Rattling; whilst a term sometimes associated with drug addicts, I feel the word, and therefore the title, relevant to this story due it’s common denominators. Withdrawing and, some may say, annoying or pushing someone so far, they ‘rattle.’ Read on and see why.
Poison, toxins, parasites. They can all inhabit and invade our body via many mediums and bodies. The two that infected me went hand in hand. Alcohol and the poisoning by another human being; my father.
I was just six years of age when I first got drunk. Admittedly, it was accidental, but drunk is drunk, no matter how young or old we are.
We were holidaying in Spain my family and I, and as tourists do, we embarked on a donkey safari. Through the forest, over the hills, we trekked in the burning sun until we reached the point of a lunch break.
Adults were separated from the children and sat sipping sangria to accompany the local fayre. Us kids were treated to hamburgers and fruit juice except some dumb waiter (pun intended) mixed my drink up and I was introduced to alcohol. Strong alcohol.
The donkey ride home was a blur, but I remember the adults, my own parents included, howling with laughter as I repeatedly fell off the donkey, crashing to the floor and bashing my skinny frame on the hard earth. Some trip, huh?
There is a family photo somewhere of my consequences the next day. The black and white image shows a ghost like child, obviously very ill, nursing his first hangover. My memory seems to recall the adults, still amused, ridiculing me and carrying on the holiday like Jack Shit had happened. Yet someone had the sense to take a photograph, a happy snap. Gotta capture those memories somehow!
Life moves on, things happen. As I grew, I enjoyed a drink like my friends and buddies. It didn’t feel like poisoning, but then again neither did the bullying nor attempts at controlling me that my father seemed to love to put me through.
Like any kid, I was desperate to impress him. What kid doesn’t want to make his dad proud? I tried the football route, but was forever under the shadow of my younger sibling. My father’s very own sun shone out of my kid brother’s ass.
Me? Well, unable to kick a ball straight, I was ignored unless I was being yelled at. There was never any doubt whose wool was the colour of black in our family.
“Fetch the ball, Simon, and stop arguing.” This was the response to any attempts I made at asserting myself. I’d trot like a good boy, throw the ball back to the pitch, and carry on in silence.
The years passed and my failures were pointed out to me on a regular basis. Sometimes they were accompanied by a crack around the head and, at one particularly bad time, I was pushed against the wall and held there whilst my dad used me as a punch bag, my mother in the background shouting, "Don’t hit him in the head, Peter!"
Yep! Wouldn’t want any visible injuries. Hell, someone might see ‘em!
More often than not, it was the mental torture. At the age of 17, after years of beatings and bullying from my peers and fellow school pupils, I made my first real set of friends. But how dare the peacock and the peasant raise his head above the firing line?
An overheard conversation (perhaps said a little too loudly for my benefit) educated me in the fact that kid bro thought I had changed.
“Yeah, he thinks he is really hard now he finally has some friends,” said Pop in return.
Nothing was further from the truth. Despite my attempts at finding strength through Martial Arts, I was still timid, still scanning my surroundings for the next beating, still the kid who dreaded hearing his father’s car return from work or the social club.
Would it be the dad who would be gushing in his praise, the whiskey mellowing him, or would it be the monster who would humiliate me in front of his embarrassed friends for simply being on the phone past 10 o’clock at night?
After all, I was only 18 years of age, how dare I? I should know better, now get upstairs to your room. 18 and grounded. Go figure.
These kinds of incidents could be followed by weeks of the silent treatment, with the rest of my family following dad’s lead in silence, making me feel like I had gone deaf.
Whilst running away from home was now a serious option, I still, perversely, craved his affection. It was drip-fed to me and usually with an ulterior motive, a tactic that was later on in my life to become almost a matter of life or death.
But there was hope! Rock n’ roll arrived and I joined the band. Me, drummer in the coolest band in the area. Wow, Pop! What do you think of that?
“Don’t be an idiot, son. You won’t make it. Remember your place in life, at my beck and call in my factory. You get paid don’t you? So, stop dreaming stupid dreams and move some boxes.”
Said band soon spilt and my search continued, yet I didn’t know what for until she arrived out of nowhere.
Julie, the only girl I have ever loved, was a young chic of a thing. Beautiful, funny, smart, and witty, she saw through my dad almost immediately and yet I didn’t realise until many years later that she had become my ally and that he feared her (with good reason).
We became inseparable, and our bond strong as she pushed me when I needed pushing and held me when I needed holding. And yes, we enjoyed a drink together, and no, it was not a problem at all.
Even then, our bond caused resentment, and many years later on, I heard that she had strongly rebuffed my brother’s efforts to court her. Well, to be exact, he asked her to sleep with him because what the hell was I worth anyway?
By this time, my fighting skills were emerging. I was training in some form of Unarmed Combat daily, and it was suggested by someone that perhaps it would be wise to keep my brother’s intentions from me.
Imagine that? Destroying my brother and breaking my father’s heart all in one vicious, justified, and acceptable act. Doesn’t bear thinking about…
My newfound talent was a conflict for my dad. He revelled in having a son who could "handle himself," and more than once I was summonsed to one location or another to stand in front of bad men with bad intentions, to keep him safe from them, to make sure he came to no harm.
On other occasions, my success became all too much for him; he was losing control over me, so he returned to his default, ridicule.
“Who the hell are you to be a Black Belt? What’s this nonsense, you have been picked to fight for a local and well thought of boxing club? You, a Karate instructor? Get back to the factory and clean up that mess. Your brother and I are going for a game of golf.”
Life went on… without them.
The factory fell on hard times and sometimes wages were hard to find. Other family members ran for the hills, every man for himself. Me? I stuck around. I don’t know if it was loyalty, decency, strength, or that itch I could never scratch. The desire to be approved by my father.
Selfishly, stupidly, unforgivably, I put my own wife and children’s best interests at risk and bailed my dad out big time. I borrowed heavily to get him out of debt and for a short summer season I got just that; his approval.
What I didn’t know was that there were plots behind my back. As well as relieving him of his legal debts, I came to learn he owed a small kingdom to some very, very heavy people. Think murder, think black mail, think guys with blacked out faces.
Guns, kidnaps, torture and other family days out were offered, but of course my dad’s face went the colour of bad shit when they came a calling, and he too joined other family members and headed for "them thar hills!"
Of course, who were these guys to turn, too? Who would honour the father’s sins? Why me, who else?
That other poison? Well I didn’t see it creeping up, of course. The other poison that accompanied my father’s. I didn’t notice that it was now easy for me to deal with the fear of mutilation and torture, and the ridicule of the now filthy communications pop sent me ("You’ll get raped in prison," he told me along with other such pleasantries) with a glass or two of wine in my hand.
I certainly did not see a problem with that second glass of wine becoming my fifth and that every day another of his sonnets would equal a now regular glass of (large) brandy.
Others did, and now and again comments were made. Not snide, hurtful remarks, but helpful, gentle hints that maybe a few drinks at the weekend or a special occasion were okay, but that maybe the fourth glass of brandy on a Monday night was not a good idea.
What did they know? They were not in the sniper’s fire, they did not have a family that had abandoned them, and they certainly were not the recipient of daily filth and abuse from a father I still craved to be my dad.
I was losing sight of my wife, my children, my life. The very people who loved me and the people I loved most in the world were suffering because I couldn’t see past my father’s hurt, the pressure of losing a business, the fear of being shot and murdered, and the fact that the only thing that could keep the demons at bay were indeed the demons of drink.
But they did know. They did know that hurt, that fear, that panic. They knew it because they were by my side, they were me, we were one; but if I didn’t shape up soon, that one would sadly become two.
And it almost happened. After yet another night of heavy drinking and the past catching up with me, after another night of me behaving like a complete arsehole, Julie cracked and I left the family home.
After a short cooling off period, I was given a chance at redemption, but it would come at a cost so very high that it was nearly my life. I was to stop drinking. In a fashion true to myself, I ignored doctor’s advice to cut back slowly and in one dramatic act, I stopped cold.
And here came the rattling.
The rats running out of walls to attack me, the lamp creating hideous faces and taunting me, the children stood on the roof waving and playing banjos. And, of course, the music. The madcap music played at full volume first amusing me and then terrifying me.
What could end this hell? Who could stop the madness? It took seven police officers to get me to hospital, seven beautiful officers who saw, understood and believed my hurt and pain. Compassionate, patient, and all I could ask for, they sat talking with me until a doctor could be found to help me.
The Intensive Care Unit offered solace, but only after I paid a price. The Elephant Boy sat opposite me, mute and scared witless as the gangsters next to him threatened to cut both his and my throat.
My escape to the maternity ward to see my son being born (he was three years old at this time), but only to be met with a scene from Stephen King’s world as I witnessed a ward filled with men giving birth, screaming in agony as their blood splattered the walls.
My final escape effort, in which I climbed every wall in the ward as my fellow patients attempted to hide me from staff, their fear I would be sectioned to the mental health unit being a very real fear.
The rattling, the withdrawal, the terror and then finally, blissfully, the redemption.
My comedown complete, I awoke to find my wife and children at my bedside. Tears, talk, hugs, and promises. My recovery began.
Another visitor came that day, as my children sat with me, as my wife held my hand. Another visitor came and I believe he was driven there by guilt. Another visitor came and it was my father.
My children stiffened, my wife hardened as he shuffled toward me.
“What have you done now, son? This isn’t you. You are better than this. You are a Black Belt.” The irony was not lost on anyone.
I searched his eyes and saw culpability. I saw his shame. I also saw in his eyes my plan start to hatch, a plan for me, for my family, for my ‘one.’
Another noise in the background and a polite cough was heard, and it was time for him to exit the stage. He made his excuses and disappeared as the next visitor took his place. Driven by his very own shame, and barely acknowledging my father, my kid brother took a seat next to me.
There was an awkwardness between him and Julie that I could not yet understand as I didn’t yet know the facts. Lucky boy.
He stuttered and stammered, offered these words and those words, but never an apology. Never a sorry for trying to close my business down by underhanded tricks, never a regret for forever having my dad’s ear, and using that fact against me to cost me my job. Never an apology for trying to take my wife, my beautiful, beautiful girl.
I noticed another steely-eyed chick in the room, burning her stare into him. You see the other girl in my life, my only daughter and fellow Black Belt, knew. She knew all those things these two men had tried to do to her dad. She knew and she hated them for it; and in turn, they knew that though she was only 13 years of age, she had her dad’s fighting skills, but more importantly, her mother’s strength. This other thing they knew? Well, this other thing they knew was that she could and that she would tear them both in half given a chance.
My brother went out of the hospital the same way as my father, quickly.
Some month’s later, bliss had been restored at our home, our den, our cave, but there was still one more hurdle to overcome, another mountain to climb, and so we, my family and I, loaded the car and traveled as travelers do.
An hour later, I stood in a Fight Academy, on the fighting stage and battled hard. I kicked, I punched, I fought well, and I added another Black Belt to my name. My own Academy went boom!
It replaced a dirty, corrupt factory and we, my "one," created a force that became known worldwide. We created a dojo, books, talks, seminars, interviews, and awards that went universal.
I bid my father goodbye forever, no longer needing or seeking approval as "one" approved and loved me; and that, I realised, was all I needed. I said so long to self-pity, to fear, to anxiety, to excess.
I said hello to a life and an existence I was proud of and a family I couldn’t have done it without.
With the blessing of the doctors, and more importantly my wife, I enjoy my wine again. I no longer need it, it does not strengthen me, it does not get me though the day, it does not need to. It is an enjoyment, not a medicine.
My three children, all now Black Belts themselves, are going on to great things. They are creating their own memories. They do not need, and yet they get, their "pop’s" approval. My wife still holds my hand, pushes me when I need it, and holds me when it’s right.
And I no longer rattle…
Simon is the author of the award winning books From Bullied to Black Belt and the sequel An Everyday Warrior. Both are based on his life and his ups and downs.
Visit him at www.simonmorrell.com