Victoria Neumark on what it's like to be . . . aggressively sad
They call it "aggressive sadness". Leroy is one of three boys whose mother has worked since they were tiny. Leroy and Errol and Duwayne spent their time with aunties and grandmas and, quite often, with no one.
Mostly it was OK, though boring, but sometimes terrible things happened. Once she was out working the night shift and Duwayne was playing with matches and there was a fire and he burnt his arm. He's still got the scars.
Once they were trying to make some food and cut through the flex on the kettle and the whole block was plunged into darkness though luckily none of the boys was hurt, even if Errol did get thrown across the room by the shock.
The worst time came when Leroy fell out with his grandma and she put him out in the street on a cold night. That's when social services took Leroy away for a few months and he learnt a few bad habits which his mother would never have countenanced.
When Leroy came back he was 13 and angry. Too old for a minder, too wild for his female relatives, lost too much ground in school to lose face by catching up. Thirteen is not very old to be out on the street all day, to be taller than your mother and be eating fast food and smoking spliffs. But 13 is old enough to push some old lady to the ground and take her purse, old bitch!
And 13 is strong enough to kick in the door of the old couple downstairs and smash up their family photos - who cares about their crap family, know what I mean?
And 13 is edging toward old enough to give a few girls some grief in the lift: who do they think they are, looking away like that? Come on, let me touch you. I said, come here. Let me touch some one, some softness. It's so hard, just having to be hard.
If you are tall and getting taller, strongly built and getting stronger, foul-mouthed and pretty ignorant, anti-social, smashing windows, proving your worth in a gang of vandals, can anyone know, anyone see, in the hulking lout sent off to a secure unit, the little boy wandering round the flat in the dark, looking for his mama?
And when you've been the victim of sweaty rage, purse snatched, flat trashed, clothes ripped, it's hard to believe - and who cares? - that your aggressor was suffering from sadness.
Boys, of course, can't cry. Anger is the only way to go. If you feel weak, vulnerable, abandoned, smash a window. Steal a car. Push over an old woman and take her purse. Others look up to you, maybe even fear you. Least you got some respect.
OK, so there's no warm, safe feeling but anger burns bright, keeps out the cold loneliness and sad memories.
So, here is some of Leroy's vocabulary: "wicked", "safe", "dark", "rude" - all mean good. And "woman", "sad", "weak fool", "muppet" - all jeer at vulnerability. Some children just can't afford to be vulnerable. So they hit you.