I wrote a few weeks ago about the experience of some people suffering trauma by witnessing harm come to another. Reminding them of their own hurts and past experiences of pain. Writing about Rodney King and then George Floyd has opened the door to an even earlier experience with Stephen and his jacket.
Big or Little T Trauma?
Last week I wrote about the chase by police of me on my bike for reasons unknown. This week I wanted to discuss a first trauma. Yes there were others. The event was momentous as I had not been treated like this by anyone. I was about 7. It was summer. My friend ‘T’ and I were taking it in turns to ride my bike around the estate. The bike a black and yellow Cinzia, was my most treasured Christmas present! The bike was a sort of hybrid BMX.
It was another hot summer 1979/1980. We kids were not up to much. Playing around the blocks of flats, killing ants, making and firing peg guns at each other and at pigeons. Harassing each other for rides on each others bikes. Playing knock down Ginger. Asking about who’s going to the shop? Because those half penny cola bottle sweets were so tangy and sweet. Tangmere used to have it all. Something unknown to my 7 year old awarness made all of the shops shut and never re-open.
T had somehow met Stephen and been impolitely requested to give him a go of my bike. I believe Stephen had chased T and pulled him off the bike! Stephen was an older kid, maybe 10 or 11. He carried himself with some swagger. I can remember him (Stephen) pulling wheelies and doing long skids along the pavement. Treating (trashing) my bike in a disrespectful and in a way I found unapologetic in manner. Like the bike was his! I was angered by this. T may have told me what had just happened to him. I became livid I can remember. A thought I had was, this could be a case for the Red Hand Gang! But they weren’t around so, I could make this situation better all by myself.
I ran at Stephen and shouted give me my bike back! He ignored me and sailed past. I gave chase. Screaming. Shouting. Wanting. My bike back! We met at Martlesham or Croydon one of those housing blocks on the estate. Stephen had sneered a warning to others who were gathered earlier: “if anyone touches my jacket. You’re dead.” He, Stephen, serious, warned. Me oblivious and not hearing, ignored.
Martlesham and Croydon were 5, 6 or 7 stories high with garden units at their lowest housing level. Both blocks had little to no outdoor space higher up the blocks, unless you counted the landings. All of the housing blocks had double height under building car parks. Our show down (mine and Stephen’s) was to take place in one of the car parks – later. The estate had many outdoor green park spaces dotted throughout the collection of buildings at ground level.
I think I shoved him in the back, or on the shoulder. Committing the mortal foul of touching his jacket. He had warned all who had cared to listen. But I shoved and he went ballistic. I believe that I started running before my bike hit the ground. Before Stephen started swearing. Before Stephen repeated he would hurt me after he managed to catch me. My feet took me away. At great speed. Fear is a phenomenally great accelerator.
I ran. He chased. Back then aged 7. I was Nike. Fleet of foot. Good at bulldog, the running tag game. The 60m dash. The 100m sprint. But distance races I had not spent my time running. Now Stephen was quick too, and run as I might I could not lose him. He relentlessly gained on me. Swearing. I thought I could make it home, but his gallop closed down that line of escape. I turned away from racing home to Tangmere 119. To dodging between parked cars. Feeling that if I could use the cars to hide me I could evade capture.
I ran for my life. Petrified. I feared that Stephen would finish me. He had said just that! This was happening and whilst in disbelief, I ran. Who threatens who about a Jacket? A jacket! Possession and custody of things I understood on some level. I put my body in harms way to get my bike back. This need felt justified. Right. Believable. Stephen’s need seemed trivial, petty. Unjustified. Stephen wanted to hurt me because he viewed his jacket as sovereign. I had mistakenly entered sacred space. Spoilt thread by touch and so here we were. Lion and gazelle in a death defying race. I feared for my life and ran away to protect it.
He caught me under Martlesham and punched me a number of times. Head. Neck. Body shots. I wish I could tell you I took them all like a man and didn’t give him the satisfaction of witnessing a tear fall. I believe I cried from one side of the estate to the other. I cried up all the stairs to the top floor of Tangmere and when I got to my door which thankfully was opened by my mum. I went in and told her what had happened. She incensed. The bike left and forgotten where it lay. T later returned the bike.
Many – One
Lost in my mayhem of thoughts and sorrow. I was not out for revenge. I wanted the pain and the sense of defeat at being outrun to pass. The reason – I was fast and rarely beaten in a running battle! There was the curious case of Darren. I wanted not to remember the embarrassment of losing a fight to an older boy. I vaguely remember T trying to defend me either running beside as a distractor or getting in the way of Stephen. Stephen had singled me out to exact his vengeance. And so found – was punished.
The lion had found his prey and was set to claim his spoils. Remembering this painful memory does a number of things. I get to remember and release the pain that has been embedded in me for almost 40 years. There is also the courage to look at past hurts and witness the learning. I recognise that my experience of the chase trauma bears little resemblance to George Floyd’s murder or Rodney King’s assault. What I am doing is reclaiming my experience of terror. Providing an understanding of an unjust event and by doing so, allowing myself to relieve the experience of a trauma witnessed vicariously. It’s narrative therapy.
My want in writing this series is that you the reader come away with an understanding of the term Vicarious Trauma that is personally enhanced. That the resources below support compassion and a commitment to live within an anti-racist frame, and that you comment below on these thoughts.
Trevor Noah Explains the Domino Effect
Code Switch The Return of Race Science
Unlocking Us with Brené Brown Shame and Accountability
This American Life The Reprieve
Going Home song
How Can We Win Kimberly Jones
Cover photo by Chromatograph on Unsplash City Skyline
1st Inlay photo by Joseph Chan on Unsplash Looking Up Block
2nd Inlay photo by Jean Carlo Emer on Unsplash BMX rider
3rd Inlay photo by Markus Spiske on Unsplash Night estate