i have a sickening feeling in my stomach caused by, well, ’causes’. by the inordinate salubrious feeling generated by, well that’s just it. by what exactly? by adding your name to a list? by being an ethical capitalist?
if you will imagine the creaking spine of an old book opening about now, i would appreciate that. thank you.
primary school. members of my class were due to have their voices aired live on local radio to promote a plant fair. the show couldn’t accomodate a whole class and so students would be selected based on our effort and behaviour in the days and weeks leading up to the show. radio, in my youthful imagination, would bracket me in amongst the gatekeepers of our world, you know.. the people on tv.
I was the youngest of a large family. i felt there was a mould i was to conform to. everything i had done, had been done before me by my elder siblings. comparison was inevitable. i had quite the act to follow. my brothers and sister did well in primary school, always amongst the highest achieving students in any given year. there were other things too: i found myself being picked for football teams by people who’d never seen me play. it’s true; a tall moustached man saw me cutting the grass in the garden and asked if i would play for his team, based on the ability of my elder brothers. i could play, and did. i’d be challenged to races because my brother was the fastest in the entire school etc.
everyone seemed to know them, my brothers. as a result I think i escaped some of the mistreatment young kids get just for being well.. young. I was proud of them. it seemed to matter when you’re a child. possibly more so if you’re a boy. ‘No but really, he COULD fight your brother. he’s in the army, after all. he kills people’, so often. so, often! it seemed the most valid and worthy discussion. at home, i’d be laughed at for my inability to get things right. in school, i would adopt character traits of my elder family and would be confident in their attributes, because to my mind they got things right.
except i didn’t finish in the top perfoming few. i could play football well, but i wasn’t exceptional. i was fast but would never come first. I was just average. just, average.
I was withdrawn from an early age. i began to avoid things, anything, everything. i remember looking out of the classroom window and imagining myself flying high above the empty playground. watching the seagulls scouring the empty crisp packets. to this day, i’ve yet to experience a daydream so vivid. flying as high as my elation at being free, away, escaped.
free from what?
I’d barely get into trouble. if i did it was invariably not my fault. kids get blamed even when no blame is due. it’s true, i did throw that apple at my next door neighbours window, but the window did not smash. And i did throw mud at my own house with an industrial pole. why? well i don’t know. also, we did give that woman in the creepy house too much hassle. but it was like being in your own horror story, can you imagine? that was real. my imagination said so.
and so to the opportunity to be heard on live radio. this wasn’t in the script.
the group was eventually whittled down. possibly a little unfair on those who’s very being is mischevious, they never stood a chance – within seconds, ‘PUT THAT DOWN….. RIGHT! YOU’RE OFF THE LIST’. other children in the group were those for whom opportunity seems almost a foregone conclusion. bright faced, confident, popular. sassy beyond their years. they always seemed to have supportive, yet for some reason in my mind – really shitty natured parents that you want to see fail just to break the mundanity of their success. then there were the other students.. popular by rule. popular by fear.
i’d made it. i was in the elite radio group. it had been close but my rival had been caught fighting and ruled himself out. nerves kicked in.
my shyness was painful. i read a lot for my age. words inside came easy, words out loud at a minimum. but i was excited. excited to be able to tell my family about something they’d not done. to be someone outside of my mould. something i couldn’t be second best at.
the penultimate day arrived. my rival was sweeping the floor in the classroom. for the entire day he’d behaved impeccably. he was clearly pulling out all the stops for a place on the crack radio team. ‘ive got it in the bag though, i’ve done nothing wrong’, or so i thought..
TEACHER – [TO RIVAL]:
‘you’ve been so good today. i can’t not let you go. john? would you mind if [rival] takes your place tomorrow? you are so quiet, after all..’
i can’t remember if i replied or not. i probably just exhaled a whimper. to an extent i guess this justifies her thinking. but whichever way i looked at it, i was left with an uneasy sickening feeling that stuck. it’s not enough to exist and keep out of peoples way. it’s not enough to be a good person. you must make mistakes. and when you do, people will forgive you for it. no, they’ll like you for it.
if you’ll imagine the creaking from the spine of a book as it gently closes. thank you.