CHILDHOOD, WHAT THE F**K! | CHAPTER 4
Updated: Nov 15, 2020
By Ryan Elson | Broadcaster & Entrepreneur
Chapter 4. Against his will, Ryan attends boarding school. He thrives, finally finding a family and a sense of belonging. With new found confidence, he returns “home” to his grandmas and someone loses a finger.
Warning: Explicit language, may be offensive to some readers
Year 6 ended and despite my protests I was going to boarding school. My orientation day started as I had suspected, poorly…. All new students were seated in the Church and called up by having their names called out….Elson Ryan…….Great, they had called me out backwards.
After that we headed to the boarding quarters. We were shown the big rooms packed with beds, large bathrooms with 20 sinks and 10 showers and the big dining room by the Priest in charge. All the while we were being watched by a group of unruly looking lads who would very soon be my boarding school brothers. I had a feeling that instead of being the big guy of primary school I was now firmly at the bottom of the pecking order and I was scared. This was not the last time I went from penthouse to shithouse in my life!
I then met my fellow newbies also starting year 7. Damon first, from Dover and looking as scared as I felt. Timmy, small and looking even more scared than I felt and lastly Ben who looked confident and capable. I hoped I looked like he did.
We were then introduced to our boarding master known as Sarge. He was a mid 20’s guy who lived in a room within our room and was the only non-Religiously appointed boarding master. He had earned his nickname by not taking any shit from smart arse year 7 kids.
Anyway school started. I felt so lonely and afraid on my first Sunday night but every other newbie did too. We then got told by a few of the year 8’s that it was movie night so we followed them downstairs to the dining room. There were heaps of seats in front of the TV and behind that the head Priest had a small room open that was packed full of lollies, chips and soft drink….we had our own little tuck shop!
I have no recollection of the movie but I remember us newbies got stirred up a bit. What really struck me though was how happy everyone seemed to be! It didn’t seem at all like the dismal lonely prison atmosphere that I expected….it seemed a bit like a home coming!
In the days that followed all the normal new school stuff happened. New classes, new friends, new girls, a fair bit of chest puffing from the lads and the standard pecking order rituals. It was all pretty good. Friday afternoon came around and I, like all the other boarders, was looking forward to going home. I got picked up, taken home and it was, as usual, fucking awful.
After a few weeks I realised something……I loved boarding school!! Ok so the Priests and brothers could be a bit nasty occasionally but I was hanging out with new friends’ every day and less people hit me around the head. This was awesome!!
I quickly became solid mates with my fellow newbies and something else very cool happened….my senior boarders (Year 8 to 12) looked after us against anyone else aside from other boarders. They told us how to get around the school, which priests and brothers to avoid and if anyone had a drama with a day student (day rats as they were occasionally known) they would often find themselves surrounded by bigger boarders and told that it was “fight one boarder, fight them all”.
I had never experienced anything like this. It felt like what I thought family should feel like. I felt safe. I felt strong!
Of course as in any family it wasn’t all roses. As I said above senior boarders looked after us against anyone else aside from other boarders. If you had a drama with another boarder you generally had to sort it out on your own come what may. A fair few smack downs took place generally about respect (or lack thereof) and most were well deserved. I know for certain that my only one was very well deserved. I probably got off lightly.
Physically I was an above average solidly built kid, I wasn’t scared of much (what could be scarier than home) and with the backup of my boarders I started feeling pretty cocksure of myself. I started feeling like I was top of the food chain and, sadly, I started becoming a bully. I threw my weight around, belittled people and was generally a nasty bastard. I so deeply regret behaving like this, I have no excuse but all I can put it down to was that I had always felt so shit and insignificant that I wanted to be above others. I have since apologised to many of the people I bullied during this time but I’m sure I caused a lot of damage.
One of the things I regret most is the way we newbies treated another one of ours. Woodsy unfortunately arrived a few weeks into the school year after us newbies had bonded. For whatever reason us stupid 12 year old’s didn’t accept him and I may have been the worst. We tormented him, stirred him, ignored him and generally made him feel shit. We short sheeted him and put “itching powder” in his bed. Woodsy finally cracked and lost his shit.
Woodsy had an older brother boarder in year 10 who was about a foot taller than me. One afternoon we were on the netball courts watching the girls train (another boarder perk) when my name was yelled from behind me. I turned to notice that there were a heap of senior boarders around me and striding towards me was Woodsy’s big brother. He grabbed me by the collar and pushed me backwards repeatedly until my back hit the concrete wall and I had nowhere else to go. All boarders and passers-by silently watched on including those at netball training who had stopped to watch the show. I was given the news that if I hassled Woodsy one more time a serious kicking would be delivered. I gobbed off a bit to preserve a little bit of pride but I was fully aware that I was not in charge here and that every single boarder in attendance would not interfere should I ever require that kicking. Woodsy’s brother turned and walked away, I stood there looking at all the faces in the crowd looking at me in silent judgement. I felt so stupid and pathetic. I stopped picking on Woodsy then, as did all the other newbies, and he soon became one of our mates. I wish I hadn’t been such a dick.
Aside from perving on girls netball training on an almost daily basis there were many other perks about this new environment of mine! After the final bell had gone the entire school grounds (which were substantial) were ours and ours alone!! We played basketball on the top courts for hours, played cricket with 20 other boarders and had absolutely epic take no prisoners smash up derby style skateboard races down the schools main driveway. When I got home on weekends I would get my ass kicked for wrecking yet another pair of shoes (they were our brakes) and tearing clothes but I didn’t care…..this was the best fun I had ever had and they couldn’t stop me!!
I hated Fridays. Friday was the day that I had to leave my real home and go back to whatever hell hole I had been shoved to for that weekend. As a result of finally feeling somewhat empowered by boarding school I felt stronger at my Guardians home and they didn’t like it at all. I buggered off as much as humanly possible, leaving to walk to 10am hockey games at 6am just so I wouldn’t see any of them and I stayed in my room until they forced me out. Incredibly I would then get belted for not being part of the family……for fucks sake.
In year 7 though I had grown and really stared to fill out. I was a big lad and I was about the same height as my Uncle. I started to lift my eyes from the floor and stare right back at him as he threatened me which really pissed him off. The standard smacks around the head didn’t really worry me much anymore and I didn’t see stars as a result. I thoroughly hated him though.
As a result of this newfound confidence I was again shipped back to my Grandma's. This went as poorly as it always had and I spent as little time there as possible often staying weekends at friends houses where their awesome parents fed me, washed my clothes and treated me like one of their own. I am forever grateful to these people and I hope they know it. I am pretty sure they knew what home was like….. or maybe they were just nice people!
One of the greatest things about my fellow boarding lads was that they lived in the country and I got to go there! I loved going to Damon’s place where we rode bikes around his town with an air rifle strapped to our backs. We then made homemade explosives out of shot gun shells and threw them around the back paddocks!! It was amazing!!!
My most treasured mate during this time though was Timmy. He lived on a pretty decent sized farm, had wonderful parents, a super cool big brother, a hot big sister and an attic room! I went and stayed there as often as I could!! During these trips I learned to drive, shoot, roll a go-cart, skin rabbits, kangaroos and possums, wrestle sheep, slide cars around on gravel roads and ride a motorcycle (poorly at first) which was to become a lifelong love.
These were some of the very best times in my life and what makes me laugh now is that these were pretty standard weekends for these country lads……I couldn’t believe how amazing it was!! I got really sick on one of these visit’s and I simply couldn’t get out of bed, sweating and aching all over. In the midst of this I remember Timmy saying something like’ “Well if you didn’t want to come you should have just said”…….bloody hell, if only he had known how much I loved being there.
Around this time a couple of things happened that would start to form another great love of my life…. my love of hard rock guitar driven music. One of the older boarders (yr 10) was a completely mad bastard called Keany. Keany loved Metal! I remember one day he came up to our dorm (it was like the arrival of a Rock Star), announcing that we had to listen to his tape….which we duly did! This tape started with the classic intro to Iron Maidens track Number of the Beast which was played as loud as my little stereo could handle………I was immediately hooked! Keany blessed me by taping some of his favoured tracks and soon I was pissing everyone off with shitty recordings of Metallica, Venom, W.A.S.P. and Accept to name just a few……..much to my ex wife and daughters disgust I have never lost my love of Rock n Roll!!!
Around this time something pretty bad happened. I was living at Grandmas place again and we were constantly fighting. During one of these rolling fights I walked away from her into the laundry area slamming the door behind me…..then I heard an awful scream. I turned and opened the door to see my Grandma holding her hand in the air as blood flowed freely from her index finger….well what was left of her index finger anyway. She had gone to follow me through the door and had been reaching out as I slammed the door. I looked down and here was the top knuckle of her finger complete with nail lying on the floor below me. I picked the digit up and put it in the fridge ……as you do. The Ambulance was called, Grandma was taken away and my Uncle arrived. He didn’t speak to me, just glared a lot. The whole thing just felt so surreal to me…..Holy shit…….I had cut my Grandma’s finger off……and I didn’t even get a kicking!
Grandma arrived home later that night minus a finger. I was sent to my room and no one wanted to speak to me for days. My Grandma never let me forgot what I had done and often raised her shortened finger and reminded me what I had done. I probably should have felt worse than I did.
In year seven I really started to fuck about at school I’m not sure what exactly happened, maybe my new confidence kicked in, but I started goofing off in class and started getting heaps of laughs from class mates…….I loved it!! This new found positive attention from my peers was like a drug and the more I got the more I wanted. Part of the school rules were that each student had a school diary which had to be at school at all times. This diary was primarily for receiving both good notes and bad notes from teachers depending upon your behaviour. Upon receiving a bad note you had to present yourself outside the Middle School Principals office to have him sign off on the note and receive punishment………..I should have got my mail delivered to his office because I just about lived there!
The middle School Principal in my first two years there was Fr. Kevin O’Mara. He was the single scariest thing in the School for newbies and no one wanted to have to go to his office for any reason whatsoever. Due to my shenanigans I was one of his most regular visitors and I got to know him pretty well from very early on. I got stacks of yard duty, after school detentions and smacks around the head from him but it was weird…….I felt closer to him than anyone in the school. Yeah he punished me but I knew I had earned it. He also talked to me though particularly in the evening after school in his office. By year 8 I was often in there talking to him about home and he tried to help me make sense of it all….he was a bloody good man to me and I am grateful for him. He left when I was in year 10 and died in Melbourne when I was in year 11. I got asked if I would like to represent the School at his funeral with some other Seniors and I went to Melbourne….my first trip away from Tassie. I felt very honoured to be there and grateful that the School had asked a troublesome lad like me to go along……they obviously knew what he had meant to me.
Anyway, year 7 finished and it was back to my Uncles place for the holidays. It may have been about now or a bit earlier that we were going camping with our guardians….it looked great in photos but it was still shit. I was given many barked orders and clips around the ear whilst the adults sat around sipping drinks. One of the weirdest things about this was that we were in a public campsite and there were plenty of people in close proximity to witness the violence. No one seemed to care though…….as I copped a clipping other people would look up and then look away. A different time I guess.
In my young adult years I spoke to a few of my guardians friends that were often with us during these trips. A few of them actually said to me that they thought that the way we were treated was awful and they were very sorry that it had happened. As I said it was a different time and I don’t begrudge the fact that they didn’t act……I just hope that times have changed and that their now adult kids would do something if they saw what their parents had seen.
I did like camping though! I liked spending the days swimming, exploring, climbing trees to catch fat black red eyed cicadas and hunting for lizards. In addition I was becoming very interested in girls……..nothing like an Aussie beach camp ground to really start appreciating the female form!!
I also must add one thing that I am grateful for inheriting from my Uncle, I love of cool cars and Hot Rods. My uncle was in the Early Ford Club and we spent a fair bit of time around these cool guys and their beautiful cars either competing at club “Go-Whoas” (Like a drag run but instead of just flying through the finish line at top speed the driver must try and stop with his front wheels on the finish line) burn out comps or just sitting around talking about the cars. It was cool to hang out with these guys and my Uncle wasn’t as much of an asshole when his mates were around. The reason I mention this here is that one of my greatest memories of this camping summer was one of the great loves of my life, my Uncles Silver 1963 XM Ford Falcon Coupe. It was his daily driver and I absolutely loved it. Low and sleek, blue interior with middle folding front seats, white steering wheel, vinyl roof and Jelly bean mags. I still love it and if I ever win Lotto I am getting one.
Summer ended and year 8 began, I was wrapped to be back at school with my boarding brothers and afternoons watching netball training! I began as I had left off, being a disruptive shit to what felt like the admiration of my peers. The bad notes rolled in, my Uncle was called and I copped the usual but I didn’t really care. They didn’t want me at home, I wasn’t doing anything bad enough to get expelled for and I think the school always knew that I was a kid with no parents and whose guardians weren’t the most loving. I probably got away with more than I should have.
This was rather unfortunate for my year 8 home class teacher Brother John. This was the young Brother John’s first teaching role and he was a happy friendly guy that was going to change the world……….. that was until he met me. I truly did not give a fuck about what he said and how he demanded that I behaved. I could smell the fear on him and I made the poor bastards life a misery. Sadly for him I opened up all the chinks in his armour very early and pretty soon most of the other kids in 8 Black followed me through those chinks in one way or another. I was corrupting a class and I loved it. Home class and our English class was absolute mayhem with even the nerds playing up in their own way. By the end of first term Brother John had aged considerably. By the end of term 2 he was an angry beaten man. One day during term 2 I was being a pain in the arse as usual when he lost the plot. He yelled, threw his book against the black board and rushed at me. He grabbed me by the collar and threatened to do something to me that I can’t remember. The class had gone dead quiet. Then, I burst out laughing with my face about 10cm from his……this guy could do nothing to me and we both knew it. Then the entire class started laughing. I saw poor Brother John break inside, he let me go, turned and walked out the door. We never saw Brother John again. He left the school immediately and I don’t know what happened to him. I now regret this.
This event and others like it started to make me feel stronger and I started to appreciate and observe other strong people, not bullies but those he could get things done without threats or violence……there was just something about them. I observed both male and female teachers and I found myself drawn towards those who were able to get kids to comply with their requirements because they wanted to, not because they had to. I figured out around now that the school rules were really bullshit…..what could they really do to me?? When I obeyed these rules it was simply because I either respected the teacher or I couldn’t be bothered with the drama. That was it.
On the other hand I openly despised those who relied on bullying or the fake respect given to those who were given power by a hierarchy. I had many battles with teachers like these and I has never lost my distaste for them. Most of these teachers just backed away and tried to avoid me but there were a few that still wanted to prove a point. I remember 2 of these run in’s were bigger than usual. The first was with a curly haired teacher that I never actually had for a class, Mr Burke. It felt like he simply wanted a shot at the title and he got his chance. He called me out in front of a group in the playground and told me he wanted me to come with him. I asked why and he yelled louder. I went over to him and he quietly announced to me that he had heard about me and that if I fucked him about at all I would be truly sorry. I asked how would I be sorry which stunned him a bit so he hit me with two fingers across the jaw………… fuck that lit me up!! I leaned over to him and explained that if he ever fucking touched me again, I would absolutely sort his shit out for him. I told him that I lived here, I was here all the time and that if I needed to I could get to him in many different ways. He looked at me blankly. I doubt he had ever been threatened by a year 8 student before. He didn’t speak for a few moments and then said, “you watch yourself son” before the walking away. He never spoke directly to me again.
The second was with my male PE teacher……I think this was in grade 9 so sorry for skipping ahead a bit. He was a fit young guy in his early to mid 20’s, the girls liked him and he loved being the cool teacher. I thought he was bullshit. In addition we had a young female PE teacher who I thought was just amazing! She was really nice, always laughing and was hot. She could have asked me to do anything and I would have…….unlike the male teacher. This became pretty obvious to the Mr. and he didn’t like it. One day on the upper oval we were playing touch football and he flat out tackled me…..absolutely nailed me! I wasn’t at all ready for this because it was touch football you fucking moron!! He got up and said to me as I lay on the ground something like, “Not quite the big man now hey Elson”. I lost my shit. I got up and launched at him taking him to the ground where I was on top but he was holding my wrists so I was having trouble punching him in his stupid face. Then I had Miss grabbing my shirt and screaming at me to stop……..it was my favourite teacher so I stopped and got off….he didn’t let go of my wrists until he was up as well. Everyone in the class was standing there open mouthed and Miss told everyone to go to lunch including me. I walked away with myself and the male teacher eyeing each other off as men with unfinished business do. Incredibly Miss must have smoothed things over and I never heard another thing about it. I seemed to mostly do PE with Miss and when I did have it with Mr nothing was said and we both continued uneasily.
It’s weird but many times in my life I have done something that I felt warranted a kicking only to receive nothing but other times I have copped it deluxe for bugger all. Not sure what that is all about really!
I don’t want to continuously rave on about how much I hated home, I imagine you have the idea by now. Just know that nothing ever really changed with my guardians, Grandma and myself. One thing was good at home though and that was my little cousins Kate and Mike. One of the only joys I had was being a big brother to these two, everything from feeding them and changing their nappies to taking them to the park for swings and reading them stories. I loved them very much and I miss them these days. I often wonder what could have been there but life is like that and there is no time for regrets. They were truly the lights of my home life. Around this time something else happened that made home life just a touch easier, my guardians decided to clad out the old workshop attached to the garage and make it my room. I loved it! I felt like it was my sanctuary…..Hardly anyone ever came out there aside from the kids and if it was raining I could pretty much be on my own all day. I think that both my guardians and I were far happier with this setup.
Year nine came around, the last year of middle school and I was wrapped to be placed in Father O’Mara’s home class. Holidays had been shit as usual with my guardians buying a shack (partly with Mum’s insurance money) and me spending most of my holidays working on gravelling driveways, building a bunkhouse and generally labouring. There was the occasional trip to the beach but not as many as I would have liked.
I had decided that I was going to do better at School this year. I had wasted year 8 and I wanted to do better to show everyone that I could. Unfortunately I found that my reputation had preceded me, it felt like every time I looked sideways I got a bad note and as far as lessons went I was watched like a hawk.
I had always really enjoyed English and Science but Maths completely baffled me………. I just didn’t get it. As a result I was placed in level 2 maths which wasn’t quite vege maths but you could certainly see it from there! I was going to have a go though, surely it couldn’t be that hard. Soon I was in class and we were working on some new Maths that I again had no clue about…..but I was determined. I listened, I studied and when the test came around I was as confident as I had even been before a maths test.
Next lesson we were handed back our tests, the teacher didn’t even look at me as she handed mine back……..I had got 0 out of 10. Not one part was worthy of a tick. My insides just fell away and I wanted to cry right there, right then. I couldn’t bring myself to talk to my teacher about it, she obviously assumed that I didn’t give a shit as I hadn’t in year 8. How could I explain to her that for once I had really tried and still failed miserably. I spent the afternoon by myself trying to work it out…..I was copping punishments as often as I had the year before and I had totally failed after doing my best.………I gave up and went back to not caring.
My year was then primarily filled with chasing girls, listening to Metal and playing basketball. Basketball actually bought about a big change in my life. I was still playing school and club hockey and I was doing pretty well. I had been in a few rep teams, not state like my brother but I was expected to go on and play A Grade etc. I was actually Captaining my club team when I decided I didn’t want to play hockey anymore, I wanted to play basketball.
To say my Uncle and my coach were not happy was an understatement. My Uncle told me I was a dickhead and my Coach arrived at my School with a brand new Hockey stick for me as a gift if I didn’t quit. It was a better stick than I had ever had! I didn’t want to play anymore though so a new stick, no matter how cool it was, was pretty pointless. Also, my Uncle thinking I was a dickhead was pretty much par for the course so that was no biggie. I quit and took my own path for the first time. I loved doing that.
The previous year one of the more Senior boarders had left the School as he wanted to be closer to home. I knew Ax as well as well as I knew any of the senior guys, bit of a loose unit and with all due respect not at the highest echelons of academic achievement. Always up for a good time though! We were playing cricket up on the basketball courts when a few of the senior guys came up looking ashen faced. They told us that Ax had committed suicide.
We had a boarders meeting and the brothers had a chat about what a good guy Ax had been and how he would be sorely missed. Nothing was ever mentioned about the fact that he had killed himself…..it seemed to be taboo. I thought about it a lot. I wondered if it was worth it, wondered if Ax was in a better place as everyone loved to say, I wondered what had made him feel that bad that he gave up.