I say made, really I mean to say I was too frightened to say anything other than, "Okay."
The game was you passed around a cigarette and had to maintain the ash on the end. Whoever it fell off on, had to eat it. Oddly, it always fell off on my turn (taking into account we shouldn't have had cigarettes, but that's a different conversation!).
Doesn't half make you feel sick. And to top it off, they never gave me decent cigarettes; always Regal. Could have at least made me eat Benson and Hedges.
Anyway, 16th December 2016. Me and my Christmas t-shirt, follow my manager into an office occupied by a HR representative and A.N Other.
At that moment, I immediately thought, 'Shit! It isn't going to be the Christmas surprise I was thinking...'
I was sat down, Christmas Star Wars t-shirt and all, and informed that serious allegations of bullying had been made against me by members of the team I worked in.
Upon hearing this, my response was similar to The Doctor's at 1:05
I must have said excuse me and what dozens of times!
They wouldn't, of course, tell me who said individuals were, but in the back of my mind, I had a good idea...
BACK TO WEDNESDAY 14th DECEMBER 2016
I was having a conversation with a colleague about dogs sleeping on your bed (don't ask me why!) and the content inexplicably veered towards a discussion about suitable candidates for an upcoming position.
A few expletives were projected by my colleague; deputy at work for two years and friend for 10, regarding my suggestions of fellow colleagues who had expressed interest.
I was then advised that one of the team had been upset by two other team members. I said I wasn't aware of it, but figured I could chat with her about that tomorrow as she wasn't available at the time.
No crossed words, though it had made me sad that we had had a disagreement, I called her late that night to say I didn't want us to follow out over a difference of opinion and to ring me back if the opportunity arose. I missed her return call, she missed mine...
No worries. We can chat tomorrow and all will be well. Who hasn't worked with the same colleagues for more than 10 years and not had a disagreement? All will be well. No problem.
THURSDAY 15th DECEMBER 2016
My joke about my calls not being returned is met with silence (I should have kept silent, but I can't help but be quippy. I know it is irritating!).
I and my two colleagues make our way to a room where, for five or so minutes, we chat about who caused whom to be upset, what caused it, what can be done and basic supportive conversational progression.
We are told to leave the room as it is needed; conversation ended, we'll chat later and the remainder of the morning goes on fine (as far as I know). Conversations and teaching sessions are held, banter exchanged, all is well (as far as I can tell!).
But I am perturbed. I cannot shake the feeling that, what I heard yesterday about colleagues and what I had previously witnessed and been made aware of, was wrong. What really concerned me was what had been said to me about other nurses. I had addressed an issue once before and that nurse had left because of how she was treated by another member of the team.
Horribly inexperienced as I was at the time to deal with it, I had done my best. I should have done more, but that hindsight thing is an awesome quality to have. Always telling you what you should have done after the fact.
The colleague who I discovered had accused me was my friend. Had held my youngest son when he was hours old whilst my wife was being stitched up in the delivery room. We had gone on away days together, done courses together, regularly texted each other, had nights out as a team and were organising a Christmas night out for all. We were arranging a double date with her husband and her, my wife and a former colleague, whom we were both friends with. Things were good and I thought the world of her.
But I couldn't shake what I had been told, so I asked my manager for council on it and advised that I believed, after much soul-searching, my friend may be the problem with the upset in the team and that I had concerns regarding her behaviour towards junior members of staff.
I was told she and another team member had been to speak to her about me.
Okayyyy... what about?
"I can't tell you."
I expressed frustration at being confused about how lovely everything had been all morning and not even being aware there were any issues with myself (stupid David!!). I make a comment about working with 'bloody women' and how I miss working with blokes who just march up to you and threaten to knock you out if they are annoyed with you.
I'm such an idiot I don't even realise that what I have just said is sexist (it never crossed my mind, but that is what was thrown at me. I cannot deny; I said it and it was bang out of order. I have no excuse, so to women everywhere, I apologise unreservedly).
I return to my desk, write a sad email to my manager, stating how awful it was having to speak to her about my concerns and about hearing friends were upset with me, say bye to everyone in the office (my subsequent accusers return a hearty goodbye in return) and go home (I was only in a half day; I didn't just walk out of work!!!).
I return to my family, go to sleep with no concerns, completely ignorant and stupid about what is about to happen.
BACK TO 16th DECEMBER 2016
After the top page preamble, I'm escorted off the premises after being told I'm suspended and ring Kelly to tell her.
She asks why?
I say I have no idea really and tell her what I know.
I ask someone via text message if they can collect Jakey's Christmas letter from Father Christmas, but receive no reply (they had already been told they cannot speak to me, but I don't know this at the time and just think I am being ignored).
No one speaks to me for over four months from work; HR representatives do. Friends and colleagues, not a word. You see, they have been threatened (I found out later) that they cannot speak to me under any circumstances or they will be disciplined.
This is right before Christmas. I beg one of my friends to speak to me, not about work, just anything; television, Christmas programmes, her children... anything, just to hear a friendly voice, even if it is via text.
Except a phone call from HR telling me that I have breached the terms of my suspension and am in trouble for texting a friend. I say I wasn't asking about work; on the contrary, I just wanted to speak about anything else. Doesn't matter - I have broken the rules and am simply given the Crisis Helpline number with advice that if I need to chat with someone, call them.
I just desperately wanted to know that someone, anyone, cared. I wasn't a bully. I knew I wasn't.
I wasn't, was I?
When I had been a child living in Billingham, I was beaten up virtually every day at St Joseph's Primary School. Well, nearly every day.
I hated school. I cried upon having to go. An older boy (who ended up playing for Leeds United) used to chase me around the field and clobber me when he caught me... which he always did because I was teenie-tiny back then. Severley underweight and goofy, with a bowl haircut (thanks, Mum) and NHS glasses (thanks, Mum).
Have you seen NHS glasses now? They're great!
My father was a horrible man; misogynistic wife beater, drunk and psychological abuser of one of his children (he ignored my little brother). He collected me once, from the bus stop when I was in secondary school. I had severe acne from being about 12 to 30 and looked horrendous. My name wasn't David at school; it was Pizza Face. I forgot I was called David until I was in my twenties and someone reminded me!
My Mum was the only person in the world who never looked at me as though I was a monster; I only ever saw love in her eyes.
My Dad watched me get off the bus and said, "I'm not walking home with a son who looks like that," and left me, whilst the bus full of children laughed. I only saw him occasionally when he wasn't drunk and that was all he had to say to me.
And that was one of the nicer things he did!
Anyway, had I upset someone at work, my friend, so much that she had reported me for being a bully? I didn't know of course, as you aren't allowed to be told anything.
I'd been assigned a liaison from H.R who would tell me on a regular basis, "I'm just ringing to tell you that I can't tell you anything. Speak to you next week."
Not a peep from a soul and it is now Christmas, where I know only that I have been accused of bullying... after reporting bullying.
Was it a coincidence, or was I just making connections where there were none?
Had I done something and not realised, being a bit dim?
But I was determined not to spoil Christmas for my family, so brave face on and we had a lovely Eve and Day. Special, truly. So much love, it was almost tangible.
Boxing Day came and Kelly was supportive of my going out with my friend to relax and try and take my mind off things.
She knew something. I don't know how, but she did.
She had helped me through my recent, reluctant diagnoses of depression and anxiety and was so wonderful about it all. Guiding me and educating me.
But she somehow knew that when I came in that evening, drunk and melancholic, that I would do it.
She had known I would try and kill myself.