A proper ass-kicking (story)

By Jo Chaffer 4 years agoNo Comments
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leaving and not leaving at all

Sunday: The packing up and preparing to leave was a proper ass-kicking today. Again! How is that?

I move so often. Yet I’m still confounded by the disproportionate angst and unravelling that suffocates at these transition times. I figured it was just the fraying of the anchor lines to the current world: the struggle to exhale the here and now and suck in new air. I figured this is what everybody gets when they pack up, right?

Idiot. Wrong.

Today, finally, something clicked.

 For some reason the Saturday saw me sifting through ancient photos, searching for something, telling myself it was just a routine inspection of a sagging box, before consigning it back to years in a loft. But it wasn’t was it, idiot. Of course it wasn’t.

It was that story. The story I started telling last week, in the warmth of Paul’s kitchen. The story of leaving. A proper ass kicking story.


A proper ass-kicking story:

Peterborough. I’ve just tripped into being 18, more of an unbecoming than a coming of age. Running helter-skelter with the coagulated oddballs and alts of music, a slam-dancing tribe of skater-punks, terror noisers, dreads and metalheads. Our only rite to passage, a right to a spot in the back of the van, scuttering across the bleak heart of Thatcher’s England to shabby, pish stained dives that bounced, sometimes literally, with big noise. To the gigs: to sweaty mosh-pits, slamming into the wall of sound. The gigs! Skandy noise bands, straight-edge Dischord crew, broken boned punkers, non-stop extreme noise.  Our mates, up there thrashing their guts out …. Thrashing about the stuff that mattered: the damage, our damage; big takeovers, injustice and unfairness every where in every thing.  They mattered. Everything mattered. We took the decibel fury of the mosh pit out to the muddy lanes and dirty streets: we hunt sabbed, we ‘rescued’ hounds from research, we fought skinheads, fascists and terrier boys; punished US jawheads prowling off-base for their dirty, dark alley snatch and grabs; shouted about workers’ rights at McDonalds…. we were the riot squad, the ungovernable force, the class war… in our world at least. And as trite as it sounds we mattered to each other. Small acts: the few coins shoved into a hand that’s properly skint; the jacket share in the fog-strewn, freezing subways; the places to crash… small acts that mattered.

And still, even with all this, there was something else. Some where else. Places. Other places. More places than this. I’d smelled them.  The places of Uncle Mick’s postcards – the fjords, shiny peaks, orange groves, kayaks on shivery blue water… gale-strewn hills … other ways, other places. They flickered in and out of the edges of my vision. I had to go find them, try them on, try being differently. Deal with this itchy scratchy curiosity. It mattered too.

I had some half-assed plans to hitch to Greece, to the oranges, but the truth was I kind of knew that a university place would be the easiest exit. It was time to do the hard beans, get down the local tech, find the books, quiet corners and crack on: learn, revise, apply; put on the clobber and fake it at the open days, hope they wouldn’t see through the facade.

I stashed half the cash from the shitty soap factory summer job, just in case…. 

I hoped. But I never really believed and then – boom –there it was, the grades sitting there quietly, those three critically significant letters, hanging out innocuously amongst all the other letters on that college notice board. More letters followed: We are pleased to confirm your place. Me! I‘d blagged it – got the ticket! I told them, the crew. There was beers, parties, ‘fkn ey, get you’, ‘wicked!’ ‘Brighton’s ace – we’ll be down, get a gig sorted ya tart’. A giddy kind of happiness. Naïve. Stupid.

The Still – one last big night out before the off. Kicking out time, in the yard, me and him, chatting on, just by the big sliding doors, dregs down the hatch…give Crispy the gla……SLAM

“ya fuckin bitch, fuckin leaving, who the fuck do ya think..”…. yelling, flat hands smack me backwards, the violence, violation… “YA FUCKING THINK YR BETTER THAN US …” in my face, cornered….


Stunned. ‘No, no, no I just…’

 “ya cunt”, SLAM “I CAN’T LEAVE!”

I was. I had to. Fuck it. Wake up!

SLAM. ‘Fuck you Tucker..’ I ran.

He came after, “BITCH”  tearing, slapping. I legged it…”ya fucking cunt…think you’re fkn smart” legging it the two miles or so through city streets, him pounding behind, screaming the torrents of angry venom “ya fkn traitor… we’re fkn stuck here”. The end of the road, I stumbled, went down.

It’s even fuzzier from here.. the replay.. an image..girl in a biker jacket, raggy black jeans, sobbing into the pissy grass, yellowing streetlight, the reek of dog shit, as he kicked and screamed, venom and fury, kicks and screams “you aint goin’ nowhere”, kicks and screams .. “TRAITOR”

It stopped at some point. It must have.

It ends with me coming round on a hospital trolley.

I had blanked it all until about 15 years ago. I was in some coach training learning about light hypnotism Woosh, it all came back and I was in it again – terrified, kicked down, humiliated, stinking of shit.

In the years since I’ve gotten over it through lots of reflection, pricey therapists and the like. Remembering to apply the Rule: shit happens we can’t control, but we can control how we respond to it though.  That is our gift.

It is what it is. It happened. It was shit. And it’s gone, back in a past life.

I thought it was gone. Until today. Until I realised, of course it is still playing out. Idiot.

Telling the tale last week, looking through those pictures, bringing the tribe back to life – today, at last, it dawns on me. Is this what some of my ‘gotta move-on’ stuff is about? Is this what the disproportionate turmoil I get myself into doing the leaving, the guilt, the shame, the ‘can’t come back’ tears, is this what it might be about?

I have flitted around the planet most of my life – bouncing in to the next new place full of energy, zest and fear. I jump in, raw and brave and stupid in my unknown, un-tethered state; all peeled back and wide awake. Friendships come quickly and often deeply, sometimes shockingly so. And boom, there they are, those critically significant connections, a beautiful, terrifying dense and vital web of real human connections around me. Belonging. Could it be? I realise I’ve been suckered into hope…that ‘believing I belong’ stuff. Get real Chaffer. I try and ignore it for a while, but that icy fear has crept into the edges of my consciousness and refuses to disappear. Fear. Fraud. Guilt. Shame. They’ll find you out these new friends. You know you’re not really one of them. You’ll let them down eventually. Traitor. You’ve got form. That’s who you are, what you do. The fear creeps further in, black, sticky, strangling. Get ready to be alone again. Do it on your own terms, before they do it to you. Cut the tethers. Leave. 

I’ve been fulfilling my own prophecy brilliantly for years.

An expert in the bounce-belong-boom-bust cycle. Able to land pretty much anywhere, make friends, make a home, make the best of it. War zones and wild places enthralled me, their intense and intoxicating emotional landscapes; stepping into fears and love and the fully spectrumed vibrancy of a life very close to and sometimes on that thin line of ‘edge’. I’ve enveloped the art of independence; of getting happily alone; of being cheekily connective. Kept recreating, re-inventing, adapting. Kept fully alive -becoming and un-becoming, ripping off the dressings to feel the fresh wind on raw, new skin. This demanding, superlative-driven way has defined me, liberated and caged me. It is how I emerge and re-immerse, curious and clear, making things matter, doing what matters, here and there in places beyond within and beyond those precious, bright postcards of childhood.  This is the light.

And the dark? It’s in the here and now, packing, saddened beyond words, grieving the loss about to come; cutting the tethers, getting my ass-kicked. Kicked for leaving when a better person would have stayed. My disloyalty shames me in its stark, hovering spotlight.

All because of that night.

Because of that, I never got it, never understood.

I thought I’d left never to be allowed back. Traitor.

But I’m not. I was not. I was just a curious, naïve girl who thought I knew how the world worked. A stupid girl who got her ass-kicked.

I leave but never really leave at all. I can’t. I’ve reshaped, woven into me the people and places, become through them. We all leave and also remain, not disloyal but fiercely, ridiculously loyal.

As I write those words I am sobbing, both in deep sorrow and also relief. Forgiveness – I didn’t realise I needed it until it happened.

32 years to work that out. Fool that I am. Thanks Tucker. You’re still a vile, ignorant cunt. But you kind of did me a service channelling that tribal rage – kicking my ass.  A

Not the ass-kicking – the words that really matter

I ended up in hospital that night. But not from the physical beating – that was just sore and lumpen. The kicks and punches mostly bounced off. It was the words that burned. Vicious, hate-filled words. The words that fell like napalm.

Somehow I’d got back to my parents, shut myself in my room, swallowed every painkiller I could find and taken my stolen biology lab scalpel to my wrists. Shame. Deep, deep shame.

Whether it was the sobbing or the stumbling, my parents must have sensed the wrongness.

It ends with me coming round on a hospital trolley.

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 Jo Chaffer

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