Nick V. and I started playing rugby together at around age 8 or 9, and continued right through high school. Even aged 8 he was an enormous, hairy beast of a man – which is what every born Dalmatian warrior looks like to a bog-standard human being. He recently surprised me on the Book of Faces with a ‘wall’ comment about my former rugby prowess, generously praising my ability and saying that I possessed what we kiwis would call a good bit of ‘mongrel’ in me – aggression, a bit of the vicious. A high, high compliment, believe me.
Nick still plays and coaches rugby, here in California. I was forced to give up the game in university after a series of head injuries culminated in a rather bewildered afternoon where I found myself sitting in a hospital bed, with a jersey from a team I didn’t recognize folded on the chair next to me, trying to digest the news that at some point in the preceding month I had signed up to play for that team in a position unrelated to any I had played in my career…
Four months later I was still having difficulty remembering such basic things as which side of the road to drive on.
But back to my point: Nick quite generously remembered me playing well, and with aggression. And when I read the post I was downright chuffed, because hidden in the dark and ratty corner of my memory is the slightly more painful recollection of myself being an inveterate ‘hollywood’ (oh, the irony… I live in LA now).
I was the guy who, if I took a knock, or had the good fortune of bleeding a bit, would ‘act up’ the injury in order to soldier through and impress any observer with my fortitude, my toughness, my heroism, playing through the pain, the brave soldier…
I did the same with my running. I was a damn fine runner – middle distance – but I HAD to let everyone know how bloody hard it all was. I would flop over the finish line, gasping and clutching my side. I would limp, dry-heave and crawl. Oh god I hope I’m making this seem worse than it was. I mean – I wasn’t a total arsehole. And I was hopefully a bit more subtle in my acting than I am describing it, but the truth’s the truth (I have NEVER admitted any of this before. My skin is crawling at the suicide I am committing here).
And I took this hollywood approach into my regular life. I acted up my psychic injuries like an old-timey goddess of the silver screen. I desperately tried to get in to Morrissey and the Smiths, to be all deep and scarred, to find some kind of trauma I could be the survivor of. I even went so far as to invent an entire group of gothy friends I had outside of school: there was my best mate, Steve Bluce, who drove a Fiat Bambino around and then one night put a garden hose from the tailpipe to the window and killed himself. He basically cooked himself in there, with a full tank of gas, and I found him the following morning, the meat almost falling off the bone…
There was my beautiful girlfriend, Caroline, who I think I named after the Concrete Blonde song of the same name, and I would sit alone and weep, listening to that song and mourning her… and, as I recall, the accidental pregnancy we terminated… She couldn’t survive the loss of Steve, her platonic soulmate, and ended her life as well. They were all too beautiful, too tortured for this world. I can’t remember the names of all the others. There was a Tiffany, a Rangi…
I was pulled into my Housemaster’s office one day, after one too many nocturnal absences from boarding school (my bouts of insomnia were very real) and I recounted the story of doomed Steve, of the beautiful Caroline. I told him about all the LSD we had dropped, the weed we smoked, the mushroom caps we munched. Thank god I wasn’t subsequently drug tested – I would have been discovered as a Münchausen by my virgin-pure pee.
My shocked and concerned housemaster made me promise to relate this story to my parents. I did. It was hellish, to tell them about the drugs, the death, the unwanted pregnancy – it was shocking for them, and absolutely awful for me. But I was committed – I held nothing back. I was immediately referred to the school counsellor/therapist who nodded, listened, drew the story out of me in detail over several sessions, and told my parents I was a little messed up, was telling obviously made-up yarns, and shouldn’t be encouraged to talk about it at all.
I guess the fact that he turned out to be one of New Zealand’s most prolific and notorious pedophiles explains why, even though he showed a lot of interest in me and my pain and my progress, he never actually tried to figure out why I would be making up these mad stories. Don’t fuck with a brother pedo’s bitch, right?
But I look back on all of that drama and I wonder why in hell I made up stories like that. And why go and get myself into untold amounts of trouble by telling those lies to my parents?!?
As I said in my last post, I never even admitted to myself that I was being ‘sexually abused’ until I surprised myself by actually saying the words. And in the end, my personality just doesn’t fit being the brooding, tortured teen, screaming for help and understanding by flaunting my self-destructive and anti-social tendencies. I was never going to be a skater punk. I couldn’t express my teen angst and isolation through heavy metal and black eyeliner and I was definitely never quite cool enough to be one of the art-room alternative kids.
But I had that vast avalanche-field of What Was Happening To Me to navigate all through those years. I was just walking around with precarious, deep drifts of self-loathing, of isolation, of betrayal, with the world-crushing weight of my Secret, waiting for a noise, a tremor, to bring everything tumbling down, to drown me and bury me and clog my eyes and nose and throat with powder. And all the time I was playing the part of the well-adjusted teen: the nice guy, almost a jock, almost a music-room and drama nerd, a sort of clique-less popular kid. I couldn’t say anything. I couldn’t tell anyone.
So I broadcast my Mayday calls with those made-up stories of suicide, drugs and abortions, and also with my dreadful, embarrassing enactments of pain and bravery on the athletic field. And, in the end, isn’t that what sport is for? Isn’t that why we we love sport in the first place – that on the field we get to enact in miniature the drama of our existence? I was trying to express some kind of pain, some kind of drama, that was otherwise invisible to others…
Hey look at me! Look how well I’m holding my shit together! Look how hard I’m fucking STRUGGLING!
Come on – it’s embarrassing. Any decently corny tag-writer would tell you it was that hideous old chestnut: a cry for help.
Oh, balls… Now I’m a cliche. That’s even worse than being a hollywood.