Please Note: This is Ep. 9
Please click here for Ep. 8
9. Potential Bomb (i)
With no other outlet, I was a bomb ready to explode at any moment. I started acting out. At my high school, students who smoked cigarettes and weed, or drank alcohol weren’t hard to find. Many went behind the bikesheds or in the alleyways near school to have a quick fag (cigarette) between classes. Many were experimenting with intoxicants and each other. Leaving the penny sweets behind, I stepped up my game, I found my sugar fix in other things.
Thankfully, in my first year of high school, I’d found an avenue away from all the darkness. I started going to the Hare Krishna temple more often and I joined their youth group, I was happy there. But at home, I’d cry and call out to God to help us. I tried to tell my parents that I didn’t belong in this world, that I wanted to go ‘Home’, but nobody understood me. (I’ve already written about that part of my life and the temple here.)
As I progressed further into my teens, I was so damaged, if not entirely broken from my childhood traumas, that once I’d had a taste of the other side, I fell into a pit. I stopped going to the temple. I’d stay out late with people a lot older than me. With makeup on, I looked older than I was and could just about get into some nightclubs. At fourteen and fifteen years old, during my school lunch hour, sometimes I’d get picked up by my friends who were in their twenties and we’d go drink beer and play pool down at the pub.
I also had a ‘boyfriend’ at the time who was at a university on the south coast of the country. He was a student-slash-small-time drug dealer, mostly cannabis and pills. I once stole a gold chain necklace from my mother and sold it so that I could travel down to see him. I’d taken the bus to the jewellery shop and arrived late to my Religious Education GCSE exam because of it (Mr. Litchfield, now you know why I was late that day!). I later found out that my grandma had given that necklace to my mother; it was an heirloom. Not one of my proudest accomplishments.
A lot of the time, my parents didn’t know where I was or who I was with, and whenever I was at home, my parents were either fighting or I was getting beaten anyway because I’d bunked school, was coming home late, or they’d found cigarettes in my room, something like that; and not just by my dad, the stress my mother was under sometimes spilled over onto me too, so I’d rather be out as much as I could be.
Many a time,I’d be coming home late at night and I’d see the shadow of my mother standing at her bedroom window, peeping out through the parted curtains, looking to see if the sound of the car or the motorbike she’d just heard was me being dropped off home. I knew exactly what kind of welcome awaited me then.
I was fourteen years old the first time I held a gun. In some parts of the world, they might not be, but in England, they are illegal for civilian ownership. Some friends had gotten hold of one and during Diwali one year, we used the sound of the fireworks to mask the sounds of the blanks we were firing into the air.
I was also fourteen when a stranger offered me money for sex. I’d run away from home in the evening in the middle of a fight. It was getting dark and I was crying, hiding behind some dustbins in an alleyway behind the local shops. A car full of Middle-Eastern men pulled up to buy some cigarettes and saw me. They asked if I was alright and offered me a ride to the city. I jumped in and they drove to Piccadilly Circus. We listened to music and I told them I’d had a fight with my dad. They asked if I was hungry, which I was. I’d run away without dinner and so they bought Burger King meals and we all ate. One of the men in the back of the car with me, then, as politely as possible, asked me if I’d have sex with him if he paid me. I don’t remember feeling scared then, I simply said no and told him that I hadn’t had sex before. We drove around the tourist parts of London for a bit and at the end of the night they dropped me off at the same alleyway they’d found me at.
The night could have ended up dangerously differently, I know this.
I was clearly reckless and impulsive, I’d jump into a car or on the back of a motorbike with friends at a moment’s notice and drive at night to the seaside or some location hundreds of miles away.
Many a time, I’d be sitting in a park or a friend’s car, or at someone’s house smoking weed and drinking alcopops, strong cider or whiskey and lemonade. (I’d been working since I was fourteen, I had a weekend/school holiday job as a cold caller for Diamond Free Ads, a local advertisement newspaper so I was independent with my own cash.)
Try as I might to mask the pain with my teenage antics, I couldn’t erase it completely. When the highs came down, the pain came back uglier and more intense than before.
I have no idea if my brother was around. He seemed to disappear from my memory for these particular years. He spent a lot of time in his room. Even when there were fights in the house, he’d watch quietly or be in his room and punch a wall. His bedroom wall had dents in it where he’d punched out his frustration. The house, too, had physical reminders in places of what went on in our home.
Around this time, my mother was admitted into hospital with a pulmonary embolism, a blot clot in the lungs. She nearly died they told me, and the man who was our family’s ‘spiritual guidance counsellor’ at the time, (an English man who claimed to have psychic abilities, whom we had met through our weekly bhajans circle) told me that it was my fault.
He also told me that I was very vain because I wore sarees and makeup to the bhajans, which I didn’t understand because everybody did, and because I hated the way I looked. I wore makeup to try and look better. I was taller than average for my age, I’d hit my full height of five feet and six inches at twelve. And no matter how much I ate, I was still skinny and constantly teased about it at school. I had thick, frizzy hair, cut short in a bob-cut, that I couldn’t tame. They called me ‘earmuffs’, ‘mop head’, and ‘golf stick’, and because I was flat chested, ‘pancake’ as well. For years I’d worn trousers to high school, and the first time I wore a skirt, my name was changed to Olive Oyl, the cartoon character, Popeye’s girlfriend, because of my skinny legs. My teeth and nose were too big for my face, I thought. I’d worn braces for years but my two front teeth still stuck out slightly. And I knew for sure that I was ugly because in my final year of middle school, when our end of year photographs were taken, my parents bought my brother’s photo but not mine, because I was smiling in it and my teeth were showing in all their glory, also my hair was particularly frizzy that day. It was an ugly photo – and it wasn’t me who said it. My parents said they didn’t want to waste money on it. I was mortified and kicked up such a fuss, crying so much that they had no choice but to buy it in the end, but I never once truly believed I was beautiful after that.
The old man, the violence, the bullying, the taunting, losing my childhood friends, losing my connection with my brother, becoming a stranger to my parents, feelings of rejection, neglect, feeling ugly, worthless, useless, a waste of skin, a waste of space, it all became too much.
Finally, at fifteen years old, I climbed on a chair, reached on top of the fridge, took down the biscuit tin full of my parents’ prescription medications, and swallowed as many tablets as I could.
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