When I was 16, one of my best friends was Verity. People called her Tabby. She liked to hang around a motorcycle gang. She had been badly abused as a child. We were at college together doing ‘O’ Levels. I eventually went to university and we grew apart, lost contact. About ten years later, I was working in a drug rehab. I met a residential worker from another project, one I had some familiarity with from before my time at university. It was a place where bikers and druggies and others hung out after the pubs closed, and was run by a very progressive Baptist church. When I told her I knew the project, I asked about a few people I had known who hung around there. She asked me if I had known Verity, and I said I had, wondering how she was. She had died about a year before. She was living with somebody, had a child, and it was a violent relationship. He had stabbed her to death. I will never forget Verity, and I still feel sad about her all these years later. She never had a chance really. I don’t think I am breaking any confidences here. I just want it on record, Verity was here. her killer-partner went to prison. I have no idea what happened to her child. If I’d been a different person then, I would have made the effort to find out. I don’t think I could have done anything, anyway.
Unlike Dave. Dave was somebody I met in a therapeutic community when I was 25. he was an alcoholic, former heroin addict and sociopath who had been in prison for something that involved a young girl. I didn’t like Dave, but sociopaths are very manipulative, and have ways of making you like them, or else. The friendship I had with Dave was quite simple – it was an unwilling one on my part, but as I have a strong instinct for survival, I knew it was important to be located in relation to Dave in a particular way. The most important thing, for Dave, was that he could talk to me, I would listen, and I could talk him down from a violent rage if necessary. He was upset when I left him to pass out from too much drink one night, and his liver ruptured – apparently I should have done something to prevent this, although as the only reason it happened was he drank when he had a severely diseased liver, and he weight about 20 stone, I am not sure what he could have expected me to do (ring an ambulance? I just thought he was pissed and passed out). Even the warden seemed to think that when Dave went off, nearly binging himself to death, this was everybody else’s fault, and not Dave’s; never really got that. but then he was probably as scared of Dave as everybody else. One of the things that I found quite intolerable about therapeutic communities that included sociopaths like Dave was that the whole community becomes all about supporting Dave. All the weaker, lesser, mortals sole purpose becomes servicing a sociopath – they have to cook the way he likes people to cook, they have to play at confronting him to keep the staff happy, they have to live in fear, they have to listen to his wallowing in self-pity in groups, put up with his violent rages after drunken binges, and watch him break through warning after warning with no consequences because he cannot go back to jail, and he is not fit for life outside of an institution. All the time, as far as the staff appear, Dave is a jolly nice fellow really… When he was discharged back into the community, he embarked on a relationship which people who knew the couple believed could only end up with one of them killing the other (more likely her killing him than him her). When I was working in the drug rehab, the probation service contacted me, asking if I would help them out. Dave had got into some sort of trouble, been arrested, and nobody could get through to him. They wanted me to see if I could get anywhere. I declined. I felt a bit bad about it, as we had done a couple of house-painting jobs together after he left the community. But, I could never get the image of what he said happened to get him arrested of my mind. I didn’t really care if he was locked away for the rest of his life. I didn’t want him in my head again. I assume he is dead now, I certainly hope he is dead now, I don’t see how he could have possibly survived. The sad thing is, he was brought up a Jehovah’s Witness, and abused within the family, and I am sure that is partly to do with what made him the way he was.
This is what made me re-think my path towards social work or becoming a probation officer. I could not detach myself from the actions of some people, and it would have affected my capacity to work in those fields. Living in a Franciscan religious community, where six residents and brothers all died in the space of a year, some of whom I was really fond of, I became more used to death, and could be quite detached from it. Not when my best friend in community committed suicide. I cannot talk about that. But I still shed tears for Chris whenever I go into a church and light a candle. I ended up working with computers instead of people, because they are less complicated, and I don’t get attached to computers in the same way. I never really managed to embrace the idea that one should not condemn people like Dave, and take on their burdens – I ended up feeling like he should never have been allowed to carry on living once he was found guilty of whatever it was he did to that little girl. I still do feel that way.
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