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Back You are here: Home Stories Words for the People Short Stories Dad taught me to laugh. I hate him for it.
Sunday, 23 September 2012 20:42

Dad taught me to laugh. I hate him for it. Featured

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Are you ever serious? Is everything a joke to you? These are the two questions, since my book has been published, that I get asked on a weekly basis. Then, because of my childhood, why don’t you write a memoir? People for some reason want to know the painful bits. But I don’t remember much. I’ve hidden my memories in the furthest corner of the darkest part of my mind. So dark, if ever I wander in to open that box, I fear I would never find my way out.


I don’t remember too much. I’ve tried to bleach out the details of my childhood with drink. Using the alcohol to scrub the filth of my shitty past off, in the hope of finding something shiny and good in there, to at least give me some solace. I’ve never found anything. So I kept scrubbing and scrubbing with what drink was to hand till it was erased. But I can’t kill it all. Lumps remain. Memory snippets, like film trailers.

I remember my older brother pissing himself at age 9. This wasn’t bed-wetting, or having too much fun to go to the toilet. He pissed himself with fear. We were hiding in an old wardrobe in the garage because he was coming for us. I remember vividly how hot his piss was, because I placed my hands on his legs to try to muffle the sound and to stop it spilling out, revealing where we were. We didn’t need the Bogeyman or the Sandman to scare us. We had our Father, and he was real. He always found us. ‘Run’ I said to my brother. Because Dad only ever needed to beat one of us. My brother wasn’t tough enough. I told him to run and I shut my eyes. Clenched my teeth. I was just 7.

I laughed after. I said I was fine. With the iron taste of blood in my mouth I said it didn’t hurt. If I laughed, my brother would stop crying. Leather belts, shoes, broom handles, the tools of domestic torture. If I could convince my brother everything would be fine. That the welts and bruises didn’t hurt. If I could make him laugh and stop shaking then I could believe my own lies.

Claymore was the brand of cheap piss whisky Dad used to drink.

I remember when his slaps became a hard balled up fist. The first time I was 9. I had another older brother. He had the darkness that my father had. That I also had growing in me. A black river of anger underground. My oldest brother used to carry a bicycle chain. He used to say it was to fix his bike, but it was used as a weapon. He swung it wildly like a whip and removed a kid’s ear. When the police caught him he still had the ear in his pocket. He said he found it, so they had to let him go. He was 17. And because he too was a monster, the kids lived in fear of him and would beat me and my brother as revenge. I remember when the two Mass Brothers, the fourteen year old David and the fifteen year old Michael chased me. Calling me ‘scummer’ because my clothes came from thrift stores. I ran and ran from the Mass boys. They wanted to exact pain on me like my brother had them.

I ran all the way to my house that wasn’t a home and he was outside. Father. I stopped, breathless in the void between two beatings, the parental one would be the worst.

“Fight them” he shouted.

I was just a kid.

“Fight them!” he screamed.

I was just a poor, stupid boy and they were bigger than me.

The Mass brothers looked embarrassed and took pity on me.

“FIGHT THEM YOU SISSY” he screamed again.

And I had to. Tears burning in my eyes. I walked up with balled fists, and rained punches. My stupid puny little 9 year old boy arms useless. The Mass boys laughed I swung wild, hitting David in the nose and that buckled my wrist. His nose bled. He punched me three times in the face and I fell. I just sat there crying.

“Don’t you embarrass me boy!” He screamed.

It hurt and I cried.

“FIGHT THEM” He screamed again.

As he approached the Mass boys ran.

Father grabbed me and started to slap me. I laughed. I laughed because he was angry I wasn’t like him. So he slapped harder, and I laughed more. Until he made a fist. He hesitated, then let it go. The impact tore my lip, a shattering pain that started at my mouth and terminated at my toes. Then another, and another, and another until his sweat fell form his brow and I was limp.

Then hospital.

Shattered bones and ruined inner ear.

Eleven days later I could walk again.

If I laugh. If I act jolly and make this new family laugh. They might keep us.

Social services would come. Take us away. I would holiday with a nice family. See love, cuddles, and reading. They would try to teach me to read. And at night, the anger never came and I slept without fear. I say holiday. Because the priest would say they offered up penance. It may have been a couple of prayers, an odd combination of Hail Mary's but soon we would be collected and returned.

Claymore. They used to send me to buy bottles of it. Irony being ‘Claymore’ is a type of land mine. I would make my brother laugh. If I could convince him everything would be fine. This time would be different. Then I would believe my own lies.

I remember the disappointment on Mum and Dads faces when we were returned. I remember searching to find a twisted dark comedy deep within the tragedy. That if I I could make Dad laugh, that might make this all stop. Be the comedian and fix things. Because I was a bad boy, a disappointment, a sissy, a stupid weak trouble making kid. If I made the other families laugh, just maybe they would forget that I was stupid, weak sissy-boy and want to keep me.

Please don’t send us back there. I can be funny.

I remember one family gave me a big rubber ball on an elastic rope. It was called ‘Terminal Velocity’ Probably because the speed the ball came at you, propelled by the elastic rope, it would kill you if it hit. The smell of whisky was in the air, raised voices. Mum and Dad were removing lumps form each other again. I tied the elastic rope around the latch of the door, pulling it as hard as my stupid little boy arms could, looping it around the door handle. I looped it again and again and used the ball itself as a brace. An improvised lock. Because he would be here soon. When he came he slammed at the door. It wouldn’t open. He tried again and it stayed closed. He tried with all his might, screaming “Let me in!” but the door opened only an inch. I could see his red, vascular, angry face. The elastic slammed the door shut. He would not be denied, pure venom. His pushed with everything he could muster, the door opened wider, screaming pure evil but the door slammed shut again. Then on his final attempt, he pushed and pushed, the door opened and the ball slipped. It bounced off the wall, then the alcove. Father pushed harder as the opening widened, accelerating the ball. It bounced, smashed and ricochet, getting faster and faster till it was just a blur. The door opened and a hundred mile an hour hunk of solid rubber smashed my father in the face. Sending him tumbling backwards. Then silence. I looked through the gap in the door and all I could see was the soles of his feet. It knocked him out cold. I laughed till I was sick, then laughed again. I had won. I felled the monster. When things get bad, even now, I think of my fathers upturned feet and I laugh uncontrollably.

The smell of rubber still makes me laugh. The smell of cheap whisky makes me cry.

The following day. We were locked in our room. He then set it on fire. Flames consumed the door. Bobby Darin’s ‘Jack the Knife’ blared form the front room. We broke the window and escaped. And then we were gone again. Social services came. Then again. And again. For short vacations of how life could have been.

As soon as he turned 16, my brother joined the military leaving me on my own. Though older, he was smaller than I, not as resilient. When Dad came he stood behind me. But he left me. He escaped. Escape seemed the best thing to do. So at 14 I ran and never went home. For three years I slept under overpasses, allotment sheds. Abandoned houses. Broke into homes during the day to steal food. I broke in to caravans on holiday parks. Slept in one caravan and burgled another. Selling TV’s VCR’s china etc to drug addicts to fence. Got in with a gang that stripped led and cable from building sites and sold it to merchants. Theft of cars. Comedy was my currency. I laughed my way into the protection of gangs, I laughed my way to food, I laughed my way out of trouble.

No monster was ever going to be more frightening or brutal than my father. I don’t believe in God, but I believe in the Devil because he was my Dad. If some drunken thugs sprawled out of a club and wanted to beat up some vagrants, I’d laugh at them too. Until I became him.
I was sixteen and the first time I had hit someone as hard as I could. I remember the blissful sensation as my fist collided with jaw perfectly, sending a shockwave through my arm. The joy at the glint of naked white as bone through flesh. His tortured face and my ecstasy of seeing it, almost orgasmic. My fury unchallenged. Savage. Everything that ever happened, everything I had become was in my fists and I wanted to destroy him with it. It was brutal. I had to be stopped. Once restrained I saw my reflection in a window opposite. Same hooded eyes as him, same angry snarl. Everything I had become was him. I was ashamed and I had a broken man at my feet.

Be a man. Don’t cry you stupid little sissy. Whisky breath.

The following years working for a crime syndicate happened. Prison happened. Once released I sat on the platform of Plymouth train station with a clear plastic bag, on it was printed H.M. Prison Service and it contained all my worldly possessions. I sat there for hours and nobody came for me, I was nineteen. I laughed. It had become my default survival mechanism.

I know he is in me. I have the same genetic code so constantly I worry that I too am pre-dispensed to violence. I can’t escape that DNA. Trying to run from that would be as pointless as trying to outrun your shadow. The darkness is always right there. At readings, because of the blog and film deal I get asked “You can write, why don’t you write a serious book?” Because laughter is angers kryptonite. Laugher was my life raft. Laughter was my food, my grief, my friend, my hope. Laughter is still what maintains the distance that the darkness and anger can never span. Laughter was what helped me get up every time life knocked me down. I know the power laughter holds. If what I do brings a laugh to someone’s shitty day, then I win. But mostly because I never heard my Father laugh. As long as I keep laughing and, make others laugh, I know I am not like him.
So for that reason I will leave the serious business of serious books to other writers.

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Last modified on Sunday, 23 September 2012 21:28
Jonny Gibbings

Jonny Gibbings is the author of a black comedy that is soon to become a film, 'Malice in Blunderland'. He is a vegan, animal rights advocate and a drunk. From Plymouth in England. A self confessed 'shitty writer' who learned to read and write in prison.

His book is now banned from six countries, he is banned from two golf courses, even though he has never played golf. He is working on his second novel 'Cocksickle.'

Website: jonnygibbings.com
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