In his early twenties, Lucas had refused to answer his door. He’d changed his phone number and changed his appearance, cutting his ties and setting himself adrift. He’d dug himself into a hole and the only way out was to start again. His friends hadn’t noticed because they’d already left him behind, progressing onwards with their jobs and their families. Most of them tried so they did to keep in touch, but ended up busy in one career or another. His father and his second cousin tried even harder, Joe and Lisa-Marie, and it wasn’t that he didn’t appreciate them; living alone back then in the shadows of his dreams with only the radio for company, he would have liked nothing more than to invite everyone over for tea and biscuits, but he felt ashamed of his home back then, for it was rotten. He was peeing in empty bottles and pooing on newspaper at one point, without water, without gas, without electric, a bag of chips for tea his soul evening sustenance. Thank Moses it came good in the end.
Joe made him laugh, and Lisa-Marie was just as her name suggested, two personalities packed into one character. During the short time they knew each other, she dominated his thoughts in some absurdly passionate manner that denoted every other hobby and interest, a manner that wasn’t dirty or sinister in any way at all. Revering her had been a way of life for a year or so, and not all of it happy, because she was absent a lot of the time. Around, but absent. His best memory was when she nearly killed them both doing ninety on a short stretch of road; she had braked just in time after waking up from a drink-induced sleepy-headed lapse of concentration and they had looked at each other with a wonderful feeling of relief and – dare he even think it – had almost kissed. His second cousin.
Then she was gone, moved away again (there’s absent, there’s not around, and then there’s GONE). He had kept away from them when he had had the chance because he was a failure and he didn’t want them to know it. He thought he was noble, doing that, but he wasn’t, he was stubborn. He hadn’t seen either of them in fifteen years and as if he needed it now, as Regina his wife started the washing machines and Vanessa his daughter cranked the cartoon channels up in their lovely family home which was full of nice things, the old familiar memories drifted in, reminding him of the past.
He remembered spying though the eyehole on his front door as Joe rang the bell and rapped the wood on the other side. It was the last time Joe tried to contact him, the time when he had finally gave up. He must have shouted through the letterbox for quarter of an hour, urging his son to come to reason. Lucas recalled questioning his own behaviour, not sure himself why he didn’t just open the goddamned door. He still didn’t have an answer a decade on. Perhaps it was because his home had stank of trash and worse.
He remembered Lisa-Marie in the car again after her graduation. She was on a high with her hip-hop music playing and he was at his all-time low. He could visibly see how his mood was bringing her down and it hurt like pulled teeth, as vivid an embroilment of emotion as he had ever felt. He had gone in that evening alone when she had offered the world to him, eager to celebrate with someone.
Regrets like that never go away. They twist your head forever more and make you sad.
He might never have escaped that squalor, had he smoked crack or drank excessively or sold his ass to a strangers for shillings. He used to steal his shoes, back then: the left from one store and its matching counterpart from another, in a different town. He knew too well how poverty tasted; like the gruel he’d have for breakfast, cold porridge once a day, followed by saltwater for mouthwash. If it hadn’t been for Mr B, he could have ended up in a homeless shelter if he was lucky, on the streets if he wasn’t, and skinny as a whip either way, instead of sat here with his wonderful daughter in front of a home cinema system, with fancy wallpaper and a granite coffee table.
He’d been young and foolish once, and made plenty of mistakes, but he’d got his act in gear just in time, and with some help, and some luck, fortunately everything had worked out. Now he wasn’t alone, and now he wasn’t sad. The people he’d loved were still absent, not around, and gone, but there were other people around now, new people. So don’t despair, he says, because:
Life is about the people you haven’t met yet.
© Errol Babbage 2010