Joes anger and aggression rise to the surface as his demons flood back into his life. But how did Joe get to here, to chapter 28? What is the rest of Joes story?
Getting up that morning at 6.05, I needed a shower to wash off the sweat that poured during my nightmare. I suffered from delayed grief for my mother. Never coming to terms with it, the night-terrors were my coping mechanism. My way of dealing with all the regret trapped in my subconscious that forever haunted me, like a soldier with PTSD.
Dad still occupied my darkest thoughts, sometimes for weeks at a time, unable to escape them, like an unwanted plague.
The funeral was eight days later, leaving the mortician to conduct a post-mortem. He discovered her jaw and two ribs broken, and confirmed the cause of death was an overdose of sleeping pills, prescribed a week before by the local GP.
To me, she had planned it. Years of a dire life, she wanted to leave, needed to be at peace. I couldn't hold that against her. I understood her reasons, understood her need to end the agony in her heart and the demons in her head, and bed.
The next two and a half months were the lowest of my life. Hitting the bottom of the barrel almost every day. Living in self-destruct mode, suicide came to mind more often than not. Alcohol made it worse, easily disposing of a bottle a day, of whatever came into my hand. Lager for breakfast followed by whisky for brunch.
Running out of drink in the house, meant a journey to the local shop. 11.30 in the morning one day, in the gutter already. Stuttering my way to the shop, demanding two bottles of blended whisky from a sweet old lady behind the counter. Only to be refused.
Eyes widening with fury, blood-shot and not a care for anyone, I jumped over, ignoring the shopkeeper, filling my hands with 70cl bottles of spirits, then legged it.
Other days I went to The Fountain, arriving at 12am, stumbling out at closing time. Some nights not making it home, taking refuge in people’s gardens, up against walls, even in the middle of the road.
There were periods I couldn't handle the pain, grief, regret and bouts of complete rage. How I managed to come out the other side, a miracle. May was the one and only reason my heart kept beating. Didn't matter how badly I treated her, didn't matter the state I’d get in. She just cared for me through it. Having achieved her nursing degree, at that time, delaying starting her new position in A&E to help me.
Erupting in bursts of anger, throwing the plates of food she would make me onto the floor, ignoring her, vomiting on her. She was my rock, all she tried to do was turn me back onto the right track. Eventually it happened, and I’m eternally grateful for that. I owe her my life. Strange as it sounds, this brought us together, sealing a bond that should have lasted forever.
Grampian Police did their best to track Dad down and eventually gave up, no information on his whereabouts. The whole of Tillydrone attended the funeral, a flattering turnout, showing the community's love for my dear mother and support for me. St George’s church pews filled, mobbed out the door, huddles of people gathering on the grass outside. The service planned entirely by May and Mam’s sister, Betty, living in Aberdeen.
Betty was a rare sight. She hissed at the mention of Dad’s name. Hated him to the core. She knew what went on behind our doors. Spending years trying to release Mam from Dad's grip. She gave up and through stubbornness, they stopped communicating. Betty too living with regret that she wasn't there for her sister.
Gradually as time passed, I calmed down, learning to live with the agony in my heart. Taking two months off work to recover.
Brian Stevenson, brother of Tommy, my coach of the once glorious Drones Gym, now Kilgours, was the reason I had a job in the Mill in the first place. Sharing the same shift, he drove me there every day.
A bit of a chore when he went on holiday, having to take two buses to the end of the long road that entered the Mill. Telling HR of my stressful time, they took pity, holding my job open. There were nice people in this world.
After the monotonous chores were over, I spent the rest of the morning in my shed. Blasting some Guns ‘N’ Roses from my iPhone speaker. I did the usual warm-up of ten minutes on the rope. Wrapped my hands good and tight with faded-out yellow wraps. Placing the gloves on, then turning the stereo up, ‘Welcome to the Jungle’ echoing out my shed.
Beginning my bag-work, memories of Mam still fresh in my head. The longer I shuffled round the bag, the more the past started pouring out.
Working with the timer today, three minute rounds with a minute break. My bag work aggressive, engrossed in imagining Skinner lying on the ground, cock-eyed and fucked up.
After four or five rounds I ditched the gloves, hitting the bag with only wraps on, feeling the need to toughen the fists. I banged away for the next few rounds, tearing my knuckles apart with the rawness of the soft leather. My brain didn't register.
Three rounds later, my knuckles torn and bloodied. Pounding the bag like a man possessed. The bag soaked in red. My head went to that place where pain doesn’t exist, where passion and aggression take over.
My t-shirt removed, chin sunk into my chest, eyes fixated on the bag, my Father’s face glaring back at me.
Forty minutes gone since entering the shed, I switched the music off, sat down on my weight- bench, looking at the state of my hands. The skin on my knuckles worn, my faded yellow wraps now blood-stained and my skin left splattered on the bag.
The past taking over, and the money worries, my head was fucked-up. Mind you, it had been fucked-up for years. You couldn't have had a childhood like mine and come out normal.
I tried over the years to hide my demons from my children, but now and again, struggled. It was important to me that the kids have a good upbringing, not be brought up witnessing a life of violence and crime.
That was the sweating over for the day. Entering my kitchen, I rinsed my hands under the kitchen taps, washing the red gore into the drain. While the skin was tearing in the shed, I didn't feel the pain, I felt it now, rinsing under the tap. Stinging like a bitch, I knew I’d made a mistake.
Collecting a basin of soapy water, I scrubbed the blood from the bag and traces from the floor. Putting my clothes and wraps in the machine, I had to get them cleaned before May got home.
Coming back into the kitchen, I worried now what May would say about the mess of my hands as I poured vinegar over my knuckles “Holy fuck!” I belted out, making my neighbour look in from his kitchen window.
I waved and said I was Ok. Treating my knuckles with some antiseptic cream and allowing it to soak into the bare skin, then relaxing in front of the TV.
Later on, picking the kids up, I left the house with a pair of woolly gloves on to hide my knuckles. Being November it was cold, good excuse to cover the hands.
Holding Jess’s hand while walking home was really painful, as she kept rolling her little icicle fingers over my knuckles. The wool from my gloves sticking to the open flesh. Getting them home, the kids settled into their after-school routine of homework first, then TV and Xbox.
“Hi!” May shouted, as she came in, closing the door behind her.
“I’m upstairs. I’ll be down in a sec.”
May was talking to Jess in the front room, asking about her day. Having my jumper on and stretching my sleeves out, holding it with my thumb against the inside of my hand. Acting shifty, she instantly caught on to me hiding something.
“Joe, why are you standing like that?”
“Let me see your hands.”
“What you on about woman?” Taking rushing steps forward, grabbing my forearm, pulling back my sleeve.
“Fucking hell! What the fuck…Joseph?” Swearing in front of the kids was frowned upon in this house, and there’s Joseph, again.
“I don’t know May. It just…happened, Ok.”
“AYE, just happened.”
“How can you do that to yourself? Is there something wrong with you?”
“Well, there fuckin’ must be.”
“Where you going?”
“Going for a fuckin’ walk woman.”
I couldn't handle the aggravation. The guilt I had, scratching away on my insides. Yelling at May before storming out the house, taking a walk to cool down for a couple hours. It felt as if I was falling apart from the inside, on the edge of losing it. May sometimes forgot what I went through in my past. Having a normal upbringing, she didn't understand the heavy weight of childhood misery, the unfixable damage burning inside.
I was hanging on by my last thread, like there was only one piece of me gripping onto reality, it almost felt like I needed to be checked into a mental-home, before losing control.