It's not easy for a little boy growing up in a home where dad has left the family and mom is testing out a relationship with a boyfriend. Here's a six-year-old trying to make sense of it all--dealing with the frightening anger of adults and perplexed by their peculiar obsessions. The story is written with the disconcerting clarity of a child, and with the powerful understatement and irony of an astute young man, still today I believe in his late teens, who remembers these things. The writer is a member of the English side of my own family, currently setting out to find his path in life. He left home a while ago to discover the world in the time between high school and, perhaps one day, college. Last I heard, he's teaching English in Hanoi, Vietnam. His story is called:
‘A’ is for Angry (or Arsehole)
By Hugo Docking
You are six years old. It’s past your bedtime but you can’t sleep, so you’re lying in bed reading a book. You like reading because you are good at it. You have long surpassed the purple level books at school (the highest level books at school), and The Teacher lets you bring your own books in for reading time because she doesn’t quite know what to do with you. You are quietly quite proud of the fact that The Teacher doesn’t quite know what to do with you. You also like that you can take your own books into class because they are far more interesting than the purple level reading books.
You hear voices downstairs. They are raised. One is highly pitched and broken with uncontained sobbing. The other is booming and laced with rage. You would like to know why. This particular occurrence isn’t common, you think to yourself. But, then again, not exactly uncommon, you also muse. However The Boyfriend is being particularly loud tonight and his voice is deep and manly and the bass of the thing is resonating through the house and you are now fully awake.
You realise you have become inquisitive and will not be able to get to sleep until you understand why there is such a commotion going on below you. You try to be quiet as you tiptoe downstairs. You want to ‘eavesdrop’ (which means to listen without the people you are listening to knowing you are there). You use the bannister to take most of your weight so that your feet will be light on the stairs like a cat. However the stairs still creak and the voices go quiet. You are still curious, and you’ve come this far, so you open the door and ask ‘what’s going on?’
The Boyfriend explains that The Mother has taken some of his bread from the freezer. Which, he says, was clearly marked with an ‘A’ in permanent marker. (‘A’ is the first letter of his name, and there should be no confusion as neither you, nor The Mother, has a name that begins with the letter ‘A’.) Even though you don’t see the packet, you don’t doubt that it was permanently marked with the letter ‘A’, as it is not uncommon for The Boyfriend to mark his food with an ‘A’ in permanent marker. You know that anything written in permanent marker is worthy of note, as the mark is permanent, which means that it can’t be undone, and is there forever, or at least as long as there is bread still in the packet.
You don’t quite understand why the boyfriend has to be so ‘stingy’ with his food but the fact that you think that, in itself, is understandable as you are an only child. If, like the boyfriend, you grew up with siblings, you would understand the importance of marking your food with the first letter of your name in permanent marker.
But the process of clearly labeling your food becomes redundant if someone who’s name does NOT begin with the letter labeled clearly on the packet in permanent marker decides to help themselves to the contents of the packet ‘willy nilly.’ With this information clarified you now understand why the mother is crying and the boyfriend is shouting and you head back to bed.
But for some reason you still can’t get to sleep…