I Escaped, But Only Just - Part 13: Obstacles
It’s difficult to imagine that a few spoken sentences could have such a catastrophic effect in the long run - but that’s exactly what happened. For a while, the Jewish Youth club opened up new social opportunities. Discos. Which I enjoyed. But a group of kids came each Sunday and Thursday who had lots of money and behaved in a spoilt manner, judging others less fortunate.
My family wasn't neccessarily poor. However, we weren't affluent enough to be part of that group who flew abroad regularly in the latest designer clothes. In many ways, this didn’t bother me then. I saw enough people outside of school during the week and I wanted to concentrate on obtaining my musical qualifications. At the time, I envisaged maintaining some level of contact with my peers once my schooling ended.
Then, someone spoke damming words that I have never forgot. I was in a lesson at school when they did – Jewish Studies, ironically. I overheard a girl on the opposite side of the room mention that she and eight others from our year were planning to study at the Sixth Form College I’d recently visited.
‘How interesting,’ I said. ‘That’s the college I’ve chosen.’
A stunned silence. ‘You what?’
‘I’m going there in September to do Music and Sociology A levels,’ I said. ‘What are you studying there?’
‘Nothing,’ she said. ‘I’m not going if you’re there.’
She cancelled her place at the college, along with all but one of the other eight people.
Like I had done many times before, I dealt with this by pretending it hadn’t happened. In retrospect, I can’t see that I had any alternatives. I couldn’t exactly stop speaking to eight pupils, although part of me wishes I’d done exactly that.
It was a milestone, a point from which I would take a different path from the one I’d expected to go down. Within less than a year, I would turn my back on the Jewish religion and identify as an atheist. Within a year, I would encounter the first batch of dangerous people. And within two, I would find myself trapped in life-threatening danger without any solution in sight.
At around this time, the Chazon (or Cantor) from the Synagogue suffered a fatal heart attack – another part of my childhood gone.
Meanwhile, fears and insecurities began to deepen - no doubt, a stress response to the events of the previous year.
Phobias. Elements of Obsessional-Compulsive Neurosis, like stepping round cracks to prevent something awful from happening. I had particular problems with food, developing phobias for certain foods and finding myself physically incapable of swallowing others. I would react to the first set of foods by going dizzy, to the point where the dining room would dim and sounds around me become distorted for up to periods of nearly an hour at a time. My parents, not understanding the reasons behind the dizzy spells, often got angry when these dizzy spells occurred during mealtimes, viewing the episodes as silliness on my part. Silliness or not, the dizzy spells continued, leaving me afraid of developing anorexia. My parents occasionally voiced concerns along these lines, for I was skinny and unhealthy looking during my childhood.
I became frightened of collapsing unconscious while vomiting – something that happens to a small number of people due to vasovagal. This fear started shortly after I threw up one evening. For months I kept the worry from my parents, but it played at the back of my mind a lot. When I finally blurted it out during a argument, they erupted in a mixture of disbelief and fury.
‘Let’s all go ahead and do it,’ my mother said. ‘Let’s all make ourselves sick and pass out.’
‘I think you need to see a psychiatrist,’ my father said. ‘This isn’t normal.’
‘What’s the point of telling you anything?’ I said. ‘You never listen.’
‘That’s because you’re not all there,’ my mother said.
‘Yeah? Well, I hate living here anyway and I can’t wait till I’m old enough to leave.’
‘Get out,’ my father bellowed. ‘Bloody lunatic.’
‘I’ll happily get out of the room,’ I said. ‘Good night and thanks for listening. Have a very good night.’
Slamming the door, I strode away, my face hot with rage.
‘Madman,’ parents called after me.