Not many men get to my age without accumulating a history they’re ashamed of. Things they wish they hadn’t done. People they wish they hadn’t hurt.
What made me think of this was the final revision I’m doing on When the Darkness Comes, which I have been working on for seven years and still haven’t finished. I’ve published four books since I started on that one; when (whether) it will see the light of day I simply can’t say. It isn’t about me and people I’ve known because I don’t write about me and people I’ve known, but some things ring a bell. I’m not going to talk about all of them. There’s this passage, for example, when the protagonist, Ted Bailey, was fourteen years old:
Arthur must be six feet four inches tall and weigh twenty stone, every ounce of it muscle. Half his face is hidden by an untrimmed black beard but there’s no avoiding the eyes that stare at Ted, as crazed as the eyes of the dogs outside. He doesn’t introduce his friend, a skinny man who can’t stop smiling.
‘So this is Teddie,’ says Arthur. ‘He’s as pretty as you said he was.’
Twenty-five pages later, Arthur returns to the story:
The Lizard leans back against the wall, his face a picture of contentment. King Tut rustles his robes. What’s happening on the midway brings back the memory I believed I had buried so deep it could never return. I imagine that’s why I’m being shown it now. Arthur told me to take my clothes off, and I refused. “No” was not an answer acceptable to Arthur. Might was right, and the strong shall conquer the weak, because that is their due.
When my clothes were on the floor, his friend picked them up and took them away. Arthur handed me a pair of girl’s cotton knickers. I said I didn’t want to wear girl’s knickers and Arthur said that was all right, I wouldn’t have them on long enough to worry about.
I’m not going into where all that comes from; I’m only mentioning it here because after publication people are going to be asking me: Do you have a secret? If I do, a secret is how it’s going to stay.
There are other things, though, that have left traces in When the Darkness Comes and when I think about them I’m sad that I behaved that way. I’d like to seek out some of those women and say I’m sorry I treated them like that. Let me make it clear that we’re not talking about rape here—I have never made love with any woman against her will—what I’d make my apologies for is treating women unkindly. There aren’t any excuses. Here’s another extract from the book:
‘… you have a decision to make. About Arthur.’
‘Are you going to use what he did to you as a defence for what you did to Carole and Ramina?’ She held up her hand. ‘Don’t answer yet. You need to think it through.’
‘No I don’t. Shit happens. To everyone. We’re all responsible for what we do. Arthur does not excuse me, because there are no excuses’
P J O’Rourke said that there is only one fundamental human right, which is the right to do as you damn well please. He also said there is only one fundamental human responsibility, which is the responsibility to damn well take the consequences. As I get older, I focus less on the one fundamental human right—and more on the consequences. As I said, not many men get to my age without accumulating a history they’re ashamed of.
I certainly haven’t.