I discovered afterwards that Thomas had walked up to me and punched me square in the jaw. My mother had interrogated all my drunken schoolmates to no avail until Thomas admitted matter-of-factly that he had just punched me for no apparent reason….”
by pete lewis
The first time I met Thomas was in my second year of school, at Oystermouth Primary, in South Wales. He was six and I was five. It was going home time but I was desperate for a shit. I skipped to the loo, happy I was going home soon with my Mum. Happy that she had said we would be having Spaghetti Bolognaise for tea and maybe some ice cream from Joe’s, my favorite ice cream parlor, for afters. I was sitting on the toilet, when Thomas came in and he told me that my Mum would not be coming to pick me up. I asked why and he said it was because she was in jail. My Mum was in jail and so she wouldn’t be able to pick me up today or tomorrow or even the next day. In fact chances were, I would never see her again. I finished my shit but stayed on the toilet, my arse unwiped, and I began to cry. Thomas quietly left the toilet. One hour later Mrs. Clark, our teacher, came in. “We’ve been looking everywhere for you. Hurry up now, your Mummy is waiting for you.”
A few months later I shit in my trousers while in class. Being the confused five year old that I was and not knowing what to do, I reached deep into my Spiderman underwear and tried to grab as much of it as possible with the intent of hiding it in my pocket. However, Thomas saw me and proceeded to yell at the top of his lungs.
“Look everyone, he’s putting poo in his pocket!”
For a few years afterward, it was a cool thing at school to ask me if I had poo in my pockets.
“Have you got poo in your pocket?”
People would gesture to shake my hand and then when I put my hand out, they would retract their own and shout about how my hands smelled of shit.
When I was fifteen I was invited to my first party. It was a New Years Eve party to welcome in 1991, at this girl Christine’s house. Her parents were going to be at the golf club for New Year. She was in my GCSE lower level maths class and also in my art class. None of her friends were in these classes. They were all better at maths than us, so were in the upper level classes, and instead of taking art they all took drama. We talked a little bit about music and I listened each Monday while she yakked away about the last weekend’s party. She invited me on the last day of school before Christmas break, I assumed, only because she was so excited about the bloody thing.
“You really should come, I’ve never seen you out of school. It will be a good laugh.”
I deliberated all through the Christmas break until I realized that being fifteen and spending New Year in my bedroom was just plain sad.
I walked through the garden up towards Christine’s parents’ house. Thomas was there. Of course he would be. I knew he would be. So fucking what? We ignored each other.
“Hey, it’s great you came,” welcomed Christine. “You’re so quiet in school, it’s about time you came to one of the parties, here, have a drink.”
I was handed a beer and I gladly began to drink it. I had been practicing for this moment by sneaking cans of Calsberg beer from the old man’s fridge and taking them up to my bedroom. I’d sit on my bed listening to a Suicidal Tendencies record (usually the third one, where they were no longer punk and far more emo) and force my self to enjoy it. After awhile I did indeed begin to enjoy it, so by the time the party came around I was drinking with ease and dare I say, sophistication.
“You keep to yourself don’t you? I don’t see why, I’m sure you are actually pretty cool.”
This came from Sarah, Christine’s best friend. She was definitely part of the in-crowd, and taking a great risk by talking, and actually being cordial to the likes of me. Since Christine and Sarah had taken it upon themselves to “suss me out”, I became somewhat of a focal point for awhile. Things were getting exciting. At one point there was quite a group of girls circling me and I thought I was handling myself pretty well. Like any teenager worth a shit, they wanted to know what music I liked. I said I liked listening to Suicidal Tendencies.
“You’re not suicidal are you?” said Christine with genuine drunken concern.
“Of course not,” I replied, taking a swig of beer in one hand, other hand deep in pocket, poised in a relaxed slouch and full of alcohol-fueled confidence.
“The band are not about that, quite the opposite actually.” I continued. The first time I spoke without being spoken to. I was breaking barriers and climbing further up the social ladder by the second. Forging through new terrain, deep into this jungle that I had, for so long, stood on the perimeter of.
“So what do you do on the weekends?” I opened my second beer and the fizzing and spurting foam whispered to me how important and interesting I now was, as I sucked it clean off the cold can without spilling a drop.
“Skateboarding mostly, and some painting.”
“Skateboarding! No one does that anymore.”
“Yeah, well I don’t do it to be like everyone else.”
“But isn’t it a bit childish, you know, immature?”
“I don’t think so.” I was going to talk about my theory that skateboarding was creative destruction, reclaiming something natural and primeval from the urban wasteland, but I thought I’d hold out on to that until later.
“Well I think its pretty cool that you’re not like everyone else. Hey have you heard of the Sugarcubes?” Sarah was getting pretty drunk but all I was thinking was how she was drunkenly pretty.
“You mean the band from Iceland?”
“Yeah, how do you know about them?”
“Oh, I read an interview with them in Thrasher magazine years ago.”
“What the hell is Thrasher, a bondage magazine?” They all laughed, thinking I was some form of pervert.
“No it’s a skateboarding magazine.”
“Oh wow, I didn’t think skaters had any taste.”
“Yeah, I really like their song Birthday.” I decided to continue to show of my knowledge of all things cool.
“Fucking Hell! That’s my favorite song. That’s cool, you know about the Sugar Cubes. All the boys that usually come to the parties all listen to nothing but Metallica and all that heavy shit.”
I nodded but didn’t mention I had a soft spot for Metallica as well.
Then the door bell rang and I heard some commotion, obviously somebody important was at the door.
“Hey, don’t go anywhere, we’ll be back to talk to you later!”
“Ok, cool.” I said.
I grabbed another beer and went out into the garden to drink it and wait for the girls to come back to talk to me. But they did not. And neither did anyone else. The next thing I can remember is lying on the floor looking up at the cold night sky. It was still 1990 and everyone was standing around, staring down at me.
“I think we better call an ambulance.” Someone said. My mouth was throbbing with pain and my vision was blurred. I sat up and spat out an offensive mess of blood and teeth. Everybody took a step back. As I looked from side to side, I could feel my lower jaw swinging back and fore.
“Someone better get him some clean underwear as well.” Another shouted much to everyone’s amusement.
I slumped back down onto the freezing lawn, suddenly realizing what the contemptible voice was talking about. I remained there motionless, studying the drops of dew on the isolated blades of the frosty grass until the ambulance arrived.
I discovered afterwards that Thomas had walked up to me and punched me square in the jaw. My mother had interrogated all my drunken schoolmates to no avail until Thomas admitted matter-of-factly that he had just punched me for no apparent reason. He said my face looked like it needed a good punch and so he gave it one. Everyone was in hysterics at the way Thomas had the nerve to tell my mother the truth in such a calm manner.
“I know it was wrong to punch your son like that but it felt so good.”
My Mother was so stunned she just turned around and walked away.
“Hey, he can have my undies if he needs a clean pair,” Thomas shouted after her, the grand finale to his groundbreaking performance. I doubt anyone there had heard a kid talk to an adult like that before. Thomas had also forged into new territory that night, but unlike me, his claim was glorious and ever-lasting.
Of course, I imagined all manner of ways in which I might seek revenge. It didn’t even have to necessarily be complete revenge (for it would take a ploy of such insidious cunning to attain complete revenge, I felt incapable of such a thing) but at least a way in which I might ensure that Thomas would one day experience at least a semblance of the humiliation that I had suffered.
Of course, I imagined how I might personally torture him. How I would sucker punch him in the jaw one night when he was on his way home on a winter night. Then tie him up and drag him out into the woods and beat him until I was physically exhausted. In my little fantasy, I might first dislocate his jaw so he knew how painful it had been for me. Then I’d sit there and let him dwell on that pain for a few minutes, to let it sink in, but I would also be sure to let him know that there was plenty more on the way. Then I would proceed to kick his guts and testicles until he started to puke blood and next I would go to work on his face. When I was done I would take some steaming dog shit and rub it into his wounds. To finish up, I would either leave him there to rot, a bloody mess that stunk of dog shit, or dump him in the middle of town to be discovered by his girlfriend or his mother.
Oh the variations of this story that I dreamt up while swigging cheap beer, sitting up in bed at three in the morning on Saturdays, watching sick and twisted late night television.
After school, I would ride my skateboard around town late into the evenings, so I didn’t have to think about my sorry condition, but ultimately I would have to return home to sit down and contemplate who Thomas had forced me to be. Within a few months I began to resent how much energy and imagination I wasted on conjuring up images of Thomas’ ultimate, and of course, very humiliating demise but still I continued. After a year or so of self-pity, a year of revenge and killing flights of fancy, it was almost becoming boring. I started to dive head first into my painting and some people seemed to take notice of the finished results. “A little bit somber but you obviously have talent.” was a typical response. Only, substitute the word ‘somber’ for any one of the following: Dark, twisted, bleak, dreary, shadowy, morose, morbid, deviant, harrowing and so on. I enjoyed such responses and so I experimented with what other reactions I could evoke with my paintings.
I finished school with slightly above average results (except art, where I did reasonably well) but unlike my classmates, including Thomas, I decided not to go to university. I suppose I could have gone to art college but I was developing wanderlust. So wander I did. Anywhere was fine by me, as long as it was away from home. The following two years I hitchhiked around various warm countries with only my painting supplies and my skateboard. I walked around barefoot a lot and swam naked off many beaches. Sometimes I washed dishes in a restaurant in exchange for meals. Other times I exchanged a painting for a place to stay for a week. I once convinced a hostel manager I was a famous Welsh painter and exchanged a painting for two weeks room and board. For a while it was a beautiful existence but ultimately, only temporary.
I returned home, back to Wales, the day before summer solstice. If there was any time to be home it was at the onset of summer. After a day of recovery and catching up with my parents, I ventured outside the house into a world of culture shock. For the first couple of hours, I felt ashamed that I didn’t have a job and that I was not attending university but that soon wore off. I skated around down by the beach, enjoying the sun and watching people celebrate the good weather. I was glad to be back.
At 9:30 in the evening it was still light and I decided to skate over and down my favorite hill to a more isolated beach to watch the sun go down, for the next day was to be the day I would decide what to do with my life. I was cruising along the sea front path, feeling good, taking in a sky of reds reflecting off the calm sea and breathing in the fresh air as I sped along on my skateboard. Then I saw Thomas, who was with Christine and another girl I didn’t know. Waves of suppressed memories and a stomach folding surge of embarrassment washed over me, as I feared I was to cross his path again, after all this time. Only now I was in my early twenties and still riding a skateboard. They were walking down the steps to the beach and I hoped off my board as I got closer. There was no hiding.
Christine spoke first: “Jesus Christ, is that you?”
“All right, Christine, yeah it’s me. How are you?”
“Fantastic, how are you? I ran into your mum the other day and she said you were in Morocco.”
“Yeah, I just got back.”
Thomas and I couldn’t ignore each other forever. I offered a faint smile and nod in his direction but he spoke before I did.
“Wow, you’ve got around a bit these last few years. Good to see you.”
“Good to see you too, Tom.” I said without thinking.
One thing that traveling had taught me was how to be more confident and sure of myself but upon being reunited with Tom, I thought I had lost everything I’d gained from my time on the road. Then I realized that I meant it. It was actually good to see him.
“Hey do you want to join us? We’re going to have a bottle of wine on the beach and then probably go for a swim. The water’s warming up nicely,” Thomas offered, and it was indeed the most sincere offer I had ever received.
“That sounds good.”
“Hey, this is Hannah.”
“Hey, I think I remember you. You were in the year above me in school. I’m sure I saw some of your paintings.” said Hannah.
“Maybe.” I replied. Maybe.
We all sat down on the soft sand and drank the cheap bottle of red wine. It was mostly Thomas and I doing the talking. He told me about how he was studying literature in Cardiff. He had a few poems published but he wasn’t sure what he was going to do when he finished. He seemed to be enjoying life in all its confusing uncertainty. He was very humble and keen to hear about my life since we had last met. He didn’t mention anything about our time in school together.
After we finished the wine we took off our clothes and walked down the deserted beach into the chilly Atlantic. I dove through the shore break and swam out into the black water. Thomas followed me and we pretended not to watch Christine and Hannah wade into the sea, the moonlight illuminating the curves of their naked bodies.
“It doesn’t get any better than this does it?” Thomas looked at me and smiled.
No it doesn’t.
I floated on my back looking up towards the sky and exhaled.
(illustrations: frank cubillos)
Pete Lewis is a Welsh writer living in Portland Oregon. When he is not working with Portland’s homeless youth or surfing he is working on a publishing project called ‘Foulweather.’ He is currently editing a novel entitled “Surrendering To The Undertow” and just put out issue one of the Foulweather zine. For more details see www.foulweather.blogspot.com. More from Pete Lewis can be found in the Vault of Smoke.