ONE 7 • Me On the Outside

1. Confusion

As a 6 year old kid growing up in Glasgow, in Scotland, I was moved from one area to another, getting passed around my family like some piece of used clothing. My father was not around. I quickly learned to hide my emotions, pretend to be someone else, put on a front: be strong, act and look happy. Being strong means that I had to stay quiet, but stick up for myself at the same time. My grandparents always told me that if I didn’t stick up for myself, I wouldn’t get anywhere in life, and when I was fighting: “If you don’t batter him, I’ll batter you.” But then again, people say a lot of things; my mother, aunts, uncles, grandparents and friends of the family knew I had too much anger in me. They always said that my eyes were pure evil, that one day I’d end up in prison. I was 6 years old when they said it. While it wasn’t said directly to me, it was in front of me as if I wasn’t even there — or couldn’t understand. I could, however, because since then I’ve always presumed I’d end up in prison, on the run, or dead.

As a kid I was smart — smarter than most kids in my school and from my street. I observed people and picked up on things like people’s aggression and hatred for each other.

I never harmed a person badly until I was 10 years old. Of course I’d had fights with bottles and such, but not knives. One day I was going round to my friend’s house at the weekend. When I got to his house, his mum told me he was out at school playing football on the pitches, so I headed over.

When I got there, I saw some people playing around, so I walked over but it wasn’t my friends. As I turned and walked back in the direction I came, a golf club landed square on the back of my head. It didn’t hurt at first, but as I was outnumbered around 14 to 1, I ran as fast as I could and it started to hurt like hell. My head had been burst open and was gushing with blood. I could feel the coldness running down the back of my head and t-shirt, I felt light headed and collapsed just a bit away from the house. I kept blinking in and out of consciousness. One second I was on the ground with my mum next to me then I was in the ambulance and then I woke up in hospital with superglue on my burst head, a concussion, and a massive headache.

Later that week I was with my mates — seven of us altogether, on our way to the Friday night club to play pool and darts. Along the way there I noticed three of the boys from the football pitches. We ran towards them and pinned them to the ground and kicked and punched them. As the boys were crying and begging us not to hit them, I went too far and pulled out a knife. Those were three messed up boys.

2. River of frost

Winter 1999. Still 10 years old. From what I can remember it was a calm day: there was no sun, wind or snow and although it was chilly, me and my mates were on our bikes, going to explore our town. Every Sunday we would go off about 10am and come back home late after 5pm, but this was a particular day we’d remember for the rest of our lives.

We headed to a place in the woods, a place we hadn’t been before. I was on my silver bike with red metal stud caps stolen from a car, blue alloy wheels and two metal stunt pegs on the back. At the front was Dale, the oldest, followed by Lenny, a boy I always fought with. Next came Mike, my best pal, then Mel the fat boy of the crew. We passed through a posh estate with big houses and massive fences, crossed a main road and headed down a path to the water. The river was frosted over with ice, not heavily though because it broke when we threw stones on it. We followed along the river to a place where the trees were bare-brown. Yellow and grey frosted leaves were all over the path which we followed so we wouldn’t get lost. I remember the smell of sweet onions as we kept going toward a farm full of sheep, next to a place where people had pitched tents, where we sat down for a while, talking about how great it would be not having any parents and what teachers we wanted to get rid of.

After a while, we decided to go back. The others put the boot down leaving me and Mel behind. We came to a bump in the dirt path where I slowed down, but Mel slammed into the back of my tyre and sent the two of us flying off our bikes. I landed on the path but Mel landed in the icy river. I dragged the bikes to the side and watched as he tried to climb up the sides but it was too slippery. I saw him go under and out of the water screaming for help. I was scared, but for a second I wanted to allow him to drown just to see what it would look like, but I didn’t. I lay down on the side and grabbed his hand. He was freezing and his hand kept slipping. I tried to pull him up but he was too heavy. One of the campers must have heard his cries for help because a man ran down from the farm and pulled him out in one tug. We were so anxious to get away we didn’t even get the man’s name. All I heard the entire way back was how it was my fault. I should have left the fat git.

3. The Academy

When I was 12 years old, wearing my new school uniform and new trainers felt comfortable, like some new stuff does. On my first day, the school looked so massive from outside, and I could feel the mix of excitement and fear growing inside me as I got near. In my new classes I didn’t know anyone except Matt and Deric from my primary school. I took a shine to a girl, Lorna, who was tall with blond hair and green shining eyes.

I remember some of my classes. My Religious Education teacher used to threaten us by saying his wee sister is going to batter us after school. We replied that if she’s good looking she can do anything she wanted. In Maths, our teacher regularly kept us behind because we slagged him for his foreign accent. When we couldn’t understand him and he would talk faster and finally revert back to his own language, it was hilarious.

We terrorised our Modern Studies teacher with songs making fun of his name. After a first few months I got settled in and the new surroundings and smells began to fade. I made a few new friends — but the wrong ones. I got my first year battering but I put up a good fight. I watched from a safe distance when some of my classmates got caught at the smokers’ corner by a few of the third and fourth year lads, got captured and dragged to the lavatories for a flushing of a life time. I felt sorry for them but at least I was safe. I kept my distance from the school at lunchtime because I hadn’t been caught, yet.

One day I was walking past the church ‘round the corner towards the garage when I got jumped by about nine of them. I tried to run but they were too quick. I had my school bag on, which helped them trip me over. After I landed on the pavement and grazed my arm, they kicked and hit me with belts. It was painful but I stood up and started throwing punches. I got a few but got booted back down and got done in good style. Before it went too far one of the boys stopped them. I didn’t know him but he picked me up and said I put up a good fight. I almost stumbled back to the ground but I held onto a wall. The boy, called Barry, offered me a bucket so I took it. A bucket in Scotland is a smoking device for cannabis; it delivers a large amount of smoke to your lungs so you get stoned quickly, but most of you will know that. We sat there smoking buckets and laughing. The boy told me that I was the only one they hadn’t caught ‘til that day and how they respected me for putting up a fight. Apparently, all the others just ran and cried or curled up in a ball. From then on, I started hanging around with Barry and his mates — they were the wrong kind of people to hang about with but I didn’t care: they were older and treated me as an equal. One day when I was walking to school a guy about 16 years old collapsed against a fence covered in blood. He’d been stabbed in the arm pit. I didn’t know what to do or say so I just walked away.

I thought I had to prove myself and fit in, so I was always fighting in school, drinking booze and taking drugs — hash, speed, coke, ecstasy and acid. Sometimes I phoned home to say I was staying with friends. My mum didn’t like it, but because I was with older boys she thought they would make me more mature and set a good example. I think if she knew that I was getting wasted she would have killed me.

I ended up getting Matt and Deric involved because I didn’t want them to miss out. I wished I hadn’t because Matt became an alcoholic and an addict. I fell out with him because he was turning tricks in the post office every week for money. Deric ended up a Ned like me — wearing Nike and Adidas clothes with Burberry or NY baseball caps. The only thing wrong with Deric was that he ended up joining a rival gang but we never fought each other.

I got thrown out of school just before my fourteenth birthday for hitting our deputy head teacher with a chair and fighting a boy who’d hit me in the back of the head with a ruler. I flipped with rage and went at him, stopping after he curled up into a ball while screaming, “Don’t Marshall, please!” Which gave me a flashback of being in his place. I knew I’d heard those words in my head before: what have I become?

4. A normal day

The day was perfect. I came back from my training course with a smile on my face. I’d had a good laugh with my mates and walked in to see my mum before I went back out. When I found her sitting with her head down, my mood dampened dramatically; something was wrong. She called me by my full, formal name.

“Heath was murdered,” she said. I felt a cold, shiver run through me, the room spinned round, I thought: No, she’s bamming me up, isn’t she?

“He was stabbed to death at the job centre.”

No,, she’s lying, Heath can’t be dead, it’s lies, all lies.

“Are you ok, son?”

She’s not lying. She said ‘son’, don’t show any emotion, I’ll look weak.

“Aye, Ma,” I said finally. I walked into my room in shock and disbelief; I had to see it for myself. “Ma ’’m off out.”

I walked up the main street. I felt as if everyone was watching me. I felt so small; it still hadn’t kicked in that he was dead. Heath was my best mate at the time, like an older brother. I walked down towards the bingo at the job centre, police everywhere. I felt panic growing inside me. I didn’t pay attention to any details around me, just a few things were standing out, the rest was blank.

I saw guys in white suits at the scene and police tape all around. Blood stained the pavement as if it had been washed. It’s true, he’s dead. “No, no, no, no.” I ran, head spinning, thoughts drifting in and out, tears from my eyes, tears of anger and sorrow. I broke down and collapsed on my knees, tears flowing, punching the ground and repeating ,“Why, why, why,” over and over again. Rage and anger filled me. “Someone’s going to pay.”

After that I attacked people to feel better. I pushed everyone away.