My first friend
Adults or more specifically Parents never believe you when you’re a kid. My parents? Alcoholics, perhaps not, or at least not in the traditional sense of the word. They drank excessively while maintaining working lives, they drank to cope. Cope With what? Me probably.
I was the good old ‘Problem child’. Not the every day hell raising problem child, not the kid that throws fire crackers down the school toilet, no, not me. I was the reclusive weirdo problem child, the one with no social skills and no friends. No, I did have friends, I had lots of friends, there was James, Mike, Phil and brad and then there was me, I was the most popular one in the group, I was the only one in the group truth be told, reclusive children will often go to far with the imaginary friend thing, brad told me that, Brad was the smart one.
My parents tried, they tried hard, they pushed me into awkward social situations, they threw birthday parties for me and invited kids from school, none of it worked, I had my friends, they would have to learn to accept it, they wouldn’t accept it, they wouldn’t accept me.
School was nothing more than isolation for me, the bullies? I was on the weird enough side of the spectrum that even the bullies didn’t come near me, that was fine, good, I didn’t need them, I had my friends.
Please understand I knew I had no friends, I knew my companionship was in my own head, but when you live in your head for so long the lines between whats real and not can become blurred, I knew all of this and I was fine with it, why couldn’t everyone else be?
Jack. Jack changed everything, Jack made no attempt to introduce himself using any kind of accepted norm, there was no greeting or pleasantry, no mutual exchange of glances leading us to converse, this extremely tall yet chubby kid with an awkward limp and braces inserted himself into my life without so much as a warning.
It was lunch time, through the eyes of every onlooker I was alone, I wasn’t alone, I had my friends, Jack sat himself down right beside me and immediately started talking , I wasn’t listening, I wasn’t responding either, I was simply staring, in 4 years no one had talked to me at this school, it was a mutually beneficial arrangement between I and them. That status quo had just been shattered, why? I didn’t know then and I don’t know now, I had no idea why this strange kid had decided that on this day, he would befriend me. He talked, he talked and he talked and he talked, he didn’t care that I wasn’t responding, he took no notice of my awkward guarded stance and before he left he patted me on the shoulder and said “hey man, same time tomorrow?” then he was gone. I looked around at the empty seats around me, no Brad or James, no Mike or Phil, had I just made… a real friend?
Over the next week or so Jack joined me at the same time every day, I began listening to him, I began hearing him, I became interested and then I began speaking to him. It was wonderful, I had never interacted with another like this, he made me laugh, he made me think, he seemed to know everything about everything, he was my friend. I told my mum, I expected tears, joy, hugs, I expected years of pent up frustration to be released in a sea of emotion, a normal son, that was the dream, that was what I was now was it not? Finally normal. My mum didn’t respond, she didn’t acknowledge me, my Dad did, from behind his paper at the kitchen table “oh not another fucking one, what’s this ones name” They didn’t believe me, who could blame them? You spend years behaving in a certain way and it will take more than one act to change a perception but id prove it, id show them, id give them the dream, a son they could love without feeling ashamed, a son with friends and normal hobbies, I’d give them a son.
My responses to jack during our lunch time meetings where limited, I didn’t say much at all to be honest, Jack said a lot, he loved to talk, he loved to tell me all about the adventures he had been on the previous day, his life seemed to be unrestricted. As he stood up to leave that day, the day after I had been shot down by my parents, he gave me his customary shoulder pat and said he’d see me tomorrow. “w..wait..jack” Clumsy as always. He turned back towards me, “um… wana come to um.. my place after school” Jack shuffled his feet, looked down then looked back up “Sure man, see ya then”
I told my Mum to set 4 plates, excitement, a feeling I had only experienced briefly on special occasions, this was full on sustained blissful excitement that only a child could feel, my friend was coming over, I was normal. He didn’t show, we sat eating dinner in relative silence. “Is your friend enjoying his dinner” I couldn’t blame my dad, I didn’t respond.
I went to bed early that night, I felt angry, more anger than I had ever felt, I had tears in my eyes and my fists where clenched so tightly my finger nails where cutting into my palms, then I heard it, a small sharp tapping sound on my window followed by a hushed “Hey” It was Jack, standing in my yard shuffling awkwardly from side to side, I opened the window. “Sorry I didn’t make it man, I had some problems at home, wana come out?” It was late, well after dark, I had never been out after dark, could i? Yes. Jack made me believe it would be ok, I flung on my shoes and jacket and we headed off into the night. I didn’t say a lot, as always, perhaps it was from always sitting down when we interacted but I had never noticed just how big Jack really was until I was walking along side him that night, he was at least a foot taller than I was and he was a lot heavier. Jack suggested we go to his place, his folks where asleep and he said we could play video games, I had never played a video game, the excitement had returned, it was short lived, his house was horrible, broken, dilapidated and grey. The windows where smashed, the door was broken, the walls where crumbling and inside was worse. No carpets or wall hangings, no furniture and no light, no Jack. No jack? Where had he gone, he was right beside me. Fear began to build, this house was pitch black, it was darker than a house with no lights and I discovered why, it wasn’t a house, it was the burned out remnants of a house, how had I missed that acrid smell of ancient burnt wood, where was jack? I ran out of the house and back into the well lit street, he was no where to be seen, he had left me, abandoned me twice in one night, My friend ?
When I got home my Mum and Dad where in my room, they got a full view of me scrambling back in the window. “What the hell do you think you’re doing!?” He was drunk again; the words came out like pure venom, more growled than spoken. “I’m s-sorry dad..i was with my friend, I was with Jack” A look of absolute disgust flashed across his face. “Jack! So it’s jack this week ? who was it last week? Of that’s right, Brad! Fucking brad, enough is enough, I thought you’d grow out of this but I see now it’s going to take a lot more”
I cant blame him for the sustained beating he gave me, he had never lifted his hands to me before but it somehow felt justified, I had ruined his life, I had ruined my mums life, that is why I couldn’t blame her for not stopping him, I felt no hatred or anger towards them, I felt alot of hatred and anger towards Jack, Jack was supposed to be my big chance, my one way ticket to a normal life, Jack? Jack had ruined everything.
I wasn’t sent to school for a week after that, something about a renovation, the black aye and cut lip was probably a more likely cause.
On the second night I heard it again, the tap on my window, I didn’t stop to think, I flung the window open and let rip, I told Jack to leave me alone, I told him it was cruel that he had left me in that house. “Left you ? You left me ! one minute we’re heading for my house and the next you’re gone! Then you didn’t show up for school, I was worried man” Bullshit, he was in front of me when we entered that house, lies! As I was trying to articulate this sentence to jack from my window my bedroom door burst open, my dad. I pulled my head back in the window and faced him, “Who are you talking to boy?” This was it, my chance; my salvation was standing in that back yard feet away. “Jack! I was talking to jack!” He stepped towards me menacingly. “No dad please! Just look!” He stopped to contemplate the situation then stepped past me and peered out the window, his loud, drawn out sigh said it all, there was no one there and I had to once again accept the consequences of jacks betrayal and with it, another week off School.
They say everyone has a breaking point don’t they? That night I reached mine, all I needed was one more visit from jack and I didn’t have to wait long. Two nights later I heard the tap, this time I was smart, this time I climbed out the window without saying a word, Jack greeted me in his usual enthusiastic manner, a favour I didn’t return. I led the way this time and Jack followed, he didn’t bother asking if we had a destination, he just blindly followed and talked, talk talk talk. We entered the woods, Jack had told me stories about these woods, about an old cabin he loved exploring, I was shivering now, it wasn’t even that cold, Jack noticed, “here man, I don’t need it I’m ok” His jacket felt warm and familiar as I slung it over my shoulders. Jack wasn’t lying, there was a Cabin out here, old, deserted, perfect. We entered and jack started running from room to room, he definitely knew this place and in that moment, so did I. I stayed where I was, jack came hurtling into the room “you gota see this man!” I didn’t move, He knew there was something wrong, he was right. All I could think about as I raised the large metal bar over my head was how he had done this to himself, if only he hadn’t let me down, if only he had turned up, if only he had been my friend. My eyes where squeezed shut as the first blow made contact, I heard it, a sickening crack, I knew it was enough but I continued to raise the pole and smash it down without ever looking, the complete silence in the room told me everything I needed to know. I dropped the pole and left the cabin, left my friend and as the moon light lit up my surroundings and illuminated me in judgmental light I couldn't help but smile.
As I started the walk home a realisation hit me like a bolt from the blue, my Dad had It right all along, Jack wasn’t real, no one else had ever seen him, I had never seen him talking to anyone else or seen him in a class, the night we went to his house he disappeared and again when my Dad looked out the window, it had all been in my head again, Just like Brad, James, Mike and Phil, figments of my warped little imagination but the realisation was liberating, for the fist time I was able to separate fact from fiction clearly, for the first time I felt free, that was the very first time I felt like a normal kid.
When I got home my mum was standing in the kitchen, I didn’t bother trying to sneak in the window, I felt different now, I was unafraid, I expected the shouting, I expected the beating but neither came, my Dad didn’t even bother coming out of the living room and my mum looked at me then continued doing the dishes. I walked into the kitchen and sat down at the table, after an extended period of silence my mum finally spoke to me. “You don’t need to tell me where you went, it’s ok, I know we haven’t helped you and I am so sorry son, your dad is to” My mum hugged me tighter than she ever had and I felt a familiar feeling of acceptance, was this the friend I had been looking for all along? Perhaps. My mum let me go and smiled at me warmly. “Get yourself to bed now son” I stood up and smiled back then turned to leave “Oh Son before you go” She had a confused look on her face as I turned back to face her.
“Where did you get that jacket? It’s much too big for you”