pacified, my insults waved away and HIM opposite is being told to ignore me. He's won! Even my automatic refill has stopped. So now I'm seething, staring at him through a haze of drunken hatred and planning his murder to the chip of cutlery on plate. And then the entire fucking table jumps and everyone is pushing back, except Him, who's now leaning right across with a fork to my eye and screaming something about me pouring wine and candle wax over his Foie Gras and that he's going to kill me! And then I'm being dragged crashing through the restaurant, over tables and through romantic meals, towards the exit where he's gonna beat the crap outta me. And I don't know if he does or not because the next thing he is over the other side of the road, at a bus-stop, crying and being comforted by his girlfriend. And now I'm crossing over to apologize, staggering around in the oncoming traffic, halting cars and apologizing to them too. All the while his girlfriend is warning me off, shouting at me to “Just leave it!!" and “FUCK OFF!” So I do. Home. But the walk is a turbulent one and I'm making it with my eyes closed. I've a vague feeling of having lost my jacket, keys and money. And then I realize: I have lost my jacket, keys and money. And I'm laughing about it, a caustic bitter laugh ringing out in the shrill night. Staggering forward is hard enough, so going back would be impossible. “Fuck You Jacket, keys and money... FUCK YOU!”
And then I'm on the floor and the back wheel of a moped is spinning somewhere near my face and a boy who looks about ten is besides me in a helmet. And he doesn't hit me or anything, just rises and gets back on his motorcycle and scoots off. And the city lights are a blur above me and I'm not sure what are lights and what are stars or what is the moon. I try to rise but can't. I'm eating French pavement, and French pavement tastes the same as any pavement in the world. I feel sick. My leg hurts. I've lost my jacket, keys and money and home seems centuries away. And now my head is spinning, a vortex or noise and light and pain and liquid, all swirling around and pulling down and coming up. And as the vomit shoots and splutters out my nose and mouth I feel as if I'm dying. And I am dying. And every time I think I'm done another part of the evening comes rising up and spewing out. And now my eyes are open and once again I can see. The sick is all upon me and has collected in a sticky pool around the side of my head and in my ear. And it's bad, but it's better than before. And soon I'll pick myself up and drag myself on home, but before I do, and while I'm here, and once more just for fun: I swear, I'll never drink again!
A Song for The Drunks. Love to all the Dogs, Shane. X
It all started with a scream. I heard it from the top of the road as I made my way home from school. Somehow I knew it was my mother's pain. It was a scream from nowhere and of unbearable suffering. And it didn't stop. It was 1983 and my mother had just been informed that her lover, my father, missing for over a year, had been discovered: murdered and dismembered and stuffed in two black bin bags in the flat of serial killer Dennis Nilsen. It was an event that would blow lives apart. I was seven, and Hell was on its way.
My father, Graham Archibald Allen, was born on the 31st October 1954 in Motherwell, Scotland. He was a healthy, athletic child, raised in a stable home by two strict protestant parents. The youngest of two he grew with attention problems and failed miserably at school. The only thing he excelled at was football, at the age of fourteen making Motherwell's youth team. But Motherwell, not even the promise of professional football, could contain my father. By the age of 15 he had discovered Glasgow, alcohol and cheap prescription drugs. By 17 he was out of school, out of pocket and out of home. Having been laid off by the steel works in Motherwell and with nothing else for it, he made his way down south to London. It was there, 10 years later, that Graham Allen would one night meet another fellow scot by the name of Dennis Andrew Nilsen.This meeting would entwine these two Scotsmen together forever, and the events of that night would eventually go down in British crime and folklore history. One man would be remembered as 'the 14th victim', and the other for carrying out a string of macabre and gruesome murders.
My father arrived in London, penniless, in the late autumn months of 1971. He intended on finding labouring work with one of the many small building contractors who hired workers for cash-in-hand with no questions asked. Like many a young scot before him, Graham Allen hit the city only to find that the tales of easy employment had been greatly exaggerated, and that there were not jobs you could just step into straight off the train. To find employment would still take some effort, and what's more, it would also take a few quid. My father didn't have a few quid. He couldn't buy the early papers which advertised the latest jobs and didn't have the fare to travel to well known pick-up spots. Instead he walked his way into Central London, to the bright lights and the sex shops, a place notorious for runaways and a place where one could make a quick illegal buck and then move on to pastures new.
Whatever happened it didn't happen how my father had imagined it would. From the quiet industrial town of Motherwell, via the shit and pish of Glasgow, he was suddenly slumming it rough in London. Homelessness however wouldn't last long. After making a few contacts he was soon taking advantage of the lenient squatting laws of the time, living in abandoned buildings and stealing electricity from the mains supply. With a roof over his head, warmth and a few quid in his pocket my father suddenly had time to kill, and it wasn't long before he was sucked into the sleazier side of city life: Cheap strong booze and whatever pills were doing the rounds. This time though the pills weren't swallowed down with mouthfuls of beer but whacked up in syringes. It wasn't long after that heroin was on the agenda. Less than a year later, at eighteen years of age, Graham Allen was one of the city's many officially registered heroin addicts. He funded his habit through a mixture of government unemployment money, begging, stealing and robbing tourists around London's West End.
One of My father's regular drinking haunts, and one of the few places he was welcome, was the Kings Head pub in Leicester square. It was there where he met my mother, Lesley Mead, a blond haired blued eyed barmaid employed by her father who was the publican. Within weeks of meeting the two had fallen in love. But it wasn't simple. My mother was already in a relationship and had a child with a well-known local criminal, and so Graham Allen, the young Scot, became a badly kept and barely tolerated secret. But some secrets could not be kept hidden, not even badly, and in early 1975 my mother fell pregnant and nine months later I was born.
If my birth affected anyone it was my step-father. It was he who would raise and provide for me and he who I would call 'Dad' all my life. It was no secret I was not his by blood, but that didn't matter, he loved me with the same indifference as he did my brother and sister. What my birth did change however was home life. Graham Allen was then openly creeping in and out of my mother's bed and for all who knew them they were a sure item. Nevertheless, my father couldn't afford to support three children (two not his own), a woman, and a raging drug and alcohol habit. So more than anything else it was out of convenience that my half-surrogate-family stayed together. It was a fucked up situation for all, but it worked. Kinda.
In 1978 the squat in Liverpool Street where everyone was living was cleaned out. Due to having three young children my mother and step-father were officially rehoused into a two bedroom maisonette on the other side of London. They made the move and set up house together, though by this time their relationship was nothing more than a business arrangement. They slept in separate rooms and led separate lives. My mother's separate life was of course my father, and it was no surprise that this 'separate life' found itself in paying digs less than a hard-on's length away from the new family home. During that year Mum spent every available moment she could with her lover, and like that, with no-one even really noticing, my mother had flown the roost.
Living together in a single room, and without the fear of having to account for the bruises, my parents' relationship took a downward turn. It became very stormy, very violent and very unhealthy. There were substance abuses and infidelities on both sides which led to frequent violent quarrels and separations. For this reason my mother staggered in and out of two lives, returning back to the family home when her face had taken enough punishment or when she was sick of living in a single room with a volatile junkie who spent every spare penny on smack. Back home my mother could stay for minutes, hours, days, or weeks. No-one, not even herself, would know how long for sure. The only certainty was that eventually she'd leave and end up back in Graham Allen's arms.
My memories from this time are very diluted and hazy. I was very young and wasn't aware that these days were the calm before the storm. My memories of my mother are few and far between, and memories of my father are even more fleeting. Other than the night he disappeared I only have three:
1) Finding him unconscious and being taken away by paramedics after a drug overdose.
2) Playing football with him in the street and using dustbins for goalposts.
3) Slashing his wrists open with a meat cleaver during a violent argument with mum
There are a few other memories but they are very vague. I remember a Breton striped top, bleached denim jeans, thin legs, brown hair and a Scottish accent. I'm not even sure if those are real or implanted memories – descriptions of him which I claimed as my own. I just don't know.
During the last five years of his life my father was in and out of prison, in and out of rehab, and in and out of life. His living was hard and his addiction was harder – it was completely out of control. He was not just a drug addict he was a junkie. If that wasn't enough he was also halfway to becoming a chronic alcoholic, and with alcohol he got psychotic and even more violent than usual.
The 1980’s only brought more suffering to my father. He was in prison again on charges of heroin possession and was kicked off his drug program. To ensure he still had a heroin substitute to fall back on he took up the hobby of robbing chemists. With his drug habit unstable and drinking ever increased amounts of alcohol the relationship with my mother became ever more unhealthy and violent. On two occasions she ended up in hospital after taking beatings at his hands. The second time this happened was on Christmas day of 1981, when over Xmas dinner my father leaned across to kiss her and instead bit half her nose off. That act summed up their relationship. It was an intense melange of sex, violence and impulsive acts.
The night of my father's disappearance in 1982 brought more of the same. I remember him arguing with my mother and demanding money for heroin. He was drunk and cut and she had taken refuge inside the family house. His violent demands took place from outside, standing on the window ledge and shouting through the glass. He was hung up their like some perverse embodiment of Christ, black blood coming out his mouth where he'd punched his own face in, and screaming for my mother's purse. That was the last sight either my mother or I saw of him. Well, that and then finally climbing down before casually skipping the low garden wall and disappearing into the night. That image haunts my mother, and what haunts her even more were her very last words: “Fuck off... and NEVER come back!”
During the year of my father's disappearance, my mother always believed him dead. This wasn't the first time he had disappeared, nowhere close, but it was the first time he had disappeared and hadn't made some kind of contact in the following days. That was a given. Even if it was just to say: 'I fucking hate you, You Cunt! PS: I'm in prison!' Or even worse: 'I fucking hate you, You Cunt! PS: I'm in Scotland!' But no matter where he ended up he always wrote. This time he never did. My mother just hoped that he had succumbed to a peaceful, painless death and had quietly overdosed somewhere and died alone. Of course, secretly she hadn't given up all hope. I know she hadn't. Somewhere inside her she would have been desperately hoping for her love to return, and probably she still is now.
It was during 1983 that news started breaking across the country of a “House of Horrors” in north London. A man had been arrested there after human remains were found clogging up the drains outside the house in which he resided.. As with the entire country my mother was gripped by this story and followed in shocked interest as the gruesome tale unfolded. It turned out that over a five year period, between two houses in North London, 16 young men had been murdered, dismembered, and disposed of. Of course, my mother never imagined for one moment that her future would be tied up in this bizarre event. The news broke, went from the front pages to the second, from the second to the third, and then faded away completely awaiting the big trial. It was one afternoon during this quiet period that all hell would break loose in my life. That day my childhood would end and something without description would take its place. And as I mentioned: It Started With a Scream.
I never did make it into see My mother that day. Before I was even in the front yard a neighbour had gathered me up and was leading me clear from the wreckage. All I saw was the police car parked outside, my open front door, and a view down the hallway and out back into the kitchen. Sitting at the table where my dinner should have been were two uniformed police officers, and standing just back from them were two men in suits. My mother was out of sight, just a piercing noise that cut through the next ten years.
Inside my neighbour's I was soon joined my my elder sister and my younger brother. We all sat there, in the late afternoon, in a living room which wasn't ours, and as our mother's world collapsed two doors down we stared blankly at depressing cartoons on the TV, waiting for news and to be given permission to go home and see mum. I don't know how long we stayed there. I don't remember too much more of that afternoon. My next memory is of waking up, it then being dark outside, and my brother and sister fast asleep on the couch. Sitting up I sensed something was broken. Maybe the night? It was open and alive with lights and noises and worried voices. The adults were up, and in and out: we were all waiting for something.
How long we remained at our neighbour's, or what state Mum was in when we finally saw her, I can't recall. I don't remember seeing her at all that night although I know I must have. I imagine that the adults took care of her, kept a close eye as she drowned out the pain with alcohol and waited until my stepfather finally arrived home in the small hours of the morning to sit with her. All I know is that in the morning my mother's bedroom door was closed and the house was a few tones darker. My mother had barricaded herself up inside. It was my stepfather who explained what had happened. He was in shock too. He wasn't Graham Allen's greatest supporter (he had lost his woman to him) but regardless, Allen had made up a part of his criminal gang and they had worked together robbing tourists in London for the past ten years. So my step-father told us the news, but not even he could tell us about Mum and how her world had imploded.
When I was old enough to be worth telling, or when mum was drunk enough to be able to tell it, she explained the day of the scream.
She was in the kitchen preparing our dinner when there was a knock on the door. She opened up to find two plain clothes detectives, a uniformed policeman and a police woman standing on the doorstep. They confirmed her name and asked if she knew a Graham Archibald Allan. Initially she thought he had been found alive and was in trouble again. She let the police in and led them out back into the kitchen where she began attending to the potatoes.
“So what's he fucking done this time?”
It was somewhere here that the police told her to sit down and then explained that a skull had been found and from the dental records it had been positively identified as that of her lover. It had been retrieved from Cranley Gardens: 'The House of Horrors' in Muswell Hill. My mother says she doesn’t recall anything else after that. I suppose that's when she began screaming and her noise drifted on up to me, wandering down the road home from school. During that time there wasn’t police counselling or shock support, and so my mother was told the news and then left to scream the pain away with only the neighbour left to try and calm her. How she didn't try to commit suicide that night or the following days is a mystery. Though soon she would. As time ate away at her and she dulled her brain with vodka and martini, death and the desire to die crept closer. Very soon suicide would be the House Speciality. My brother, sister and I would be the only forces to stop it. For a while we tried, and then we just didn't care.
That Fateful Night
We know what happened before the murder, and we know what happened after, but no one really knows for sure exactly what were the last few hours of my father's life. At the pick up and the actual scene of my father's death there were only two witnesses: One is dead, and the other doesn’t recall much. From what I can piece together they would have went something like this:
My father skips the wall and heads into the centre of town. He somehow gets money, scores heroin around Piccadilly, has a few too many drinks and decides to head home. As he wanders down Shaftsbury Avenue in Soho he is accosted by Mr Nilsen. Nilsen, seeing my father's drowsy state decides to try his luck. He offers him the promise of more alcohol, a warm taxi ride, a bed for the night and something to eat. My father, probably with sinister intentions of his own, accepts. They arrive at Nilsen's north London flat at around one o’clock in the morning. Here’s what Nilsen describes as taking place:
“the thing he wanted more than anything was something to eat. I had very little supply in but I had a whole tray of eggs. So I whipped up a large omelette and cooked it in a large frying pan, put it on a plate and gave it to him. He started to eat the omelette. He must have eaten three-quarters of the omelette. I noticed he was sitting there and suddenly he appeared to be asleep or unconscious with a large piece of omelette hanging out of his mouth. I thought he must have been choking on it but i didn’t hear him choking – he was indeed deeply unconscious. I sat down & had a drink. I approached him, I can’t remember what I had in my hands now – I don’t remember whether he was breathing or not but the omelette was still protruding from his mouth. The plate was still on his lap – I removed that. I bent forward and I think I strangled him. I can’t remember at this moment what I used... I remember going forward and I remember he was dead.... If the omelette killed him I don’t know, but anyway in going forward I intended to kill him. An omelette doesn’t leave red marks on a neck. I suppose it must have been me.”
Nilsen then undressed my father, masturbated over him (he denies having sex with the body) and then moved him to the bathroom where he laid his body in the tub. He left him there for three days. During this time Nilsen would continue to wash, brush his teeth and do his toilet in the presence of my father's dead body.
On the fourth day Nilsen removed my father's body from the bath. He laid a plastic sheet on the floor, dumped the body on it, and systematically dismembered it. First he cut off the head, and then the hands and the feet. Next he opened up the torso and removed the internal organs. With the insides removed Nilsen severed the body at the waist and removed the arms. He disconnected the legs from below the knee. During the following days he gradually diced the flesh and flushed it down the toilet. To dispose of my father's head he boiled it for hours in a large pot on the stove. The skull with the flesh boiled from it, and my father's bones, were placed in two black bin bags, tied and stored in the cupboard. And that's where they remained. Nilsen was apprehended before he had the chance to get rid of them, though not before he had the chance to kill one final victim. I suppose my father's post-mortem claim to fame is that it were his body parts which were discovered blocking the drains of Nilsen's apartment building and which led to Nilsen's arrest. It's not a great historical footnote, but it's better than most.
I have explained the death in detail not for shock value or to be crude, but to give some idea of the horrendous news which was forced upon my mother that afternoon. I know the relationship between My mother and father was violent and unhealthy, but it was still love, and as we know, love is often twisted and never a logical emotion.
The months immediately after the death are vague. I hardly recall a thing. I think my mother was shell-shocked and maybe only thoughts of revenge kept her alive. She stayed locked in her room, the house growing darker, and alcohol keeping her afloat. My next proper memories of the event come during the build up to the trial.
The case was all over the papers again and there were journalists coming daily to our door. My father was the only victim they didn't have a clear recent picture of and they were offering up to two thousand pounds for a photo. It was during this time that we really discovered all the facts of what had happened. It would be the catalyst which pushed my mother into the abyss.
The last sane thing, or the first insane thingmy mother did was to attend Nilsen's trial at The Old Bailey. She had been warned by journalists not to attend as there would be gruesome stuff on display directly related to her lover's death. Mum ignored all warnings. I think more than anything she was there to try and reconcile something in her head, that she wanted to see Nilsen, the monster who had done this, and at least be able to soothe herself with the knowledge that he was a complete psychopath and what had happened wasn't preventable. Only Nilsen wasn't the monster she had imagined. In fact she said he looked “plain and normal” that- staring at him gave no hint to what he had done. There was no reconciling what had happened with the man who had done it – Nilsen looked as normal and commonplace as the judge. It wasn't a monster on trial but a human being, and then it made even less sense. My mother never hung about for the verdict. She left halfway during the fourth day of the trial, after my father's skull and the saucepan Nilsen had boiled his head in were brought before The Crown as evidence. It would be more than twenty years later that her sanity would finally catch up to her.
Post-trial I remember my mother drinking suicidal amounts. Drunk she would do nothing but cry and sit on the floor alongside a small stereo listening to old love songs and staring at the tender of her wrists. With the story now out of the media the victims' families were left at home alone without even the small comfort of the nation's empathy to help absorb the event. There were no more journalists offering comfort as they scavenged the victims for scraps of untold story, and no more newspaper reports mentioning their names and telling of their plight. It was over. The murderer was in jail and other news was more important. The victims now only had the torture of solitude and silence to take comfort from, and that was no comfort at all. My mother's drinking and suicidal tendencies spiralled to a climax. She could no longer take it any more. She decided that The Blackout was for her.
It was one afternoon, during the summer of 1985 that I saved my mother's life. I was only young and I was only coming home for lunch and I was only just in time. Fifteen minutes later and I would have found her dead and then I don't know what I would have done. As it happened I found her worse than dead: I found her dying. And that is an even more brutal and traumatising thing to see.
I remember the house was dark. But a weird darkness, more a sense of it, like how you feel when a door is shut that should be open. There was also no smell of food and that was strange as well, as I was home to have lunch and then return to school. I peered up the stairs. My mother's bedroom door was closed and the the landing outside was in darkness. I called out but there was no reply. Hungry I dumped my bag and headed into the kitchen to make a sandwich. With two slices of bread spilled out on the table I took a healthy knifeside of Peanut Butter and began spreading it. As I did so I heard a noise. It was faint. I stopped what I was doing and listened. There it was again, drifting down from upstairs, and sounding like someone in the midst of troubled dreams. I laid the knife down and followed the sound down the hallway and upstairs. Outside my mother's room I stopped and listened. Coming from the other side of the door was the same murmuring noise, only this time clearer and with the added sound of wheezing air or something. I knocked on the door and called out to Mum. There was no answer, just the same groaning noises as before. I knocked once again and with no reply I opened the door and froze. Covering the floor was broken glass, empty Martini bottles and hundreds of dropped tablets. And then I saw her, Mum, sprawled out on the bed, her eyes faintly open, and bright white foam frothing up and out of her mouth. She wasn’t conscious. I knew that much. I didn’t call or touch her. I couldn't bare to. Laying there like that something disgusted me about her and scared me right through to the bones. That was my mother and she was hurting and not well and maybe even dead. I turned and scarpered, off to get some help.
I can't remember what happened or what I said after knocking on my neighbour's door. What I do remember is her pushing past me and sprinting off, two doors down, and into my house. Moments later she was back, passing me without a word, down her hallway and straight to the telephone. At that moment my step-father arrived. He had been in the betting shop and on returning must have seen me upset outside my neighbour's and her rushing from our house into hers. Having called an ambulance the neighbour came out to meet my step-father. She pulled him aside and frantically told him something. Together they rushed back to be with my mother.
I wasn't allowed upstairs. I was ordered to stay down and outside. My job was to wave the ambulance in just so they didn't drive by or do something silly like that. After more than an eternity the ambulance finally arrived. Three paramedics stomped in the house past me and up the stairs. There was some commotion, paramedics leaving and returning with equipment and a stretcher, but my mother wasn't brought out. I didn't know what they were doing. Ambulances were supposed to get people to hospital quickly. It turned out they had to pump my mother's stomach on the spot and fight to keep her heart going. After a while they stretchered her unconscious body down the stairs and out into the ambulance. I really thought she was dead. My last vision was of her laying in the back of the ambulance, just her head visible outside a thick red emergency blanket, and white foam still frothing out her mouth. Then the back doors of the ambulance swung closed and it pulled off, the sirens flashing and wailing as it went into the distance.
I wasn't taken home. Instead I was once again left with the neighbour while my step-father went to remove my brother and sister early from school. When he returned he dropped them off and then left to make a meeting he had for the evening. Once again we were left waiting with our neighbour, this time for news if mum would live or die. In the early evening we got news. Mum was extremely ill but would survive. The hospital said that if she had have been found just fifteen minutes later that she would have already been dead. It made us all cry. It was too close, and at that moment in history we all loved our mother dearly.
Mum passed five days in intensive care, and remained in hospital for almost three weeks. She had been pumped and resuscitated so intensely that her entire chest and stomach was one huge bruise. I remember the day of her release, us collecting her and being happy that she was sober and seemed clear in words and look. She was frail and so we took a short bus ride home. Her sobriety wouldn't last long. That same night she got paralytic drunk, fell off the toilet and split her head open. My brother sister and I dragged her body into the bedroom and pulled her up on the bed. That's when we knew that all was not fine, that there would be more ambulances and more anxious waits. Over the next seven years she would attempt suicide on at least ten occasions; twice very earnestly. It got so bad that we had to hide all the knives (and forks) in the house. We spent the next few years on permanent suicide watch.
That episode, and my mother's then chronic alcoholism, highlights some of the knock-on effects that the murder had in our household. It shows the secondary victims. It also shows what became of my childhood, and just how far the murder had affected my mother. For my part I hold no ill will towards Nilsen. I'm honestly not sure life would have been any less traumatic if my father was around. And anyway, we cannot spend our time pondering the butterfly effect of our own and everyone else's actions. If we did we'd never move an inch, and even that would probably hurt some poor soul. They're not my reflections as a conscientious adult either. I have never felt ill will towards Nilsen, and I’ve never blamed him for my mother's alcoholism and the hell which that conjured up. After everything, we still determine our own actions. My mother choose the bottle; it didn’t come to her. It’s the same with me: I choose the needle. We must live and die by our swords. We cannot blame our enemy for us taking up arms. That is a bitter and all consuming road to take.
My mother's repeated suicide attempts very nearly led to me, my brother and sister being taken away and placed into Council Care. If it wasn’t for the stability that my stepfather offered we would have surely been carted off, separated, and brought up by middle-aged religious nuts as their ticket into Heaven. Fortunately, just as much for them, that didn't happen. Another thing that didn't happen was mum looking after us. From that point on my mother would stop being a permanent fixture in our lives. She would spend the next few years drifting from bottle to bottle, from lover to lover, searching for a man who no longer existed. Each time she found escape in someone he would mistreat her. She'd return home skint, covered in blood, and with a big bag of rattling vodka bottles. For a while she'd stay and then without warning she'd be gone. Just like before, no-one knew where, and no-one knew if she'd ever return again.
My mother's behaviour followed me all the way through my young and teenage years. As I grew older I learnt how to cope with her better, but unlike my sister I was never able to ignore her completely. I always had that lingering fear that the day I did would just be the day she was for real and my punishment for turning her away would be to have her death on my conscience. And so I stuck with her, as did my brother, phoning ambulances twice a week after fake suicide claims. But it wasn't all bad. There were also some good times and some fun memories – like the time she punched out my least favourite teacher. In the midst of all the perversity there were still moments of love and joy, and even odd days where I could be a child again. They were precious days, and it's those that mean the most.
The Me-effect – The By-product of Murder
After the death of my father I was all that was left of him. In my mother's eyes I was him. My brother and sister were from different blood and as a result my mother's attentions turned mostly towards me. This caused jealousy between my siblings and our relationship secretly soured as my mother heaped her drunken affections my way. Little did they know, they were the lucky ones. My life had become horrendous. My mother would keep me besides her at all times. I would wrestle knives out her grasp, watch her drink her death, see her break down, attempt suicide, and watch her fuck her way through a myriad of different men. She would also call me to her room, and in tears claim she was dying from terminal cancer and had only months to live. It was all unwanted attention. I didn't want to be my mother's favourite. Still, I was a boy and I loved my mother and I would have defended her to death. She was untouchable, and she still is.
Concerning my heroin addiction the actual murder has little direct association with it, but the physical death of my father and his image I began to compete with did. I am the by-product of murder, but not the product. Some of the problems I have are the waste fluid from that event.
In many ways I have (unintentionally) given my mother back what she lost. I have recognised her needs and fulfilled them. I have become a cleaner, non-violent version of my father. I am him without his worst faults. I have become a more rounded version of the man my mother loved. Yes, I'm a heroin addict, but even that gave my mother something back which she had lost. I doubt she enjoyed seeing me sticking needles in myself, but in a way it was like having my father back and sitting there all over again... a confirmation that he still lived on in some physical form.
Heroin, and the kind of image that gives off, is a part of the reckless, wild side of boys which my mother has always fallen for. She has never praised me for taking heroin, but in her reactions to it and to the footstep's that led me there, I sensed an admiration. And it wasn't just heroin. My wilder acts have always gained my mother's attention. And though she would scold my actions, there was always a little sparkle in her eye. The way she would report the incidents to her friends told me she had secretly enjoyed them. She enjoyed my first cigarette, my first joint and my first whiskey. She enjoyed my first arrest and then watching me stand in the dock of the Juvenile Court reciting Oscar Wilde. She enjoyed my first trip, and my first line of speed. She enjoyed the fights, the late nights and the love bites – me returning home with some woman's passion tattooed up my neck. It impressed her. She was watching the return of my father, and I was willingly playing the part.
Of course, I am not my father. There are huge differences between us. From what I know he didn’t read, didn’t write and didn’t paint. He had no artistic or intellectual hobbies. He wasn’t into literature, philosophy, sociology, politics, film or chocolate. Nothing. Just junk, love, alcohol and violence. All that really connects us is heroin addiction. That's no small thing, but it isn't very much either. Still, in part I have given my mother back what she had taken from her. I often think if I hadn’t she would have been dead years ago.
But drug addiction, as with any behaviour, doesn’t stem from one event. I cannot tell you all the parts of this, but I can tell you it would have probably happened anyway. The truth is, the idea of using drugs first came about as a way to overcome shyness. After that there were silly, immature reasons for first trying heroin. More than anything else to live up to a certain image and to exude a certain recklessness. That was probably aimed at impressing not only my peers but also my mother. Of course it also pissed a lot of the right people off and that was just as rewarding. But drug use and drug addiction are two very separate things. I soon found that heroin gave ME something. Not my mother, not my father, not my peers or my image, but ME. It gave an inch to an unbalanced leg. It made me feel more stable. Up until then a strong fart could have toppled me.
This is why I don’t hold any ill will or shove the blame towards Nilsen. It is also why I equally hold no ill will towards my mother. I stuck needles in my veins for me. As an intelligent, stupid adult I took my decisions and I will live with the consequences of them. I will not do what others have done and portion the blame for their mistakes and problems to others. I will not become bitter with life or death. I accept it all, and it's all my fault: the good and the bad. I'd have it no other way. I am happy within my body, and every bruise, and every scar and every smile and suicide rescue has contributed to that. I am my own history; the answer to my own equation. I cannot regret the past, none of it, without regretting myself. And I don't regret myself. I'd not rather be anyone else.. not even You.
It is now 28 years since the murder. My mother is two thirds on her way to death and I am even further along the line. Nilsen is still alive and languishes in HM Full Sutton maximum security prison in Yorkshire. He is 66 years old. My mother is drink and drug free, finally kicking the heroin and crack habits that she picked up later on in life. She no longer is haunted by the murder and can talk freely of it. She continues to hate Nilsen with a passion and hopes he is never released. I on the other hand would one day like to see him free. I would take no pleasure from him dying in jail. My mother would slap me for saying that, but what's a backhander at my age? It's just something you wipe away.
My Thoughts and Wishes To ALL, Shane.X
Link: Guardian article on Nilsen from 1983.
Tags: Dennis Nilsen. Dennis Nilsen's victims. Serial Killer. True life crime. Mass Murder
During the Vietnam war a term known as fragging occurred. It involved the deliberate killing of bastard, abusive or gung-ho commanders and was usually carried out by a small group of soldiers during battle conditions so as the death would look like an accident. Initially it was done with grenade pins and later more surely with a nice quick bullet in through the back of the skull. These killings were fuelled by fear, young men sick of being harried out in front of machine gun fire or fed live down underground tunnels. Fragging was not a way out of fighting, if anything it was a collective reaction against an abuse of power. These men did not sign up for 'certain death' or ever agree to be a human Trojan Horse, but that's what they were used for. Fragging also happened during the very unique circumstances of war, a time when Men are the law, and walk not only with right of way but with the judges hammer and executioners pistol as well. In light of the nature of fraggings, and the circumstances wherein they came about, nothing much was ever made of them. They were mostly covered up and only one ever went down in any kind of official way.
Today another kind of 'fragging' exists, though very different from the killings described above. The fraggings I write of are not executed in far away places with high-tech weapons, are not collective decisions, and the death is neither a quick nor painless one. It also doesn't involve grunts killing seniors officers but rather scar-tissued addicts killing their foot soldiers. I suppose the only real similarity between the wartime fraggings is that someone is killed in very ambiguous circumstances and their death is brought about by fear – albeit a very different kind. These killings of junkie by junkie are also very hard to find any moral argument for. They are silent, secretive, selfish acts of humanity (yes, HUMANITY): a way not to die alone.
It was Marge who first tried to infect me with the HIV virus, and a few years later my best junk buddy John. How many others would also have tried to pass on their bad blood if they ever had the chance I dread to imagine, though not many ever had that chance. After wizening to this trick the first time I became something of a junkie recluse, only mixing with other addicts when I needed to, and only on very rare occasions fixing in the same room or toilet.
Of the two incidents mentioned above they each affected me differently. Marge's attempt left me angry and afraid while John's, because we were friends, deeply saddened and hurt me. But below any raw or seething emotions I could also kinda understand why they had done what they did – though understanding certain motivations did not in any way justify or make it easier, it only served to make it an even more terrifying thing.
As the years passed and I spoke to other addicts about what had happened, or explained it to doctors or drug workers, nobody was ever really shocked. Most addicts had similar stories, and most doctors had heard similar stories. Though by far the most disquieting feedback came via a friend called Bill who chaired an HIV support group twice a week in Leyton, East London. Bill told me that a huge number of the people in his sessions had confessed to intentionally trying to pass on the virus and those who hadn't could mostly still relate to another's motivations for trying to do such a thing. And then Bill calmly told me something which almost blew my socks off: he admitted that he himself had done the same just after being diagnosed. He told me how he'd then go out his way to pick up guys and harass them into having unprotected sex. He said it was never to coldly kill, that that would have been easy but pointless. He explained it was important that people couldn't blame him any more than themselves... that he took comfort in knowing that someone else suffered the same emotions and regrets as he did. Bill said that one of the initial reasons he had started up the support group was because it was a healthier way not to be alone with the disease. Really Bill only confirmed what I already knew. And after he had we both sat there in silence, in a bar in Hammersmith, staring out on a winter evening which suddenly seemed to bite more cold. These were sad, lonely and desperate times, and not even the rowdy City Suits and flashing, wailing slot machines could drown out the view from there.
To some it may still seem like two bizarre incidents blown up into something they are not, that I was just unlucky. But the real fact is that the fragging of junkies by junkies, the intentional passing on of Hepatitis C and HIV in IV drug circles is rampant and common practice. And though no junkie passing this blog will probably admit so much, may even deny it, it does exist and if you ever sit in on an HIV counselling/confessional group you will hear similar stories, though many not quite as fortunate as mine. It will come to pass that what I write of is much more than bad chance: it is murder on a time-delay fuse.
* * *
Marge was a 6'3, lanky blonde haired transvestite. For the first 12 years of adulthood he had been the lead dancer for the Royal Ballet company, only leaving after his tits got so big that they hindered his performance and his crack and smack habits got so big that they hindered his ability to travel and stay away for long periods of time. His dancing partner was his lover who had died from AIDS way back in the early days of the disease, though Marge was always adamant that he himself had been lucky and tested negative. Now in his late forties, with just as many years of severe junk dependency behind him, Marge's ballet days were over, condensed down into three scrap-press-books of reviews and newspaper snippets intermingled with cut-outs of The Queen and Channel No.5 perfume adverts. Nowadays Marge made his living in less stretching ways: sitting down along the Holland Road with an array of pastel artworks laid out before him. He sold each one for two quid – though there was the option to haggle. Of course his artwork's aren't what funded his drug habits. They were his excuse to sit out begging and not feel like a beggar. People would buy a painting for double and tell him to keep it in the bargain. Many would disregard the scribbles completely, preferring instead to get straight to the heart of the matter and toss coins at him. Marge would at first eye the coins in disgust, then the moment the philanthropist was out of sight he'd scoop them up, count them, and then moan at how tight fisted the British were!
When Marge was especially hard up I'd lend him cash to right himself and then join him sitting outside for the evening as the coins rolled and bounced our way. I wasn't there to beg or because I needed money, I accompanied Marge as he wouldn't work the evenings alone yet needed to to repay me. So I was there as a kind of lowly guarantee that he wouldn't be assaulted or have his drawings kicked and stomped into the ground. Not that I ever stopped much. I only sat out with him maybe ten times and most of them we were spat at or a bottle would shatter against the wall behind us. Only once were we physically attacked. Marge freaked out and pulled a dirty syringe on one of the drunken yobs and ended up getting arrested. The truth is I wasn't there to protect Marge, or I was, but only so as he remained healthy enough to beg what he owed me. I knew if I didn't escort him out and babysit him I'd never see my money again. I'm not sure if Marge ever realised that I was the lead ball weight on the end of his chain. If he did, he never objected.
During that time I was still a newcomer to the needle and Marge was one of a group of new users I had gotten to know from the needle exchange. But Marge wasn't like the rest. He was well-spoken, cultured and had a kind of nurtured intelligence (which means he had been taught how to eat properly). For those superficial reasons he didn't scare me half so much as the people who lingered around him. God, these were some serious C.H.U.D'S*, only they lived uptop with us and were slightly more deformed. Some would sit down in the street behind Marge and I screwing blunt needles into leaking abscesses. Others would lower their trousers in a doorway and quickly ram a needle into their femoral artery. These users scared the shit outta me and I didn't like being anywhere near them. There was something so dirty and hazardous about the needle in those early days – even my own used works would trigger panic attacks. Marge however didn't scare me; he just alarmed me. Especially his behaviour around syringes. He seemed to be obsessed by them. He had this thing where he'd act like Mummy-nurse and remove and cap needles from nodding junkies bodies. He'd also accept needles full of pre-cooked dope in the street and bang them up without a thought (skin pop them right in through his jumper). It was scary business, and was the first thing which made me question why anyone would be so carefree around other's spikes' and blood. Some nights as we sat out in the dark I would watch Marge and wonder where he'd be now if things had have gone right? Probably an alcoholic... he had that kind of a face, and his nose was a wine taster's wet dream.
I think looking back I wanted a friend. I was scared of what I was doing and wanted someone alongside me crazy enough to do the same, yet sane enough to be responsible. Marge seemed like that person... and he was interesting. He could talk about whatever the subject turned. I suppose I thought we were alike. That the only real difference was that Marge had been stewing in the shit longer. But really Marge and I were not alike. Marge had been twirling with the devil so long now that he had become confused over who was who. He was your friend if you bought him a beer and your lover if you bought him a hit. But if you sat besides him and had nothing you was suddenly an irritating inconvenience. He'd get all bitchy and use his knowledge to damn your interests and pick holes in your favourite author's or artist's works (as well as pick your pockets). He used that old junkie con of warning you of every trick and scam in the book while performing them on you. That I had caught Marge stealing off me the first ever time we met didn't help me trust him much. I never pulled him for that theft, preferring instead to watch him as he talked and smiled, and stole small scoops of brown whenever he thought I wasn't looking.
It was during my second month of intravenous drug use when our relationship soured and would never be the same again. Marge, the great opportunist, would try and rob something from me which I wasn't so fond of at the time but was trying desperately to keep: life.
It was a bright Sunday morning in the middle of Autumn. I had woken up to find myself clean out of new needles. The only place I knew I could get any on a Sunday was the Boots chemist on Kings Street – though they closed at 1pm and it was already past the hour. I was stuck at home with heroin, citric, filters but no clean needles to whack my morning fix up with. But it wasn't a tragedy and wasn't the first time I'd been caught out like this. I was still relatively new to this side of heroin use and wasn't organised in making sure I always had what was needed to have a fix. I was always lost for something or having to run to late-nite chemists for extra works or Vit C. So that morning, with no official needle exchange open, I gathered up my equipment and headed off to Marge's to see if he had any fresh spikes he could give me.
Marge lived in a little flat connected to the Lime Grove hostel: one of West London's major drug wash-up shores. Most addicts in the borough would end up being filtered through there at some point or other. And it wasn't a bad deal: free board and food and a cell check twice a day! It was packed to the tiles with mostly long term, mentally ill addicts who'd wash their smack down with Tenants Super and whatever downers or sleepers their stench had forced the local GP to prescribe them. Marge wasn't in the hostel proper but had somehow managed to wrangle one of the permanent flats on its premises. That was kinda like everyone's dream in those days: to get one of the self-sufficient Lime Grove flats. They were the after-junk-life paradise offered up by the God of the Hostel. The only catch was that to get one you had to be either sober or dying, and that's why for there only being five flats up for grabs the hostel was able to 'permanently' rehouse 50 people a year. That its success was based on its rate of eviction no-one seemed to care about. Housing and evicting fifty people were better statistics than housing only five. Anyway, these little apartments sat just below, down where all the hostel residents could see and drool over them. There were no throw out times, no bars on the windows, no sign-in desk. It was freedom for the lucky few; a place to secretly kill yourself in peace. Only for the lucky few who had ascended to Hostel Heaven it wasn't so much a paradise as an open hell: a den of addicts all cohabiting and thieving off each other. As everyone had once dreamt of getting out the hostel now they dreamt the same of this place. Only this was permanent and there were only two ways out, and neither was a very attractive proposition. So it was a dream turned to shit, and this is where Marge lived and where I knocked him up that bright autumn Sunday afternoon.
The noise that came down through the intercom wasn't static. It was Marge's rattling lungs and groans of pain which let me know he wasn't well. Then there were some crashing sounds, a posh “fuck”, the intercom bouncing off the wall and hitting the floor, another groan, and then Marge buzzed me in. I climbed the flight of stairs to his flat and followed his tall frail and aching body down the little hallway and into his bedroom.
“You've caught me without my make-up, Darling,” he groaned, painfully easing himself down on the bed and pulling a loose cover up and around him. “Oh I'm sick... Poor ol' Marge is sick... not even a fucking filter since last night. And that wig is useless! Just makes me sad.”
I followed Marge's gaze down to a blonde hairpiece on the floor. It was sad. It was cheap and sad and I could imagine him tearing it off and having a breakdown because there was no gear.
“And, er, what message have the Gods sent with Thee?” asked Marge, this time sounding pathetically cunning.
“Needles, Marge. I'm all out. D'you have any fresh spikes?”
“Ah needles... Well I'm certain I do if you have a teeeny bit of gear for me, Oh yes!”
“Yeah, I got a fix for ya... I'll even split the bag. I just need some needles.”
“Oh YUMMMEEE!” he exclaimed like a big posh baby, now springing to life and catching a touch of his usual theatrics. “Now that's a good wake up call! Ok, needles....”
Marge looked around in a small cupboard near his bed. As he rifled through bags and packets of shooting equipment he asked some questions about how I was getting on with the needle. I explained I wasn't organised yet and that injections still took a while and I'd without fail leave huge marks and still had trouble hitting even the huge veins, though I did always manage. Marge closed the little cupboard. I saw him pull a face. Then he was up and rifling through what would normally be sock drawers. “Oh Fuckery, I was sure I had some,” he cursed, “let me go upstairs and get one of Bill. Bill always has needles... and no gear!”
When Marge returned he was empty handed and fidgety. “Can you believe it, Bill's not fucking there? Fuck. He's always there!”
“Listen Marge, it's OK... just leave it. There's a couple of others I know. Someone will have one.”
“Yes, no doubt.... after all this is Shepherds Bush: The Horse's Stable! And what about splitting the bag?”
“I have to sort myself first, Marge. It'll be the same deal with the next man. If they give me a spike they'll want a hit for it or start crying! I'll leave you a small hit, enough to put you right, then I'll pass back around later after I've got sorted and scored again.”
For a moment Marge looked distraught and pissed. I saw the Bitch had entered him. Then he composed himself and said: “OK, look, I've got one needle that I was saving for me, but I'll let you have it... I've still plenty of half-decent used ones. But don't forget this... It's very rare someone gets my last works!”
I smiled, but my mind was already on Marge. I could see what was happening. And like a fool I watched as it unravelled, convincing myself that no-one would be that mean... that I must be wrong.
“Ha, got it!” cried Marge, holding up a needle and throwing its packet back into the cupboard he had previously searched.. “My last one! OK, get the gear out and lets make ourselves pretty.”
I got out the small bag of gear but my thoughts were now on the needle Marge had produced yet kept a hold of. Not only was I concerned it may not be a fresh spike but was also worried because Marge had laid it down next to his own dirty needle. I wanted to be absolutely sure I got the supposedly clean one and that there would be no bizarre mix up. Into my spoon I emptied a 'junkie's half' of the bag. The rest I gave over to Marge. Together we cooked our hits to liquid.
“I'm ready, Marge, give me the needle.”
“Ready already? Now who's a Hungry Henry!”
Marge handed out the needle and then paused. He withdrew it. I had been waiting for it... this is how I knew it would go down. I somehow knew that needle was never intended for me to hold (and inspect). “Look, roll your shirt up,” said Marge, “ I'll show you how quick and easy it is!”
“Oh, that's OK... I want to do it myself... I prefer that.”
“But you'll be here all afternoon Shane, Darling... and I can't get myself well till you're finished. I need to soak my feet in the tub to get my knackered old veins up. Please, I'm sick. It'll take me seconds to pop fresh veins like yours... seconds.”
Marge knew what I was thinking. He knew what I was thinking because he knew what he was doing. “You're worried about the needle aren't you? God, I wish I'd have let you open it now. It's clean, Dear... you saw me throw the packet away.”
“Yeah but it's what I didn't see. I didn't see you take it out the packet....”
“Look, it's a fresh spike!” He said holding it up, “Now stop being such a drama queen and get 'em out!”
The needle looked clean, it did, but so do many of mine if I get a clean hit or have to transfer the gear to another needle for some reason. And of course now Marge had plucked off the orange cap and broken the seal which is the only other means to verify it by once it's out it's wrapper. It was too late. My situation was this: half my bag of heroin was in a needle I had doubts about, and the rest of the bag was in Marge's syringe which was 100% dirty. The gear was gone. I finally convinced myself I must be wrong and rolled my sleeve up and stuck my arm out. Without even using a tourniquet Marge looked over my arm. He was in a hurry. “Ah, there's a nice fat vein sitting up right there... I'll get that without even tickling ya!”
Marge put the needle against my forearm and made to insert it. That's when I cracked. I pulled my arm away but not before the needle had scratched my skin. Marge jumped with fright.
“But Darling what are you doing! I would have had that!”
“Marge let me see that needle... I want to see it!”
“Oh Gawd, I thought we were over that! It's a fucking brand new spike.”
“Then give me it... I'll cap it and do mine later. That way I won't keep you. Hand it over...”
“But Shane it's clean, let me ju....”
“Marge give me the FUCKING NEEDLE!” I screamed.
If nothing else Marge was a coward. When I shouted he kinda lost all coordination of his body and became flustered, caught between doing something drastic and doing nothing at all. Finally he put the needle down on the bed besides me. I picked it up. It was perfectly clean on the outside, but right down inside, where the needle enters the barrel, was a tiny dot of dried black blood. The needle was dirty. It had already been used.
Now I was panicked. I hadn't taken the shot, the needle had not even been in me, but the very top of the spike had pierced my skin and brought blood. It was enough. I called Marge a “Cunt” and hurled the needle at him in disgust. He could have it. If slipping someone a dirty needle is where he had got to then he could have it – on me! But I wanted no part. No excuses, no “you're wrongs.” I just wanted to leave and be alone.
At that point it was the dirty trick to get a fix that annoyed me. I wasn't aware then that Marge was HIV+. He had previously spoken freely of the disease and while admitting his lover had died from AIDS he was always adamant that he hadn't contracted the virus. He didn't seem to care about the stigma of the disease and so I reckoned: Why would he lie? I told myself that that concern was fine, that his crime was being afraid to lose his get-well fix and nothing more.
It was five months later when I realized it was something more... Much more. Over that time I still saw Marge about but I never spoke to him anymore. Something too intimate and unwanted my side had almost passed and there was something that disgusted me about it. Even in his face I now saw shades of something else, something ferociously selfish which I couldn't stomach. So I avoided him. But on this day in question I couldn't avoid him. He came stumbling out a building and almost crashed right into me. We both swapped a cold “Hello” and Marge asked how I was as he tried his best to move me along down the street. His behaviour was the same as it had been the afternoon he'd tried to spike me up with a dirty needle. I looked around wondering what he was up to that he didn't want me to see, and there it was, the building from which he had come from: The Terence Higgins Trust: group therapy for people living with HIV and AIDS. I almost fainted. And if I didn't regard Marge as such a piece of shit at that moment I would have held onto him to steady myself.
“Marge, what are you doing here... In there?”
“Er, Oh there... just meeting a friend.”
“So where is he?”
“Good question... though it's not a 'he'. But come on, let's go.”
“What you're not gonna wait?”
“I can't and anyway she's not there. Come on.”
I didn't say anything, just followed Marge down the road and feeling panicked and caught for breath. As we walked I kept asking Marge the question in my head but could never get it out. It seemed like a pointless thing to do. Marge would only deny it further. Finally I did ask, just as he made his excuse to turn off down a road which took him in the opposite direction to where he was going.
“Marge, are you HIV positive?” I asked. He stopped, raised his head and looked me in the eye. He didn't deny it; that was his answer.
I felt sick. I wanted to cry and run at the same time. I also wanted to lay an uppercut right on his jaw and stamp him into the ground. But I did none of those things. In one of the stop situations of my life all I could do was raise a weak voice and say: “What about the needle Marge... what about the needle?” Marge kinda threw his hands out, like he had no answer. And what did I expect him to say? And even more: what did I expect him to care? Humans are intrinsically selfish. Our first care is usually of ourselves. As I asked Marge about the dirty needle all my care was for Me. I couldn't give a fuck that He was maybe dying; I just hoped I wasn't. And sadly that's just how it is.
Heroin changed after that moment. I saw a danger and a dirt within it that I had never seen before. Of course I knew about the diseases and the risks before, but I figured as long as I didn't share I'd be fine. I never for one moment reckoned or planned against the chance of someone intentionally trying to infect me with HIV or Hepatitis. That was low, but it had happened. Not even two months into injecting and AIDS was a real and serious issue.
I didn't sleep that night. I laid awake thinking of Marge and that needle and the little prick of blood it had induced. I wondered if Marge had killed me and if the disease was in my body. I imagined pink and blue things swirling about in my blood, attaching to things and duplicating themselves. I thought of those terrifying adverts from the mid 80's that was my generations equivalent to the thought of nuclear warfare. At gone 3am I was up and in a real state. At that lowly hour I called my good friend Verity and sobbed down a phoneline what had happened. Verity, a one time nurse, couldn't do much right then but arranged to come and meet me in the morning. Until then not even huge amounts of smack could calm me – my mind couldn't be subdued on this one. Me, a severe hypochondriac at the best of times. Even when healthy I was convinced I was dying of cancer, and now I'd been given good reason to believe I was really dying. Well, that was too good an opportunity for my body to turn down. And so it panicked away... all night fucking long.
With the light came Verity and with Verity came hope. We met in a lousy café on the Goldhawk Road and over scalding coffee and and endless chain of cigarettes I went through what had happened. Verity asked me loads of questions. She was especially interested in the needle and how old it was. From pure calculation we was able to be sure the needle wasn't used in the last twenty four hours and was probably much older. Verity told me that the chances of me being infected was very very slight (for HIV at least). She said there was a bigger chance I could have contracted hepatitis C but even that was quite doubtful. She asked how long ago it happened and I told her five months. “Well, you need to get tested... it's the only way to be sure. It'd show up now if you've caught anything.”
To be tested scared me. In ways I didn't want to know and yet so badly needed to. What I wanted was a kind of low risk gamble, and so I kept questioning Verity over and over, trying to get her response down to a suitable level. It was only when she told me that she thought I had less than a 1% chance of being infected did I like the odds and agree to take the test. Though I made it clear that if the test came back positive that all romance was dead and I'd kill myself that same day. And I meant it.
To cut it short I got tested in a little clinic in Hammersmith. I had to wait 48 hrs for the results and two days later I was given the all clear. Verity was sitting besides me as the doctor spilled out the good news and gave me my test results. On hearing the news Verity began crying and I began thinking of Ace and wondering whether his phone would be on yet. What a great day it would be if after all these months of worry I could score early and get back home and sink into oblivion properly. Now that would be perfect! After having my life saved it was only right that I risk it again... if not what would be the point in having it back? The thought and the day was temptingly delicious in its coldness. The doctor babbled on some more but I never heard a word. Before leaving he referred me back to The Needle Exchange for a session on safe injecting practices. Of course I never went. I wouldn't need to. From that moment on I never ever shared a room with someone injecting again, and only on a handful of occasion ever had someone inject in my presence. The life scared me, and the people even more.
The next time I saw Marge was two years later. He was on crutches and looked like he had a stroke. His head had been cracked wide open from the base of the skull and circling across and round down to the ear. He was out of drag and had lost all sense or care of appearance. As he hadn't finally done me any damage I went over to gloat about testing negative and to ask how he was. He told me he had his skull fractured, that another addict who we both knew called Mick had walked up to him in the street and hit him in the head with a mallet. Marge had been in hospital for the past 8 weeks, was clean, though was scoring as he spoke. I kind of REALLY enjoyed knowing someone had done that to him. Had fucked him up for the rest of his days, permanently affected his head, speech, sight and walk. He was a dirty thieving cunt anyway, though it was harsh dues for that. Normally we just let it pass.
A few days later I saw Mick and asked what had happened. “Did the fucker rob you, Micky?”
“Kind of,” he replied.
“What d'you mean 'kinda??? Did he or didn't he?”
“He gave me AIDS.... on purpose. I tested positive three months ago.”
I couldn't believe it. What Mick told me was almost an exact replica of what Marge had done to me. Only with Mick it was worse as Marge had been slyly giving him dirty needles over a period of time and pretending they were from the clean pack. Where I had wizened to the trick Mick hadn't and had unknowingly been shooting up with dirty needles every time Marge was about Aghast I told Mick my tale. That's when it went really strange. Rather than wishing he was me, I saw he wished I was him. That it wasn't fair I'd escaped with my health and he hadn't. And in his eyes was a look of revenge. One less violent and more calculated, and one I suspect he will exact on someone other than Marge.
It was years later when my best junk friend John tried to infect me. In reality he was nowhere close and his pathetic attempt would never have worked anyway. At that stage I was too wary of other users to ever do anything silly. But he still tried and that's the thing, and that's what made me sad.
I had known John for about two years. I met him one day when there was not much gear about and he scored for me. He was a tall, stick thin Dubliner with water coloured eyes and a beautiful thick accent. He reminded me of past people and we became friends – mostly because whenever I'd bump into him I'd buy him a rock of his choice or put a score in his pocket. Our friendship was that. We never met up socially, or had a meal together or anything like that. We passed on the dope scene and I often helped him out. That was it, though we bonded never-the-less. He earned my respect by only once in two years ever calling my phone and asking for money. Even when he was ill he never used me as an option, and there's not many who'd be that precious with something. From that I took him as a loyal, decent person. And he was: John was a good man.
As the months passed I had an inkling that John maybe had HIV. There were weird happenings which I couldn't explain through junk logic. Like how I'd arrange to lend him money until he got his government payment, and on the areed day I'd turn up at his hostel with the cash only to be told he was in hospital. A week later he'd turn back up, clean of crack and heroin, and give me some fanny about a muscle problem, or a lung infection. I never doubted the reasons he gave, just the way he shrugged them off as if they were everyday and nothing serious. But I knew it was serious. Anything that would have a junkie laid up in hospital half sick is VERY serious. God, I've seen addicts with limbs hanging off through gangrene who wouldn't go to hospital for fear of not getting out the same evening and being sick or subdued with inadequate amounts of methadone. So for John to be in hospital on the day he was to get money was bizarre. When it kept happening I marked him down as one of the many 'closeted' HIV'ers on the injecting dope scene. John never did tell me and so it was only ever speculation.
My penultimate morning in England was a grey affair. It was a biting cold march day and I was to meet John to say goodbye. When I met him he was in the middle of some weird methadone sell whereby he'd earn £180, and so our last morning together was spent trawling around Shepherds Bush trying to track down a one legged addict called Jack The Peg. When we eventually found Jack – slopping down a free breakfast at The Great Commision Ministry Church – he told us through a mouthful of soupy porridge that he needed to cash his sick benefit before he could buy John's methadone. All together, walking at the pace of a man with one leg and two rusty crutches, we pigeon stepped it (Jack in the singular) down to the Post Office and queued up behind the dead, the pregnant and the insane.
Jack was in front leaning his weight on his walking aids. John and I towered behind him. As we got up to next to be called Jack spun around and through a mouth still mouldy with milky cereal, said: “I 'ope ta Christ they accept me facking ID! If it's Vijay ee'l refews fer'shure! Made me walk all t'way ta Hammersmith last fortnight... Me, wiv a missin' fackin' leg!”
John seemed unmoved by the news. He must have been used to all the piss around himself and took it as normal. But me, I was in a rush and could never bare such fucking around anyway. We should have already scored and been home by now. Who the hell 'Vijay' was I didn't care; I just hoped it wasn't him who was calling us forward.
When Jack turned around and shot us what would have been his teeth if he'd have had any left we knew that his ID had been accepted and the cashier was fingering off crisp twenty pound notes from the small pile to the left. Once given his money Jack held the notes up above his head and delighted shook them in the air. It meant nothing to John or I, but to the others in the Post Office it meant he was now going to go and blow the lot and get extremely fucked up on the tax payers expense. And that's exactly what he did. Within thirty minutes. Same as us.
“Who ya's scoring offa?” asked Jack.
“Ritchie,” said John.
“White City Ritchie?”
“I'll have ta hide then. I owe 'im a score.”
“What you're after scoring yerself are ya Jack?”
“May as well, fack it! what's an extra twenny?”
“I'm gonna get of Ace,” I said, briefly entering the conversation.
John knew what I meant: let's drop this annoying cunt and get sorted. But he kinda pushed me back against my belly and made a sign to quieten down. As we walked on John pulled me ahead.
“With Jack in we can earn. One of each, sure as shite... Now dat roight d'ere'll be our little goodbye treat.”
“Fuck that, John... I'll pay the extra myself just to lose him!”
But John was an addict used to scheming and scamming, and turning down a couple of free bags wasn't possible for him. This was like finding a little sparkle of Klondike gold – even if it meant hauling a cripple up a steep mountainside to get it. It was another little make for John and he was thinking of tomorrow and I wasn't. Tomorrow I'd be gone. In a place where money couldn't help. John would still be here, fretting about the days to come and how to avoid having to regret selling his entire supply of methadone.
It would have been a long slow trot to Ritchie in White City had it not been for Jack the Peg pulling up lame halfway and waving John and I on ahead saying he'd catch us on the return run down to collect his bags. John and I rushed off, made the call and met Ritchie without any fuck around. Sorted we headed back down to where we'd left Jack and dropped him his bags off. Now John had his little gain safely in his pocket he couldn't give a shit about Jack any more, or get away fast enough.
“You don't wanna be anywhere near the loikes 'a him while carrying. Sure enough da feckin' police stop and search him every other day if dey don't! If you're within pissing distance an' dat happens, well, you're just as likely fooked yerself!” That was John's justification on leaving Jack behind so suddenly. Me I just didn't need justification. He walked too slowly and that was it.
As we hot-footed back to John's hostel John said excitely through mouthfuls of March mist: “Dat bag we made d'ere, da B, it'll be our parting fix for all dis shit man. You'll come'on up ta mine, ya will, we'll spoon and share it, sure... loike sharing a drink. A proper farewell, ya know?”
“What? Are you talking about sharing a spoon or a shot? I won't do either, but I hope you're talking about a spoon.”
“To hell wiv all dat bollix for a day, Shane. Fook! You're leading da fooking countree, man... ya gotta say a propa goodbye, now... Sure ya can dis once share a little fix wi' me?”
“Oh No, I won't. We don't need that to say goodbye...”
“Well at least ya'll come on up? We'll draw ta'gedder. Ya can do that at least, will ya?”
“John, please,” I said, not wanting to argue or fuss over something so insane on this last morning, “let's just separate the bag and that'll be our goodbye. You've bought my last fix outta this place. That's a nice enough memory, no? Our goodbye we'll say in words or a hug.... not blood.”
“Ah com on ta fook now Shane! We may neder see one another again, man. You've gotta at least draw up wi' me... ya gotta.”
I didn't argue the point, just told John “no” over and over. It got so much that I even told him he could keep the entire bag. That we'd say goodbye like everyone else, and then he'd go up to his room in the hostel and I'd traipse on home to mine and through time and space we'd raise a needle to friendship and history. John wasn't happy with my snub, but he got to keep the entire bag of smack and I think that's what bought him.
“And d'your really leaving? Ya phone won't be on after tomorrow?”
“Really, John. Tomorrow morning I'm outta here. The plane's booked and I've transferred my script to a hospital over there. If I stay I'm even more fucked than if I go.”
As I hugged John goodbye he cried. Just like a baby, he held on tightly and cried.
“What'll become of us, man?” he asked through tears. “What da fuck will become of us?”
I hugged John back and told him to take care and that one day I'd return and take him back to Dublin. And then he cried even more, and now he couldn't stop.
John's tears are the last visual memory I have of him. I never saw John again after that, though I did hear from him.
It was over a year that I had been in France. I had gotten clean and then gotten dirty again. So it was good news one day when my mother phoned.
“Shane, there's a little surprise coming over your way! That fucking Irish John has just been around here, bought me two rocks of white and left twenty five quid to get you three of choice and post over. And you ya little bastard, you never told me he 'ad AIDS! An I've been sharing my fuckin' crackpipe with 'im!”
I didn't say anything for a moment. It was a shock. AIDS and I heard it in capital fucking letters too.
“What, he's HIV?”
“Worse... full blown! Been put on full incapacity benefit and so he was around here fuckin celebrating! He was all hugs and smiles saying he feels rich! When I asked how he got full incapacity, because I'm only on half, he told me that he was HIV+ and had now gone full blown!”
“Well I didn't know!”
“Well he says you did 'cause I fuckin' asked 'im! And you know the friendly way he talks, he said: yeah, I told Shane... he knew!”
I told my mum that I really didn't and then told her of him insisting on sharing a fix with me on the morning before I left. How even knowing he was HIV positive he had really tried twisting my arm into sharing a needle with him. My mother cursed him and called him every kind of a cunt. It didn't stop her having him around though. Why would it? Nothing bad had finally come from it and John bought her rocks of white. What crackhead but a very bad one would turn that down? I wouldn't either. Two months later though and John was history. Not dead... Robbed my mother and disappeared.
After discovering John was with AIDS I was at first sad and then extremely angry with him. I also had mixed emotions of fright and nausea knowing that it was once again that close. I started imagining silly scenarios of what could have happened and worked it up that it was a narrow escape. It wasn't really, but maybe there was a part of me that did want to toast a goodbye with someone. Have a friend that close that I felt comfortable to do such a thing with. When my emotions settled down I was still angry, and then that passed and I remembered how John had cried when I left and how the memory of his home town had cut him in two. After that I started to recall snippits of things he had told me and how he so badly damned the needle but not heroin. It now made complete sense why. Heroin hadn't killed him; sharing needles had (or being duped into sharing a needle, who knows?) John felt hard done by. I then remembered him cursing his cousin with a vengeance, saying that he was the cunt who first pinned him up and got him on the needle. I also remember him saying his cousin had died from septicaemia. I suppose then that not only was it his cousin who had introduced him to the spike but had probably also infected him with HIV. I suppose, like Marge, John wanted someone else to experience the fear and hardship of what he was going through. That he didn't want to be all alone with what he had, but travel the road with another who was the same. But it's cruel. Humanity is cruel. And make no mistake about it what Marge did first and John did later, were human behaviours that are shocking and selfish but not incomprehensible or uncommon. They were just living up to the animal.
The thing is we suffer terribly alone, and a little less in company. It's why support groups kinda help. But no matter how many people we have around us when we die, when death comes every man must face it alone. In the hospital bed, or laying flapping on the kitchen floor: it's a dire lonely place. A man will never be as lonely or out on a limb as the moment he dies. I know, I've seen it, actually seen death enter the body and come out the other side. The fear and loneliness which that brings about. That's our fate. That's what it all leads to. No matter how much we run, or how many we drag along with us, when death comes it corners us, and every man will die alone. It's the only destiny we have.
My Love and Thoughts to ALL...
* C.H.U.D = Cannibalistic Humanoid Underground Dweller