I still sleep with a knife under my pillow.


Do you know how it feels to sleep alone in a car park? A kind of freedom, but one that comes with a price? Choosing that spot between petrol, oil and piss? That moment when you suddenly snap out of sleep, last nightís wine wearing off, and you sit there in the cold and the dark and you start to shake. You shake so much you canít even grasp that half empty bottle.


It wasnít always like that. Once, I was the one who would cross the street at the sight of down and outs huddled in doorways.


Once, even, I touched history.


I am a swordsman.  For years, I lived in the world of historic re-enactment, dressing the part, play-fighting. But once, I held a real weapon, a real piece of history. A Viking broadsword. I felt its weight, looked down along its blade, black, pitted with the years, and just for a moment I was not just playing at recreating history.


History was in my hands. A connection to the past, to other hands that held that sword. All those deeds, heroic, despotic, dreadful. How long did I hold that sword? I canít tell you. A second? An age? All I know is, for that moment I was one with history. The memory of that moment lives inside me.


How did I end up sleeping on that piss and petrol? Was I let down by society? Was I passed over by the authorities? To some extent yes, my depression was not recognised in time. And much of the blame rests on my shoulders. That endless need for one more glass of wine, one more joint, one more snort of coke.


The time I spent on the streets, ignored and alone, was the worst of my life. Over a year later I am still woken by the nightmares. The feel of cold damp concrete below me. Scrabbling through my pockets for enough money for drink or drugs. Seeing the look of contempt on peopleís faces as I say "Any loose change please?"


I remember that Viking sword. Its power. And another memory  wells up from a darker place. A place I go to sometimes, unwillingly. A memory of the only time I used a sword for real.


Was it some imagined slight? An insult? I canít even remember.  But I still see the look in a manís eyes as my sword hit home again and again. Blood pouring from his mouth, his nose. Books tell you that rage is red hot. I can tell you itís not. It is a white heat. You calculate, appraise. All feelings of pity or compassion washed away by a need to create pain.


When IĎd finished, a battered man lay by my feet. His arms twisted and broken. And a strange alien pride swept over me. I recall that feeling now, and it fills me with revulsion. How close I was to destroying another man.


Just as I set out to deliberately destroy my life, not by suicide, but by throwing away everything I loved and everybody that loved me. As if I wasnít worth it.


So where am I now? The drugs are gone, but the booze is still there.  I donít know when feelings of comfort will return, or if they ever will. I live in a seedy hostel, but I have a roof over my head. This place is full of people who have been where I have been. Everybody trying to cope with memories and past pain.  Itís a strange feeling, walking through town, looking at doorways, carparks, hidden places, and saying, ďI tried to sleep there."


Often the pain and despair gets too much. Usually once a day, as night draws in, when you hear normal people laughing and joking, off to see a film or going for a drink. Thatís when itís hard.


Do I now feel safe? Do I now feel secure? The answer is NO!, Do I trust people again? A little. Do I trust the authorities that did nothing for me when I was sleeping out? NO!


Things are better now, only just. But there is a constant temptation. If things get too hard I can always go back. I survived it once, I can survive it again. Thatís when I wake in the night scared.


And thatís why I sleep with a knife under my pillow.

History in His Hands, Creative Non-Fiction by Chris Ellis
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Chris Ellis





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