My Dad pushed open the door to my room, ready to shout at a disobedient child but I hid myself well. Underneath the bed were built-in drawers I’d shut from the inside, I’d spend forty minutes, or more, eluding detection. Silent, but for gentle breaths and a pulsing heartbeat. The thud of the front door and a distant engine rumble was my cue to move, first to nervously peer out of my parents bedroom window onto the empty driveway, and then to head downstairs and out into the quiet after the morning rush.
School was not where I wanted to be, and what I wanted was more important than what other people thought was good for me. I was cynical, even at fourteen, to those with life experiences, what could they possibly tell me that I didn’t already know about the world? Trying was pointless, learning was pointless. All I could amount to was a feast for the bugs under a heap of dirt, it made no difference whether I worked hard or not. What was there to be gained from Business Studies, or Geography? I thought. Hiding underneath my turtle shell feeding the mind a defeatist philosophy.
In those days, a fourteen year old could get a pack of fags without ID, and since it could be assumed all the kids were at school, I could pass for sixteen with my hint of hair growing on the chin, saving up a couple of days bus fare to spend my parents money on rebelling. I wandered down sterilised suburban streets and housing estates for aspirational early 90s buyers, gardens all neatly pruned and driveways swept, winding left and right through little alleys that avoided the main road.
The lake was man-made, a nice spot for dogs to foul and grumpy morning walkers to curse. It was intended to join each end of the suburb, offering shortcuts away from the road and towards the local primary school. But in reality it was desolate, a dead space hardly anyone used. A tiny island perched in the middle of it untouched, trees flailing as their roots slipped closer to the still water, its murky brown shade rarely moved and the air only vibrated with an occasional quack echoing rippling across the lake. Duck shit covered the pavement that looped around it, and the grass was always boggy even in summer, as children we’d scrape our feet on the path to get rid of the mud, only to end up with muddy shit. I sat on a bench away from the main path, smoking and passing time. Out of boredom I’d smoked a second cigarette immediately after the first. The rush of chemicals went straight to my head and gave me a whiter complexion than usual. Heaving to spew, just phlegm emerging, a sharp migraine fizzled. I managed to stumble up to a wooded retreat and slumped over a tree, waiting for the sickness to abate.
Others I knew who’d avoided school desperately tried to covet attention, standing at the back gate waiting to be caught. Throwing stones at the water, being childish in shopping centres. I was never like that, I was always aware that I needed to blend in seamlessly, nobody needed to notice, leaving them on autopilot as they navigated the bland shopping centre tiles, leaving them to think about themselves. I liked being invisible, it is much easier when you’ve a white face and a masculine look, but I nonetheless appreciated the serenity of being left to my own thoughts.
But despite the care I’d taken in simmering the alarms over my fugitive status, the adults, with their network of contact details, had played their winning hand. My parents were furious and I was equally agitated by this conspiracy against me. They didn’t understand, the law didn’t understand, and it wasn’t fair. I went to my room and listened to loud, brash punk music, I cried and cried and thought and thought, but it wasn’t my parents I was getting back at.