Parents work mainly in simplifications. Ask a question and you’ll receive precisely enough information to shut you up. As you get older, the questions become more complex as do the answers. A system of gradual revelation. Television took gradual out of the equation. Somewhere in Gloucester a three-year-old watches Titanic and asks, “Daddy, what are they doing in the back of that car?” In Austin, Texas, a seven-year-old watches an episode of CSI, “Mommy, what’s auto-erotic asphyxiation?” In Brighton a ten-year-old – me – watches an episode of Quantum Leap and then asks the question, “Mum, what does rape mean?”
The accepted parental answers are: You see, when a boy loves a girl… When a boy has no one else to love… When a boy hurts a girl…
Simplifications are all parents think we can handle. Simplifications lead to me seeing Richard West hitting Stacy Nichols on the arm in a deserted stairwell; to me running into my first year class of middle-school and yelling out, “Mr. Lockley! Mr. Lockley! Richard’s raping Stacy on the staircase.”
Maybe parents do it for their own benefit too. One day I asked my mother, “Why doesn’t Dad live with us anymore?” The whole truth flashed through her eyes, her pain was synthesised into tears: one part heartbreak to two parts oblivion. I can’t imagine how she could have put that into words. My bite-sized truth for the day:
“Because he decided he didn’t love me anymore. But he still loves you boys very very much.”
For a time, that was enough.