Friday, August 28, 2015

William sans-amis Part I

This is the story of William. Actually, it is only part of William's story, the parts that he told me over a few painstakingly lengthy pints, and the parts I actually saw or put together from other people who did. No story such as this can be complete unless written by the fellow that lived it, and even then there are going to be gaps. William did not want to write this story, and might be a bit put out if he where to find out I have written it. Since that is very unlikely, considering his current location, I am going to write it the best way I can, it will still be poorly, but I owe it to William to tell his tale.

William did not know his parents, some sort of 'horrible accident' claimed both of their lives when William was only three years old. He always said that those particular words 'horrible accident' were used when describing his parents deaths, and then no further details were forthcoming. I don't think William ever got around to investigating what that 'horrible accident' was. I don't know if he just did not care, or was just afraid of what he would find, but I looked into it for him afterwards. The term accident was a misnomer, or perhaps it was just William's remaining relatives way of describing the unpleasant truth as to the fate of his parents, hoping that those two awful words would preclude any further conversation about the subject. It did for William, and it did for me for quite a while, now that everyone involved is beyond the pale, I can relate that the 'horrible accident' that made William an orphan was that his father murdered his mother, and then committed suicide. The reasons behind, and the details of that tragedy need not detain us here. It is just a bit of background on William that may or may not have altered the course of his entire life. I will leave that to the fellows with letters behind their names to figure out, I was just a witness to William's life, and we all need witnesses to our lives whether we realize it our not.

After the 'horrible accident' William was shunted off to live with an uncle, a cold and distant man who took little joy in life, and gave even less. His wife, William's aunt, is best described as a spinster that got lucky. She married late in life, there was some hint that William's uncle had debts that needed paying, and William's aunt had some small fortune. If she had a fortune, and he had debts, then I guess it wasn't exactly a love match, and anyone going to their home, as I did on several occasions, would be struck by the emotional distance between them.  William's uncle worked at some factory, I never really cared enough about the man to find out which one, went to his local for a few pints with his mates, came home and read the paper in his chair, and gave not one whit about either William or his aunt except that try to remain as quite as possible during their shared waking hours. William's aunt, saved at the last moment from spinsterhood was merely content to be a house wife, nothing more, nothing less. She was content with cooking, cleaning, and making the dinners that William, his uncle and his aunt ate in relative silence. She looked upon William as just another chore, like a sink full of dirty dishes that weren't going to wash themselves, or the dusting which she did not care for at all. 

There was never any hint of children of their own being brought into this loveless marriage, and when William was presented to them, all his uncle said was "Right, you must be H_____'s boy, terrible that."  William was raised to be neither seen nor heard, which was probably why the thing that most affected his life came about. William, when he got around to learning how to talk, did so with an awful stutter. It was to become his defining characteristic, and would eventually led to him being dubbed by the rest of his classmates "Billy No-Mates."  Children around the world are cruel, whether they are in the schoolyard playing cricket, baseball, lacrosse, or football, and our lot was no exception. Uniformity is king with children, and if you are different in any way, fatter, skinner, have to wear thick glasses, walk with a limp, or stutter, you will be singled out and ganged up on by the rest of us. It is a great way to hide our own insecurities and flaws by mercilessly pointing out the real or perceived flaws of others, no matter that those flaws are what makes the human race so wonderfully diverse. How dull would life be if we were all flawless physical specimens with pretty blond hair and lovely cornflower blue eyes, and straight teeth?

 Don't mistake me, William was not abused or anything quite so dramatic, he was just raised by two people in a loveless marriage in a loveless household.  His childhood was not exactly Oliver Twist, but not quite Pollyanna either., It was, like most of ours somewhere in between. Not being in love with each other made his aunt and uncle almost physically incapable of expressing love for anyone else. It was a sad fate, and to his credit, William accepted it with as much grace as possible. Maybe things would have been different for him if his parents had lived, then again maybe not. The two most dangerous words in the English language are "What if?", and William's tale, just like many of ours, possessed numerous "what ifs".  When his stutter first manifested itself, his adopted parents reaction was "pity, that". A reaction similar to and about as heartfelt as their reaction to William's parents deaths. The uncle was probably, though he'd never admit it, pleased at least with that horrid stutter William would have no trouble with the "not being heard" part of his uncle's rules.

The house William and his adopted parents lived in was not big, and it was rather isolated from the rest of the community. Therefore, William was raised mostly alone. The uncle wasn't there, and when he was could not really be bothered to show any interest in teaching William the things a 'normal' boy child learns from his male 'role-model'.  Some of us have an almost innate fear of being alone, we have abandonment issues that probably need to be worked out on a professional's couch (the type with letters behind their name, not the type you pay for 'going around the world'). One would have thought that William would, when he was faced with the enforced social circumstances of public schooling, seek some relief for the loneliness he suffered through whilst at home. Not so, he was very much a solitary child, the stutter was probably the main cause, but I like to think that even if he had the flawless diction of a Parisian songbird, William would have been just as much as loner.

In full disclosure, lest you think this is some buddy tale told by a Dr. Watson-like character about his best mate Sherlock Holmes, I was just as brutal to William in the school yard as the rest of our class. Picking on the different, not siding with them, is what wins you friends in the tyranny of the school yard, and I was not a strong willed enough child to swim against that particular stream. It is to my shame that I recount this but, while I was not in the front rank of teasing Billy No-Mates, I certainly had an nearly unobstructed view of it while it happened, and did my fair share. We didn't know it at the time, and most of us would not have cared if we did, but Billy No-Mates was hiding an absolute cracker of a mind behind that funny, awful stutter that we couldn't stop laughing about long enough to give him a chance to be our friend, and if we had known what he was going to do with that lovely imagination, we might have been just a shade nicer to him.

Of course that is one of the many problems of our schooling system, unless you're some toff that gets sent to the right type of private school to help prepare you for a career in the foreign service, your classmates are your classmates from beginning to end. If you stick it out, don't move, or get sent to juvenile, then the lot you came through the front door with the first time, will be in the main the same lot you leave with X amount of years later.  It has the potential to be a blessing or a curse brought on by three accidents of birth, timing, location, and wealth (or lack thereof). The down side for William was the group that teased him from the start, except for a few of us that sort of grew out it, were the same group that was still teasing him on graduation day. Certainly we were surprised when he won top honours, but were bitterly disappointed when he declined to give the traditional speech at our graduation ceremony. I suppose we wanted one last chance to chant "Billy No-Mates" for all the school to hear. Good on him that he denied us that opportunity. I had long since outgrown my desire to fit it, and had actually talked with William on several occasions. His stutter was much less pronounced in one on one situations. Being a bit of an outsider, but not quite as far out as William was we did eventually become what would be called friends. I am almost sure that title, in relation to William, was one that was bestowed on a very, very limited number of people. In the intervening years, I have become quite proud to have that distinction given to me.

Some government agency had, at the time of his parent's "horrible accident" settled upon William a type of annual income. I was never sure what it was about, or even how much it was. I suppose it made his uncle's decision to take him in easier to make. Raise the kid, and maybe make a little money to boot? That was probably an attractive proposition to the uncle, and William wasn't really in a position to pick and choose where he went. I do know, or rather found out later that the uncle wasn't quite the bastard he appeared to be, and the money that set aside for William was actually given to him, it was what allowed him to go to university, that and I suspect, some scholarships that our headmaster helped him obtain. He, at least, could see beyond the stuttering child, and see the questing mind that William possessed.  A few of us attended the same university as William, living in the provinces has a tendency to limit one's choice in these matters, and it was there that I truly got to know him. Or, rather, I got to know as much of him as he would let me, after all those years of teasing and abuse, William wasn't about to open up and become all emotional after a few speech therapy classes had helped his stutter significantly.

It was not a great shock to me to discover William was pursuing a major in Literature/Creative Writing after all, a stutter does not show up on the page now does it? I was at university struggling with inorganic chemistry when I first started to get to know him, and we soon became fairly fast friends. It was here that I found out most, but not all, of the facts that I have related so far. I was struck by how seemingly well adjusted, using the term broadly, that William was considering the sad circumstances of his childhood. When I broached the subject he would just shrug, point to the wall of books cluttering up his flat, and say "w.w.w. well mo. most offf my r.r.real friends a-a-a-are d-d-dead." Meaning the authors that he had read, and used to escape the teasing that was his day to day misery. I still blush with shame when I recall my part in the torture of "Billy No-Mates." One of the wonderful things about William was that when I did awkwardly try to apologize for my role in his childhood misery. He waved it away saying " d-d-don't w-w-w-worry abbout it, w-w-we were c-c-children, and k-k-kids are c-c-c-cruel." It was a gracious reply, and it cemented our budding friendship. I vowed then, that while I still might gently tease him about his stutter (with his acquiescence) no one else ever would, at least while I was around.

Understanding that the mind can only process what the ass can endure, I have decided rather that short change William's story, to break it up into parts. This is the first part, part two is shortly forthcoming. I hope you enjoy it dear readers.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

so when is part II? eager readers want to know...