Have you ever seen the movie Amelie?
If not, you should.
There is a scene where she is trying to work up the courage to talk to her crush and when he walks away she turns liquid and crashes to the floor.
Instant tears when I saw this the first time. Even now, when I watch that little 8 second clip, I get watery.
I told Randy the following story a few days ago. He is rarely noticeably moved. He was this time and said it was a great story. I was honestly surprised he didn’t already know the story. After being together for nearly 19 years. I thought he knew all my stories.
When I told him about my childhood act of thievery, this scene from Amelie came to mind.
From my research into the unsettling world of parental narcissism, I’ve learned there are two kinds. The ones that smother and the ones that neglect. I don’t know about smothering. But I am very familiar with neglect.
My mother worked two jobs for much of my childhood. My father? If he didn’t need us for attention or to unload his frustrations then we didn’t exist. I spent a lot of my time alone and unsupervised.
We lived in a shitty neighborhood. It was common to step over passed out drunks that had not quite made it home from a corner bar. A lot of the corners had bars.
Many of the children in the neighborhood were feral. There was one family in particular, the Whalen’s who even scared some of the adults in our neighborhood. I remember one woman who stood on the sidewalk in front of the house and shouted for my dad until he came out and could walk her home. This happened regularly and he loved that shit. Nothing was better than being in a situation where he could strut and show the world his impressive badassery.
For me it was a matter of never leaving the fenced in, postage stamp size backyard or becoming part of the group that revolved around the Whalen siblings. I didn’t want to stay in back yard.
I didn’t like them. They frightened me, but being scared was preferable to being stuck at home.
There was a tiny convenience store a block from my house called the bait shop. It probably had a different name, but we called it the bait shop. It was the back end of a shotgun house. The front of the house faced the street and the backdoor was the store entrance. The bait shop entrance was in the alleyway just on the other side of the cemetery entrance. It was a tiny shop, maybe two racks of convenience items, a cooler for bait and a big red cooler with bottles of soda inside.
One day during the Summer of my 10th year, Timmy Whalen decided we were going to go in and take whatever we wanted.
The owner were an aged couple. They stood behind the counter and looked at us with fear and anger. The fear was justified. The Whalens picked up what they wanted without even pretending to hide the fact that they were stealing. One of the Whalen twins, either Tina or Tammy, looked at me and told me to take a soda.
I didn’t want to take a soda.
The interaction between us got the attention of the other 4 or 5 kids in the group and I was handed an edict. Take a soda or get my ass beat.
I looked up at the old couple and wanted to scream at them “Make them stop”.
They just looked at me with their eyes swimming behind their old people glasses and I instantly knew how very big and scary the world was. I looked into the world and saw a gaping black hole where there was no one to take care of me. No vague authority figure was going to step in and make my decision for me. I was terrified.
I was furious.
I think this is where the scene from Amelie comes in. I wanted to turn to liquid and crash to the floor. I was a child and I stood before adults who were frightened of me. How was I supposed to handle that? How was I supposed to process that and get to my next tomorrow?
There was no way I was taking an ass beating. I took a soda from the freezer with one hand, looked at the old couple and flipped them off with the other hand, much to the delight of the other kids.
Then I lived with the guilt of that moment for decades.
I don’t feel guilty anymore. That was 40 years ago and I’m sure that old couple have been dead for many years. I refuse to hold my child self responsible for making poor decisions. Those decisions weren’t mine to make. My parents should have known where I was and what I was doing. My parents shouldn’t have left me in the hands of a group of hood rats.
I still have a long way to go in dealing with wounds from my childhood. It also occurs to me that I have great reason to be proud of the person I turned out to be in spite of my childhood.
I can’t be alone in this, were you ever in a situation where you felt you were forced to behave in a way that scared you or made you feel guilty?