My new school was full of killers. Not killers exactly, but belligerent, unruly types. I’d come from an all-boys school and having girls in my class was a novelty. It wore off after a geography lesson when I realized, lying on my back, staring up at the map of Egypt with a size 7 girl’s shoe in my mouth, that they were bigger, stronger and more aggressive than I. In fact, everybody was overly endowed with street-fighting qualities.
In England a boy only had to fight once, give a good showing of himself, and then he’d be left alone. In Australia a lad had to keep on fighting until he was beaten down by sufficient numbers so as to confirm the alpha gang’s supremacy. The bullying never stopped. In defense of my classmates I will concede that the sudden, unexpected presence at morning assembly of a 13-year-old with a clipped English accent, wearing a suit and carrying a briefcase must have made for an irresistible target for such an uncouth mob.
The gentle, steady presence of my father at the dinner table in our house in a leafy Cheshire village, had been replaced in that rough, predominantly immigrant Australian town by a violent, predatory alcoholic who would go on to sexually harass three of my sisters and ultimately drink himself to death. Certainly not a situation my father engineered. He’d been deceived into handing us children over to his estranged wife as part of a supposed reconciliation.
And for the scarred, Italian face who called himself my stepfather, the presence of a pale lad in his home served as a constant reminder of my mother’s previous life when the focus of her day to day existence genuinely was her devoted husband and children—not the inexplicable worship of a nasty peasant from Trieste. Borderline personality disorder will do that. One day a woman looks over her kids and sees nothing but a group of little strangers coming between her and the brutal thug she adores.
As the days rolled on I evolved to blend in with my new surroundings. My revulsion for playground fights dissipated and I began to enjoy the odd rumble. Even when I had money in my pocket I took to shoplifting—a rush and a thrill. The police showed at our door from time to time. I’d done this and that. All the principles I’d grown up with, regarding conduct as a grammar school gentleman disappeared, and I stared at the world through increasingly resentful eyes. The beatings and humiliation I received at home did nothing to curb my behavior.
Humiliation. . .
A negative force with the power to turn a good lad bad. And turn I did. An incident involving arson led to my being thrashed until I bled. The next day I was forced to wear shorts to school to display the cut marks on my legs. This ritual let everybody know that bad as I’d been, justice in our household was swift. And it was demeaning and degrading. I spent the rest of my 14th year grounded, working until late at night as a kind of Boy Friday.
When it became too much for my older sister and she disappeared into the night, the police returned her only for my mother to place her into care. At night I’d lie awake thinking about her in the girls’ borstal while listening to my stepfather trading blows with my mother. Would mother still be alive in the morning? I reconciled myself to one day waking up and stumbling across her corpse on the kitchen floor.
With my friends banished from my life, I was indeed bored, but I had access to firearms—a manly pursuit my stepfather approved of—and spent many happy hours alone in the backyard, shooting up the neighborhood. Low-swooping birds overhead and cars rumbling out of the carwash next door were my favorite targets. When one evening the plump neighbor lady complained about the constant pop pop pop, she came into my sights. Literally.
Three days later, I had my .22 air rifle loaded and a full box of slugs laid out beside me. Our street was quiet, but I could hear her singing in the kitchen. Sooner or later she’d wander out back, to sit her ample ass down on their outdoor toilet. When she did, I’d take her out. My puppy wandered around on the gravel, waiting to be fed and walked. Of course I’d attend to that, but not before I’d put a couple of slugs into the woman who’d grassed me up.
The lady appeared and I fired off a half a dozen shots. She was holed up in the out-house, not going anywhere. I later found out how terrified she was, but at the time my concern centered on the tactics I’d utilized. The lady should have made a run for it and copped a slug, but she refused to come out and that was not what I’d planned for. Ready to give up and switch back to firing at birds and cars, I put a slug into the bottom of the fence. It hit the gravel, splintering it and sending a shard into my dog’s eye. Horrified, I tried to calm him down and cleaned out his eye. He recovered surprisingly quickly, but my self-disgust was overwhelming as I cuddled him and wiped the tears from my eyes.
That evening, when the neighbor lady’s husband brought the police around to confiscate my weapons, I didn’t object. I took my punishment with an air of resignation, for a far deeper conflict was playing out inside my head. I had to turn my life around. I had to make good choices. Become the person I was meant to be and quell the growing resentment that had been building up inside of me for two years. I apologized to the lady myself and informed her she’d have no more trouble from me. The next year, aged 15, I joined the services as a Junior Recruit. Moved to the academy a thousand miles away and started afresh.
When evil is building up inside of us, ready to explode, we have a choice. Somewhere along the line, we all have a choice. Sadist. Serial killer. At some point they chose that road. And one can choose a different road. It frequently starts with cruelty to animals, but it can end there too. It took a stray bullet to teach me that.