The Knife Incident
By Simon Barget
[THIS IS AN EXCERPT FROM A LONGER PIECE]
I had to stay in a psychiatric unit from the age of 17 to 19 but I don’t remember the incident that clearly. Everything was relatively normal. I had friends and I got on at school and was becoming close to one of the top pupils in my year. There was no funny thing about me, no history; it had all just been brewing up quietly in the background. I remember being constantly upset, always feeling like I’d been treated badly. Basically my father was the culprit. That’s not to say my brother didn’t play a part. I used to get angry but I never had the awareness that I was really angry. I never really knew that the anger was mine and that it manifested in ways that would be unpleasant to people around me. I used to tell my mother and father that they were making me angry. I warned them: of course I would get angry if they did what they did. I said I got angry because they provoked me. Didn’t they understand? I wasn’t blaming them, simply explaining something which I thought was obvious. Just having to explain it made me even angrier. It felt like they were doing it on purpose. My father used to laugh like a hyena when he saw he’d wound me up. He used to say: you’re going to blow a gasket, or ‘look at the veins in his neck, Peggy, he’s going to explode.’ There was something wrong with him. Sometimes he used to get on all fours and crawl around like a dog. It was just unfair and no one came to my defence. It was like they were always provoking me. Mark used to provoke me and get away with whatever he fancied. He could do now wrong and they deferred to him. I still haven’t forgiven him and hold him mainly responsible for the difficulties that I had when I was younger.
I remember where I was standing in the kitchen; I remember the thrust or the moments around it, but I don’t really remember what led up to it. It would have been a weekend I suppose because it was lunchtime and I would have been at school during the week, unless it was a school holiday which I don’t think it was. I don’t think I was off sick either; I was never off school.
I can’t remember why I got so angry on that particular occasion. I wasn’t holding the knife to stab anyone; I was using it to prepare something. I think that Baked Beans or Heinz Cream of Tomato soup was involved. I remember the knife better than anything. It was one of those Kitchen Devils ones, back at the time when they’d just come out. I remember them being a novelty and how fantastic it was that they could actually cut, as opposed to our old knives that couldn’t cut things at all. The old ones couldn’t even cut tomatoes. We always had a lot of tomatoes in the house. The knives were the small ones with the serrated edges and the moulded black plastic handle that everyone has these days. But this particular knife I remember because it had a blemish on the handle from being left on the hob where the plastic had melted. Maybe I needed it to prick the cling film that I’d used to put over the top of the bowl that I’d used to heat the baked beans in in the microwave. Maybe I was about to prick or I’d just pricked.
I’d probably been moaning and complaining about my father to my mother. It was a common theme. I used to complain to my mother about my father and what he’d done; I think that was where the anger was. Perhaps he’d just done something to wind me up.
I was standing to the right of the kitchen table. Our kitchen table was a central fixed unit with a worktop perpendicular to it, at a level just above it. The two were attached. They were both blocks of some granite-like stone. Maybe they were granite but I thought granite was expensive and rare. The table went perpendicular to the long window that looked out onto the front garden. I was standing facing the window holding the knife. My mum was preparing something or cleaning up. It must have been lunchtime. She was standing just at the edge of the worktop so facing towards me with her back to the window. I don’t remember anyone else being in the room. I don’t remember where my brother was. Perhaps my father was upstairs in his office, working.
I remember my mother trying to take the knife at the very point at which everything became very heated, more heated than normal, in fact more heated than I can ever remember. I must have been angry about something. She was crying. I never intended to use the knife but my mother kept saying ‘give me the knife’ and the more she said it the more I wanted to just show that I wasn’t remotely intending to use the knife, that there was no need for me to give it to her to show that I wasn’t going to use it and that there was no need for her to keep on saying ‘give me the knife, George’, because by doing so, it meant that she didn’t understand me at all, she didn’t understand I was hurt and that I wasn’t going to hurt anyone. I was the victim here not anyone else. I kept thinking: ‘how the fuck can she really think I’m going to use it?’ Incandescent is not the right word, but I remember the desperation of it. I was desperate to tell her what my father had done, I was desperate for her to understand and for her to condone how I felt. But she was far more concerned about getting the knife.
She was intractable by that moment. Not listening to me, she wouldn’t, she was beyond that. She wouldn’t indulge me anymore, and I felt a change in her. She was sobbing.. Looking back I suppose it was fear, but to me it was as if she was on his side, not mine. I still never intended to use the knife. It was when she reached out for it that it happened. It was as if she thought I would just hand it to her at that moment. And I can remember actually proffering it. Not wielding it but proffering it. I can remember the serrated edge in front of me, the danger of it, of going near it, of there being a dangerous radius around it which would be dangerous to penetrate. I had never seen flesh cut before.
When her hand came out for it, although I held it out for her, I also retracted it, and tried to take it away from her, that is all. That sounds bad, I know. It’s hard to explain. I tried to hold on to it but also show that there was no issue with this knife because I was not going to hurt my own mother. That would be ridiculous. This is the bit I remember most clearly but also am least sure about. I don’t remember the mechanics of the contact, I cannot conceive how the knife did what it did. What I remember so pointedly is the shock of the realisation that the blade had made contact and had cut my mother’s flesh, and the shock of seeing her blood.
It had made a deep laceration in her finger as she’d tried to take it. I don’t know what made here try to grab the serrated edge of a sharp knife, but that is what she did. I was not pushing down on her flesh, or even trying to cut her. I was trying to pull back and take the knife from where it could have been near her grasp so she couldn’t have it. Perhaps that’s how the knife made contact with her flesh. She was screaming for my father but he didn’t come down initially. I still wanted to think that it was nothing; that she was exaggerating. She was bleeding, leaning over the worktop, droplets of blood splatting down onto our tiled floor. At some point my father came down, but I don’t think he said anything at all to me. I don’t remember any look he gave me. I don’t remember any fatherly rage or being castigated. I don’t know where Mark was.
When they drove to Barnet General, I just stayed there and looked at the blood for a moment. Then I went up to my room to be away from it. My father came back but my mother was still in hospital. I remember asking why because I was worried, but my father just ignored me. The police came round soon after and I foolishly thought it was a matter of procedure, what procedure, I couldn’t have said. I hadn’t realised that my mother had asked my father to call them. She wanted me out of the house. I kept asking my father if he was joking. The police had said that it would be difficult to do anything without speaking to my mother. They would need her testimony. They left and I remember listening to my father having a long conversation with our GP, looking up at me every now and then, as if this was something positive and constructive I could have a say in. He must have told my father that I could only be sectioned if I presented a danger to the outside world, but I don’t remember my father saying anything to that effect at all.
I was unprepared.