He was tall, stocky, looked like he’d be able knock a person out with one punch. He had knocked more than one person out with one punch, something he’d delight in telling you. He was soft as well, if he liked you he’d look after you, not wanting any harm to come to those he had time for. He’d endlessly tell stories of the mischief he’d got up to, revelling in tales of madness and often stupidity, usually ending with him in a police cell somewhere. He couldn’t let go of that, it was his downfall, he thrived on the madness and without it he didn’t know what to do with himself.
You look at people and make a judgement. Big, tall, strong, you tend to stay away unless they approach you themselves. We like to think we’re good judges of characters but often we’re wrong. You don’t know what pain lies behind those eyes. You can see the sadness but you don’t want to ask for fear of offense or even violence, the person looking like they’re ready to blow at the slightest provocation. It’s none of your business anyway or ‘he probably deserved it’. How do you know he deserved it? You don’t even know what ‘it’ is?
One evening he sits down with you to tell more tales, this time he casually drops in details you’ve not heard before. Opening up to you but not wanting to make it too obvious. Another story of foolishness, stealing from shops, running away from police, and then being tied up by a family member and left outside his house until he had withdrawn from heroin. What? Say that again? How long were you out there. ‘I can’t remember,’ he says, ‘it wasn’t the first time either, sometimes he’d kick the shit out of me too.’
That’s where the sadness comes from. His eyes have softened, you don’t just see a big angry person, you see someone who is vulnerable and scared and uses their anger to hideaway from the world, not letting anybody in. He tells you about his kids and he softens more, now you see a loving father who is lost. He doesn’t want his children to see him like this but he doesn’t know how to let go, allow people in so that he can be free. The children are always there in his mind, his guilt adding to the anger.
One day he runs away, you thought he would but you hoped he wouldn’t. You’d spend the days telling him it’s the best place for him to be, that if he goes back out there it’s just going to be the same shit all over again but this time he not make it. He shrugs his shoulders, he’s submitted to his fate, he can’t see a better world for himself. It’s all taken it’s toll, letting go of the small things isn’t enough, he has to let it all out but he can’t, it’s too much. The temptations of the outside world are a slow suicide, he knows that but, another shrug of the shoulders, it doesn’t matter.
Months later, he’s back again, back through the door looking angrier than before. He says he’s back this time to make it work but you know it’s not his choice, he’s been forced to come back. He lasts a couple of weeks and he’s gone again, this time there were no stories, just anger. Another week later and you hear the news. He’s gone, he won’t be coming back through the doors this time, maybe he’s happier. Now it’s your turn to be angry, angry he couldn’t let go of that burden, he could have been a friend for life.
In memory of a friend, someone who had more impact than they ever knew.