Chapter 4 | Antagonists At Dawn
The rain and thunder grew notably more agitated, as the little pub sank deeper into the gloom of the storm. The Bar Man slunk away briefly to light its infamous open fire, set deep into the charred brick wall of its history. The backdrop of a million human secrets.
He steered his eyes sideways to watch the fire come alive, anticipating the sensory high it would bring.
The Bar Man had started to grow steadily into the rhythm of the story. Clearly noticing a chasm between what he expected to hear, and what he was hearing.
“So, she actually broke your bones? How come the x-ray’s didn’t pick up on it. Jesus, what a mess!”
He nodded slowly, as he trained his gaze back towards to the surface of the bar. “Look, it wasn’t her fault. Neither of us knew what was going on in there. I shouldn’t have been there in the first place”.
"So why that, and a not a Doctor? I don’t….”
“Money. Fear. Stupidity.” He listed deliberately. “Three root causes of so many of my problems in life”. He glanced back over at the fire, “most of the time I don’t know where one ends, and the other begins.”
Money, dosh, cash, green energy….what ever name it goes by, it has always played a dangerously mischievous role in my life. Even growing up as a young child, my Father’s devil-may-care approach to wealth creation saw us bounce between the extremes of comfort with alarming regularity. A pattern of uncertainty I inherited and perpetuated in my own irresponsible way, the moment I was able to provide for myself.
It would be churlish of me to blame my parents for the way my relationship with money has played out over the years. They are both very generous people, and whenever we had money we used it to live well. Perhaps too well. My mother was pro-save, my father, pro-spend. A difficult combination with 3 needy boys, who fired on all cylinders 95% of the time. Unfortunately, we got locked into the good life too early for this paradigm to work itself out for the better. For the first 5 years of my life, we were well polished, free spending members of the upper middle class, in a 70’s Britain where that meant something. Learning early that one way of living was better than the other. Making the lean years that were to come, bearable, but ultimately laced with innocent resent that might have contributed to my own love hate relationship with the green stuff.
But I don’t blame them. Our parents are our most important teachers in life, but only under the most extreme circumstances or cruel acts of damaging irresponsibility do I believe anyone has the right to point the rifle of blame at them, for their own misgivings. Thanks to the relentless hard work of my mother to keep our boat afloat during my teenage years, I was given every opportunity to make whatever I wanted of myself. I made and continue to make my own choices to this day. The lone author of my own destiny. Yet my history of white-knuckle financial mismanagement bares too much similarity to the past, not to suggest a slight degree of influence.
Ever since I was able to secure money on my own terms, I immediately eschewed the simple rule, of living within your means. The London years in particular, a time when I couldn’t live fast enough, represented the glittering heights of my ability to unbalance my balance sheet. Revolving credit, pillowing on top-up loans and worst of all, making career choices based on bailout salary increases rather than what worked for me as a young man with the world at my feet. So disconnected. Rather than make money my friend and ally, we entered instead into a bitter dual for control of one another.
I went closest to winning first. 5 years after moving to Dubai, I woke up one morning in late March, and for the first time in several years, I didn’t owe anything to anyone. Not a dirham. In fact I was flush. Quite considerably so. After a shaky start to tax-free living in the Middle-East, further excelling in outliving my income, I knuckled down and locked myself into an extremely responsible and focused groove. 18 months later, I’d settled my final debts in the UK, and gleefully stared at the bonafide, totally unthreatened positive account balance, that sat trembling in my bank account.
But instead of building on this momentum, and using the opportunity to finally break what had become a highly volatile cycle, I made perhaps one of the most curious choices of my entire life: to walk away from an excellent job at which was I was very good, to explore a career as a full-time DJ. A decision that picked money up off the floor, dusted it down and enthusiastically suggested we go another few rounds. Control. Alt. Delete. And welcome to the next 7 years of white-knuckle boxing.
In spite of what transpired, I don’t regret that decision. I can’t. Too much good happened, and continues to happen on the back of it to ever place it under the shade of regret. Most importantly, Emma and Ava. Two angels in my life that might be absent from my story now, had I stayed put in the one-dimensional safety net of the nine-to-five. But no matter how tightly I wrap that sentiment in a bow, it’s impossible to not understand that decision as one of the most important sliding-door moments of my story.
The years that followed were as exciting and transformative as they were uncertain and financially fragile. The DJ thing played out reasonably well at first. Along with the side-line projects I got involved with to help supplement the dream quest, there were several months I hit new, dizzying heights of income. But with more money comes more things. More travel. Better clothes, wine, food, gifts and pointless symbols of ultimately pointless wealth. And despite having been able to knock money onto the canvass once, I failed to learn that simple lesson along the way: ‘don’t spend what you don’t have.’ Oh, and save something, fool!
Things turned quickly red again, and the undercurrent of much of my life, and the decisions I made to navigate it according to my immoveable values and dreams of affluent grandeur, became driven again by the need to stay financially afloat. It would be seven years and facing the real possibility of an untimely death, before I would be able to take another Black breath.
The reason behind this diatribe towards money is the role our squabble would eventually play in my demise. Despite all the uncertainty and continued mismanagement, I was always determined, resourceful, and lucky enough to maintain – by most standards – a very comfortable and privileged way of life. There are few lessons that I learnt equally from both my parents. But to give my nearest and dearest the best was one I’m delighted to say I did. Regardless of what the ‘real’ cost was. A rule I strictly enforced with Emma. Multiplied, exponentially, after the birth of my daughter, Ava.
As I suspect it does for all new Fathers-to-be, everything changed the day I discovered Emma was pregnant. I was going to be a Father. The most precious honour bestowed upon a man. And I was terrified. Not emotionally. I was more than ready, and bursting with pride that I was fathering a child with a creature as spiritually and physically beautiful as Emma. I was terrified because of what it meant financially. Not in a crude, new-mouth-to-feed kind of way. A much deeper, longer-term anxiety about whether or not I would finally be able to break the cycle of financial mayhem and furnish my new family with the level of comfort and stability they deserved.
The impending arrival of new life cast a much harsher light over both my finances, and the way I managed them. The shadows of immaturity and naivety were razor sharp now, and I was no longer able to bluff my way through the reality, or diffuse the land mines I had set for myself, with the same creative optimism. Ultimately one would argue that this was a healthy turn of events. Shock treatment for the fiscally insane. And whilst that might have turned out to be true on the one hand, the abruptness of the situation and the sheer gravity of its urgency paved the way for a new foe in my life. A dark, silent killer that brooded with stealth and determined menace as a loyal servant in Money’s corner. Stress.
For many, stress wears an ephemeral mask that shows up when the wheels start falling off the day-to-day soap opera of their lives. For others, certainly for those who have been injured by it, its countenance is considerably deeper and darker. Sitting with deleterious omnipresence behind the stage. Like a destructive puppet master; yanking emotional and psychological strings with unyielding belligerence. Squeezing the show, further and further from the light.
I’d experienced ephemeral stress countless times in my life, who hasn’t? But thanks to my on-going immersion into various spiritual practices, whenever it threatened to turn serious I was well equipped for it’s immediate dissipation. But the Puppet Master was new. It didn’t arrive with the integrity of a glove slap. I just became strangely aware of a persistent under-current that began to push gently against the flow. Particularly in times of financial rumination. And so over the years to come, it was allowed to go about its business uninhibited. Squeezing my own show, further and further from the light.
Rarely did I heed the warning signs that I could both see and feel as the years played out, and my fight with money raged on. Our final bout started ominously in June 2013, with the onset of the Pain. By October, all had hell had broken loose as Money and Stress begun delivering a series of hammer blows, that not even the cruellest mind could have scripted.
“Money is the root of evil”. I don’t believe that quip for a second. Despite casting money as the principal antagonist in all this, of course it was the way in which I dealt and managed money that gave rise to the Puppet Master that would eventually take me down. What would eventually happen to me would be met with frequent declarations of ‘unfair’ and ‘so unjust’. But the cold truth is we are responsible for everything, ‘everything’ that happens in our lives, no matter how seemingly cruel or unjust. If we look with healthy depth and honesty into a situation, we’ll always find a plot with ourselves at the centre. It can’t be any other way. I had every opportunity to make something of myself as a child. I had every opportunity to future proof myself against the same mistakes my Father made. I even had several opportunities to pull myself out of the mire that I had created. But I made choices and followed paths that did neither.
It doesn’t matter what form our antagonists take our in lives. What matters is that we understand them for what they are. Teachers. Guides. People and events from which we are required to learn. To grow and become better at being alive. To view them any other way, or to push back against them with ego-driven aggression as I did for so many years, is a futile, un-winnable formula. As well as denying perhaps our most deepest, and eternal truth.
The Universe indeed works in mysterious ways. I failed time and time again to heeds its warnings. It couldn’t reach me with its voice. So action, was its last resort.