Stream of Consciousness

A reply to a person, to all the persons, to each and every one of you and got there are so many of you, there’s been so many of you so many who have said it

“Men aren’t violent” you say to me.

You, a man, would know, it seems.

I, a man, would not.

Men just express things differently. We’re more physical. We arm-wrestle our feelings out instead of hugging them out.

You say.

I say:

When I was ten my best friend attacked me.

You wouldn’t call it violence. Certainly not assault.

You’d call it wrestling. Horseplay. Rough-housing. Rough and tumble.

To be fair it didn’t really frighten me, although it left marks.

Aching testicles. Throbbing bruises. Confusion.

Of course I fought back, gave some of my own.

I didn’t like it though. I liked playing games instead. I stopped doing physical activities around then.

Board games don’t have natural opportunities for violence, unlike…cricket. Or swimming.

But I didn’t question it. Couldn’t have put it in words couldn’t have told you WHY I went to board games

but I sat by the side of the pool later that day, unwilling to enter while others played.

And I wanted it to stop, but it was normal.

By the time I got to high school, it was all like that.

It was normal.

Every day, every moment, was violence.

We said hello with a punch. Said goodbye with a punch.

Underlined a point with a punch. Communicated with a punch.

You wouldn’t call it violence.

You wouldn’t.

It was dead arms. It was chinese burns. It was wet willies and pink bellies.

It was death-ball.

It was towel-flicks and back-slaps and boys training and planning their attack so it could appear vaguely passive but deliver the most devastating pain possible without a bladed weapon.

They would dip the ends of their towels in water and carefully roll the ends

like craftsmen

measure the distance, wait until the victim relaxed, perhaps left his stance too wide

left the edge of the fence, took their back from the wall

(which we learnt, so quickly, was the only vaguely safe place or less dangerous place)

but in our pink fleshed tiny-bathers confusion we might make a mistake and then

a towel flick so vicious it would break the skin

and the game was afoot

the trick was to make me scream and if I did, they would win applause

and you try NOT to scream of course

but the pain

jesus christ the pain

the bruises

the marks on my skin

the dull ache in the bones that never went away

and YET

it was never enough because it wasn’t enough to prove anything

you couldn’t go to a teacher and say “he punched me”

A bruise, no matter how dark, how sickly yellow and blue, was just roughhousing. Horseplay. Wrestling.

I prayed every day they would break something, a wrist an arm.

Because you wouldn’t call it violence.

Not that I could tell anyone.

When they stole my calculator and threw it off a building and shattered it into a thousand pieces

my parents blamed me

be stronger they said

stop them from taking your pencil case

that’s a lesson you don’t forget

When they held us down on the football field and raked their boots across our faces, that was the rules. When we ducked and ran, we weren’t playing the game, and we were punished for it.

When we ran so hard we vomited, when our bodies ached from physical exertion so badly we could barely stand, we were punished.

And we were mocked

But you couldn’t call it violence. It wasn’t abuse.

And they already let us…let them…do whatever they wanted to me.

Beat me bloody, choke the breath out of my throat, bend my fingers and arms so far that I felt sure they would shatter and the pain was like white hot heat

Why would they care when they saw it happen?

When they shrugged it off?

It wasn’t violence.

There were some extremes, of course.

The man who hit me so hard in the stomach I blacked out from lack of oxygen. The person who hit me so hard in the face I couldn’t see for five minutes. A few black eyes. The occasional torn shirt.

But they were rare.

Mostly it was the pulled ties and tugged collars. Throbbing muscles and tired bones. And the invisible scars. The flinching instantly. The hypervigilance. The PTSD at age twelve. The real honest to god PTSD.

I remember when I got to uni I said to a friend “How come it isn’t a battle any more?”

because every day was a battle

every schoolyard a warzone

every corridor a charnel scene

every journey from one class to another an exposed run where the enemy could strike

every seating choice about danger

about proximity to enemies and blind spots and flanks you couldn’t defend

every conversation about risk

every moment about threat

and like the concentration camps of the nazis, no way to ever be sure what behaviour would save you. One day one thing would spare the beating

The other something else

One day one person would suddenly be kind, be human, be normal

The next your worst nightmare

There were no friends

Only people who beat you less

But who knew your weaknesses more

Who could hurt you psychologically in much deeper ways

But if your friends did it

If everyone did it

It wasn’t violence

And maybe it wasn’t

Not to them

When they said hello with a punch

and goodbye with a punch

when they talked with punches and shared emotions with punches

and understood the world in punches and broke up every social interaction by punches by who could punch who and when

when they studied how to hurt like it was skateboarding

when they tortured for fun without a second thought

when they swam in violence

they wouldn’t call it violence

a fish doesn’t know about water

My nickname at school – my first nickname, the one that didn’t hurt, that wasn’t designed to tear me to pieces and destroy me and unman me and dehumanise me – was Confuscious.

Because I had this radical idea that hitting people wasn’t nice

I also used to smile a lot to try and cheer myself and others up

So they called me smiley

and beat me

kicked the smile out of me

Broke the pacifism

Tortured me

Tortured me

Caused unstoppable agonies until I begged for mercy

until I knew over and over again the fear

of someone holding your life in their hands

and having no idea if they will let you live

and praying

that they will

and they might lessen the pain

I shouldn’t call it torture

That’s an insult, you say, to victims of torture.

I shouldn’t talk about warzones.

That’s an insult to soldiers.

I shouldn’t talk about concentration camps

That’s ridiculous.

That’s rude.

Everyone is rough when they are young

People are jerks all the time

They told us we had to do group work to learn how to deal with other people because that’s what happens in society

That’s what happens

After I graduated highschool nobody has ever tried to torture me for fun.

But you wouldn’t call it violence.

You wouldn’t


who was there

who still cries

who still wakes up from the nightmares

who still screams in the darkness

who still goes cold in my stomach and tastes the memory of blood

whose hands clench and vision fades and head swims when memories rush back

who spent twenty years flinching from being touched, expecting every man to beat me bloody.
You wouldn’t call it violence.


I would.


One thought on “Stream of Consciousness

  1. coda:

    at uni once

    I saw one of my old friends


    read: “torturers”

    I waved in the distance and kept walking

    he scowled and waved me over

    like wondering why I would be so anti-social
    so weird
    so creepy
    not to talk to him
    reminisce about old times

    he invited me to his birthday party when we were at school. I went to his house and played nintendo and ate white rice

    he thought of me as his friend

    I thought of him as my torturer

    my nemesis

    the bane of my existence

    the man who perhaps caused me more pain than anyone else

    who I feared and hated and never wanted to see again whose face brought back too much pain to see

    he waved me over

    don’t make it weird

    we should catch up

    talk about old times

    i wonder what he thinks about them

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