Waking up from that dream of togetherness was hard. A fog of sadness settled over me as I got ready to go to training. Knowing you’ve stuffed up your friendships fairly irretrievably is one thing. Facing up to it and carrying on, seeing the same people every day who used to be your mates, is another. I wasn’t sure how I was going to carry on without them all. I guess it was part of my ‘best shot’ to give it a try. Took some deep breaths, left the flat.
The morning was a continuation of the day before. I hadn’t really expected anything else. Stuart’s words seemed to have made little difference. The only real change was we were practising plays, kicks and set pieces rather than rucks and mauls. The tackles came in as hard, there were as many digs and gouges, although they were more careful not to make them obvious to the coaches. At the end of it all I was exhausted, both from the strength of the punishment I had been receiving and from the effort of keeping a lid on my temper. As we walked off the field, Big walked beside me and briefly put his arm round my shoulder.
He walked off ahead. I felt another hand on my shoulder. Looked behind me. Nico.
I nodded. He looked at me, shook his head and trotted in front. I dragged my aching body into the changing room, the last to return. Arriving at my peg, I discovered my towel, clothes and trainers were wet. It wasn’t water. There seemed little point in showering.
I wasn’t officially supposed to wear my Raiders training kit outside of the training ground, so I turned my sweaty shirt and shorts inside out to hide the logo, and stuffed the rest in my bag, not oblivious to sniggers from various parts of the room, and resigned myself to a smelly journey home.
When I arrived in the lobby, I could hear sounds coming from Rose’s flat, but I couldn’t stop until I’d sorted out my clothes and myself. I dumped the lot in the bath and showered, hoping the water would get rid of the worst of it before I put it in the machine. New bruises and scrapes had appeared on top of yesterday’s; I also had a black eye and one of my fingers was swelling from being bent backwards. Much as I was determined to ride it out, I wasn’t sure how long my body would last.
I didn’t know how I was going to manage at the gym on my non-training days. I would have to rely on Becky to help me through it. I slumped against the wall and turned the spray on me. When the water ran cold, I climbed over the side of the bath, squeezed out my clothes and towel and bundled them into the washing machine. I was so tired, my body ached so much, I lay face down on the bed and slept.
When I woke up, it was starting to get dark. The wintry kind of ‘hasn’t really been light all day and now it’s getting gloomy’ twilight. I didn’t seem to have changed position all afternoon – checking my phone I saw I had been asleep for nearly two hours. I had a huge crick in my neck. My back, legs and arms protested every movement. I ignored my body, got off the bed and ran a bath. Sitting in the warm water soothed the aches a little.
I was aware of the daily likelihood of time passing, me doing nothing but training and recovering. This was my foreseeable future. More than a little daunting. No complaints, really.
Feeling somewhat more mobile, I went downstairs and tried Rose again. I could hear her TV through the door, but she didn’t answer my knock. I called through the letterbox.
‘Rose, it’s Declan. Are you in? Put the kettle on.’
The TV went off. There was silence for what felt like a long time. At last, I heard the chain slip back, and the door opened.
:Hello, love. Alright?
‘Not so bad. Few aches and bumps, from training. Could do with a cup of tea and a chat if there’s any going.’
Rose hesitated, seeming reluctant to let me past the front door.
:I don’t know if that’s a good idea, really.
I was taken aback. Belatedly, I wondered if she had company – just because I was a Billy-no-mates didn’t mean Rose never spoke to anyone else. Or maybe she wasn’t feeling well?
‘Oh. Are you OK?’
:I’m fine, love. It’s just, after what you said the other day, I think I should keep out of your business and let you get on with things like you asked.
Oh, no no no, she’d misunderstood something I’d said and thought I didn’t want to talk to her. I frantically searched my memory for exactly what I had said when I last spoke to Rose. I thought it had gone so well, I’d even congratulated myself on being diplomatic and calm and saying what I thought without upsetting her. How had I managed to fuck this up too? I was horrified.
‘Rose, no, fuck, no, whatever you thought I was saying, I wasn’t saying that. I was pissed off with you for talking to Nico, because I felt, feel, ashamed of the mess I’ve got myself into. Nico has been so good to me, I was embarrassed. Maybe it came out the wrong way. No way did I want to upset you or want you to stay away. I thought you were OK with it. I’m so sorry. Shit, I’m such a fucking dick.’
Rose looked at me for a few seconds.
:Well maybe I’m just a silly old woman too sensitive for my own good. Perhaps we do need a cuppa, sort it all out?
‘That would be great. I’m so sorry …’
She stood aside to let me in, and I apologised all the way down the hallway. Rose had been one of the few bright spots in the past couple of weeks; I couldn’t bear the thought of adding her to the list of people who didn’t want anything to do with me.
:Right then, let’s get the kettle on. First off, love, stop saying sorry, it’s getting a bit annoying. Shall we agree we’re both sorry and leave it at that?
I smiled with relief and sat down at the table.
:Second off, well, I’m not very good at criticism, I suppose. I can dish it out, but it’s hard to hear. Took it a bit personal, what you said. You were right, I can be interfering, and I don’t always know when to stop yapping. I’ll remember in future. Don’t want to feel like I have for the last few days, like I’d messed it all up for you.
‘Rose, you haven’t messed anything up for me. OK, then, my turn, third off, I’m a stubborn bastard and I’m not very good at accepting help. I’ll remember that people like helping and maybe swallow my pride a bit, yeah? And, obviously, I’ll remember not to criticise you at all, ever again, about anything.’
:Sarky so and so. You, stubborn? Never. Here’s your tea.
‘Hm. Could do with more milk, and maybe leave the teabag in longer next time.’
Rose cuffed me lightly on the back of the head.
:Get away with you. I think, as a fourth off, I’m going to ask you to tell me if I cross the line again. I might not like it, but it won’t hurt me to hear it, and I’ll try not to let it upset me.
‘Alright then. And fifthly and lastly because I’ll lose count, give me a slap immediately, if I upset you at all. I’d rather that and know what I’ve done, than find out like this.’
:Done. Oh love, I’m glad we’ve sorted that out. I’ve been miserable, wondering what you’ve been up to. How’s it all been going? Have you been back to your club? What’s happened to your face?
I breathed a huge sigh of relief.
‘Fuck, Rose, I thought I’d cocked it all up with you too.’
I told Rose the story of the last couple of days, the pain and humiliation of training, the glimmers of light with Big and Amy, the meal with Nico, and his offer. Rose’s face lit up when I mentioned that, but she managed to rearrange the smug look into a neutral smile.
‘I haven’t decided about it yet. It’s a shitload of money to lend someone you don’t know very well. I don’t think I can accept it. I shouldn’t have people making it easy for me, I should be doing it the hard way.’
:Oh love, that’s just nonsense. Why don’t you think you deserve help? You’ve got yourself in a right state by not asking for help, it’s about time some things went right for you, isn’t it?
‘Lisa said something similar last night. But Rose, I’ve ruined so many things, so many friendships. It’s like I shouldn’t be allowed to start again with new people, when I haven’t mended things with everyone else yet.’
:Don’t be so hard on yourself, love. Friendships don’t often break, just get bent out of shape a bit. Ones that don’t last probably wouldn’t have anyway.
I thought about Jay and Beth and seriously doubted her.
:Can I give you some advice? Just this once, then never again. Well, alright, until something else occurs to me that I can’t help saying.
:Take this money from your friend. For two reasons: people like to help. Turning him down will make him feel bad. Plus, being able to pay all your friends the money you’ve borrowed will make them think a lot better of you. It’ll make your life a lot easier, you can start thinking about other things, get on with it a bit.
She made total sense but I was struggling with doing anything to make my life easier. Wading through contempt, pain and humiliation seemed a suitable punishment for the mess I’d made of everything. I remembered my deal with Rose, though, and thought about how I might go about swallowing my pride. It wouldn’t be easy.
‘It’s just hard. I’ve done everything on my own since the accident, for months now. Feels like forever. I’m not used to people helping me. Letting people in is difficult. Scary, I guess.’
:I know, love. But letting people in is the only way out sometimes.
Rose could be many things: interfering, talkative, annoying. Today she was wise.
‘But it’s not just that. It feels like I’m giving up on them, like I should stick with everyone and how it is now, because that’s how it is, what I’ve chosen. If I let other people help, start again, I’m leaving them behind – oh I don’t know, I’m not explaining it very well.
:It’s alright, love, I get the drift. I want to make one thing very clear to you. Yes, you have done some things you’re not proud of, and hate yourself for it. But you’re getting punished enough. Look at you, black and blue, miserable, feeling like you’ve lost all your friends, don’t own anything worth spitting on. I don’t really understand why you wouldn’t want to change that for the better, and hearing you say you don’t deserve it breaks my heart, it does. You’re a good lad, you care about people and you try to do the right thing. What you deserve is a reward for that, not this punishment that never seems to end.
It was hard to hear, harder to believe. I was silent.
:Come on, now, love, drink up, I’ll put the kettle on again.
Tea – Rose’s answer to all of life’s awkward silences. I smiled and handed her my mug.
‘Rose, can I tell you everything?’
:What do you mean, love?
‘Well, you know a lot of it, but kind of in bits and pieces. I’ve had a go at you for speaking out of turn, but maybe if I’d told you everything in the right order, without crying or puking or swearing at you or whatever, things might have been different.
Rose tried to hide her eagerness and failed spectacularly.
:If you’d like to, love.
While Rose made more tea, I started with my adoption as a baby by Australian parents. I had never known my birth parents, or known anything about them, or wanted to, apart from the facts that they were English, and they hadn’t left me because they’d died. It was enough that they hadn’t wanted me, I didn’t need to know the reasons. The couple who adopted me had always been Mum and Dad to me. We emigrated to England when I was nine, Dad having got a job over here.
As Rose and I drank, I told her about when I was thirteen, and my parents were killed in a car accident. I had no family in this country, and Mum and Dad’s family in Australia were too old or uninterested to look after me. I was put into foster care while they tried to figure out what to do with me. Three years later I was still in care when I was offered the scholarship to Raiders. I had gone pretty wild and learned to fend for myself.
I told Rose how moving in with Jay and Beth had eventually settled me – didn’t go into details, she already knew a lot of that anyway, what they’d meant to me.
Moved on to my more recent history: the accident, inquest, passport, demand for money, stealing the charity money, borrowing from everyone, Jay’s reaction when he found it all out. It was a grim little tale.
Rose listened almost without comment, the occasional:
When I had finished she sat back in her chair and looked at me.
:Oh, love, listening to all that just breaks my heart. You’ve had a lot to cope with, and you’re so young. A lot of second chances that haven’t worked out. You’ve lost three families. I can see why you think you have to do everything on your own, feeling out of control is scary, but just remember: there’s no limit to second chances. You don’t have a quota, you just have to take them when you get them.
She looked at me assessingly.
:You know, love, I think we could help each other out. I don’t think I’ve told you this, but I couldn’t have kids. It was one of the reasons I split up with my husband. As well as him being a two-timing bastard, of course. Anyway, one of the ways I deal with not having children of my own is mothering other people. Also known as interfering, or taking care of people if you’re being kind. I’m thinking you need a bit of mothering at the moment, someone to take care of you, look out for you. I like doing it, makes me feel needed. How about it? You come to me when you need a mam, a bit of support, a chat. I’ll cook you soup, kick you up the backside if needed, or make myself scarce, whichever seems best.
I looked over at her. I had only known Rose for a short while, but she had barged her way into my life and found a place in my heart I hadn’t known was there.
‘Do you know what, Rose, you’re fucking amazing.’ I managed eventually.
:It’s a deal, then?
I stood up and gave her a big hug and a kiss on the cheek. Rose had managed to make me feel better about myself than I had in many weeks. I owed her a lot.
A couple of cups of tea later, I was starting to flag. I was aware of tomorrow’s training session approaching, and needed to get some restorative sleep. I said goodbye to Rose and made my way upstairs.
Nico: =I just find out what they do. I don’t like. I talk to Stuey tomorrow. Tell me you OK.
Me: =I’m OK. Thanks.
Quick meal, showered, collapsed into bed.
Dreaming. I am flying, with Mum. She holds my hand and leads me across the sky, telling me the names of the stars.
And so, one day, they brought me home. There was a long debate about an ambulance, but they’d bought me a wheelchair, and I’d had a few goes in it, being pushed up and down the corridors like a sodding old man, and I thought I could manage the journey to their house, which was all of ten minutes away, so it was left to Jay and Beth. Mum was thankfully absent, as I think her twittering, on top of Beth’s fussing, would have literally driven me over the edge into true insanity, and I don’t use the word literally lightly. As it was I had to rely on Jay more than I’d thought I would, and by the time we got to the new house, he had to lift me bodily out of the car and into the accursed wheelchair, then again into the brand new state of the art up and down electric bed they’d put in the downstairs room that was to be my home for the foreseeable.
I lay in my new room, exhausted, looking out of the window into the garden. There was a rabbit hutch and a bird feeder, and a big swing, and it seemed I would finally have something to look at again.
So, just carrying on my intros, but maybe a bit out of sequence: My sister, Iz, came along when I was six, and turned my world upside down. I think I expected her to be an instant playmate, and didn’t realise she was going to need to bulk up a bit before she could stand in goal for my penalty shoot-outs, so after all the build up waiting for her to arrive, she was a bit of a loud, smelly anti-climax. Sorry, Iz, love you heaps, but you didn’t half have stinky shit when you were a baby.
Iz and I have the same hair. It’s yellow and very curly. I mean, blond ringlets, who gives that to a boy? I bloody hate my bloody hair, but on Iz, well, if ever hair was meant to be on a girl, it is this hair. I keep mine so short, you can hardly ever tell it’s curly, and I’ve managed to destroy nearly all of the photos Mum has of me when she cruelly made me grow it, but Iz has cultivated this mane of blonde curliness that has men falling at her feet. Even when she was little, or rather especially when she was little, everyone wanted to touch her hair, and old ladies would give her sweets (it nearly persuaded me to grow mine, but not quite). Iz would always make a bee-line for the men, who couldn’t resist picking her up and cuddling her, giving her all the attention, and she loved it, lapped it up, got away with murder and late bedtimes by looking up from underneath her eyelashes and tossing her curls. If only I could say it made her a spoilt brat, and maybe it did a bit back then, but Iz is the best sister, the kindest woman, the most beautiful person, now. Back then, I gave her a thoroughly deserved hard time, and teased her as much as the League of Older Brothers expects, naturally.
Day dawned and with it a hefty dose of reality. Still sore from yesterday, and sad from dreaming about Mum, I had to kick-start myself into some semblance of liveliness.
I was very glad it was the last Raiders session of the week. Tomorrow I would be able to relax in the civility of the gym. Today, I remembered to pack spare clothes that I intended to leave in the car park. Tried not to drag my feet from the bus stop to the stadium, but it was hard to hurry towards what was waiting for me.
It was more of the same. Bruises on bruises, bone-crunching tackles, stamps, prods, I sucked it all up. At the end of the session, I lay on the turf, eyes closed, panting, head spinning, unable to move. I felt something wet hit my chest. Looked down, a gobbet of phlegm nestled in the middle of my shirt. Looked up, DivDav jogging away.
>Hey! David Allsop! Come here.
Struggling, I sat up.
DivDav sauntered back to where Nico stood.
>I see what you do. You don’t do again.
>I mean it. You lay off Declan, or it is trouble for you.
DivDav shrugged again and walked away. Nico crouched down to where I sat, panting.
>Declan, this cannot be. You must speak to Stuey, or Don or someone.
He stood up and held out a hand. I took it and pulled myself to my feet, then bent over with my hands on my knees and puked up some bile onto the grass.
>Declan, I really worry.
‘It’ll be OK. It’s not that bad.’
>Huh. I don’t believe you. You can’t take this every day, is too much.
‘I’ll be OK, you go.’
He stood by me for a couple of minutes, then walked off with an exasperated sigh. I stayed bent over for a few more minutes while I got my breath back, then slowly made my way to the changing rooms, where someone with a huge imagination had pissed on my clothes again. I bundled them up and went out into the car park where I had stowed my bag behind a wall.
Checking there was no one around, I quickly slipped my shorts off and trousers on, and put a hoody on over my shirt. Making my way across the car park, I heard my name shouted behind me. Recognising DivDav’s voice, I kept on walking. He didn’t pursue me, but shouted out:
%Fuck off Summers. Don’t go running to your new sugar daddy every time it gets rough. Take it like a man, if you can remember how.
I kept my head down and walked away, hard as it was to do. I longed to confront him, but apart from being in no physical state to do so, I didn’t think the club would look sympathetically on it; it was also probably just what he wanted.
I was waiting at the bus stop, having just missed a bus, when Nico’s red Honda pulled up. He leaned over and opened the passenger door.
>Get in. I take you home.
I was actually relieved. I hadn’t been looking forward to standing at the bus stop in the cold for another twenty minutes, and then the bumpy bus journey back, stiffening up all the way. I got in.
‘Thanks, appreciate it.’
>Ha, I expect you to argue. You must feel very bad.
‘Bad enough, I guess.’
>I talk to Stuey. He will talk to people again. I talk to David also. Tell him what I think. He is coward.
‘Bet that went down well.’
>Declan, he piss on your things.
‘Oh. Mystery pisser solved, then.’
>He think is funny. I tell him grow up.
‘Cheers, Nico, probably just made things a zillion times worse, but thanks for trying.’
>How can it be worse? You are beaten up every day, they ruin your clothes, spit on you … and you take it. You don’t get angry. You don’t fight. You don’t stand up for yourself. You let them. I don’t understand.
‘They deserve to have their say however they want.’
>No. Not like this. Is not right. You need to take my money. You pay people back, this stops.
I was silent for a short while. It really would make things a lot easier, take away some of the worries that kept me awake at night. I fought an internal battle with myself, feeling ashamed that I needed to accept help but relieved that help had been offered. Weeks of punishing training sessions stretched out in front of me, with no let up and everybody hating me. Hating myself instead, I took the easy way.
A pause. Nico slowed the car and looked over at me.
>You say OK?
‘I said OK.’
>Ha! I think I have to beat you up myself to make you say yes. Good for you, Declan. Is great. This make it better for you.
‘I had a long chat with Rose last night. She gave me some good advice. I would be very grateful to take you up on your offer.’
>Ha, Rose, she is something, huh? I hope you are nice to her.
‘I try my best. But I will pay you back, and I will pay you back quickly.’
Nico dropped me off outside the flats, and I slowly made my way up to mine. I ran a bath, undressed, inspected the damage and eased myself into the hot water. Cuts stung, muscles stiffened, bruises developed, I drifted in an unthinking sea of exhaustion and pain.
I must have fallen asleep, as I woke with a start in cold dirty water, to the sound of the door entry buzzer. Thrashing around, I slipped trying to get out of the bath and banged my elbow on the tap.
‘Shit shit shit.’
I grabbed a towel and headed for the intercom. It buzzed again. I picked up.
>Hey, is Nico.
‘Oh, OK, come on in. It’s up the stairs, number six.’
Pressed the button to open the front door, surprised. Realised I had no clothes on. Quickly dried myself and pulled on some vaguely clean clothes, just as Nico rang my doorbell.
‘Hi, er, come in.’
>I come to find out your bank numbers. You tell me, I do this quick.
He held up his phone.
‘Er, OK, bloody hell, Nico. You didn’t have to come by specially.’
>But now I am here. Lis, she say do it, go, Declan he will pretend to forget. Do it before Declan change his mind. She very bossy.
He looked around, frowning.
>You don’t have much things.
‘Sold most of my stuff.’
>Huh. You sure do. Come, where is your numbers?
I rummaged in the pile of bills and junk mail collecting in a drawer in the kitchen, and found a bank statement. I handed it over to Nico and he called his bank while I looked out of the window as if I wasn’t listening. He transferred a large sum of money into my bank account, as if it was it was every day that he gave thousands of pounds to someone who had recently stolen a similar amount from a charity. It made me feel ashamed, that he could have so much faith in me.
When he was done, and had disconnected from the call, I turned to thank him.
>Now you pay back everyone, is finished. Good, huh?
‘I guess I’ll have to wait a few days while it goes through, but yes, good. Thanks so much. I really don’t know what to say. Say thanks to Lisa.’
>You thank her yourself. She say come to dinner again. Ha, I think she want to watch my try, you are excuse.
‘I want to set up some kind of repayment.’
>Is no hurry.
‘I’ll pay you back every month, is a cheque OK?’
>However you like. Is no problem.
‘For fuck’s sake, Nico, I want to do this properly. I need to pay you back the same way I wanted to pay everyone else back.’
>OK, Declan, I see this bother you. We talk about it tonight.
Uncle Matty got better enough to come home, but only after more days and days of sitting watching him, though he was a bit more interesting now, because he’d talk, even if he was hard to understand. I knew what he was saying better than anyone else, and I could tell people what he’d said.
So when Uncle Matty was better enough to get out of bed and be pushed in his wheelchair, he came to live with us in our new house. He had his own room downstairs, with his own shower and toilet too, and I was allowed to play in his room, and talk loudly if I wanted to, unless Uncle Matty was having a bad day, which meant when he was feeling too sad to play with me and so no one talked to him, and he just wanted the door shut all the time.
But mostly, I played in his room, and he was either asleep, which was a lot, or he talked to me and asked me about my games, and about Mum and Dad and Granny.
It was weird at first, spending so much time with Uncle Matty, because I’d only really seen him a few times before he came to live with us. He had come to visit us with a lady a couple of times; I remember him giving me some Jurassic Park toys – I think that was the same time I walked in on them early in the morning. Whoops. I said no porn, and I meant it, but whoa, Matty, way to nearly blind a small child.
But anyhow, Uncle Matty living with us meant I got to know him, and as he got better, and he could play with me and go out with me, I got to like him a lot. He never treated me like I was a kid, even though, obviously, I was. If I asked him a question, he’d think about it seriously and then tell me the truth in a way that made me trust him not to hide things from me, but I knew he didn’t always tell Mum and Dad everything I said. I suppose a lot of that was because he hated everyone knowing everything about him. And he knew loads about space and dinosaurs and trains, and when he read me things from my books, he always added things that he knew about, like wondering how big a Tyrannosaurus Rex was if it was stood next to our house, or whether Thomas the Tank Engine would beat the train from Stafford to Stoke, or if the moon would be bright enough to sail a boat by.
For a while, the transition tired me out so much that I slept far, far more than I woke, but I soon got into a pattern, where Jay would come in first thing in the morning and put me on the toilet. I mean physically put me there. I could no more walk than I could fly, at first, and he had to manhandle me out of bed and into the wheelchair, push me to the small en-suite bathroom and then manhandle me onto the pan. The first couple of days, he carried me from the bed. It was beyond humiliating. And before you ask, no I couldn’t wipe my own arse, not to begin with, so yeah, he had to do that too. But he always tried to take my mind off it by talking about something completely a propos of nothing while he was doing it, and although I expect it was the least favourite time of the day, for either of us, he helped me through it. He always told me to ‘be strong and stay positive’, it was like Jay’s thing to say when he ran out of idle chatter (which happened frequently) and he wanted to appear supportive and inspirational. I tried, but being strong is hard at times when opening your eyes feels like you’ve lifted a tonne, and staying positive presumes at least a measure of being positive already.
I was thin, so thin. I’d always been a skinny runt, but I could feel my ribs, see them when they changed my shirt, and could feel the very sockets of my hip bones. It was hardly surprising Jay had been able to carry me; the few times I looked in the mirror, I saw a skull looking out at me. Cal thought I looked like a ‘skellington’, and also thought this was really cool, but I saw the worry in everyone’s eyes when I didn’t finish my meals, and tried as hard as I could to fatten myself up. It didn’t have a noticeable effect; I’d always been able to eat vast amounts of food and not put weight on, and so now I had no appetite, I obviously wasn’t putting enough fuel into my greedy metabolism, and apart from anything else it meant I was always cold. So I had to drink build-up drinks, which looked foul and tasted worse. But I tried to do it without complaining, because it made them feel better, and took some of the terror away from behind their eyes.
We moved back to Devon not long after Uncle Matty was really better, but he came with us, and I guess that was the start of this big family thing we’ve got going on. It was more complicated than that, because a lot of it was to do with Dec, but although Matty being ill was terrible, and him nearly dying was more terrible, I think if it hadn’t happened, we wouldn’t be this remarkable group of people who are The Scotts, even though half of us aren’t even called Scott.
I’m realising that telling you about each person at a time is going to get confusing, because I can’t talk about Matty back then without talking about Mum and Dad, or Dec, and I’ll end up repeating myself. So I think that’s how I’m going to do this. I’m going to do a bit of When Cal Was Little with all the main people in my story (except, obviously, the people I didn’t know back then), and then I’m going to bundle it all together and tell it like it was with everyone. Maybe I’ll change my mind half way through, I’m told that’s what I do, so don’t hold me to anything.
I’m going to tell you about Dec next. I was really little when Dec came to live with us, and I don’t remember it. I remember him, because it’s difficult not to remember a lanky, loud-mouthed, rude, sulky big boy, who should have scared me to death, and who should have considered himself far too cool to hang out with a two year old, but didn’t.
I remember Dec reading me bedtime stories, playing football with me, walking me to school, sitting on the edge of my bed when I was poorly, playing with my cars and my models, picking me up and carrying me on his shoulders; all the things you could wish a big brother would do. I also remember him with some very scary friends, who all wore black and had funny coloured hair, and I remember him swearing a lot. Not that it’s hard to remember the swearing, because he still does that, so it’s a constant reminder.
Dec and Matty, they are both responsible for my occasional lapses when it comes to the odd f-word, and I blame them all the time. Much good it does me.
So, Dec was there from the beginning, or that’s how it felt, and we were mates, or brothers, or something, it’s getting complicated again, because it’s not something that has a name. He was only supposed to be with us a short while, Dad says a few weeks, Mum says longer, but Dad never pays attention properly, so I’m more of a mind to believe Mum. But anyway, he lived with us for three years, and I never thought much about it, it was just normal. Of course, there aren’t many families that have random teenagers who appear and stay, without some sort of formalities, but that’s what happened with Dec. I think Mum and Dad thought about, I don’t know, fostering or adopting or something, but in the end time went on, and Dec was eighteen, and it was too late.
And maybe if they had, maybe all the rest wouldn’t have happened, maybe Dec would have felt more secure or something, I don’t know, you’d have to ask him. I was only five at the time, so I didn’t really have a clue what was going on, but Dec was just, all of a sudden, different; he stayed in his room and didn’t play with me or read me stories, and then he left. He put all his things in bin bags and took them away, and didn’t say goodbye, so I didn’t know if he was coming back or not, and Mum and Dad wouldn’t answer when I asked where he was, at least not any answer that meant anything, even though I asked a lot, and then we moved up to Stafford, and Dec wasn’t there any more, and it all felt weird.
I think I’m going to tell you more about all that later, so that’s enough of Dec for now.
Granny always seemed to be around in those early days, despite the fact that she lived up there and we lived down here. We never saw much of Matty, even though they both lived in Stafford, but Granny was always visiting. She’d bring chocolate, which so wasn’t the only reason I looked forward to her coming (oh it so was), and she’d talk to me about little boy things like Lego and dinosaurs really seriously, as if she cared about them as much as I did. She gave the best granny cuddles too, and most importantly would sometimes stick up for me against Mum if I wanted to watch cartoons.
The next couple of weeks saw a big decrease in the amount of damage I was taking in training. I paid back all my friends, their friends and the acquaintances I had borrowed from, and this immediately changed the atmosphere on my part. People talked to me, involved me in their conversations, Big even came out for a drink with me. That was a great night. Nothing crazy, I didn’t even have a beer, but just chatting with a mate about football, films, girls, nothing serious, it was almost therapeutic.
I made an agreement with Nico and Lisa to pay them as much as I could afford every month. It wouldn’t leave me with much, but they didn’t know that, and the quicker I paid it back, the better I would feel. It was going to take me a long time, I’d still be paying them this time next year. I was even more grateful to them, realising this, as it would have taken me an equally long time to pay back everyone I had borrowed from, and they wouldn’t have been so understanding.
It wasn’t all plain sailing. There were still people waiting on the result of the visa and passport episode who were less than charitable towards me. At best they ignored me, at worst they still gave me physical reminders of their annoyance at every opportunity. There was no more pissing on my clothes. DivDav seemed surprised and pleased when I paid him back the money I owed him, and shook my hand.
%No hard feelings, mate.
We hadn’t spoken much since, and I hadn’t hung out with them all, but there was a little progress. Nico and Rose had been right, paying back the money had made a big difference.
Now I wasn’t taking so much physicality, I was feeling the benefit of training. Checking in with Stuart every week, he said he was pleased with my fitness and willingness.
Although Raiders’ legal people had sorted my passport and visa – I now officially had dual nationality, wasn’t going to be deported, and didn’t need a work permit to continue playing – the hearing about it all was coming up. It would all be over one way or the other pretty soon.
I was going to the gym on most of the days when I wasn’t training, and also doing a lot of walking, out in the fresh air, trying to clear my head. Lots of time to think, trying to make sense of how I’d got here, trying to put it all somewhere it didn’t hurt me as much. Still a worthless piece of shit, really.
I was missing playing a lot. I had played regularly for the reserves, and although we never got a huge crowd, being part of that experience was what it was all about for me. Now I wasn’t even allowed to go the stadium to watch games, and felt disconnected from it all.
I missed Jay, Beth and Cal so much, I knew there would always be a huge hole in my life where they had been. Beat myself up about them every single day.
Rose helped, a lot. She chatted when I needed chat, listened when I talked, gave advice whether I wanted it or not, and seemed to know when to leave me alone. Nico continued to look out for me, I went to dinner with him and Lisa a couple of times. I had a lot to be thankful for.
And Baggo. I’ve already mentioned him, but Baggo was my mate from the instant we met, in the playground, on the first day of school. He knocked me over as he was running away from Maisie Cunningham, who was trying to kiss him, and he gave me a Pokemon card to say sorry, and I gave him a plastic triceratops to say thanks, and there we were, mates, united against unwanted kissing from girls. Which is ironic, as later we were united for the very much wanted kissing from girls. Any girls.
Baggo and me have played together, worked together, prowled together, hurt together, laughed together and cried together, although it’s doubtful that either of us would admit to the crying. He was always the confident, naughty one, and I like to think I was a steadying influence on him, although to be honest if my mum had been anyone other than Beth Scott, things could have turned out very differently. When we suddenly left to go to Stafford, Baggo was the one I missed the most; when we returned, seeing him again was my most anticipated event.
Is that enough scene-setting? There are other people in my story, but they come in later, and I’d like to get on with this, see if I can do it in a way that makes sense.
So, I’ve kind of made a start, I’ve explained a bit about Dec and a bit about Matty, or what I can remember or have been told from when I was young.
The Dec/Matty thing is kind of tied together, because it all happened at the same time, and although I know it was all hugely upsetting for everyone at the time, I think things would have been very different for us all now if it hadn’t happened.
I suppose, in my six-year-old world, I was oblivious to a lot of it, because I think you just accept more when you’re younger, but maybe the major stuff stuck.
I had just got back from the gym one Sunday night when my mobile buzzed in my pocket. Reached for it, glanced at the name on the screen. A lurch beneath my ribs. Jay Scott.