Hello occasional number of readers who I could probably count on one hand. There’s something I’d like to blog about. Why blog instead of calling or meeting those close to me? Because I want to make this information available to the world to show I’ve accepted it, though I’m hoping it doesn’t circulate too far beyond my close friends. I’m not too sure how this blog entry is going to go, but I need to write it and now’s a pretty good time.
One of my clients held a knife to my throat last Thursday. Huh, looks like I’m just going to come out and say it. I guess there’s no real use trying to sugarcoat it. Due to confidentiality I need to keep the details vague, but the organisation I work for part-time provides a limited number of units where young people (aged 16-25) can live. Generally PICYS will take clients that are very complex and have often been turned away from other accommodation agencies- we’re just that kind of organisation. The particular young person that I saw was 18-years-old and had a 17-year-old partner, as well as a four-month-old baby. They’d been fighting a lot about quite ordinary things blown out of proportion. For example in what you might be tempted to call a “normal” household, if someone leaves the dishes undone then they might be asked to do it, or someone else would do them without that much of an argument. Often with the young people we ward (and let’s face it, they’re just teenagers) it can turn into a screaming match where one person won’t budge and the other person won’t stop pulling until shit hits the fan and furniture gets broken and windows smashed.
When I visited the young people on Thursday, they were pretty upset. Sparing you the complex and unnecessary detail, the fight was about something relatively small which (in a “healthy” relationship might have been resolved with a 30 second conversation) blew ridiculously out of proportion. Names were called, people were kicked out, people refused to leave, trust was betrayed… It was awful, and I did the best I could as a human being and as a youth worker to try an intervene with much gentler solutions than insulting and hurting one another. It didn’t make much of a difference and eventually I started siding with my client’s partner (let’s call her Jane) more than with him (let’s call him Bob). It kinda turned into a two-against-one because Bob was being pretty unreasonable in his refusal to talk to Jane, and eventually he got to the brink of violence against her. She was scared of how angry he was and was backing away, and he was so angry at her for running, for not being able to control her that he chased her.
Eventually I felt it was too dangerous to just stand by and try and talk to them. I was genuinely worried he would start beating Jane up, so I stepped between them and told him he couldn’t do that. It didn’t matter how upset he was, he could not hurt other people, and he was really scaring her. At one point I grabbed his wrist as he walked past me to corner her. I don’t really remember exactly when or how it happened, but I do remember there being a knife against my throat amidst all this. It was a single-bladed bowie knife which he had kept in his pocket unsheathed- I don’t think it was razor sharp otherwise it would have cut through the fabric of his pocket and dropped out. I’m a little foggy now about which side of the knife he put against my skin, but at the time I believed it was the blunt side, and that’s what I’m sticking to. I think he said he had been pushed to it, and blamed Jane for making him so angry he had to put a knife to someone’s throat.
I’ve spent so much time thinking about what happened these past three days. What I can say for certain was that the knife was against my throat before I could react- he could have killed me if he really wanted to. I blanked out at the shock of it and couldn’t process the threat until it was too late. Of course once he took the knife off I was more cautious and prepared to defend myself and Jane, but that first moment when my life was at risk I was helpless. It doesn’t matter how much training you do, if you don’t react to the first moment you’re in danger you may as well have not trained at all. This is something I’ll need to talk to Kaneda about.
I’ve thought about all the ways I could have disarmed and subdued him. I’ve replayed in my mind how I could have reacted better, over and over. My big mistakes (in hindsight, and under the supervision of my boss) were stepping between Jane and Bob and grabbing Bob’s wrist. It was probably a good thing I didn’t hurt Bob because it would have been a lengthy and convoluted legal issue which may have ended up with Bob in jail, bitter and hurt and letting that hatred and anger transform him further, casting him along a darker path whose return would be much harder to cross. The world doesn’t need that. For those reasons I agreed not to call the police at Jane’s request, because it would have just given Bob a reason to make the most of the time before the police arrived and do something irreversibly stupid. What he did was ridiculously stupid to start with, but it could have ended a whole lot worse.
I’m not too sure how I feel about the whole ordeal. I don’t know whether I’m prepared to go back to work and see them. No one’s been able to get in contact with them since then, and a whole lot of changes are being made at PICYS (my organisation). Visits in pairs, Bob is instantly evicted from the premises (though Jane is staying, and she’ll eventually be granted custody of their baby, so he’ll obviously visit. How that’s going to be managed is a nightmare to think about), potential legal action and the implications this will have on Bob’s life and access to his child… It’s opened up an enormous can of worms for him, and I just wish he’d had the good sense not to do it. But that moment of passion and anger has led to very heavy damage for him, and while there are things I could have done to prevent it, I’m glad at the very least that Jane was safe while I was there. After I left was a different matter- I hope she hasn’t been beaten or stabbed over the weekend, but unfortunately, that’s beyond my control unless I wish to invite a whole lot of danger and childish issues into my personal life.
Sometimes I’m really angry with him for being so stupid. Sometimes I’m really sad and hope that no more harm, or hurt, or hate will come of what happened. I was pretty numb to feeling anything after it happened, and those feelings are starting to creep back in now. I expect over the next few weeks I’ll have processed it more-or-less fully and will come to some kind of peace with myself and with what happened. I’ll say this much though, and I’ll start a new paragraph because it’s just so important.
There is nothing glorious about a fight.
That’s a pretty hefty sentence for me to say. I’ve always thought fights were glorious, ever since high school at least. I’ve never had the opportunity to test my martial prowess in a real life scenario, and I’ve always wondered how I would do if someone attacked me. I fantasise about it several times a day, and I often think of times when I was in mild danger and how I would have reacted if it escalated and I needed to defend myself. I still do it with Thursday out of habit. But let me tell you, and more importantly me, something. When you are in a fight for your life, every second poses a potent risk of serious harm. There is nothing enjoyable about being in a situation where someone is trying to break your face, or take your life. It doesn’t matter if you’re better trained than them and can break their knees or sprain their wrist or choke them unconscious (the sort of things I’ve fantasised about to disarm Bob)- there is a bloody good chance you’re going to get hurt, and it’s just not worth taking if it can be avoided. Having someone put their forehead to yours and tell you they’re going to have to put you to sleep is dangerous. Being aggressive or welcoming violence into a situation is dangerous. Appeasing and making peace are the most natural courses of action, and if someone ever mugs me and asks for my wallet, I would much rather give it to them then apprehend them and leave them unconscious outside of a police station Batman-style.
I fight only when I have to. And I didn’t have to last Thursday. Even though there was a knife against my throat (and later a sling aimed at my face pointblank), I did not feel the danger any greater than when I was just being yelled at. Perhaps I overestimate my ability to sense intent, but Bob was just angry and making threats for the sake of making threats and in order to control Jane. If he’d really wanted to hurt me he would have. Mind you he wasn’t too far off letting go of the sling or stabbing me between the ribs- he was kind of balancing on the point of madness- but he didn’t. And I think it was better to encourage the non-violent side of him than beating the hell out of him and giving him a reason to be hurtful to me, Jane or the organisation as soon as he was discharged from hospital. Winning a fight doesn’t end things- it starts things. Violence begets violence, until one side chooses the path of peace, or is forced to it because they don’t have the health or numbers to continue fighting.
I don’t know how close to death (or grievous bodily harm) I was last week. I don’t know how ready I am to put myself back into the workplace where I might be in danger. I don’t know how I feel about what happened, or what I believe will be best for Bob from now on. But I’m getting there. And I just wanted you to know that.