You Can’t Hurt Me
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Paul King’s tale of adversity and abuse as a child is a truly heart-wrenching tale of a young boy’s struggle growing up with a dysfunctional family on a South London Council Estate where violence, alcohol, drugs and a complete disregard for the feelings and interests of young children were commonplace. Enter a nightmare world for a young boy suffering constant physical and mental abuse from both family and family friends.
Let down by social workers who were not there to protect him, this is the story of a little boy’s struggle with challenges that were constantly thrown at him from the violent mother and more violent boyfriends he had to endure, to the torments of bullies at school and work. After the constant rejections he regularly encountered from the people he should have been able to trust, this is the story of how, in spite of everything he went through, he still mustered the determination to succeed in making a better life for himself.
“Are you ready?” BANG! The start gun exploded. I got a little left behind at the start because I did not know what to expect but by the time we reached the little concrete bridge, I was out at the front. I remember Mr Edwards screaming, “What are you doing, you idiot?” The clatter of my football studs on the concrete soon drowned out his screams and as we came to the first of many muddy hills, I had started to pull away from the rest of the field. After a mile I was about 300 metres ahead. I knew I had run faster to school than this on many occasions and I wanted Mr Edwards to eat his words, but there was the additional motivation of Edwards’ declaration that we could go home as soon as we had finished the race.
As we reached half way, we came to the big lake. We had to do a lap of that before going over it. As I started to run over this big metal bridge, the group behind me had only reached the lake, so I knew I now had a lead of about 600 metres on them and I still felt great. I ran over the bridge and onto the spinney that ran through the woods. The narrow path twisted and the muddy pathway was tough going. Designed for the football pitch and not for running, my boots were getting heavier and heavier. As I pushed on, I could feel the mud splashing up my legs and I slipped and slid through the muddy puddles along the narrow path that led for a good mile through the woods.
I pushed on, determined, as I came to the car park which led to the concrete bridge and the finish. I started to fly. My boots clattered on the tarmac and as I crossed back over the concrete bridge, a few people started to clap. There must have been a few thousand people watching the race so when an unknown, snotty-nosed little scallywag came into the finish over half a mile in front of some of the best young athletes in England, it must have been quite a sight. And in a football kit!
God only knows what they must have thought, but the slow distant hand clap suggested that it might not have been the result they had expected. Well, I did not give a f*ck because I did not know at that time what I had achieved. I ran straight through the winning line, not stopping, and kept running back to the changing rooms, grabbed my gear, got changed, and shot off to the bus stop, back home and round to Harry’s yard for a cup of tea. Mr Edwards was still on the course cheering on the other lads, but a deal was a deal. He had said I could go after the race. I didn’t give the race a second thought and carried on in my own sweet way.
The next morning at school, everything seemed normal as we sat in assembly messing around as usual, when Mr Stuart, our Headmaster, said in a very loud voice, “Paul King, stand up!”
I sh*t myself. I thought he must have seen me f*cking about or that I was in trouble for leaving early after the race. I remember standing there in fear as he told me to come up to the stage. I did not know what to do. As I made my way up tentatively towards the front of the hall, I found myself looking down at every step as I climbed onto the stage. I turned and looked out at the entire school sitting there in complete silence, looking at me. Mr Stuart then started to tell the entire school that we had a very talented boy who had won a major prestigious cross-country race. He then pulled out the biggest silver trophy I had ever seen and walked over to me, placing a gold medal around my neck, and handing me the trophy.
I felt on top of the world, as the entire school clapped and cheered. I had never seen Mr Stuart so happy and proud, but to me it still hadn’t sunk in. I sat down and carried on as normal, f*cking around in school, not at all interested in school life. Mr Stuart kept the trophy for the school trophy cabinet and there it stayed, on the middle of the top shelf. It must have been the biggest trophy the school had ever won.
–From “You Can’t Hurt Me” by Paul King