Train of Consequences I.
I moved out of my parents’ home when I was seventeen. I was effectively a mess by then for various reasons — the stresses of a typical teenager, together with a unhealthy dollop of parentification and separate sexual abuse. It was not something that I had insight into at the time, but my habitual wariness of others contributed towards my awkwardness in my first year at university.
I stayed at a student hostel during that year and I stuck out like a sore thumb. It was a Rugby World Cup year and just about everyone wore rugby jerseys with their collars up, paired with grey track pants. The boys stood around with their fists down the front of their pants, pulling them out only to shake hands with each other. The girls wore the same outfits, sans hands in pants, but in an oddly asexual tousled way. Few of these fashion icons, male or female, actually played rugby.
My choice of clothing was certainly different, and marked me quickly as an outsider. I had a preference for fitted clothing, topped with my vintage bike jacket or my three quarter length coat over shirt and vest. Although my choice of clothing seems superficial, I did however, dress for a functional reason. New Zealand, at that time, had been gripped by a wave of politically led xenophobia and my heritage did me no favours. It did not matter that I was a citizen — I was still refused services, spat on by strangers, attacked in the street, swung at while waiting to be served in a bar and even attacked by cue wielding skinheads in a pub. My leather jacket gave me some protection against being grabbed, drinks being poured on me and to some degree, sharp weapons. I chose my other clothing similarly to allow me to either fight or run effectively.
I largely avoided alcohol during this period of my life for various reasons. Unfortunately, New Zealand universities were a generation of binge drinkers at the time, and I was considered anathema to be a non-drinker. The student hostel staff even ran events where ‘helicopter chunders’ were commonplace — where someone was picked up and spun around as they were vomiting. I slunk around the fringes of such social graces, thinking I was alone. I was for a while. Then I met Jacob.
When I think of Jacob, I always think of Megadeth. Metal, by then had passed from fashion in a post-grunge world, but no one had told Jacob. His Megadeth albums, along with his vintage record player were his prized possessions and it was this bone rattling noise that first drew me to his hostel door.
Over the year, I learned that Jacob was the only son of an implacably hard farming couple. They were also verbally and physically abusive — something that I would witness later on. At times, Jacob also alluded towards a being the victim of a sexual abuse in his childhood. Despite our differences, Jacob was oddly my mirror.
Our histories, while similar, certainly led to different behavioural outcomes. Jacob smoke and drank liberally. Sometimes he turned his clothes inside out and sprayed deodorant on them rather than wash them. In contrast, I was fastidious and could barely swear, after having raw chili rubbed into my lips as a child. I trained almost 2 hours a day — running, swimming, fighting. Jacob only enjoyed running after women.
As friends, we certainly made an odd couple. Somehow, we began to rub off on each other. Jacob began to take his studies more seriously and expressed hope to have a life outside of the family farm. I learnt that I could survive life outside of the shadows. It was okay for me to be noisy; perhaps even with some Megadeth.
Jacob and I spent a lot of nights talking while we played table tennis in the common room. We listened to Pink Floyd’s The Wall on vinyl several times in the dark. I complained that he would set us on fire when he fell asleep with his cigarette in his mouth.
When we were bored with our hostel routines, we also began roaming the streets. Jacob also had another secret weapon against conformity up his sleeve, one that we used liberally — a Datsun 160Y. In black, of course.
Riding in the Datsun was like playing Russian Roulette. Part of it was the nature of the car itself — it was lightweight for its 1.6L engine capacity and was reasonably zippy up to 130km/hr. However, the bodywork was very thin and you could cave the roof in just by leaning on it. Riding in the vehicle was a risk. But Jacob liked risks, and I found out, so did I. Looking back, I could see how our combined years of repression and abuse had turned us into a benignly dangerous projectiles. If the Datsun was a gun, we were its two bullets.
I remember how I used to prod the wheel from the passenger side to keep us from drifting when Jacob used to roll himself a cigarette with both hands. It became something that I did automatically without thinking, like flicking hair behind an ear. It never interrupted our conversations, unless I spilled his tobacco in the process.
When Jacob was bored, he used to throw in the occasional handbrake turn when the road was clear. We once end up facing the opposite direction, up against the curb, after having having crossed 4 lanes. That car had cleared the ground of all four wheels more often than I can remember.
Jacob used to tow uncommonly large loads with the little Datsun, often around winding, cliffside gravel roads. Every time he stepped on the brakes, there was an eerie lack of road noise as the trailer’s weight kept shunting the car forward. Eventually, the tyres would regain traction, but there was always the nagging doubt that we might not make the downhill corners.
The 160Y was also particularly loud. There were two reasons for this — there was little sound baffling against the engine noise and it had a car stereo that had been wired to giant wooden floorstander speakers. Being unsecured, these speakers used to slide back and forth in the back, blasting Megadeth with armageddon-laced fury. In retrospect, a rear impact collision would have sent both speakers through the windscreen, and with us with them. I am not sure if we would have cared. I certainly remembered happiness in the hot, greasy confines of noise and tin.
I owe my love of places to Jacob. Many of the places that we visited were unreachable without powered transport. We watched seagulls lift at dawn from the cliff sides by the sea. I once felt a cold chill run down my spine as we drove through a dark stretch, only to find out later on that we had passed through Aramoana, the site of a massacre shooting spree. Sometimes we just drove around in large looping circles — our metaphysical selves going nowhere.
We did a lot of our talking in that car. The world only saw one side of Jacob — his belligerence and of course, the noise. But he cared so much it hurt and he was vulnerable when he did not think anyone was listening. But I always did, in that little black car. It was enough for a while, and it kept us safe for several years. But eventually, it stopped being enough. Some of it was my fault.
Despite our closeness, there were aspects to our friendship that were relatively brittle. At times, we struggled with each others’ decisions and I was unconventional to him in many ways. Like the rust on the car, life began to eat into our friendship. Our engine began to run down, sometimes with a shriek, but more often without a sound — our eventual demise like tyres without traction.