Archive for the ‘prison’ Category

It was raining again when I entered Glen Dee. The sky was as rugged as the ground, clouds, torn, chasing each other, sunlight coming through the ragged opening in scattered bursts, the way a gunman might occasionally strafe a besieged house with bursts of automatic fire. The hills on both sides of the glen grew into mountains and the path itself plodded ever upwards.

In the evening I reached a mountain whose lopsided peak jutted out impressively over the glen, like a cock straining against tight trousers. As I found out later it’s called “Devil’s Point” in English, which was the polite translation of its Gaelic name as it was told to Queen Victory when she travelled through these parts. A more literal translation would be “demon dick”.

There was a small stone hut at the foot of the Devil’s Point. I thought about spending the night there, but when I got close, I saw that a group of happy hikers were just getting cozy inside, hanging freshly washed socks from the window sill and busying themselves with the fireplace. I greeted them half-heartedly, without breaking my stride. I hurried past the hut and up a small path that lead to the ridge joining the Devil’s Point and several other peaks to a plateau.

I had not intended to climb any of these peaks. I had wanted to stay on the trail along the valley. But the path to the stone hut had taken me away from the main trail, and once I was there and saw that it was occupied, I only had the choices of either staying, or turning around, or walking on, uphill.

I didn’t want to stay. Helen and John had been all the company I craved that day. And I didn’t want to turn around, because doing so would have made it only to apparent to those hikers that I was avoiding them. And somehow that moment I couldn’t have born the shame of my cowardice becoming visible to them. Even if it meant having to drag myself up that devilish mountain.

I cursed myself every exhausting and agonizing step. Each made my shoulder throb with a deep, dull fire. And when the night had quietly done away with the last of the dusk I found myself in a large corrie, illuminated only by the wan light of a distant, gibbous moon – an immense natural amphitheatre made up of moss-covered rocks and steep slopes. And I felt very lost, and small, and terribly exposed to the heavens.

The corrie was lines with little brooks. I found a dry, sandy spot between two of them, had the last of Helen Campbell’s sandwiches, emptied the bottle, tended to my feet, and finally smoked my last fag and gazed down into the Glen, and the tiny flickering light of the hearth fire in the stone hut far below me at the foot of the mountain.

As I sat there I was still mulling over the things Helen had said. And her question whether I believe in God and in Jesus Christ.

Just to be clear on this, I do believe in God. I do. I do. But… how do I say this?

My Dad had been raised a Roman Catholic, and my aunt had converted to the Church of England when she married. My cousins had been raised Anglicans. My mum is from a family of strict Prussian Lutheran protestants. My oldest friend and neighbour, Orcun, was from a family of moderately devout Muslims. And Hector’s parents were lapsed Communists and strict and vocal atheists. From the beginning I had known that whatever anyone wanted to claim about religion, there was always a way to look at things differently.

My mum had me and my siblings baptized in the local Lutheran parish, and all but me went to Confirmation class from 12 onward. I was the only one to flat out refuse to go. But that was the extend of my mum’s involvement with the Church. The only times I ever saw her even talk to the vicar was during ‘Nette’s funeral, and at Nicky’s baptism 2 ½ years later.

Primary school offered religious instruction for Protestants and Catholics, but none for Muslims, so it mainly served as a segregator for the main ethnicities – the German kids mostly went to the Lutheran class, Polish kids to the Catholic, and the Turkish and Arabic kids had a free period (but usually visited a Qur’an school some afternoons of the week.) Again it seemed to me that somehow religion was less about truth and more about belonging, about identity and taking sides.

I remember how astonished I was when I finally received religious instructions how boring and meaningless everything was that I was being told about God and Jesus. How God – supposedly almighty and all-knowing – was this soppy stern chap who in some never fully explained way was supposed to love everybody (like, what does that even mean?) and watch over the entire world and every littlest critter in it, and who for some reason was to be credited with every good turn but never to be blamed for everything that went wrong. And Jesus, the son (or incarnation, they never could tell me which) of this almighty God, had brought even more love and forgiveness into the world – I kept wondering what a perfect God needed a version 2.0 for – but then got killed rather badly for it.

And then I looked around in my world, and inside myself, and saw all the violence, and the callousness, the pettiness, and how messed up and dirty and run down everything was, and I thought, kurwa, He sure is doing a terrible job.

I also began to seriously resent my teacher, and God, because if there was any truth in what she told me about God’s intentions and power, then God must either hold one hell of a grudge against me, or – and that was even worse – I must be so unimportant that in all his omniscience He never noticed me.

And then ‘Nette started her confirmation classes, and in the nights we would talk about what she had learned, and what she was thinking about all of it. And we’d try to make sense of it ourselves. And once again I was astonished, this time because the stuff we read was nothing like that boring, pedantic, and utterly ineffective God the grown-ups had been telling me about.

The God of the bible is a truly wicked bloke. He is rash to anger and totally overreacts to everything. He blunders along and often acts before he thinks and then comes to regret it later, or changes his mind in mid-stride. He blusters and boasts, sulks, and refuses to admit when he’s made a mistake. He’s bloodthirsty, and untrustworthy, and incredibly vain. But He is full of love – and not that boring, serene love my dried-up teach was going on about, but a love that years, and hurts, is proud, and tender, and that knows how to forgive, not for morals butt for passion. Who could read the story of God and David and not be moved by the flawed, fiery passion for one another?

The bible is full of great folks, and I was pissed off that the teach had made them all sound so dull. There was David, and his suggestive, well, not even love-triangle but love-quadrangle, with King Saul and Saul’s son Jonathan and saul’s daughter Michal. I mean, talk about kinky. David’s career as an outlaw and rebel, his ascent to kingship, his trouble with his own sons, and his less than glorious old age.

Or take Jacob, the thief, liar, and runaway, who got into actual fisticuffs with God, and who God loved so much that he re-named him Israel. Or Job, who took God to court and forced Him to show His true colours. Or Moses, who I think it can be argued is the only person other than Mary who has a reasonable claim to the boast that God made love to him, but who was still turned back at the border of the promised land and had to die, alone, in the desert.

At the age of 10 the New Testament was a bit boring for me and often very hard to understand. But even there were hidden gems that the grown-ups had withheld from me: Why do they gloss over Herod’s mass child murder in the Christmas Story? And who came up with these three boring old kings, when the actual text tells of an numberless group of wise men – possibly wizards! – from the East? And then there are moments like the one when Jesus begs God to spare him, when he is filled with fear and doubt, but God refuses him and Jesus is nailed to the cross anyway. Later when ‘Nette’s tumour had metastasised into her bones and she had to be given morphine, an still it hurt her so badly, I had to think of the crucifiction and what it would feel like to have nails driven through my wrists and the spans of my feet.

This God of the bible was a God who made sense, a God who fit the world I was living in. It wasn’t a God I could approach about a new bicycle or a Playstation, sure, but it was one I could somehow respect.

Until he murdered my sister.

That long Saturday afternoon, as I walked up Glen Dee and climbed the Devil’s Point, He was a lot on my mind again, and for the first time in years I asked myself if I still had faith. If I was, as Helen had said, putting my fate in the hands of God.

The idea bothered me, it bothered me a lot. I mean, if I allowed for God as the charioteer of destiny, I could hardly avoid it, could I? But it rankled with me: Since her death I had never begged. I preferred to take what I wanted and be damned the consequences. I didn’t want handouts from Him.

When I was sitting up on the mountainside, shivering in my damp clothes in the night’s chilling breeze, I tried to see the world through the Atheist’s eyes. It was surprisingly easy, under those racing clouds, with the cold and distant stars blinking through them from afar. It was easy to imagine the vastness to be empty not only of matter or warmth, but of meaning. But it remained a thought experiment. It didn’t truly relieve me of my conviction.

It did make me remember those nights, though, when I’d lain in my sister’s bed, had felt the warmth of her body against mine, smelled her skin and the shampoo in her hair, and when we had gazed out through the narrow window, so high on the wall – the same window that I would try to flee through from that lady rozzer only a few years later, condemning myself to jail and all that followed – and through which we had looked at the very same stars that I was seeing now, from the slopes of the Devil’s Point. And the memory hurt. It hurt with a raw, sudden intensity I had not expected, and I wanted to cry out in pain.

Instead I bit down on that pain, and spit it onto the gravel, and snarled: “Yeah, well, fuck you, too!” And I curled up as tight as I could, under those cold stars, and surrendered myself to the nightmares once more.

***

It would be easy to leave it at that and to move on to the scary White Van Man from Beauly, and that beastly night in Cannich, and my near death experience in the Mullardochs, but that would be dishonest.

When I woke up I was very cold and did a double Aikido session before walking back down from the Devil’s Point. The day was misty and gloomy and I was hungry and very thirsty. By the time I reached the hut the hikers had moved n. I looked around inside, vaguely hoping to find some left over food, or to warm myself on the ambers of their fire, but only warm ash remained, not enough to do me any good.

My shoulder hurt if anything even worse than the day before. It made me think of Ponyboy, and I knelt down in the middle of the room and wanked. That made the pain flare up, but I gritted my teeth and brought myself to a sad, whimpering ejaculation onto the floor. Still kneeling I pissed on it as well. Then I buttoned up and left.

I drank of the cold waters of the Dee, filled up the bottle, and walked on. The sun came out for a while, and to my right be Ben Macdui reached for the sky. Clouds came and went, but the mountain remained, its peak dipping in and out of the wisps of mist.

I don’t know if you’ve ever seen the mountains in Scotland, but they are nothing like the Alps, or the mountains of the Balkans. The Cairngorms may have rocky cliffs here and there, and sometimes there are clumps of trees at their feet – pine, and birch, and aspen, and bushes of juniper and rowan – but other than that they are these rounded humps, steep, but startlingly smooth, overgrown with heather and lichen in the valley, but the tops  bald and covered in immense fields of lose, round, fist-sized stones. Walking amongst them is like paddling a small sealskin canoe through an immense herd of gigantic whales.

And so, their steep, smooth walls flowing out ahead of me along the valley’s sides, the valley floor itself rising like a wave to the distant pass, in spite of my anger and resentment, it made my spirits lift.

And when I passed a gushing creek coming down the mountain I veered off the path and began to hike up a pathless mountainside. It was hard going, and soon I was out of breath, but I didn’t slow down. My eyes were constantly on the lookout for the next good foothold, my brain kept calculating distance and balance, and once again it was his magic of movement, the trance of the trop, that pulled my heart along.

From time to time it rained, and the cold water ran down my body underneath my clothes. Then the sun came out again and dried me. And then, finally, in densest fog, I reached the heap of stones that marked the highest peak of the Ben Macdui, the highest peak of the Cairngorms.

Look, I don’t want to take back anything I just told you about my relationship to God, or life, or anything. It didn’t change anything, it didn’t convince me of anything. But still… while I stood there, catching my breath, the sky tore open, the mists around me blew apart, the world unrolled all its horizons, and the sun set everything ablaze. All the wetness caught and magnified her fierce fire, like a universe of jewels. No religion or philosophy dreamed up by humans can say as mayn good tings about the world, or say them as convincingly, as the sun, the air, the water, and the rocks did just then.

After that it was all downhill. By afternoon I surrounded by trees again, where I promptly got lost. By nightfall, tired beyond endurance, I ended up in Inverdruie, where I spent the night. Monday I first had a look at the Aviemore Centre, a piece of daring architecture from the 1960s so incredibly uncool that it is actually kind of cool again, and hitchhiked to Inverness, where I arrived in the evening.

Continued here

On our way to Leith I was burning to ask him how he had found me. I didn’t. But as we walked and he told me a bit about the city, the festival, the friends he was going to ask to let me crash, and himself (the last bit all lies, I was convinced), I gave it some thought. The night I had spent in Newcastle I had thoroughly checked my clothes for any more bugs, but I hadn’t opened the package, so I assumed that Bryan had placed another device inside that. And that one probably had been one GPS capability, allowing him (and Charley) to locate me anywhere at least in  the UK, probably Europe or the world. Still, for Charley to be there so quickly, there had to be more to it. After all, I had at best spent maybe 10 minutes on Waverley Bridge.
Charley probably had tracked my approach. He had probably noted my arrival via Maybury and Glasgow Road. He had probably guessed that I was on that bus. There had been other stops I could have gotten off, but the end of the line in the city centre was a logical choice. Perhaps he had been there anyway, on some other business. Had he seen the T-shirt on display somewhere and just decided on a whim that it would make for a great joke, or had he been prepared? Had he meant to check me out before I got to a phone, to see if I was with anyone, posed some sort of danger? Or was it just a laugh?
There was no way for me to truly know, but like him I could make some good guesses. The fact alone that he was the recipient of the mystery package meant he was some sort of player. And the way he had gone about receiving me smacked of the mind of a confidence artists.
I had learned about the art of confidence games and the frame of mind necessary to play them from Uncle Valya. Of course Uncle Valya wasn’t any uncle of mine, and his name isn’t Valya – or Valentin – and he is not really from Bulgaria as I will claim henceforth. But that is what I called him whenever I told this part of the story, so I will stick to my old lies. They are comfortable enough and they serve to protect his real identity.
He was really the uncle of another bloke in Plötzensee. You see, visiting inmates there isn’t like the stuff you see on the telly. No bullet-proof glass, no telephone to speak through, not even any bloody no-touching the prisoners rules or any of the Hollywood stuff. Maybe they do that in real prisons, but where I went it was just a big room with all the false cheer of a hospital cafeteria, and with little square tables, four chairs to each. Twice a month, in the afternoon, you could get a visitor. When they had signed in, you were called from your room, and then you could meet them there. They could bring money (an arbitrary maximum of 13 Euros per visitor, but only in coins) and there were overpriced vending machines where you could then get sweets or coffee.
One week it so happened that my friend Leo came to visit. They sent me to the visitors’s lounge, but he forgot to turn in his mobile phone. It rang in the hallway, they tried to confiscate it, he got into an argument, the warden on duty was an arsehole, and Leo was sent away. At the same time Uncle Valya was there, waiting for his real nephew, who also didn’t turn up – when they went to collect him from his room, he had smoked a bit too much weed, too much even for them to turn a blind eye (hey, a stoned inmate is a peaceful inmate), so he took a trip to the infirmary and then to the head warden’s office.
For about ten minutes Uncle Valya and I were sitting there, waiting for our respective company. When it became apparent that something had gone wrong, Uncle Valya asked me to pass on a message to his nephew. He wrote it on a small piece of paper, and just when he was done a warden came in to fetch  me back to my room. More out of reflex than any real necessity I palmed the paper. And Valya, probably similarly anxious to see his note not in the hands of wardens, watched me make it disappear.
Two weeks later he was back, but this time he asked to see me. Life inside was too boring for me to decline. When I sat down next to him, he told me that he liked my technique. Not just the skill, but the style.
“Still rough,” he said. “You have a lot to learn. But you show more promise than my nephew ever had.”
I blushed at the compliment, the first I ever got for being a thief. Let me tell you, it was the best compliment I had gotten in my life so far.
“You don’t do it to get rich, do you?” he asked, peering intently at me. “You do it of love for the art.”
I bushed even more, and he nodded and asked me if I wanted to be his apprentice.
“I will make you work hard, boy,” he said. “And you will not make money. You work for me. Am I exploiting you? Of course I am. I am a crook. But I will pay you back. Not in money, but in knowledge. You decide.”
And he offered me his hand, gob of spittle in the palm and all. He was the one who taught me that sometimes you have to live the cliché. There is purity in clichés.
I shook his hand.
And from February to July 2008 I learned from Uncle Valya. I learned a lot, but the most important lesson he had already given me, directing my awareness to something I had secretly known all along: You don’t do it for the money. You do it for the love of the art.
Charley was like that. I think his magic trick out there, on the ugly, 1980s concrete terraces of Waverley Station, amidst the oppressive beauty of Edinburgh, that was his love of the art. He did it because he could, and because he couldn’t pass up the chance to play me.
All of that went through my mind as we made superficial chit chat and I did my best not to tell him anything about myself that was real. But I waited for a chance to pick his pocket.
At a busy crossing I got my chance and peeked into his wallet. The Australian drivers licence bore his picture and the name Steven Randle.
When we reached the run-down Leith tenement building were his mates lived, he rang the bell.
Casually I said: “I just wanted to thank you for all the bother and hospitality and stuff, Steve.”
I grinned, as insolently as he had done when I first met him. For a moment he was dumbfounded. I handed him the wallet.
“Oh, I believe this is yours.”
He took the wallet, anger darkening his face for a second. Then the buzzer sounded and he pushed into the gloomy staircase.
He introduced me to Curtis, Matthew, and Marcia, who welcomed me easily enough, and assigning me to the stained, sagging couch in the living room. We shared some tea and a joint. They didn’t ask much and what little they did, I made up answers for. Eventually Charley got up to leave.
He gestured for me to follow him into the hallway, and there he asked me: “You looking for work?”
“Depends,” I said carefully. “I don’t plan on growing roots here.”
“Just for the festival, perhaps?” And when I hesitated, he smiled his sunny smile. “Think about it, half a million suckers waiting to be bilked. I watched you lie in there.” He nodded towards the room and his mates. “You’re not half bad at it.”
“What do you have in mind?”
“Straight short cons. Pigeon drop, Murphy, maybe a Badger game.”
He flashed the gold filling on one of his teeth, and raised an eye-brow. A Badger game is where you seduce a married person and later exhort hush money. It wasn’t hard to see that he would be pretty good at the first part.
“What would my role be?” I asked.
“Oh, you’ll be the red-haired, irascible Irish kid brother of my wife, who demands I pay you off, so that you can get the marriage annulled. But I don’t have that kind of money, and you threaten to kill me right there and then, and we’ll convince her that she’ll end up in the papers if not worse if she doesn’t help me out.”
In Berlin, with Uncle Valya, I’d mostly played a variation of the fiddle game, where I left a (worthless) old book somewhere, like in a café, and Valya came in, discovered it, claimed to be a antiquarian and that the book was worth oodles of money. He’d leave his card and the promise to buy it for hundreds or thousands of Euros. When I returned to get my book, the waiter or whoever had been in contact with Valya would usually offer to buy the book from me for far less than Valya had offered him – but far more than it was actually worth. The fiddle game is so useful, because you need hardly any props, it incurs no expenses to speak of, and carries next to no risk. At worst, an honest waiter will simply pass on Valya’s card and tell me of my chance to get rich. But believe me, if played right, those are few and far between.
“I don’t have the right accent,” I said. Or rather, hamming it up: “I donnt haff ze Rrrait Ak-zent.”
“Oh, I’ll teach you, mate,” Charley said. “I’ll teach you.”
So, thinking of Uncle Valya, I spat into my palm and offered it to Charley. He grinned broadly – I think he knew exactly what I was trying to say – spit into his own and shook on it.

Continued here

Countdown: 5 – Kiss & Tell

Posted: October 26, 2010 in berlin, dweep, family, prison, school

Violence it ripped through the old dogwood fence. See the hope, see the gravel.
– Band of Horses: Cigarettes, Wedding Bands (2007)
I told you that my last serious fight before I discovered stealing had been with Hendrik, in June ’07. The peace lasted until next May. After that there really didn’t seem to be much point in good behaviour.
I was released from juvie that April. It was clear that my old school wouldn’t have me anymore. Their statistics are screwed up enough with drop outs, fights, and drug busts to put up with a convicted criminal like me. Since I was still over a year away from being released from compulsory school attendance, there was talk of putting me in a school for difficult teenagers. But that would have meant graduating with no more than GCSE equivalent, and probably not even that. My mum wouldn’t hear of that.
She left school with no more than a CSE equivalent, and she suffered from her lack of education all her life. She was determined that her own kids were all going to pass A-Levels. She had managed to get Lukas to succeed, and she had bossed ‘Nessa to go through with it. She would be damned if I was going to mess up her quota.
So she went to town, talking to people, asking around, writing letters, begging, cajoling, pleading, appealing to generosity, magnanimity, and playing on their sense of shame if necessary. And finally she convinced the administration of this one rich kids’s school in the Southwest of Berlin to give me a chance. It was my German-English bilingualism that gave me the opening. Since I entered in the middle of the school year they made me take a bunch of tests, though, to see if I was up to speed. I passed and was accepted.
The first day in the new school was awkward. My mum had made me dress in my best, and she had made me get a decent haircut, and I looked like a total dweeb. What I wore was nothing like what the rich kids wore. And even if one of my new class mates had given me a go at their wardrobe, it would have looked all wrong on me. I walked the wrong way, with too much swagger and rolling, and I stood the wrong way, too hunched and scowling, and I very obviously spoke the wrong way. I suppose you can take the delinquent out of Kreuzberg, but you cannot that easily take Kreuzberg out of the delinquent.
The form teacher introduced me with my full name, which I hated. Then he had me take a seat at the very front. I don’t know if that was out of convenience, because it was closest, or if it was to better have me under control, or if he intentionally sat me next to the other boy at that table. One look at him showed that he wasn’t there because he was a troublemaker. If anything he looked a bit like a teachers pet. I mean, he wore a pale yellow argyle patterned slipover over a button down shirt. What more can you say?
‘Great,’ I thought. ‘He sits me next to the only one who looks even dweepier than me.’
Then the boy smiled shyly and gathered up his book and pens to clear my side of the table.
“Hi. I’m Tim,” he whispered.
“Rikki,” I said, and offered my hand. He looked at it for a brief, confused moment, then he shook it. Turns out rich kids don’t shake hands. They just say “hi”. Another thing to make stand out.
Continued here
I did stop fighting. I had stopped after that one fight with Hendrik, at the beginning of our affair, back in June. That had been the last time, actually the last time until Samuel, almost one year later. And when H and I went our separate ways, I started stealing, and I didn’t have to do it anymore. I know, nobody believes me, but it is true. That thing with the rozzer in my mum’s flat that the judge got herself so worked up about, that doesn’t really count. I wasn’t trying to hurt her at all, you see, I didn’t even know she was there.
If Kreuzberg is one of the bad parts of Berlin, then SO36 is one of the bad parts of Kreuzberg. And the Kotti, the Kottbusser Platz, a market place, roundabout, and U-Bahn station, is the living, beating, rotted heart of SO36. At the Kotti it’s easier to find a pusher than a rozzer. At the Kotti German is barely recognized as business language, it is the sign of the outsider, the visitor, the tourist.
The Kotti is surrounded by tall, bleak, prefab tower blocks. And for as long as I can remember we have lived in a small, three-room council flat on the top level of one of those towers. My room had formerly been mine and ‘Nette’s together. Later I had to cede it to Lukas for a couple of years until he finally went away to join the military. The room was tiny and lightless, not much more than a walk-in closet. There was the mattress directly on the floor (it had been bunk beds while I shared with ‘Nette), a tiny desk, a chair, stacks and stacks of books and CDs, a rickety wardrobe, half of which was occupied by even more books and music, and still space enough left to turn around on your own axis without bumping your elbows or stepping on something – if you were careful and did it standing on one foot.
The only window was narrow and high on the wall. But that window was the best part of the whole room, and why I really liked living there. For the wall that window was set in for the most part separated our house from the next one, but ours was a few meters higher. The window was set so high because the roof of the next house ended just there. Which meant that through that window I could climb onto that neighbouring roof, a roof ten stories over the surrounding streets and courtyards, and watch all of Berlin spread out around me.
That roof has always been my favourite place in all the world. Whenever things got bad, I would get up there, smoke, drink, and let my legs dangle from the rim and my eyes travel over the skyline. Usually that alone would be enough to calm me down. And if it wasn’t I’d practice aikido during sunset or sunrise. Corny? Sure. But have you ever done it? Well, then don’t laugh. Just believe me, it feels great.
Of course the roof was also a great place to get away in the other, less metaphorical sense. There was a door directly to the staircase, and you could jump down to the roof of the next house and get into the staircase there. Lots of entrances and exits.
So when the rozzer came knocking that day that was what I tried to do – get away. Only she was much closer on my heels than I thought. Literally. When I kicked around to wriggle out of the window onto the roof she was just reaching for my ankle. Instead she got the sole of my trainer smack in the kisser. There was the crunch of cartilage and bone and a lot of blood. And the last black mark on a long list of such marks, convincing the judge that I was one pitch black sheep in dire need of separation from the flock.
Maybe it was an understandable mistake. Given my record why should anyone have believed my claim that I hadn’t intentionally hurt that lady copper. I was neither know for my pacifism or restraint, nor for speaking the truth. Especially not to my mum. But that one time it was the truth, goddamn it, it was.
It was only after I landed in juvie that they began to take note of my lack of further fighting. I was the model inmate. And they totally misunderstood that, too.
I only studied so hard for school because being inside was so mindbogglingly boring that even irregular French verbs were a welcome distraction. Also, I wasn’t stupid enough to go stealing from peeps I was locked up with. I mean, come on, folks. I was the bloody youngest bloke in there, by a margin of a whole year. And the others were there for stuff like drug trafficking, rape or assault – and not kicking a rozzer by accident during arrest but of the deliberate baseball attack sort.
Of course I was not going to steal from anyone there, I was not going to rip anyone off. And even I was able to discipline myself enough to not go psychopath on some bloke who would have been not only way stronger than me but who in all likelihood had a whole gang at his back, though there were times I had to walk away and beat my fists bloody on a wall to stay clean.
But none of that kept me actually on what the guards, the social workers, the shrinks, and my mum looked at as the straight and narrow. No, I just got along. I figured out the rules of the game and I played by them, not because I believed in them, but because it was the only way not to lose. When I saw a chance to bend or break those rules without repercussions for myself, I did so. Of course, there were less possibilities within the limited game of juvenile hall. But when I met Uncle Valya, I jumped at the chance to learn how to.
So maybe you could say that this was really where that path began, in Old Luisenstadt Graveyard, playing poker with my mates. Or by breaking up with Hendrik. Or I was pushed on it by whatever it was that made me fight and that could only be placated by becoming a thief.

Take a breath, take a step, meet me down below
Everyone’s the same
Our fingers to our toes
We just can’t get it right
But we’re on the road
– OneRepublic: All Fall Down (2007)

How can I explain to you why I’d let some bug-fuck crazy cunt shoot bloody big holes into my body? What fucked up path had lead me to a point where I schemed to get her to riddle me with bullets? Where I plotted to have little 8 gram bits of lead rip chunks of flesh from my limbs, tear open my veins and arteries, break my bones with the force of 500 joules, and paint red the raw concrete walls of a back staircase in a dinghy Greek guesthouse? I kinda wondered so myself on that Wednesday evening in the October of 2009, while I was, you know, lying on the cold steps of that staircase, no longer able to breathe, my chest nothing but a spread of hurt: Where had the road begun that like a sentence running into an ellipsis ended in these three sharp reports not 200 meters from the lapping waves of the Aegean Sea?
I suppose the deceptively easiest answer would be that this road began at the front door of my aunt’s house in Wotton-under-Edge in Gloucestershire, England. I stepped on it when I left there shortly before 9 o’clock on the morning of Tuesday, 29 July 2008. I had been 15 years, 157 days, and a little over 16 hours old, and everybody, including myself, expected me to return more or less straight away to my mum’s flat in Berlin, Germany. That morning nobody had any idea that it would be almost half a year before my mum saw me again, and that by then things had progressed way beyond the point where I was still in control of my fate.
That morning my cousins Jane and Alice accompanied me to the bus stop. My own private farewell committee. I had spent two lovely weeks at my aunt’s, the first time in three years. The last time before had been during my twelfth’s summer. When the time had been up back then I had cried and they had let me stay until school started again. But the era of tears was past now, their well long dried up. So I had to leave, however miserable I felt about it.
I have always been close to my aunt and my cousins, especially to Alice. Alice is one of those people that know how to be bad and look good at the same time. That summer I had asked her how she did that. We had been sitting on a fallen tree by the side of the pond under Wimley Hill, sharing a fag and squelching our naked toes in the mud. Alice had taken a long drag, elbows resting on her knees, and given it some thought.
Finally she said: “Maybe ‘cuz I make peeps think I see them how they want to see themselves? You know, once they swallowed that, they don’t dare to scratch on my façade either. So not to rock the boat they are sitting in.”
Maybe that’s it, I thought. I never learned how to do that – for all my lying, I can never make peeps think I see them for anything but what they are.
Alice looked up at me through her fringe, ginger like everybody’s in our family, with her inscrutable amber eyes. And then she did that thing where she lets her face slowly split from side to side by a maniac grin. The smoke curled out of her mouth and nose and she crossed her eyes trying to watch it get caught in her hair. And with a gravelly voice she said: “Course it helps that I’m cute as a button.”
God, do I ever miss her. Kahretsin.
Anyway, that morning, Alice and her sister Jane delivered me to the 9 o’clock to Stroud. We exchanged hugs and kisses and promises to mail and skype and all that, before I hoisted myself up the steep and narrow steps and found a seat by the window. I stuffed my backpack and jacket into the net above, popped the earphones of the mp3 in and settled down for the 30 minute ride to Cainscross. Jane and I exchanged a last wave. Alice was already drifting across the street.
As always the mp3 was set to random play. Snow Patrol struck up as the bus pulled away past the war memorial and St. Mary’s. “Light up,” Garry was singing, Mark and Jonny plodding heavily through the bleak rhythm. “Light up. As if you have a choice.”
The sky was clear, tinted emerald by the bus’s windows. The last of the grey stone houses rolled by. To the right the landscape opened up towards the valley and Blackquarrie’s Hill on the far side. To the left black and white cows dotted the green grass slope that reached into the sky past the window frame, all the way to the edge that had given this place its name.
“Even if you cannot hear my voice I’ll be right beside you, dear.” Gary sang on, cheerful hopelessness dripping from his voice. “I can hardly speak. I understand why you can’t raise your voice…”
For two weeks I had succeeded in staying mostly in the here and now. I had left Berlin in Berlin, and had been happy with that. But now I found myself helplessly watching my mind rush out ahead, back, back towards the life I had left there. I tried to cling to England, to soak it up, breathe it in, but I was failing fast.
The meadow of Coombe Hill to my left and up ahead became the sickly green interior wall paint of Plötzensee juvie hall, the lynchets running across it bars in front of the windows. That’s the past, I tried to tell myself. Look to the future. The rest of the summer, the coming school year, and the next and the next, they all loomed ahead. Family and friends, teachers, enemies, everything.
“Slower, slower. We don’t have time for that. All I want is to find an easier way to get out of our little heads.”
Have you ever had a panic attack? When all the heaviness and doubts and fear of your life become this fist closing around your chest, squeezing the air out of you? Your heart begins to flutter and race and skipping its beat like a miner’s bird suddenly aware that there is no exit, no light, no other purpose to its existence but eventually snuffing it.
Everything closed in on me, the aisle of the bus a long tube, stretching, and tightening, and finally tipping over, becoming a well with green balefire glowing hellishly at the bottom, and I was falling into it.
I clawed at the neck of my T-Shirt and tried to calm my breath, but all I did was make it worse. Then I couldn’t stand it any more. I rolled out of the seat, half crawled and half ran forward, bumping into seats and elbows, gripping backrests and shoulders for support. The driver said something, sharply, probably telling me to sit down or so but nothing reached me through the music and the panic. I stammered confused, jumbled pleas to let me out, nonsensical explanations about something forgotten, something left behind. I was about to scream at him when the good man – amidst sighing and eye rolling – brought the wheezing wale of a bus to a stop.
Doors opened with a hiss. I stumbled off. Doors closed again. The leviathan shook itself to life and roared off, leaving me beached at the side of the B4058. Alive. Breathing the air of a free man. It was not even seven minutes past nine. On the mp3 Snow Patrol’s “Run” gave way to Sixx AM’s “Van Nuys”. Life would never be the same again.
I had gotten off next to the tennis courts between Valley and Holywell Road, just outside the old town. Jane and Alice wouldn’t even have made it back to my aunt’s by then. I had no idea where to go, no plan what to do. I only knew that I couldn’t go back.
Perhaps guided by a craving for open spaces I decided to walk up to Wotton Hill and sit under the beech trees there, try to see the Canal, and think about it. I walked back to where Adey’s Lane starts up the hill when I suddenly realized that I had left everything on the bus: The backpack, clothes, the lunch my aunt had packed for me, the book I had borrowed from Jane, my mobile phone, the tickets, the wallet, money, passport, everything. Even my jacket. All I had left was the clothes I was wearing, the moss green Firestarter T-shirt my mum disliked so much, blue jeans, and the canvas trainers in that vivid shade of rosso corsa that I liked so much; that and the mp3 player.
Two kids, younger than me, were coming my way on the other side of the street. I called out to them.
“Hey!”
They looked over to me.
“Can you catch?” I asked.
No reaction except for mild bewilderment. I decided to take their Brooklyn street-wear attire as cause for optimism, and wrapped the earphones tightly around the player.
“Here!” I called and tossed it in a high trajectory across the street. One of them caught it.
“Cheers,” I called and walked on past them.
“Hey, uh. Thanks, man!” One of them shouted after me. I grinned.
The last bit of the lane leads pretty steeply uphill through a narrow strip of chestnut and beech trees. At the top I turned left onto Old London Road. The sun was in my face, and I didn’t notice the sign post until I almost walked into it. It pointed to my right where the Cotswold Way – a national trail leading through most of Gloucestershire from Bath to Chipping Campden – goes into Westridge Woods. At the edge of the woods a fox stood in the shadow of a hawthorn bush. It looked at me attentively for a moment, then it turned around and disappeared in the brambles.
I scrapped my plan to sit on Wotton Hill. I would walk the Walk instead, and see where it would lead me, and what would happen.
When I reached the first trees of Westridge Woods I began shaking, badly. I began to stumble, had to put my hands on my shaking knees, reach out for a tree for support. It was a crippled old oak, gnarly and half dead. I was afraid I would pass out. But I didn’t fall, didn’t have to sit down.
It wasn’t another panic attack, you see, quite the contrary. Was I afraid? You bet I was. Was I excited? Definitely. But more than anything, all of a sudden, I was relieved. The wave of relief flooding me was so strong, so palpable, filled me so completely, it was almost like a seizure. I was really going. By God, I was. Right here and now.
For one moment the fear resurfaced, a corpse buoyed by gas rolling over in the water, beckoning me with a rotted arm. For one moment I thought about going back. But the moment passed, the corpse sank again below the surface. I was still shaking, but I could get up again, stumbled forward. I walked on into the woods. And after a few hundred meters the hiking did its magic: My body got into the rhythm, step, breath, step, breath, and the mind followed along.
Continued here