You survive. Somehow, you survive. Especially when you look back on all the trials, all the tests all the days you awoke to a new day and ... just didn’t want to go out anywhere. Because you knew. You knew before going out how the day would end. A bit like a story you didn’t have to read because the ending was patently obvious. In other words, a waste of time. But still, you ventured out because there were house rules. And house rules had to be obeyed. Dad got up early to go to work. Mum got up a bit later, but went to work as well. Neither of them wanted to desperately. Yet they went. Because there were house rules.
Someone had to earn the money. Someone needed to buy petrol for the car. Someone needed to buy groceries. Someone needed to buy the clothes. Someone needed to pay the mortgage. And someone needed to go to school to get an education. So that someone could take over paying the bills — when mum got older and dad got less fit.
Because one day everybody gets older and less able.
But a house has to be paid for. And food has to be paid for. And three people have to, somehow, live.
So you got up and you went. You went though you knew. They would be waiting at the bus stop. Alan and Brett and Steven and James.
Waiting with their “Hi, toffy boy,” greeting. “What you got in your bag to eat? We’re hungry.” “Yum.” “Toffy boy’s mum makes brilliant pasta.”
Two years of that. Two years without a school lunch. You survive. Somehow, you survive. At games time you get asked to kick a soccer ball.
“Hey, pass it to me, idiot.” “No, wait, it’s a penalty, he can kick it. Kick it. Or we’ll kick you. Go on!”
It’s an old ball. A punctured one, but you don’t know that. An old ball filled with stones. But you don’t know that either. For one second you actually feel elated. Even though their talk is rough, they’re welcoming you into their club. Alan, Brett, Steven and James. They’re inviting you to kick. To be one of them. Two years of frustration are packed in that kick. You only vaguely register that the ball hasn’t travelled far. Because what registers more strongly is the howling laughter. And then, far more strongly, the pain in your foot.
You roll over. And they roll over. You all have tears in your eyes, but for different reasons. You limp home. They limp mockingly behind. Two more years of that. Including a near-drowning in a pool game of who can hold their breath the longest. You survive. Somehow, you survive.
By this time you’re 16. You learn you have emotions. They learn you have emotions, too. Yours versus theirs. Numbers matter when they’re lining up, enlisting for emotional battle. The majority wins. It’s only a battle, you hear someone say. A school councillor. There’s a thing that’s bigger — much bigger — than a battle. It’s called a war, says the councillor. It’s the war you must win. It’s the war you will win. Because that’s one thing no one can conquer. Your will.
You learn this, somehow, by 16. You will not give in. Not surrender. To bullies and cowards, gangsters and trolls. You will, silently, survive. As you have done in the past when you thought all was hopeless. When you were actually winning by not giving in. When you were actually winning by letting them think they were winning. When you learned, without realising it, that you cannot overcome adversity if adversity is not there in the first place. Just as there cannot be a hero without a challenge first presenting itself. You come out scarred, but you come out stronger. You backed your will which, like a modern-day satellite navigator, steers you through the maze and round the corner.
Kevin Martin is a journalist based in Sydney, Australia.