We’re born with a desire to be free. Thankfully, we have parents. Otherwise, we would not be long for this world. There’s too many dangerous things around, like electric sockets and fast moving cars. If we didn’t have adults to watch out for us, we just wouldn’t survive. Parents are there to keep things in check. They feed us, clothe us, make sure we take a bath, brush our teeth and get to school on time. Someone, usually “mom,” keeps the house reasonably clean. And if we started coming home out of our heads with Testor’s glue all over our mouths and hands, someone in our household would notice and maybe make a comment.
One night I awoke with a start. One of the thousands of cockroaches that crawled around the floors of our house in the dark was crawling across my face. I swiped it away, hearing the crackling of it’s shell as it flew off into the darkness. Why didn’t someone do something about this? I had to pee, and knowing I would have to walk across the top of my bed, turn on the light, and watch an army of them scatter in all directions before I could walk to the bathroom made me want to hold it in as long as possible. I lie there in the dark, willing myself to go back to sleep. I thought about my sister, lying in the other bed across the room, her unwashed hair full of fleas and her legs bitten from top to bottom. I felt angry and afraid.
It was getting harder to make myself go to school. But I showed up dutifully, still attempting to do my best. On the long walk home I stayed lost in my thoughts, but the closer I got to our house, the relentless anxiety would take hold, starting in the pit of my stomach. I wanted to race home and yet never arrive at the same time. Once at the door, I would try the knob, and if it was locked, that familiar feeling of dread, the rush of adrenaline and fear of what I would find, kicked in. I knocked. I rang the bell. I knocked louder. Then I walked around the side of the house to the kitchen door and tried that knob. If it was locked I went through the gate and found a place to pee in the backyard, not able to hold it any longer. I climbed up on the garbage cans and tried the kitchen window over the sink. If I was lucky, it was unlatched. I crawled in over the faucet and watched my mother sitting upright in the kitchen chair, unable to lift her head or open her eyes. She was plastered again. I seethed.
But absent, neglectful parents meant I got my first tastes of freedom early. I was free to eat what I wanted for dinner as long as my mother had money in her wallet to steal. I was free to sneak out of my bedroom in the middle of the night and go wake my brother so we could walk the streets for a couple of hours, smoking the cigarettes my father had bought for us the weekend before. I was free to steal my parent’s alcohol and smoke marijuana, try my mother’s Darvons, sniff glue, and generally, come and go as I please. But I really didn’t want all this freedom. I wanted someone to take care of me, reign me in. The neighborhood moms had stopped letting their children play with us long ago. We were on our own.
A little neglect may breed great mischief.