Sunday, 6 October 2013

Strong Gear

We're both ill now, striding through darkened streets to Gonzo's house to score, but when we get there this guy I've never seen before opens the door.
     -Er, orright blue, is Gonzo about?  He knows I'm coming, like.
     -What were you after?
     I hesitate.  This guy looks tanned and healthy, teeth white and even, expensive-looking clothes.  Not many people look like that in this game.  Dai's hanging back, leaving this to me.  I'm thinking, fuck it, I'm dying.
     -Just two twenny bags.
     -Mon in.
     We follow him in.  All Gonzo's stuff has gone.  All new furniture.  It looks like a different flat.
     -Where's Gonzo then?
     -He had to leave, he says, sitting down and pulling scales from under the sofa, weighing out two bags, putting them in squares of foil.
     -I spoke to him half hour ago, Dai says.  -He said to call over.  That's why we're yer.
     The guy shrugs, stands up, hands us our gear.  -That's why you're here, he says.
     A good point.  I pocket the gear, hand the cash over and I'm turning to leave when Dai says, -Gonzo's... orright, is he?  Did he get busted or something?
     The guy sighs.  -Gonzo's fine.  He's just not here.
     -Fuck it, Dai, come on, I say.  -I'm dying yer.
     I look at the guy.  Cheers blue, I say.
     He salutes me, says, -Go with God, boys.
     Dai turns and stalks out.  I follow him, stopping in the doorway to ask, -So, if I need something in future, do I call you?
     He just smiles and says, -Be careful with that stuff.  It's something else.
     I've heard that line a thousand times, and it's always bullshit.  We leave.

     We get back to my flat.  We haven't spoken the whole way home.  Dai gets his works out while I put the kettle and the telly on.  Out of some masochistic tendency I'll often leave off fixing for a little while after I've scored, because your need is never as brutal when you've actually got the gear in your possession, so I'll sit there and savour every twitch and shiver for a few minutes.  Perverse.  Dai doesn't share this view (nor does anyone else) so his shot's nearly ready.  I finish making the tea and sit down, pull my works out, get started.
     -That fella said this stuff was strong, I say.
     -And I've got a bridge I can sell yew, he says.  He pulls the dirty fluid into the syringe and does the little pantomime of flicking the bubbles away.  Stops, looks at me.  -What's the fuckin score with Gonzo then?
     I can only shrug.  -Doan know, doan wanna know.  That guy just now gave me the fuckin creeps.
     Dai's pulling his belt from his jeans, wrapping it around his bicep.  -But all his fuckin stuff was gone!  And I talked to him half hour before.  He didn't mention he'd be movin fuckin house in the time it took us to walk there.
     I say nothing.  The gear has a weird sheen to it, like sand.  Rip off?
     -How does it cook?
     -Like...a...dream, he says, pushing the needle into his arm.  He pulls the plunger til blood flowers in the chamber, then pushes it home, and gasps.
     -Oh...oh...oh my fuckin, God, man...I...
     He slumps forward, needle dangling from his arm, and makes a sound somewhere between a groan and a sigh.  I'm sitting there watching this performance, smiling, thinking I guess it is strong then when he starts to laugh, flops bonelessly back into the sofa, laughs again, and something's happening to him.  He looks...blurry.  Like he's coming apart before my eyes, like he's turning to multicoloured dust and floating into nothing.
     I put my gear down and rub my eyes.
     -I get it, he says.  -I know...I...I get it...
     Rubbing my eyes changes nothing.  Whatever it is, it's still happening, his body pixellating and drifting apart, and the last expression on his face is one of bliss.
     His laughter turns to sobs and back again, then a final slurred whisper of I get it before it fades to nothing, and the only sound is the soft thump of the needle hitting the carpet.
     And I sit there alone, looking at the indentation he left on the sofa cushions, the half a rollie he left in the ashtray, the needle on the floor, and finally at the gear, laying in its little foil bed on the table like an unexploded bomb.  I look for a long time.
     Eventually, sunrise, and I stand at my window and watch the first rays climb over the hill and wash the world with colour.  I can see the spot on the pavement where I kissed Jess for the first time.  Off in the distance is the park where I used to hang out and get drunk when I was thirteen, fourteen.  If I lean, I can see my grandma's old house.
     I stand there and remember for a while, not even feeling that bad now, just a few cold sweats, before sitting down and starting to cook my shot.  My hands are shaking, but I'll be ok.  It's going to be ok.

Tuesday, 1 October 2013


The first thing I'm aware of
is her voice,
saying Go in the front room please
Daddy. Please?
My eyes creak open.  I say,
Ok babes,
roll on my back,
examine the ceiling.
A florid nonsense sentence
comes from him;
I turn my head.
He's standing in his cot
grinning at me.
He looks like Kilroy.
You remember him?
The graffiti,
not the guy with orange skin.
I sit up, rub my eyes
and check the time.
Half eight.  Not bad.
A lie-in's like a gift..

She's been talking to me
this whole time,
asking for toast, to
get out of her cot.
She settles on a name for me
for now;
I'm Daddy Pig.
A Peppa freak,
she calls me that a lot.
I get called Daddy Iron Man as well,
and sometimes Daddy Dragon
and/or Robot.
I love the way
these words sound in her voice,
which reminds me of
white chocolate.
Who knows why.

He's excited now,
holds up his arms
for me to pick him up.
I do. He grins.
He's got a brilliant grin.
It's weapons grade,
just like his frowns,
which come like summer storms
and dissipate as fast.
He pokes my nose,
I make a noise, a horn.
He laughs, pokes his.
I soak all this stuff up
like rays of sun.

And then I make us breakfast,
and I drink
some coffee.  First of many.
Did I change their nappies yet?
Yes, I did.
I'm barely conscious.
It's alright.
The coffee's working.

He will concentrate
on eating toast,
and she'll talk to me
about everything.
What's that, Daddy?
What's this?
Look Dad, a cat!

Meow, I go.
She mee-yows back. This day
is gonna be ok.
We'll be alright.

And there are the mornings
they're not here.
I rarely use my bed
when it's just me.
I stay awake, and play guitar,
and read.
The moment I'm in bed
with the light off,
all sorts of ugly
memories recur,
and I can't sleep.
But when the kids are here,
these memories
are held at bay
by snores from sleeping kids.
(I can't afford to live
in any flat
that has more than one bedroom.
So we share.)
The sofa, then,
when they are not around.
A lumpy two-seater affair,
as comfy as a brick.
I'll sit up til dawn,
til my eyes droop,
then curl up and black out.
It's not ideal.

But this how it is,
and it's ok.
At least I've got my kids
and they've got me.
They saved me from myself
when nothing else
seemed able to perform
that humble trick.

Don't get me wrong.
They can be assholes too.
But that's ok.  They're tiny.
It's allowed.

So anyway,
breakfast has come and gone.
She wants to hear Nirvana;
they are now
her favourite band of all.
She's nearly three.
I put Teen Spirit on,
her favourite tune,
and as I watch them
bop their little heads,
and she sings just the last
word of each line,
I sip my drink,
remember being young.

Monday, 30 September 2013

Vernon Gets His Wish

The glorious day was coming,
and when it did,
it would not find Vernon unprepared.
He would lead his new family,
tin-halo'd head held high,
and the flames would lap at them harmlessly,
their rapture shaking the earth.

Can you see their shining faces?
Their cheeks glisten
with tears of pure faith,
and Lord help the man, woman or child
with no armour of belief
in their bold stride.

(Of course, Vernon wasn't his real name;
he'd shed the skin of his past
to be fresh and reborn,
to lead his new family
into the light.)

But nothing is ever that simple,
is it?
There always those ready 
to pervert the course of the righteous.
Clad in silken robes
or Armani suits,
their job remains the same;
wielding blades or wielding bureaucracy,
to stand in the way of the angels.
But Vernon would be ready.
He would do as the angels had done
when Lucifer's pride threatened to topple
the One True Throne.
He would build an army, 
and hold them close.
This would be his family.

Scriptures would be read.
Assault rifles stockpiled.
New soldiers fathered.
Man-sized paper targets shredded.
In this commune
rich in faith and firepower
and alive with brotherly love.

You must remember.
The family's love for Vernon was real,
as real as their belief in him
as the one to lead them to glory.

And when Vernon's day dawned,
he was ready.
His soldiers, his brothers,
at his side.

And they came.

With tanks
and guns 
and sniper rifles
and snazzy matching jackets
and their own misguided convictions,
and they launched pillars of flame 
through shattered windows 
to the tune of screaming children.
And with the conviction that
God was guiding his hand,
Vernon stepped into the light,
and most of his family followed.

Charisma can be a terrible thing.


Three in the morning and I'm wide awake.
This always happens
when the kids aren't here.
They are ballast;
without them, I just float off,

I stay awake so late
because every time I lay in the dark
and try to sleep
I'm haunted by regrets
and failures
and humiliations,
swooping at me from the darkness
like evilly whispering bats.
Their wings brush my face
and, in the dark,
I'll bury my face in my hands
and groan, Oh God.

I'm such an asshole.

I'm not that guy any more,
not really.
The drugs have gone,
the arrogance has gone,
the self-destructive impulses
seem alien now.

Becoming a father burned all that shit out of me,
leaving me unsure
of who exactly the fuck I am
when the kids aren't here.

So here I am.
Wide awake at stupid o'clock
smoking cigarette after cigarette,
avoiding the bats,
missing the kids.

Sunday, 29 September 2013


Have you ever hated someone so much that you can't have a single thought about them without disappearing into a grim internal reverie of resentment and blind rage? And then you come out of it and realise you've been staring into space and grinding your teeth for five minutes? And everyone's looking at you funny? I have.  It's draining.
     My ex and I did the whole court/custody dance recently.  I don't recommend it.  I had to take her to court cos she was stopping me seeing the kids on a whim and still being violent, blah blah blah, anyway, I got split custody and considered myself lucky to get that.  It didn't matter that both her statements were easily proven to be perjury; it didn't matter that she'd abandoned the kids on my doorstep or thrown a pram at me with my five-month-old son in it; it didn't matter that she said in her statement that I was worthless human being who'd never wanted anything to do with the kids and then, when being interviewed by the woman from Social Services, did a complete u-turn and said I was a great dad who was very patient and loving.  No-one called her on any of her lies because no-one cared.  They just wanted us through the system and then gone, hopefully forever.  I wanted to take the case to a judge, rather than settle for the magistrates just agreeing with what the CAFCASS woman had to say; this would have meant I could have included other people's testimonies, and in doing so it would have been proved I was speaking the gospel truth and hopefully the best possible course of action for all of us could have been worked out.  My ex could have got some help with her many and varied issues, mainly her anger issues, I wouldn't have had to deal with her psycho behaviour completely on my own for a change, but most importantly things would be better for the kids because we'd have worked out something that was best for all of us whilst also insuring that they wouldn't grow up with a mother who loses her shit and starts screaming about something, constantly.  I wish I was exaggerating, but I'm not.  She once tried to claw my eyes out cos I spilt some sugar.  Anyway, I couldn't take the case before a judge because I was told that my Legal Aid wouldn't cover it, as all Legal Aid for family cases has been stopped. So, fait accompli.  But my ex wasn't finished.  Twice in the three weeks prior to this, I had looked after the kids for her for an extra day because she had something going on.  The first time she was just over two hours late picking them up, didn't bother calling or texting to let me know what was going on.  The second time she was more than four hours late, still no call or text.  When I brought this up in court, not her lateness, just that I'd looked after the kids for an extra day for her, I saw her whisper to her solicitor, and then her solicitor told the magistrates that I was a liar, that I'd just made that up.  I was fucking incandescent.  But you can't say a word, cos you're in court and they'll hold you in contempt and my solicitor already had her left foot pressed down on my right, increasing the pressure every time it seemed like I might say something.  So the magistrates just accepted that and moved on, and I just had to sit there and seethe while her solicitor gushed lies like a broken sewer pipe.
        So I got split custody, which is awesome, but none of my ex's anger problems are going to be addressed, the kids are going to grow up with an insanely angry, stressed, stressful, compulsively lying mother, and now she can do whatever she wants without fear of reprisal.  I already took her to court, and it worked out perfectly for her.  She never wanted full custody of the kids.  She asked if I could have them for an extra day two days after that fucking farce in the courtroom.  She constantly asks me if I can have them for an extra few days.  If she's not attacking me.  Listen: after our second court hearing, her mum gave me a lift to her house (my old house, what used to be our home, all four of us) to pick up the last of my stuff.  We moved the first carload, and her mum and I had a long and interesting chat, as I've always got along really well with her mum, and I asked her mum if she'd like to read my ex's statement.
     No, she said. I don't think I want to know what's in there.
     So, I related some of the stories her daughter had told about me, and she was suitably horrified, and at one point she said,  I've never seen her lose her temper like that, just snapping over nothing.
     (This, I think, was disingenuous.  I remember two occasions where my ex had chased her mother out of the room screaming Fuck Off and flailing punches at her, once in our house and once when we were staying with friends of theirs in North Wales.)
     Well, I said, she does.
     Cut to about twenty minutes later.  We've gone back for the second carload, and now my ex is back in the house.  The kids are in bed, asleep.  We're packing up and my ex is flouncing about, sighing theatrically.
     What's wrong? says her mum.
     This just isn't a good time for me, says my ex.
     But this is the time you suggested, her mum says.  You arranged it with me last week.
     Whatever, says my ex.  This just really isn't a good time for me.
     Me and her mum share a look, carry on packing. I take my hoodie off; it's been a beautiful May day, and the temperatures are climbing. I can't see my stereo anywhere.  I tried finding it on the first trip and couldn't.
     Where's my stereo, please?  I say.
     Her:  It's broken.
     Me:  It's broken.
     Her (looking at the floor):  Yes.
     Me:  How is it broken?
     Her:  I dropped it.
     Me:  You dropped it.
     Her (still looking at the floor)  Yes.
     Me:  Will I be getting a new one?
     Her (pissy):  I'm not buying you a new stereo, Ben.
     Me:  I thought not.
     Her:  WHAT?
     Me:  I said I thought not.
     I turn and look at her mum and say:  See?
     She flies at me, fingernails grasping at my eyes, and upstairs babies start crying.
     Bear in mind that I've already taken her to court at this point, citing her capacity for violence and anger management issues, charges she fervently denies, claiming I made it all up.  She doesn't care.  She doesn't care that her mum is watching her, horrified.  She doesn't care that the kids are screaming upstairs cos Mum's kicking off  again.  It's just about hurting me now, as it has been so many times before.
     She throws punches, she throws boxes packed with books, she throws insults like random darts.  I dodge out of the way, which I'm quite good at now, practice making perfect and all that.  It also helps that she's obviously never been shown how to throw a punch, so you can see them coming from miles away.  Her mum's trying to hold her back and is pleading with me to just leave, so I go to leave, and my ex follows me into the hallway, pushing me in the back and wailing abuse, her mum still fluttering about being completely ineffectual, and for one glorious moment I let my own rage slip over and I turn and roar in her face Get your fucking hands off me.
     (Sidenote: these experiences are why I finally understand The Hulk.  People dig away at you, over and over, in a thousand tiny ways, every single day of your life, and you attempt to be philosophical about it, and you calm yourself down, and afterwards you have the satisfaction of having controlled yourself and acted like an adult.  But sometimes those things build up just that bit too much, and if it's just one person who is the cause of all this, then that's another 50 degrees heat under that pressure cooker in your chest, and if you're in a relationship with that one person, and your every exchange is littered with barbs and putdowns and negativity, then that flame in your chest is white-hot and that pressure cooker is hissing and leaping and groaning, and you feel yourself start to breathe heavy, and you feel it coming, the moment where the whistling and shrieking ends and the explosions begin, and you start to want it, you start to anticipate it, and then they say something or do something that is the verbal equivalent of throwing a hand grenade into the cookpot and you turn and you take a deep breath and you let fly, the barbed and spite-tipped comeback you've been honing for the past ten seconds comes hurtling out of you at the speed of hate and oh my God it feels good to let go, to verbally dismantle her for once the way she does to you every single fucking day, and your voice gets deeper and louder as you take a few steps towards her and lean into her face and spit out the most fucked-up hurtful cannot-be-taken-back thing that you can think of, because at this moment you hate her more than you've ever hated anyone, no-one has ever treated you so appallingly, so constantly, and then lied about it, and tried to convince you these things had never happened and that you were losing your mind and maybe you should go on medication because she's worried about you, only to wake you the next morning by punching you in the back of the head and screaming at you that you haven't washed the mugs properly, and it feels triumphant to scream in her face about what a wretched human being she is.  You feel alive.
     Until about ten minutes later, when you're hating yourself for losing your temper, but that moment of release, that moment where you just say fuck it and scream all the things you've been wanting to scream for ages, that moment where she flinches because you're actually fighting back for once rather than just soaking it up for the sake of an easy its own way, that feeling of release is somewhere in the neighbourhood of an orgasm, that wilful relinquishing of control.  I'm sure all sorts of endorphins get released when you finally lose your shit after being tightly wound for a while, and they feel awesome.  The only problem then is dealing with the shame and guilt that comes with losing your temper.
     Just like The Hulk.  See?  I get him now.  End of sidenote.)
     And she does, and turns and runs upstairs.  I walk out of the front door and down the three or four steps to the pavement.  A voice screams from above HERE'S YOUR FUCKING STEREO and my stereo comes flying out of the window, misses me by a few feet and smashes to junk on the pavement.
     This isn't the stereo we were discussing earlier.  This is my other stereo, the one we kept in the bedroom.  So I now I don't have any stereos.
     Her mum comes out, shaken, and says, Let's just leave.  So we're getting in the car when I realise I'd put my house keys in the pocket of my hoodie.  Which I'd taken off while we were packing, and left on my ex's sofa.
     So her mum knocks the door, she's not answering, has put the bolt on so that her mum can't get in, and isn't answering her phone.
     So I call the police.  They're rude and dismissive, not listening to a word I say.  They think I'm complaining because she broke my stereo, even though I just spent five minutes explaining the situation.  Have you got another stereo, sir?  one of them asks me.  I try again.  It's not about the stereo.  She assaulted me.  Again.
     Oh, is that what this is about?
     I'm rendered briefly speechless by just how blase this fucking empty uniform is being when my ex's mum steps into the breach and tells the coppers exactly what just happened.  And fair play to her, she told it exactly how it was.  I couldn't press charges because it would have meant both my ex and I would have to go to the station, and her mum wasn't willing to look after the kids so I could have her daughter arrested, and there was no-one I could call to help me out, so I had to let that one go as well.
     Now.  You'd think that shit would go against her in court, right?  Nope!  No-one even brought it up.  I was dissected, my misguided past a subject for much discussion and debate, my dirty laundry, all ancient history now, strewn around for the whole court to gawp at and tut over, embellished by all my ex's many and varied stories, polished to a sheen by now and presented to the court like filthy jewels.
     Actually, that's not true.  Her stories were all loose ends and inconsistencies.  But no-one except me ever called her out on them, not even the people who were being paid to fucking do so.  If he's such a bad father and he's never had anything to do with the kids, how come you've had a split custody arrangement for nearly a year?  No-one asked.  If he's the one who starts the arguments and is violent all the time, how come we've got a folder of police reports, including one with a statement from your own mother, saying that you're the violent party?  No-one asked.  Except me, but what the fuck do I matter?  This whole experience proved to me conclusively that I don't count for shit.  I only managed to get split custody because we'd had that arrangement for a while prior to the court proceedings.  If I'd taken her to court as soon as we split up, I'd be seeing my kids once a fortnight right now.
     Sigh.  So, to return to what I was originally talking about, I hate my ex so much that it's seriously tiring, and it's not good for me and I'd like to stop.  But every time I see her she makes some awful comment or makes my daughter cry over nothing or just does something that reignites the embers of all that loathing, and then if I'm not careful, or don't get away in time, or if she follows me down the street hassling me and abusing me, like she did this Wednesday, I feel the Hulk moment approaching and I just can't, not when the kids are there, so I cram all that bile and rage into some dank corner of the soul somewhere and ride it out.  But then I'm resenting her all day; she's ruined my fucking day just because she can't be a sane, rational human being.  Again.  And that little coal of anger and resentment gets added to the pile, and that stuff's volatile.  It's liable to blow.
     Ah, no more, no more.  I'm definitely expending too much energy on hating her.  It's hard not to, with all the things she's done and said, and also the fact that she behaves however the fuck she wants and there are never any consequences for her.  No comeback, no karma.  She must feel fucking invincible.  And here I am, thinking to myself, everything's gonna be ok because you've got the truth on your side.  What a mook I was!  The truth counted for less than nothing.
     Hah.  I feel better already. Nothing like a little spleen to lighten the mood.
     I used to daydream about her having some accident and dying so that the kids and I could have some peace.  These weren't violent daydreams; I didn't imagine grisly and/or ironic deaths for her; in the daydream, there'd be a knock at the door, and I'd answer it with a baby in my arms, and there'd be a policeman asking me my name and saying he had some tragic news and could he come in, and in the daydream a tremendous weight would lift from my shoulders, I'd stand up a little straighter and think, We're free.
     Now, say that were to come true, my kids would be without a mother and that would be A Bad Thing.  But the thought of never, ever, ever having to deal with her bullshit again sounds nirvanic.  We're allowed to daydream; it doesn't necessarily mean we want them to come true.
     There's no way to wrap this up really.  It's ongoing.  I'll probably be ranting about stuff a lot more.  I'm finding it therapeutic.