Memoirs of mischief in the middle
My mother always told me I should write something like this. I don’t necessarily like reading about other people’s lives, nor do I necessarily care. I don’t consider myself to have had an extraordinary life, and I'm not going to create some silver-lined story that gives the impression I have. I have lived my own life, however. And lived I have, though I have much more living to do.
I was born Justin James, 19th of April, 1986. This was shortly modified to the more commonly referred name of mine, Christopher James, due to the fact I was adopted shortly after earth entry. My adoptive father was a pharmacist at the time and my mother a nurse, both from modestly successful backgrounds.
I was born in the now defunct Bethany hospital in Auckland, which served as an institution for expecting mothers that had family or other issues. Being adopted was a blessing and a curse, for I'm appreciative of the many things I had growing up that I may not have otherwise had, yet I always have and still do hold a longing for my biological families’ ties. I know enough to know that I'm lucky for the opportunities I have had raised in my family though.
Memories of my childhood are really not too clear in my mind until after the 5-6 year old stage. I know that I was a rather naughty child and a very sociable and smiley child according to my mother. Always a mischievous child, my childhood was memorable as a happy and adventurous one for the most part. Creating my own utopia, I revelled in the inner workings of my childhood imagination.
We lived in Birkdale on the North Shore, in a quiet neighbourhood bordering Birkenhead and Beach Haven. 55 Brigantine Drive. My first memories are here, family life in suburbia. I lived with my parents, my brother Steve 3 years my junior, our cat Benji and dog Suzie. It was a great neighbourhood to grow up in as a child, with hills, bush, and beaches ripe for escapades all in close proximity.
My father ran a pharmacy in Parnell, just up the hill after you drive in from town. I remember coming in to ‘help’ dad out in the pharmacy, which usually consisted of me running around the shop, eating all the chewing gum and venturing through the streets looking in all the shops at all the wonderful things on display. My main duty was cleaning the sunglasses. Those sunglasses must have been pretty clean because I cleaned them about 5 times a day whenever I went into dad’s work. He usually snuck me a bit of extra pocket money for helping.
I remember the various night calls we attended too, when the pharmacy had been burgled during the night and dad had to go check it out. One time, the burglars actually cut a hole in the floor from underneath, producing a periscope through the hole to locate the safe and cut around the safe. So I would go in with dad with my notepad and pen, and inspector Morse magnifying glass to try and figure out what had happened at the scene of the crime.
Another time I remember dad telling me the guy working next door who owned an Indian restaurant came out and chased a would-be burglar with a kitchen knife onto the train tracks. I think that guy got busted.
It was quite amazing dad managed to successfully maintain and operate a business. When I was one year old he contracted gangrene, which eventually resulted in the loss of all four of his limbs from the knee/elbow down. He still managed to do pretty much everything he needed to. We went to rugby games, basketball games, parks, all the usual father/son activities you would expect.
It was a major game changer for his life I guess, but all in all it all seemed pretty much normal growing up, providing some excellent gags with his artificial limbs and potential pirate related material for the hooks as his now hands to my friends. My mother handled it well and always served as the glue for our family’s stability. It must have been the hardest on her especially, being the rock of the family. But she has such resilience and perseverance that she would always hold us together no matter what happened. I'm quite thankful for that, as it may have rubbed off on me to have a strong will and determination, which admittedly isn’t always as great as it sounds however!
I have fond memories growing up in that time. I was spoilt by my parents more than ill ever know. Primary school was interesting to say the least, I enjoyed going to school and playing with my friends. It became apparent that I struggled in terms of my behaviour early on, I was that one kid the whole school knew about being naughty.
The reasons for how I behaved at school aren’t too clear to me, though I suspect genetics had something to do with it. Maybe it was a predisposition that was inevitable no matter what measures were taken. To me I think I was always meant to be different, I felt different... I think children’s differences should be embraced and nurtured to fulfil their own potential. Sometimes they are just a bit too much to handle.
One day I was sitting at my desk outside the principal’s office again, for some odd reason, and I’d had enough of it all. So I snuck into the reception area, nabbed 50 bucks off the counter and ran away from school. Given that I was 7 years old I didn’t really know what to do with 50 dollars. So I came up with the brilliant idea of walking to the Chinese takeaways shop and purchasing 50 dollars of Chinese food.
I remember it was something like 1 combination fried rice, 1 lemon chicken, 1 sweet ‘n sour pork, and 2 others. How I would eat all of that who knew. I still remember the look on my mother’s face as they pulled up outside the takeaways and I was sitting there with my 5 boxes of Chinese food. She took me to the police station where I got a stern telling off by a constable and sent on my way.
Authority was not something I held in high regard, and before long I had been referred to a children’s mental health organisation called Marinoto. The labels came in surges, ADD, ADHD, conduct disorder...
Maybe I was led to believe there was something wrong with me so I acted accordingly, maybe it was an attempt to rewire me with medications and therapy to become a ‘normal’ kid, I didn’t want to be a normal kid. I took my prescribed medications with no avail, even after dozens of different medications trialled they never made me ‘good’ and we never really figured out what was going on. I was a trouble child regardless. Society’s view on these kids is fairly simple, we perceive a problem, and therefore we attempt to resolve or fix the problem.
There was never a definitive diagnosis of what was ‘wrong with me’. I was always like that in my nature, rebellious, anti-authoritarian, though today it’s very much in the shadows in comparison to the transparency of my actions as a child. Even though I lived with the stigma of being a problem child I managed to flourish at school through sport and education. I played rugby, basketball and ran cross-country races and participated in all the school sports available.
After about three or four primary school re-integrations and two intermediate school placements I eventually ended up being referred into CYPFS care, and went to various institutions for ‘alternative education’. This was a time of my life where much resentment built up inside me for being in such a system. Today, I still don’t and never will think it was the right path for me to be in CYPFS care, but family circumstances and my admittedly erratic behaviour inevitably led to some form of intervention.
Moving around and constantly changing schools isn’t exactly the most ideal educational or social setting for a kid, but it did have its up sides... Where are you now? i.e. at the CYPHS school there were more activities than any school would do, and there were more focus group styled classrooms, although the extent of the learning wasn’t always so great.
These schools are congregations of the misbehaved, as well as kids with various other difficulties, so I’m a kid with behavioural difficulties constantly surrounded by kids with behavioural difficulties like myself, trying to be in a place which manages behavioural difficulties! Some were plainly just nice kids with family problems, some were violent, and some were attention seekers, some arsonists and vandals. Basically the would-be delinquents of the next generation all were being taught good behaviour. Mostly, they were boarding-type facilities, with everything provided as far as food, learning, activities and utilities went. I remember two in particular which I spent the majority of my primary to intermediate years at.
I honestly don’t know if I’d have been better or worse behaved if I had stayed in normal schools. I do believe that the way the CYPFS system works for children is definitely always not in their best interests and can testify many stories of how it failed myself and those I knew, and also many of those working inside the system who abused both it and children in it.
I think more or less, that being told what to do every day and what I can and can’t do influenced me passively or later on in life, in the sense that my anti-authoritarian stances merged into this passively protestant agenda that can both be positive and negatively perceived. That basically means today I am very passive to a point; until a line is crossed on my moral code and etiquette where I will respond very acutely. You’ll know when you’ve pissed me off but when you do know it’s probably too late!
So these centres served as a second home to me. I would usually return to my family home every weekend or second weekend depending on my situation at the time. When I was ten my father had a stroke on Christmas, at the time it was a devastating blow to our family. I remember my granny coming into my room and in her ever patient voice trying to explain to me what had happened. I don’t think I really understood until I saw him at the rehab centre weeks later. It made me angry to see my dad like that; I think it really set off a destructive undertone in me. I feel extremely guilty for feeling that way right now, however.
Maybe it was all just a blessing upon my family in disguise; maybe it created such strong defences in all of us. We were wooden shacks to begin with and now we are concrete bunkers.
I think you are defined by these moments and how you respond to them. Today I would say there’s really not much that would completely faze me; great preparation for whatever surprises the book of life has hidden beneath its pages...
My mother collected our family once again, we all moved into a new house. It was about a tenth of the size of our previous house, and our parents pretty much lost everything financially: the house, the business, the car and the boat. As my mother recalls today we resorted to eating baked beans for a good while and that’s no joke. Its funny how life changes like that, fate drops its hand and takes out the foundation blocks from your life’s construction.
Dad was a fighter though, and after the initial knockout I think mum got round to him. It took him about two to three years to recover from the stroke and walk again, coupled with the fact that even before the stroke he had no hands or legs. I think his survivability rate was doing pretty well! He’s the kind of person that laughs at this now, he doesn’t care about the hang-ups and what could have been. He lives in the moment and has more courage than any person I’ve been close to my whole life.
I can’t say I’ve ever heard of anyone go through what my dad has and end up where he is today. He’s my hero and maybe I don’t tell him that enough.
After this I was now coming up to Third Form in high school. It was decided that I’d be better off actually going to a normal school now so off I went up north to Whangarei boys high school. I boarded there and it was great times. In my Third Form year I excelled in school, and behaved like a model student for the most part. I even came top of the school in English. I met many good friends and developed my education at a good rate; I took pride in my work and kept to myself.
So what happened in Fourth Form? Well, a lot happened in Fourth Form. I became the resident supervillain in Fourth Form. I orchestrated everybody to come out of the dormitory and abscond on a wild night-long drinking session which inevitably resulted in disciplinary action. We organised dorm fights and in class I was now the guy throwing apples into the fans and lighting the curtains on fire with Bunsen burners.
I was still doing okay in terms of schoolwork but I just found this new revelry about myself which was potentially a pre cursor to the end of my schooling days. Eventually the Principal had had enough of me after getting half the hostel drunk at the school social thanks to the hordes of my dad’s booze I’d acquired. I think dad actually made a joke last year about how whenever they went up to Whangarei from Auckland to persuade the Principal to keep me at school his confiscated booze cabinet had doubled in size. I actually saw it in his office, and he never gave it back to my dad either. I wonder what happened to it all huh, Mr. Kirk.
So, newly expelled from high school, I was now back in Auckland living at home for a week until CYPFS came up with the great idea that since I got kicked out of my last school for drinking, I must be an alcoholic... sooo hello Odyssey Drug Rehabilitation Centre! This was an interesting place, and I met many interesting people and had many interesting experiences here. Take for example the new found hobby courtesy of my rehab friend... smoking weed, acquired IN a drug rehab centre! I’d never tried smoking weed in my life before then, or huffing petrol, or smoking cigarettes. Honestly. It was definitely not the wisest move as I actually smoked marijuana for about five to six years after that.
Out of the rehab and onto the next chapter was Youth Horizons Trust. It was a CYPFS based organisation for adolescents along the same lines of the previous institutions I’d been in. This was a place of fond memories for me. We all were in different houses around Auckland and attended a school in Hunua, south of Auckland. It was the first co-ed high school I’d been to and perhaps that showed in my ability of hooking up with 90% of the female population there.
That said, there were only about 15-20 girls, and around 30-35 guys there. Overall it was quite a positive experience for me and provided everything I needed: girls, playing rugby, friends, mentors and education. In fact education was pretty much bottom of the list now I think about it and once they realised I had no educational learning difficulties I had to be isolated doing correspondence schoolwork, which kind of sucked.
Girls, girls, girls... I love women.
She was my first actually, the one who sat next to me doing our correspondence work. Took my virginity in the park down the road from my house, right after we’d eaten a pizza that had anchovies on it. Anchovies are disgusting.
We had sex for about 4 months after that. We had so much sex the rabbits at the park were jealous, so then it was all on. Not one to tell but many a lover have I had in my 25 years... I love all girls. That sexual tension, right before you blast off together, exploding into a million stars of ecstasy. That energy of passion, built from the lustful incantations of each other’s loins. The touch, the feel, the scent of young love... the nothingness and everythingness at the same time.
I had many girlfriends there, many whom I still see today here and there. I was with three Krystals, one after the other. I swear I’ll never have a girlfriend called Krystal again. I used to write love letters all the time, and have the other girls secretly deliver them. We were masterful at maintaining undercover relationships, because the staff didn’t exactly take to all the swooning with such enthusiasm. We were just stupid teenagers filled with hormones stuck in some little school in the hills of Hunua.
Once I’d graduated to the top level I was designated my own room and level of a house in Ponsonby. It was actually quite fun; they moved my best friend from the year before in with me and we had a great old time sneaking out at night, nicking alcohol and getting completely trashed, harassing the prostitutes on K-Road and generally causing mayhem.
We didn’t get caught going out much though; I think we were the undercover ones of all the kids, always plotting behind the scenes, instigating the next great adventure. That’s when I started doing my graffiti too; my destructiveness unleashed with it. Graffiti as an art form and way of life was actually a big thing for me after I left there. It still is in many ways. It was a major part of my life and I still love it.
The first time I picked up a spraypaint can is so vivid in my memory. The gold paint is still visible, seeping through my cortex and burning into the back of my retina like a fixated haze of a memoir from an awakening coma patient. That’s how we are born into this; it captivates a part of your brain like a crack addiction. From then on most of your day is consumed by the process, designing the next piece, planning the next route of destruction, accumulating various tools of the trade for your mission.
Graffiti wasn’t something that was just seen on the streets. It was my life, my expression to the world of who I was, it comforted me, gave me a purpose. You see words scrawled onto a power box; I saw an entire person’s alter ego persona speaking to me through an encrypted language. This is modern day hieroglyphics; this is how we communicate, to say we were here. To say we actually exist.
Perhaps the prospective graffiti writer has some issues. I mean who the hell actually plans to acquire large amounts of paint to walk around the streets in the early hours of the morning and not get paid for it? My destructive tendencies sure lent a hand in such a lifestyle. I can attempt to describe to you the subculture of the real graffiti artist, but I would fall short somewhere around the point of having absolutely no idea where to begin.
Around this time my parents’ financial situation had significantly improved, and we had our own brand new house in Albany where we still live now. It feels humbling to have such nice things after you know what it’s like to have nothing, and it really gives you a different outlook on life in terms of how you appreciate things. I think every wealthy person should step into the shoes of the less fortunate if only for a day or so just to get an understanding, an appreciation, of that person’s struggle.
After I’d been in Youth Horizons for a good two years it was now off to normal school again, and Mount Albert Grammar School was where I went. Fifth Form now, held up because I should’ve been Sixth, somehow they managed to slip me in. I didn’t really like it all that much but I was quite popular there and somehow managed to last five months before I was kicked out for graffiting the Assistant Principal’s office window with red spraypaint one night. How fitting. That was a pretty stupid thing to do in retrospect. So that was my school career over with, back to the drawing board.
I’d been in contact with my biological mother by that stage, and was seeing her quite a lot. She got me a job through her husband’s painting company, painting houses and such, which I picked up quite well. It was different than school, and I spent most of the time mucking around on worksites. One day I managed to accidentally topple the entire scaffolding platform which crashed through the wall of a classroom causing massive damage, needless to say I wasn’t that popular with my birthmother’s husband after that. I remember us speaking and doing things. I want to get to know her better one day. The last thing she said to me was I don’t want to speak to you until you have a job, or something to that degree.
I never really fitted into those kinds of manual labour jobs; as I’d later find out, which is extremely contradictory in terms of career choices of someone with personality traits such as mine. You flunked school so you’re expected to do a job such as building, painting ... the list goes on but at the end of the day I was bored shitless and always thinking about bigger and better things.
The fact that I hadn’t finished school was seen as the catalyst for entry into these jobs, sometimes, with some people, it’s not always the case. A creative mind needs to create, not duplicate. And that’s what all these jobs I had were really; repetitive in nature and boring.
After I’d finished up there I moved to Wellington by myself to study sign writing. I was out of CYPFS care and a free agent, and I had the time of my life there. Not too much study was done, but freedom was found. It was the first time I’d been free since my inception into CYPFS and I partied like a rock star the whole time. I loved Wellington. It had a different atmosphere to Auckland, and I was having a ball with my new found reign of freedom.
This is just a slice out of the middle of my life so far. I feel like I’ve come a long way since these times. Even though I do regret not completing school I can’t hold regret to it. I'm at university now and would have never even envisioned the possibility of attaining a degree back then. I have learnt and I have made mistakes, I have grown and prepared for the next chapter. Thank you for reading!