Monday, 13 October 2008

Hell is other people…

October 31st 2007 – It’s 5:30pm as I get off the bus around the corner from my house. It’s already dark and as I walk up the road, feeling tense, tired and frankly like shit I can already hear the noise waiting for me around the corner.

Sure enough as I turn into my road I see the groups of kids. There’s at least six or seven separate groups, maybe more. As I walk up the road I see a group of them try my door and walk away disappointed: knowing they will soon be back.

I let myself into the house and I barely have time to turn on the lights and close the curtains before the knock on the door comes. I go to the door and open it: a group of three or four goblins are stood in the darkness – none of them taller than my knee. Just inside the door is a small tub of fruit-flavoured lollipops – each individually wrapped. I hand the lollies out and close the door. Less than three seconds later the door is knocked again.

And so it goes for the next hour and a half – a constant stream of kids out Trick-or-treating. Some come with Appropriate Adults (a term that will come to have more significance when they begin Helping The Police With Their Enquiries in another year or two), but most don’t. After two hours I’ve still accomplished little more than chop some vegetables and turned the gas on and have barely sat down.

Still, at least this lot make an effort: each set of kids are dressed up as witches, goblins, ghosts or have faces painted like spider-man. Back when I lived at my mum’s house we only ever used to get one or two groups per night and I clearly remember a night when I opened the door to two fourteen year old lads wearing jeans and a t-shirt. As I looked at them one of them sheepishly took a bottle of washing-up liquid and stuck the nozzle between his teeth. “What are you supposed to be?” I asked. The lad looked down, shamefaced, “A ghost from the future” he replied. I shook my head, “No, you’re not” I said and closed the door in their faces. But that was then…if I was to send any of these four year olds home without a treat they’d probably put a brick through my window for starters.

Finally the steady stream turns to a trickle. Even in my area where kids are a ready source of income (child benefits) and a cheap alternative to turkey at Christmas, there are only so many groups that can visit in one night. Foolishly I allow myself to relax – thinking that it might all be finally over for another year.

The door is banged again – rather more loudly. With a sigh I go to the door – thinking that what I really need right now is a nice lie down and some food in my belly.

I open the door and the first thing I see is a man in jeans and a vest. He’s about 30-35, maybe older and stocky with close shaved hair and breath that reeks of alcohol. He leans in closer to me and I look at the bloodstain on his forehead, trace the line down his face to his vest. He leers drunkenly into my personal space, forcing me to retreat slightly, ‘You gotta help me’ he drawls, his words slurred and broken, ‘I’ve been in a hit and run – the driver just drove off.’ He pauses and his face breaks into a dangerous grin, ‘Trick or treat!’ he says in a tone of voice that might as well be saying ‘Give me your money, I have a knife’

I glance down at the little kid that’s out with him – no more than four or five years old and, shaking slightly, I turn and pick up a lolly for the drunk: wanting him gone as quickly as possible. Then I bend down and look at the kid ‘Here – take two’ I say, offering him the sticks. The man looks down at the kid, ‘Oi’ he growls, ‘Don’t be #@$£ing greedy’
‘No, it’s ok’ I say, offering the sweets again before standing up.

The man accepts the lollies for what they are and grabs the kid by the hand, starting to leave. I watch the kid for a second: my heart feels heavy knowing that there is no one in that child’s life who is emotionally mature enough or who cares enough to stop and say ‘You’re not taking that kid out: you’re too drunk’

That kid has no hope: no chances, nothing.

I close the door and turn on the TV: but the noise is not enough to block out the static in my head.

And in that moment I feel the tiniest piece of my hope for the future curl up and die.


Anonymous said...

He's a piece of crap, but I wouldn't say that the child has no hope. When the child learns the truth about his situation, he can make an informed decision about what to do with his life from there. Otherwise, we can only hope someone comes along and is able to take him out of that mess.

Anonymous said...

The adulte is a piece of crap, is what I was saying in the first sentence.

Anonymous said...

Yeah, there are more than a few folks like that in our neck of the woods. They mean well, but man are the kids in for a lot of therapy as they get older.

Hope this year goes better . . .

This Brazen Teacher said...

The child will make a new choice for his life, if he is empowered (by other adults, rather than the drunkie) to create his own life sourced from an authentic inner desire that is not in reaction to his learned experience.

I think people are largely disconnected from this power in childhood. They become products of their environment- because they watch adults they look up to react to their environment- rather than create it.

I hope that a teacher or adult mentor can model for that kiddo. I'm spending some time in my blog in the upcoming weeks on this topic- so I may link to this post. Thanks!


Lydia said...

Wow, this excellent post really got me. That poor little kid; at least you really saw him and perhaps he knew that and maybe it was enough to get through that night.
Halloween is a holiday I've grown to dread. I dislike giving out candy when it's so horrible for the kids. I hate that I must obsess for days about our black cat that will be safe in the garage, and the neighborhood black cats with no shelter. I don't like the disruptions, but I do get a kick out of the costumes and the shining eyes. Around here, when the porch light is turned off that is a signal to kids that the house is "done" for the night. Our light goes off around 8:30p

pohanginapete said...

This makes me glad I live well away from the city. But maybe that's escapism.

And, perhaps I'm just grumpy, but the halloween tradition of begging by force seems to me to teach kids the wrong kind of lesson. On the other hand, perhaps it should be teaching me a lesson about how responding positively (and I don't mean merely being compliant) can mitigate unpleasant consequences?

As for the "adult", I wonder what motivated him to drag the child around the neighbourhood? I'd like to think that somewhere there was a glimmer of good intention; that he did it at least partly because the child might enjoy it. But maybe I'm naive as well as escapist.

raccoonlover1963 said...

Trick or treating certainly isn't what it used to be. When I lived in Florida, most of the trick or treaters were teenagers and one was a woman in her 60's! My meighborhood was predominately Hispanic, including the 60+ year old trick or treater! Because of that, my soon to be 15 year old son can't understand why we won't let him go out trick or treating any more!

Michael said...

"And in that moment I feel the tiniest piece of my hope for the future curl up and die."

I do hope this ending is hyperbole for the sake of the story. (Good writing, as usual.)

You are missing the gem of compassion you offered to that child. YOU are the hope.

You can't predict the child's or the drunk's future. Anything could happen. But that one moment of compassion for a child in need was huge. Even if it was just one lollipop.

What will you do next?

Honour said...

pixie-man: hope hasn't died. not when the memory still affects you and you're sharing it with us, so that we keep our conscience alive. as long as people keep caring, there's still a chance.

i just finished a young adult novel on my holiday about the fate of young children in britain, before proper orphanges - it was called Coram Boy, based on the hospital that was first started for kids at risk. it was interesting.

p.s. i'd like to know what your chord progression is for your poem - maybe i can fool around with it and see what i can come up with! (lovely poem by the way)
p.s.2. good on you for climbing over the obstacles to your night courses - don't give up :) !

Don't Feed The Pixies said...

Samurai - i hope you're right, but when your only role-models are thieves and drunks there's little hope of turning out different. You can already see it in the 6-10 year olds in our area who run riot and are in trouble with the police.

tysdaddy - this year should be slightly better, as i'm hoping i won't have to face it alone!

TBT - i know a couple of teachers in the UK and they do their best to help the kids, but they all say that without the support of their parents (who mostly don't give a shit) it's a hard struggle

lydia - most years i give out apples and fruit to try and discourage them from coming back and to give them something healthy!

Pete - yes it is a form of begging. I wouldn't mind so much if i knew any of the kids, but i don't.

Lisa - i do worry about 4-5 year olds being allowed out alone on dark evenings in this day and age. I would love to see a 60+ year old dressed as Spiderman this year: most amusing

michael - thank you: i agree about hope. The best i can do is to report it if it happens again

Honour - thanks for your kind words. Most of my songs tend to be the basic Am/C/F/G combo - but i think this needs some minor chords or something. Maybe i will post a song one day.

You've hit on one of the reasons that i posted this story - to make others aware of what's going on out there so that we never forget kids like this

Thanks all - fantastic responses

Jenny Bah said...

I feel sad for this kid, but we can't know the circumstances... Perhaps he has someone more who look after him. Well, at least his dad went out with him, to let him have some fun, so who knows, maybe this drunkie to dad isn't the worst possible dad...

Oh I actually like Halloween. I was introduced to this tradition, when I was 14, I think. It was the time when it got popular here as well. Hmm well it's always nice having a reason to dress out, but I have never done that "trick-or treat"- thing (maybe cause I was too old), but sometimes I have been to masked balls. :)

Buddha said...

Since i have become a father 11 years ago i have become very sensitive to children's issues - and i thought only women go through hormonal changes - there is nothing that makes my blood boil like children's abuse and neglect!

On another subject - are you stalking me? just kidding - thank you for the comments.

Don't Feed The Pixies said...

Jenny - i hope that you are right that someone out there is looking after him, but the circumstances suggest otherwise.

Though yes - normally four year olds round my way just wander where they want unsupervised.

Don't Feed The Pixies said...

bhudda (or can i call you bud?) - even as someone who never wants kids my blood boils with yours

Not stalking, by the way - but you can probably expect more responses