01 March 2008
When I was about fourteen, I had a switchblade. I used to play with it in my bedroom. I’d stab my mattress and my punch bag with it.
Take that fucker!’
I’d slice up my school uniform and even cut my school tie in half with it. Sometimes, I’d put it to my head and release the blade. One day, I was busy cutting an imaginary foe to ribbons with my knife. I was stabbing him in the stomach, slashing him across the face and watching him wriggle and bleed on my bedroom floor. He was the personification of the many demons that I didn’t care to name. Then my father walked in and without saying a word, grabbed my knife and walked away.
At that time, I also played the bass trombone. I got pretty good at it. I played in the school brass band, took examinations and even gave solo performances. The better I got the more pressure was put on me to practice and work towards excellence. I had private tuition to prepare for more examinations and more solo performances. I’d go to Mr Harrison, my music tutor’s house a couple of times a week. We’d practice hard for an hour at a time and then his wife might bring in some lemonade. But by the time I was fourteen, I began to watch the clock tick by in anticipation of getting out of there. I loved the music and Harrison was a dedicated and decent tutor but the structure of the lessons and the demands were getting to me. I simply was not as dedicated as he thought I was and needed me to be. And if I’m perfectly honest, it wasn’t as therapeutic as slashing up my enemies with my switchblade.
So one day, when I was supposed to be practicing, I took a large spanner and beat the fuck out of my bass trombone. Now, I didn’t own the trombone, it belonged to the school but it was still a very valuable chunk of musical instrument. I beat the slide a few times and soon, it was locked in place. A trombone without a smooth operating slide is virtually useless.
The next day I went to Harrison and told him I was done with being a bass trombone player. I didn’t say why. He could see why by looking at the crater-like dents on the shiny brass instrument. He did ask what happened. I said, I was practicing and a fly came towards me and so I tried to swat it away and smashed the trombone into the wall and then dropped it. He looked at me and said nothing. His facial expression cried shear disappointment and hurt. I’m sure he knew the truth. I certainly wanted him to know the truth. I wanted to tell him,
‘I smashed that fucking instrument because I’m fourteen and I want to be out in the streets fighting my enemies. I want to be putting my foot through people’s windows. And it felt good to smash it. I’m not sure what made me stop. I only wish I had had the courage to smash it beyond repair or bend that brass into an unrecognizable metal knot.’
But that was unnecessary. Harrison and I had become somewhat close over the years I’d been playing, but we spoke very little after that. He encouraged me to take the drums and I did for a while but I was done with structure and done with his icy stares as he tried to keep me in rhythm while the rest of the brass band drifted off out of time.
Shortly, thereafter I took up writing. I’d read a short story in a surfing magazine. It was a science fiction story about two lads who traveled the universe looking for waves and it climaxed in this tremendous wave of epiphany. I ripped it out of the magazine and ripped it off in my head as I typed, creating my own version. I gave it to my grandmother to read. She was an avid reader and was thrilled that I’d actually sat down to attempt to write. For a few years after, I’d write all manner of crap and give it to her to read and no one else knew about it. Of course, writing did not stop me from still wanting to slash my enemies with a switchblade and engage in all manner of teenage recklessness. I wasn't a juvenile delinquent by any means but I certainly left a wake of broken glass, blood and puke here and there. Writing certainly offered me some sense of release that playing the trombone never could.
I mention this only because I still have days, like I’m sure we all do, where I have so much pent up energy that I feel like I need to take a sledgehammer to the street. Only now it feels almost entirely positive. It makes me peddle my bike until my knees feels like they are going to explode and my thighs are going to burst. It makes me grab my skateboard and push as fast as I can through the streets and sometimes it helps me shit out a few words. But more importantly, it helps me tap back into all the positive attributes of raw teenage energy, mostly without the self-destructiveness due to the perspective of age and experience being largely on my side.
Years after I smashed my trombone, I ran into Harrison in a very unlikely place. I had driven way out into the Bahraini desert to spend the afternoon skateboarding down a steep but always quiet hill that ran along an oil pipeline. On one of my descents, as I was maxing out my speed, a car came from the other direction. I was a bit worried because there were usually no cars out there but they gave me plenty of space. So I tucked down and sped away. At the bottom, I turned around to walk the long walk back up and noticed the car parked on the peak. I feared it was some idiot wanting to give me shit for skateboarding alone in the desert. I eventually made it to the top and there was Harrison, sitting in his car, his wife by his side and his two kids in the back.
‘Wow, Pete. I thought that was you.’He smiled.
‘Hi Sir, I haven’t seen you in years.’
‘That looks like tremendous fun, you’re having.’
‘Oh man, it is!’
And then silence. But big genuine smiles. I had nothing else to say and neither did he.
‘Well go on then. We want to see you go down again.’
So I did.
And that was the last time I saw him.