My Only Faith
Posted on January 9, 2012
When I feel as low as I do right now, one of the songs which really resonates with my feelings is “The Wrestler”, a song which The Boss penned in 2008 for the film of the same name. It has featured in a few of my blogposts over the past year now, but I include it again today to help explain something.
“These things that have comforted me I drive away (anything more)
This place that is my home I cannot stay (anything more)
My only faith is in the broken bones and bruises I display“
It is a very dangerous thing to hold the pain which has crippled us as also the thing which drives us, however many of us find ourselves in this situation, and often it is true that really our only faith is in the pain which we have experienced. And, as Springsteen puts it, the ‘broken bones and bruises (we) display’ too. It’s the only means for us to represent ourselves when all we have known is lost dreams and unrealised aspirations, the ‘audacity of hope’ (As Barack Obama put it), and the suffering which can only be caused when we feel on the brink of losing everything.
For a while I have been pondering whether or not to share something which, whilst pretty fundamental to this post, is also very personal and something I know might make others uncomfortable. However I am going with my gut and feel the honesty is more important, and so anyone who doesn’t like such honesty I am sorry.
When my Dad’s life fell apart, and he turned with existential compunction to alcohol, he slipped into a cycle of deep depression, drinking, self loathing and abuse, but also abuse which was directed at my family. Usually verbal, on occasion physical.
I love my Dad immensely and am proud of him for who he was. He was my Dad, my Mum’s husband of over 20 years, my Grandparent’s son, and a friend to many. He was also a stunning musician, who – had I not come along so early – would have, I am sure, made it somehow. He lived for others and did everything with fervent love and passion. Sadly it was that emotional intensity which was his downfall, as when in 2003 he lost his Dad to Cancer, my Dad’s world fell apart.
Christmas 2007 was his last ever Christmas, but sadly my Dad wasn’t allowed to spend it with us. This was because my Father had been arrested previously in December one night when he lost it and threatened both himself and others brandishing a kitchen knife. I was 13 when that happened, and I thank God that my sister was not apart of it. My Mum and I were however, and I will forever remember the sight of my Mum collapsed in tears in the hallway whilst 4 police officers were escorting my Dad out to a van which was waiting for him. I stood in the doorway of my kitchen trembling, holding a glass of water. A feeling which stays with me to this day. A policeman was stood close to me for “my protection”, and I will forever remember his eyes as he looked at me. My Mum was screaming for some form of absolution, and my Dad was lead out of my house looking like someone who had nothing left to lose anymore. Never underestimate the power of depression mixed with hopelessness and alcohol.
Standing by my kitchen I could see the damage my Dad had done to my door when, a few moments before, he had been trying to kick his way in to obtain the alcohol which I – foolishly – stole from him. In the same way that the memory hit me then, it does so now. 13 years old and sat pushing against a door with all my strength against the man who was meant to love me, but who at that moment was screaming with hatred and pain and an undying desire to get his alcohol back. Of course I hoped for help but there was nobody. At that moment my Father would have done anything to numb himself with the alcohol he so desired, and if that meant scaring me like that in the process, so it was.
This, combined with my Dad’s threats of self harm, was enough for the police to be called. A move which, whilst necessary, marked the beginning of the end of his life, and consequently my Mum’s too.
Of course I never told the police* about the fact my Dad had behaved threateningly towards me, because even then I knew that the difference between threatening self harm and threatening a “child” with a kitchen knife would have meant a profound difference between my Dad getting to see us again, or never at all. I sat and, as eloquently as I possibly could, explained to the officers around me that my Dad would never hurt me. Which is true, since the man who committed the act which I have described was not my Father. (*Besides, it was up to me what I wanted to talk about since we weren’t actually reporting a “crime”)
It wasn’t long until my next police statement, as in February my Dad killed himself. His behaviour finally lead to his demise, and he was gone. For the third or fourth time in my life my house was besieged by officers, this time with paramedics, and then men from the morgue and finally forensic scientists. For all those who have never had this experience, it is a genuinely indescribable thing to administer CPR to your own father, at half past 7 on a school morning. I remember furiously hitting my Father’s chest, hearing from his lungs the last ever breaths – albeit artificial – that he would ever breath. Less than 5 minutes later the first ambulance crew arrived, they ran faster than anyone I have ever seen, and the message was clear – we had to get out of their way.
For 40 minutes I sat hearing the solemn buzz and automated voice of the paramedics’ defibrillator desperately trying to revive my Dad, but I knew it was no use. When I found him he was cold and blue… I knew at that moment that he was dead. Of course we tried CPR anyway. The interesting thing is that my Dad looked more at rest then than he ever had done in life*, and I am convinced now that the presence I felt that morning was him watching over me as I tried to get his ‘shell’ to come back. (*The film American Beauty, when Lester Burnam dies, is strangely reminiscent of how my Dad looked when he died).
With my sister now at a friend’s house, my neighbour sat opposite me – reminding me to be strong for my family – the last charge of the defibrillator did come, instantly followed by the bang which defined my Dad’s last ever opportunity to come back (as the electromagnetic pulse coursed through his body), followed by the voice of the defibrillator stating “do not shock“. All was quiet and I felt my Mum’s hand tense, I knew what was coming even if she didn’t. The paramedic came through, sat on the table in front of us, looked into our eyes and told us that “Mr. Kirkpatrick” was unable to be resuscitated and so was pronounced dead, sometime after quarter past 8 on Valentine’s Day, 2008.
Whilst he shared his condolences with us, he also had to make it quite clear that, due to my Dad’s age and the circumstances surrounding his death, the police had been called to take statements and “profile” the way in which he died. Standard procedure, apparently. The rest is difficult to make out, apart from a moment I had in the bathroom where I cried for him for the first, and last, time. I do remember how still everything felt when finally his body was taken out to the private ambulance in a black body bag… 13 years old and I felt more alone than I ever experienced, for the two people who any child would naturally turn to in such a moment were gone. My Dad was dead, my Mum was broken. It was something like a film.
Sitting in my conservatory I gave a statement to a police officer who was friends with a teacher of mine at school. It was surreal, as just moments before I had found my Dad dead, lying outside my bedroom door. However I was going to be strong, I had to be a man about it, and so when the Duty Sergeant arrived on scene I was the first to speak to him. My Mum couldn’t do anything at that moment, and I am convinced that to this day she is stuck in that memory with my Dad.
Eventually the officers left, the paramedics were gone, so were the forensics team, and most pivotally so was my Dad, and latterly I realised so was my Mum. My family ended at that moment, and I was left alone with nothing but the music he had been listening to the night before to comfort me.
I put on the earphones which he had left, and listened to the last song which he ever did hear, “Don’t You (Forget About Me)” by Simple Minds. Poignant. Thinking about the fight my Dad and I had had only 12 hours before, where he had thrown me against a wall and I had told him I hated him, I wondered what my Dad would have said to me at that moment. To this day I am trying to work that one out.
A few weeks later his body was returned to us, via a funeral home, to be cremated. The toxicology report confirmed that over 3 bottles of vodka coupled with the majority of his meds – the ones which were ironically supposed to heal him – had caused his body to fail and his heart to stop. An “accidental overdose”, they deduced. We held a Thanksgiving Service for him on the 26th of February, his body being cremated in the same place his Dad’s was only a few years before.
We chose “Love Is All Around” as the song to be played upon entering the crematorium, and that song always reminds me of singularly the longest walk which I ever took – following my Dad’s coffin down the isle, hundreds of people looking at my Family, to eventually see the last evidence of my Dad ever having been here be incinerated.
In the weeks that followed things were quiet, however upon my Grandparents returning back to their home 400 miles from here, things in my family slipped to the place they remain today. I faced the journey alone, and had my sister to protect from all the hard things which would come my family’s way.
One of the most moving experiences I had was sitting awake one night recalling the time my Dad took a knife sharpener to me (one of the elongated metal rods which you use to sharpen knives), I remember being hit by that, but remember feeling in that pain that my Dad really did not mean it. He hit me as though with some kind of hesitation, which shows that my real Dad was still there, somewhere. Feeling that memory one night I couldn’t sleep, and it was then that I heard Bruce Springsteen and the E Street Band for the first time in my life. Only a short time since my Dad had died, and I heard “Out In The Street” from “The River”… I knew at that moment that I would never face the world alone again.
“But there ain’t no doubt girl, down here
We ain’t gonna take what they’re handing out
When I’m out in the street
I walk the way I wanna walk
When I’m out in the street
I talk the way I wanna talk
Baby, out in the street I don’t feel sad or blue
Baby, out in the street I’ll be waiting for you”
And so it is that I sit here nearly 4 years later, having described to you the tip of the iceberg which defines me as a person today. I have never spoken about my Dad quite like this before, but I wonder if in being truthful I might absolve myself of the unhappiness which lingers.
As The Boss puts it in “The Wrestler”, sometimes the only thing we have left are the broken bones and bruises we display. The remnants and marks of the pain which we have suffered, which we wear with dignity in a world where sometimes we just can’t feel understood, let alone be healed. Even in our darkest moments when we have nothing else, we do have our experiences, and the imprint which they have left on our souls. It is our ability to keep fighting which separates us and that which hurts us.
From the emotional scars I have from my Dad’s life, to the slight twinge I get in my back on a cold day, from my Dad taking his anger out on me, whether I like it or not, they have contributed to the person I am today. A person I often hate, but sometimes who I admire for sticking at it.
I just hope, knowing that there are similar stories out there, that if there is a pain which stays with you, you can learn to accept it as part of you, and use it to make yourself stronger. Even when the pain is caused by the people who are meant to show their love to us, keep in mind that someone who doesn’t show love to others cannot possibly love themselves either. Out of their pain they lash out at those they love most, because they do so knowing that we are most likely to forgive them.
Thinking about the night my Dad came after me, brandishing a kitchen knife, he with utter desperation, me fearing for everything in the world, I now realise that my Dad was long gone. That man was not the loving Father who looked after me as a baby, toddler, and young child… He was a man with nothing left to lose.
The key is to be the people who have everything to lose, but who will never lose it.
To Bruce and the E Street Band – thank you for saving me, and for being with me on this journey.
To my friends, whether old or new, thank you for caring.
And to my Dad, don’t worry – I won’t forget about you.