When we arrived to move into the house, we seemed like an unlikely crew. There were three lads living there already - Kieron, Dave and Billy. Kieron was the leader. He had a drill. Billy was very pale and very thin - kind of morose somehow while at the same time desperately optimistic. He looked like he hadn’t seen a vitamin in months. Dave on the other hand, was just mad. At this point, quite obviously, even certifiably, mad. Just a week or so before he had actually escaped from the psychiatric hospital over the road, bringing to mind a scene from ‘One Flew Over The Cuckoos Nest’. And over the course of our time together, Dave told me a few stories about that place, that enlightened paragon of metal health provision which had held him body and soul for all of nine months. He told me how he preferred prison, because at least in prison you got a release date. He told me about the electric shock therapy, which left your mind totally scrambled for two or three days, then left you feeling more or less ok for two or three days but with no memory, after which they did it all over again. He told me about being chained to four big guys who were there to ‘look after him’, even when he went to the toilet. About how if he didn’t go along with something that they wanted him to do, sooner or later he’d get held down and recieve a knock-out shot delivered to his buttock, which resulted in unconsciousness and a noticeable reduction in his ability to stand up for his rights. Essentially, he didn’t have any rights. He was mad. They could do whatever they wanted to him. The detail that most appealed to my Kafkaesque understanding of faceless institutions, was that the refusal to accept that he was mad was taken as evidence that he was still mad. Refusing to take the pills that made him heavy and slow and stupid was seen as proof that his sanity had still not returned. Now you just try to imagine regaining your mental balance under this kind of perverse authority. They say what doesn’t kill you makes you stronger, but I’m not so sure I believe them. Dave’s approach was to break out of the place and find himself a squat to live in with a couple of mates and several total strangers, one of whom had been recognised by Kieron from a free party, when they bumped into each other down at the job centre. Its amazing what gets hatched down at the job centre, and I’m not talking about anyone finding a job. But anyway, when we turned up at the squat, Dave was living on the sofa in the lounge in a haze of ashtray cigarettes and cheap cider, eyeing the curtains nervously and never far away from a large knife. You got the feeling he was pretty keen never to go back inside that place if there was anything he had to say about it. And he wasn’t leaving the house, or even that room much at this time. Absconders from mental health institutions tend to be automatically served with arrest warrants by the local magistrates, and I don’t suppose that was helping his mental health any either. Dave seemed to be doing pretty well as far as I could see, considering everything that he’d gone through so far in his life. He told me his Dad was always drunk and often violent. He said his mother had been killed, shot by a farmer standing in front of her dog trying to protect him while out for a walk. That was when he left home. He’d had a job as the look-out for a gang of thieves that robbed industrial units at the age of nine. A little later he’d gone to live with a family of Irish travellers who’d trained him to be a bareknuckle boxer, a discipline at which he was apparently quite talented. Some time after that he’d bought a house, back when they gave mortgages to people with no job, no credit rating and no intention whatsoever to make even a single repayment. That episode lasted a few months, during which time he acquired an addiction to crack and heroin, or ‘brown n white’ as it was known on the estate. That was when the mental health issues really kicked in. I could sometimes see the different personalities fighting for control inside Dave’s head. So much suffering just couldn’t be contained inside one self-image, so the ever resourceful ego just created a couple of others to help take the strain. I think it was fair to say that Dave was feeling the pressure. And of course, he couldn’t go to get any medication, because he knew the Doctor would just arrange to have him arrested as soon as he arrived at his appointment.
On the one hand, Kieron and Billy were quite happy to have Dave and his knives living on the sofa. After all, this was a squat, and you never know what might go down. Sometimes you have to defend a place, and while Kieron liked his drill, that was about the limit of his handiness. And if anything serious went off you’d most likely find Billy in a cupboard. So Dave had his uses. And anyway, they were mates. But in this condition, he wasn’t exactly easy company. So naturally, Billy and Kieron started to pal up a little. They shared a floor in the house with a kitchen in it, they went outside from time to time. They liked to get stoned together, and have a laugh. But this was unsettling to Dave somehow. He’d been mates with Billy for years, since the time he bought the house. He had no family left, no real friends after all the alcoholism, the drugs, the crime, and the madness. Billy was about all he had. And now he was feeling him drifting away. It all came to a head one full moon. It 'd been building for a while. You could feel it all through the house, under the neon strip lights in the corridors. Tension. The more Dave got wound up, the more Kieron and Billy retreated into their little flat. Sometimes you could hear him shouting incoherently in the lounge on his own. It wasn’t very reassuring. But on this particular night, we found him shouting slightly more coherently, and it wasn’t at himself. It was directed at Kieron. Dave was pacing the lounge, muttering to himself, wild-eyed. Then suddenly, something snapped. He grabbed his largest knife from under the cushions of the sofa and stormed out in the direction of the stairs. Larissa, sharp as ever, phoned Kieron fast and told him to lock his door. She was just in time.
‘Yer fuckin big gay bastard! Open t’door.’
‘Fuck off Dave’ said Kieron, with his foot set hard against the door to keep his demented friend from getting in.
It wasn’t looking good. Dave was stabbing the door repeatedly with his enormous blade, while Kieron, who fortunately for him liked to eat a hearty meal, was leaning against it with all his weight.
‘Open t’door or I’ll fookin kill yer both’
If I open t’door, that’s when you’ll fookin kill us both, was more what it looked like.
The rest of us were gathering downstairs in the lounge. We’d known these people a week, and this was the only place we had to live. We were not ecstatic about the situation. And besides, we were worried, as much for Dave as for Kieron and Billy. We really liked Dave. He was a lovely lad, underneath all the addictive behaviour, the paranoia and the threat of imminent violence. I’d had a good connection with him from the start. We both had Irish ancestry. We shared a dark sense of humour. Dave’s kind of funny was to make unbelievably hot curries, knowing that Billy didn’t like them, but that he had no money and that there was no other food in the house. And then to watch Billy eating them, as his face got redder and redder, and his expressions grew ever more absurd. That was like Dave’s perfect joke. So anyway, I headed up the stairs, with Dom close behind. The stairwell was pulsating, neon, harsh light. Nowhere to hide. Kieron’s door was closed now, with the giant knife stuck in it, wobbling, and Dave half-shouting half-sobbing, desperately scared of losing his friend, his mind, his freedom. I wondered about his family history, and how much comprehension he had of his own emotional reality. It can’t have been easy for him. And I thought about my own safety. But however erratic he’d been acting, I didn’t feel any kind of malicious intent would be directed towards me.
‘Dave, Dave. Dave man, it’s me.’
Dave was in his own world, and it was breaking down.
‘Dave, what’s up man? Why don’t you put the knife down?’
He kicked the door a couple of times, just desperate now, more than dangerous. My heart broke for him.
‘Dave, you’re bleeding mate! Look. Let me see that hand.’
Dave looked at his palm, which had been cut by the knife as he had rammed it repeatedly into the door. It wasn’t serious, but it was badly enough to make a fair mess. The sight of his own blood seemed to bring him back to himself. All the fight had gone out of him now. You could see he was ready to be taken care of.
‘You should get that seen to Dave. You want me to come with you mate, we’ll go down to the A&E dept at the bottom of the road?’
He let me lead him away, still staring at his bloody palm, and I placed my arm around his shoulders as Dom discretely removed the knife from the door and hid it out of sight. The crisis it seemed, was over. At least for now. But still, we had an evidently pretty broken human being on our hands, and what the hell were we going to do about that?