Every now and then I like to look at the stories told by teenagers on slam poetry contests (see 5 November 2013). Here is an excerpt from Patrick Roche’s performance at the 2014 College Unions Poetry Slam Invitational in Colorado. The poem tells Roche’s experience growing up in a shattered family, possibly repressing his homosexuality. While Patrick counts down from age 21, we get a sense of the events that led him to become the kind of resilient (perhaps resenting?) young adult he is now.
If you watch Patrick’s performance in this link, notice the crowd’s applause at the following words (as Patrick hits age 15): “I come up with a theory that my father started drinking again because maybe he found out that I’m gay. Like if he could make everything else blurry maybe somehow I’d look straight.”
He couldn’t have nailed it better. I bet most of us can think of examples to illustrate how we seek—often through some kind of abusive behavior: alcohol, violence, drugs, manipulation—to twist and bend a reality, or to speed through it, in an effort to feel in control, reassured.
21. My father is run over by a car.
He is passed out in the road with a blood alcohol content
4 times the legal limit.
I do not cry.
Four months later,
The nurses lose his pulse,
And I wonder whose life
Flashed before his eyes.
Rewinding VHS tapes
Old home videos
19. I haven’t brought a friend home in four years.
18. My mother sips the word “divorce”
Her mouth curls at the taste
Like it burns going down.
17. I start doing homework at Starbucks.
I have more meaningful conversations with the barista
Than with my family
16. I wait for Christmas Eve.
My brother and I usually exchange gifts to one another early
This year, he
And my father exchange blows.
My mother doesn’t go to mass.
15. I come up with the theory that my father started drinking again
Because maybe he found out I’m gay.
Like if he could make everything else blurry,
Maybe somehow I’d look straight.
15. My mother cleans up his vomit in the middle of the night
And cooks breakfast in the morning like she hasn’t lost her appetite.
15. I blame myself.
15. My brother blames everyone else.
15. My mother blames the dog.
15. Super Bowl Sunday
My father bursts through the door like an avalanche
Picking up speed and debris as he falls
Banisters, coffee tables, picture frames
I find his AA chip on the kitchen counter.
14. My father’s been sober for 10,
Maybe 11, years?
I just know
We don’t even think about it anymore.
11. Mom tells me Daddy’s “meetings” are for AA.
She asks if I know what that means.
I nod anyway.
10. My parents never drink wine at family gatherings.
All my other aunts and uncles do.
I get distracted by the TV and forget to ask why.
6. I want to be Spider-Man.
Or my dad.
They’re kinda the same.
3. I have a nightmare
The recurring one about Ursula from The Little Mermaid
So I get up
I waddle toward Mommy and Daddy’s room,
Blankie in hand,
Daddy’s standing in his underwear
Silhouetted by refrigerator light.
He raises a bottle
To his lips.
Zero. When my mother was pregnant with me,
I wonder if she hoped,
As so many mothers do,
That her baby boy would grow up to be
— Alexia Raynal, Associate Editor
To read more posts in the fields of children and childhood by Alexia Raynal, visit her ZiR page here. For an exploration of children’s lives between two worlds read Alexia’s article “Children Challenging Borders: The physical and psychological journeys that the children of immigrants make for their families,” published by Zeteo last fall.