During the school year I spend my day in three environments: Home, the sitters, and school. When school is out, it’s just the sitter, all day. Since Mom works full time and her job is almost an hour away, this makes for a long stretch of time with an adult who is paid to tolerate us.
|There are very, very few pictures of the Dark Year. That’s my brother Patrick on the left, me on the right. I’ve been told that Cthulhu has that same wallpaper in his dining-room.|
Our current sitter is Amelia, a demanding, prudish woman with a deep southern accent. Her husband is a preacher. She has two sons – Carl and Darren – who are just a little older than Patrick and I. (All of these names are changed, to protect the… uh. You’ll see. Well, not Patrick. His name is the same. Look, you know how this works.)
Carl and Darren perfectly follow the “preacher’s kid” stereotype I will encounter again and again over the next decade. That is, they are a couple of rotten little hellion bastards. Mean spirited, selfish, and cunning. This is not their crime. Their crime is – like many preacher’s kids – that they are masters at getting away with it and presenting an innocent front. They amuse themselves by finding various ways to land Patrick and I in trouble, and at pitting us against each other. Also, they never let us touch their “good” toys, which stings because some of their stuff is really cool.
When they tell on us (and they love to tell on us) they will hold up the incriminating evidence, and then embellish the details to make us sound more guilty. If someone gets hurt roughhousing, then they testify that the injury was done maliciously, on purpose. If a toy is broken, then Patrick or I must have smashed it deliberately. For some reason. We learn quickly that the word of Carl and Darren holds more weight than our own, a policy that grows stronger as Pat and I are convicted of more counts of assault and vandalism.
Amelia claims that I “grab myself” a lot, and is deeply offended by this. I’m on a lot of medication. My nervous system is delivering an avalanche of overwhelming sensory input, and I’m not aware of a lot of things my body is doing. I’m often scratching my nose, or ears, or pulling at my clothes, or standing on one foot, or waving my arms around, or doing other things that break social norms. Also, my resistance to change means I’m slow to give up on clothes, even after I’ve grown out of them. So the question is: Do I – an overstimulated kid, wearing pants that don’t fit – spend a lot of time “adjusting” myself? While I’m not aware of ever doing this, I will allow that it is possible and plausible. I will plead no contest.
One day I’m watching TV. I have a blanket draped over me, because it’s cold. Suddenly she strips the blanket away in anger. I look up at her and blink. This was a rarely calm and lucid moment for me, and I’m disappointed to have it interrupted like this.
“Where were your hands just now?” she demands hotly.
My hands are currently folded over my chest, and they’ve been like this for a long time. I know, because one of them was kind of tingling from being in the same position for so long, and I was holding it there because I found the sensation interesting. However, I don’t know what to make of her sudden, inexplicable anger. I stare at her, dumbfounded, like I always do when adults stop making sense.
“Just a moment ago, where were your hands?” She asks again.
“Right here,” I nod. I still haven’t moved them.
Enraged, she drags me upstairs, and explains that she knows my hands were on my crotch. Now, I might do a lot of stuff without realizing it, and I might lose track of my body from time to time. I might fall down, knock things over, fumble things I’m holding, and otherwise fail to keep my limbs under control. But in this case I know where my arms have been.
“Now,” she says. “Where were your hands?”
“On my chest,” I say quietly. I don’t know what to make of her anger. What is this about?
“Just before I pulled the blanket away, didn’t you have them below the belt?”
Why are adults so obsessed with privates all of a sudden?
“No,” I mutter. My mouths is dry and I’m shaking. I hate this. This is gross and uncomfortable. I don’t want to talk about this. I don’t see why she is so angry, and I don’t care.
“I know you did. Now, did you have your hands below your belt before I pulled back the blanket?”
I am at a loss. All I have is my word, and she’s rejected it three times. As far as I can tell, she’s going to keep accusing me until I agree with her. I’ll do anything to end this conversation, so finally I blurt out, “Yes.”
“Why did you lie to me?” she demands. Instead of placating her, my confession has enraged her even more.
I’m trying not to cry. I really thought that she was getting angry because I was arguing with her, and that just accepting her accusation would bring this to a close.
“Why did you lie to me?” she asks again.
I refuse to speak. There is no point in saying anything. She has me sit in a chair and she storms off. She is gone for a long, long time, leaving me sitting in a chair in the middle of a room with no clock.
Once she’s gone, I try to piece together the conversation and see where I went wrong. I realize that admitting guilt was a mistake. I should never have done that, although I’m really at a loss as to what the right move was. Stand there and have her call me a liar and ask about my privates all day?
Good lesson to learn. Better now than later, although I might have preferred a less painful illustration.
When Amelia comes back, she tells me that once I’m home I need to confess to Mom what I did. This is an impossible demand, since it would involve me confessing to a crime I didn’t do and don’t understand, and it would require having another conversation about my privates. I’ve had enough of those to last me the rest of my life.
Every day for the next week she asks me, “Did you tell your Mom what you did?”
“You need to tell her. Tell her tonight. I’m serious.”
I never say anything to Mom. Sometime later, Amelia explains to Mom that she will no longer be our sitter, claiming that, “Shamus just refuses to try.”
This is distressing. Sure, she was overbearing, unjust, and paranoid, and her sons were gleeful sadists, but I fear change. Moreover, this is very, very upsetting to Mom. It’s hard enough to find a sitter that is conveniently located, harder still to find one willing to take two boys our age (most sitters want adorable toddlers, not rambunctious pre-teens) and almost impossible to find one that doesn’t have pets. Add in the fact that they need to be affordable, and you have a recipe for a hopeless search. A few extended family members can burn sick days to take turns caring for us, but those sick days and goodwill are a finite resource.
All of this is to explain how we ended up with our next sitter, who, like the ones before her, is not in the running for “caregiver of the year”. She doesn’t actually let us into her house. She “babysits” us by having us sit on her porch for the nine or ten hours we are in her care. We’re in the city, next to a busy highway, so there is nothing to do and nowhere to go. She offers us no toys. There’s no yard (or indeed, any grass at all) or play area. She gets angry at us if we interrupt her soap operas to get a drink or go to the bathroom. And we have to interrupt her, because she locks the door when she puts us out, obliging us to knock.
This is our summer vacation. Patrick and I sit on the shabby wooden porch in the roaring heat, watching the endless traffic roll by. We play a game called, “That’s mine”, where you point at an attractive or interesting car to “claim it”. It is a game with no point, no score, and no end. It’s just a form of structured boredom. The summer grinds on.
One day a bird craps on my head. I was inside recently, and so I have expended my drink / restroom allowance. I have to clean up as best I can using my shirt. I spend the rest of the day slow-baking in the sun with bird shit in my hair. As bad as this is, it’s less horrible than spending the day with Amelia and her sons.
Still, this is going to be a long summer.
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