The Stories in my Mind

Photo by Lisa Monster.

Photo by Lisa Monster.

I’m sitting at a Fish & Chip place, waiting for my order to be ready. My husband and sons are in the car waiting for me. I won’t be long. A few minutes at most. And they’ve got stories to read and games to play.

I’m playing my own game. I’m playing “Make up the story of the other customers”.

There’s the tired looking woman in the tired-looking long dress. Her hair and make-up are perfect. In my mind, I imagine her coming home from a long day at work and realising she’s got nothing to cook for dinner. But she’s already changed into something comfortable, so she doesn’t want to go to the supermarket. Instead, she pops down the road to the local Fish-O, and figures she won’t see anyone she knows.

Then there’s the muscled, tattooed guy with orange hair and an impressively orange van dyke. He’s got a little girl with him — she can’t be more than 2 1/2 years old — and she stares up at him adoringly. “Daddy, what’s that? Daddy, can I have juice? Daddy, can you lift me up?” And he, in his tough guy jeans and wife-beater, smiles back at her and answers her every question. She’s wearing purple leggings, an embroidered white shirt that’s on backwards, and a pair of slippers. And in my mind, I imagine Mum saying goodbye to her little girl. “Mummy will be home tomorrow. Have a good night with Daddy. I love you, chicken.”

As they all leave, another group of customers arrive. Three boys. Let’s say… 13 years old. Maybe 14, but that would be a stretch. The one in the lead is tall and lanky and has a cocky grin that I want to wipe off his face the moment I see it. He’s wearing a stained singlet that’s too small, and a pair of grubby shorts that are too big — not in that “I’m so cool and gangsta” way. More in the “I don’t have clothes that fit me” way. His socks are orange. His volleys are lime green. He needs a haircut.

With him are two other boys. One is taller than him, the other shorter. One is more muscular than him, the other isn’t. These two are wearing clothes that both fit them and look like they’ve recently been washed. I see designer name brands on one boy’s jeans. They both have good shoes. And they’re walking their scooters.

They have to, because Boy 1 is on foot. And they stay beside or behind him at all times.

“Hey,” says Boy 1. “Go buy us some food.” And then he throws himself languorously into one chair, puts his feet on a second, and wait for his bidding to be done.

And it is. Of course. The other boys order and pay, and then return to Boy 1′s side.

There are no more chairs. So they stand, uncomplaining, while their friend occupies two.

Outside, another group of boys walks by. Without moving his body, Boy 1 raises his voice and shouts to them. “Hey! Fags! What are you faggots doing?”

Every adult in the place turns to look at this boy.

He either doesn’t notice or doesn’t care.

“I said,” Boy 1 shouts even louder. “What are you faggots doing?”

The other boys keep walking. And that’s what prompts Boy 1 to move. He leaps from his chairs like he’s been electrocuted, and bolts for the door. His minions — sorry, friends — follow him. I strain my ears, but hear only muffled conversation. And then the second group of boys leaves, and Boy 1 brings his followers back to the Fish-O. As a parting shot he yells, “Hey, JT! You forgot your eye-liner!”

No response.

“And you’re lookin’ a bit fat!”

No response.

“Fags!”

There is silence in the store. The boys pick up their order — or, rather, Boy 1 picks up the order and decrees that they shall eat it while sitting in the parking lot — and they’re gone. And everyone breathes a sigh of relief.

While I make up stories about Boy 1 in my head. Where does he live? Why is he dressed like that? What power does he have over his friends? Where are his parents?

And what is with the language?

Look, I have to be honest. It’s not the worst thing that could be said. I mean, I’ve been called a fag before. Which is crazy, because I thought that kind of random hate-talk died out in the 80′s.

Also, I’m a woman. (Although that seems somehow less relevant.)

But I get their confusion. I mean, I’m almost 6’2″ tall. I’ve got broad shoulders — I have friends who call me an Amazon and others who refer to me as The Viking Chick — and I wear my hair short. At the time, my husband and I were walking home, hand in hand. So I can understand how someone would see the two of us

holding hands

at night

from behind

and instead of seeing a couple in love, they’d see two men (one with incredibly well-developed child-bearing hips) who should obviously be verbally abused for their “crime” — whatever that may be.

At the time, I shrugged and wrote it off as just a few guys who’d escaped from the 80s in their trusty DeLorean, and would no doubt be going home soon.

Well.

Listening to the young men at the Fish & Chip shop today, I have to face the fact that either I was wrong, or there are an awful lot of DeLoreans cruising around out there.

I return to the present when my number is called. I collect my order and return to the car and my family is waiting, and all I can think is that I do not want my boys to ever talk like that. Ever. Even — no, especially — if they don’t know why those words are so hateful, and how their very usage creates and reinforces a culture where hatred and violence against homosexuals is normalised.

With those thoughts running through my mind, I’m almost surprised when my son speaks to me.

“Mummy, did you see those children?”

I hesitate and then say yes. But it takes me a moment to realise who he’s talking about.

It takes me a moment to equate the word “child” with Boy 1.

“Were those children playing a game?” he asks.

I mutter an affirmative and I drive away.

Quietly.

Because in my mind, I’m watching my boys grow up into kind, brave, noble men. Men who won’t need to follow weak leaders, because they’ll know their own mind and follow their own inner compass. Men who won’t use hate-speak, because they’ll know the value of a human soul. Men who will love and hurt and cry and cheer and fight for what is right and never, ever, ever let the world drag them down.

And I will do whatever it takes to make that story come true.

14 Comments

Filed under Life With Kids, Opinion

14 responses to “The Stories in my Mind

  1. I tell myself stories, too. About other people, myself, and my children. I imagine my daughter growing up proud and comfortable in their own skin, and unwilling to let others place them in a box, gaslight them, or sell their identity to fit in with the crowd.
    I did all three, and worse. I let go of my identity as a smart, creative girl to be the party-girl, the one everyone wanted to be with. It was taxing and led me into some very dark corners.
    They roll their eyes at the stories I tell them, little ones, in hopes that they know whatever mistakes they make, they can always find their way back and I’ll be right there.
    I want all the same things for my son you want for your young masters. We talked about honor and the creative drive today, and I want him to learn those things and become a man who honors this aspect of himself, and in turn will honor it in others.
    I cringe when I think of the things I said when I was young. I was never intentionally cruel, but that doesn’t excuse it. I was smart enough to think about the things I said, and their effect.
    Once, when I was eighteen, I had moved north, to a larger town, a college town. My aunt took me shopping. She held up a shirt she thought I would like. I said, “Oh, that’s so gay.”
    Years later, I realize that she lives a quiet life with her partner, a fabulous woman, and how that must have made her feel.
    I read once that we all tell ourselves stories, make up our own reality, and I think there’s truth to this. I imagine the boy tells himself stories of his power and influence, of how he’ll get out of whatever little hell he lives in. Coming from a kind of hell myself, my heart does reach out to him a little. Perhaps one day he’ll tell himself the real story. But the hardest part is convincing yourself of a new story- the story of honoring the good in yourself, letting go of the past, and becoming a person who trusts their own intrinsic value.
    I’m still working on this, and it’s a long road back once you convince yourself of the sad, sorry stories.
    But I think that’s part of why I came back to writing- to share the right stories, with hopes they’ll reach the right readers who may one day begin the same journey I’m on.
    You have an amazing heart and I am honored to know you. xox

    • ” I imagine the boy tells himself stories of his power and influence, of how he’ll get out of whatever little hell he lives in. Coming from a kind of hell myself, my heart does reach out to him a little. Perhaps one day he’ll tell himself the real story.”

      This. This is exactly what I was feeling, and exactly what I hope for him. There are so many moments in life when I come across someone who is pushing and poking and lashing out at the world and all I want to do is give them a hug and let them know someone loves them. I hope all of our children grow up to feel that level of compassion for others.

  2. We were just talking about the writer’s game! lol. Your descriptions were brilliant and now I’ll be thinking about Boy 1 all day, but you need never fear that your boys will be disrespectful. Because they are products of their wonderful home. Because they have demonstrated a unique perspective of their world that is creative, loving and protective and the die is already set.

    Btw, I loved reading that you are tall. I have always looked up to you anyway. ;)

    • Thanks, D. Our conversation about the writer’s game had me playing it even more than normal, I’m sure. :)

      But I do wonder how it is you look up to me when I’m so busy looking up to you…

  3. D beat me to it. Your boys never will because you are able to so beautifully articulate your strong feelings on the subject. (PS – Have I ever told you how fond I am of Amazon women? ;-) )

    • Haha. Yes, I understand you’re writing a whole trilogy featuring mighty women… ;)

      Thank you for the wonderful compliment, Vaughn. Have you invented that blushing/smile emoticon yet?

  4. Great writing Jo, enjoyed your take on the ‘guessing game’ and the turn to views of the world we live in. It is a challenging time to raise kids and the best we can do is to be there for them, as the people we wish them to become and perhaps a little of it sticks as they find their way. Thanks for sharing.

    • Thank you for reading, Mike. It is a challenging time to raise children — and to be a child. I love your take on it: “the best we can do is to be there for them, as the people we wish them to become and perhaps a little of it sticks as they find their way.”

  5. I had no idea you’re nearly 6′ 2″. Amazon Woman we’ll call you, from now on. This post touched me in so many ways, Jo. xxxs

  6. I do like making up stories about the people I see, but I guess the lesson here is that it’s better when they stay quiet and I can make up my little stories about them without being distracted by the reality, which may in fact be quite awful.

    Sometimes see my actual characters, which can be unnerving. Yesterday I saw Stephanie (the protagonist of my last story) on the subway. She was a couple of years older and her hair was longer, but she was even wearing a T-shirt which said that she worked in the right kind of job. That was weird.

  7. I love the story of the other customers … it’s so good. I have done that myself … I see too many real boy1s in life :(

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