Fear and Flame
Calm in the Storm
I am the calm within the storm, I am he who stands, I am the rageless one…I am full of shit. Let me explain why.
My earliest memory is of whispers in the darkness. My terrified mother telling me not to cry or I would anger my father. My childhood was full of such whispers, ‘do not yell’, ‘do not laugh’, ‘do as your told’ and above all ‘control yourself’ or ‘you will anger your father’. Yet I never saw him angry. He was a stern bear of a man who stayed with us only occasionally and offered me a distant kind of friendship. Despite this my mothers fear of him was mine, it controlled me, around him I was a statue, a rock, a cold thing of polite nothingness. If ever there was a child within me it was crushed by the terror that was my father.
My school reports all said the same thing, ‘polite, well behaved, distant, few friends, does not interact or join in group activities’. I could never understand how the other children could have the courage to play up in class. They angered me, could they not understand that an insubstantial axe of terror was just waiting to fall on them for their actions. As I grew older I noticed the teachers not so subtly checking me for bruises or scars. They should have checked my mother.
I only saw her scars once, her back, it was as if a bear and a shark had decided to tear her in half. The jagged silver lines in her beautiful skin sent me fleeing from the bathroom. Somehow I knew they were from my father. My terror increased and yet a new force was building within me, hate, rage a desire for revenge, call it what you will it was a living presence in my soul that I shut away with doors of steel lest it destroy me. On the surface I was in control, nothing could break the calm facade that was and still is my prison.
By the age of twelve I had it perfected, I could fake external emotion when needed but nothing could shake the walls around my rage and fear. I almost felt safe until my greatest weakness was shown to me. Three older children were tormenting a younger one at School. It is against the rules, it is not right. I follow the rules, so should others, I should break it up. But how? Fighting is against the rules, no teachers are near enough to stop it. So I stand before the older, bigger kids and explain that it is wrong. They laugh, they hit me, I calmly explain again, they look puzzled and hit me again. Pain is nothing when compared to the fear and rage locked within me, I try to explain again, they break my arm, I remain standing as if nothing has happened, as if all the blood and pain are not there, I start to explain again, the bone is sticking out of my arm, they look scared, they start to run, I walk stoically to get a teacher to help the little boy who has a split lip. Nobody wants to fight a madman.
It was not until I was in hospital that I realized my mistake. Surely getting my arm broken was against my fathers rules, he would be angry, he would destroy me, it was almost a relief. I had finally done something wrong, it would be over soon. He never came to the hospital, my mother said he had left, I knew she was lying, she was still scared. She tried to keep it from me but I saw it on late night TV. The three boys who had hurt me had disappeared. No one knew where they had gone. I did, a bear and a shark had torn them apart. I felt relief, apparently they had broken my father’s rules, not me.
He was waiting for me when I got home, smiling his ‘I am just waiting to kill you’ smile.
‘We are going camping, just you and me’ he stated.
My composure almost broke, I gave a sickly nod. For the first time in my memory my mother stood up to him. I will love her forever for it, I had seen her scars, I knew what standing up to my father meant.
‘No John’ quiet but firm. He gave a mild look of surprise then ignored her. He started to pack the things we would need. Apparently that was a large knife, some string and two blankets. It did not take long.
‘It is time the boy learned how to fight’ his voice was becoming cold.
My mother started to plead, to beg, to scream. It was against all the rules and yet my father ignored her. On the surface I looked at her with mild disapproval but inside my walls were crumbling. I hated him for hurting her so, she was my life, she was breaking the rules to save me. I had to save her.
’let’s go’ I said and walked out the door. The camping trip took four years.
He was not with me for all that time. Often he left me alone in the middle of the wilderness for months. I grew to love it. The rules of the wild are simple and I need rules. Find water, find food, find shelter. It was easier to wall up my rage and fear with no one to test their strength, I reinforced their foundations in the solitude of silence. But then my father would return with his lessons. Even that was easier than before. My loneliness had grown so great that even the presence of my greatest fear was a relief. At least my mother would not be hurt if my composure cracked and he destroyed me.
He taught me how to survive, how to fight with my hands and then the secret lessons, that I could tell no one of. This confused me, who was there to tell? There were stories of wolves, of men, of spirits that combined the two or fought against them. I believed them, I know I was not supposed to but when sitting high in the mountains at night, the fire flickering from the howling wind who could not believe? It was the stories that first began to dampen the hate I felt for him. I loved them, they were pure, they had rules and punishments that were clear, they sang through my walls and made me feel alive. The hate was going, the fear and anger remained and grew. I grew concerned. If I could not direct them at my father then they might break through and consume me. Luckily my hate was rekindled by what I secretly called the useless lessons.
‘You are slow boy, you over-think, move your damn feet!’ it was a constant litany of derision. We stood stripped to the waist, sweating in the sun of a forest clearing. Swords as tall as ourselves were held in aching hands. I was a mass of bruises from the flat of his shining blade. He was a mass of frustration that I had not even come close to hitting him with the edge of mine. ‘May I ask a question Father?’ it was said just to give me some time to breathe. ‘If it is a good one’ he looked taken aback by my audacity. ‘Why train with these weapons?’ the question had been plaguing me. ‘You think them ineffective?’ he almost snarled. ‘They are certainly good for killing’ I quickly amended ‘like in the stories, but they are cumbersome to carry, you cannot hide them from a foe or the authorities, surely a gun or a knife would be a more universally effective weapon?’ Even I was amazed, it was more words than I had said to him in a month. ‘It is not a good question’ and now he was smiling.
‘I have thought of a way to hide your pathetic inability to think or move quickly’ he stated. ‘You are strong and there is a style that may suit you, cover your oh so obvious flaws. It is all about standing still, using your opponents movement, timing and directing your blade to protect then destroy. An old German style, yes we will try that’.
He proceeded to beat me bloody but after a couple of years I had to admit that the German style did work. I did not see the point at the time but I do now. My Father was showing me my weaknesses and then teaching me how to hide or compensate for them. I still hate and respect him for it.