The compulsion of children to defy…

Dear Mum

I had a really bizarre memory today. I have no idea where it came from, but it is quite vivid. Unlike some of my recent thoughts this one was quite warm and amusing. It was the day Ian Hartley threw a dart into my leg.

We’d been playing in the woods at the back of our house, then wondered all the way along the back, through the trees and down to the bottom by the river. That’s where Ian’s house was. Do you remember? I’m sure you must.

We couldn’t have been any older than 7 or 8 years. All our group of friends had the freedom to be off and out all day back then. It was wonderful. So sad it is not like that today. On this day it was just me and him.

His Mum made us drinks and gave us them with those curly straws. I had to have a pink one, which belonged to Ian’s sister. He laughed at me. His Mum made him swap then, so that I had his blue one. To be honest it hadn’t bothered me, but his Mum’s interference bothered him. It left me a little embarrassed; the fuss over nothing. I think.

We played cards and stuff. Probably snap; although I don’t remember clearly. Then Ian went to find his Dad to ask if we could play darts. A couple of minutes later and his Dad marched through the house with the dart board and some darts. I recall that he was quite a tall man, and he looked down at us both, and in a friendly deep voice said, “Play nice. Be careful.”

We had fun. We placed the dart board about 6 steps up on the staircase, so it was about  head height. I don’t think we kept score.

After a while I needed the toilet. It was upstairs. And that is when it happened.

“Don’t throw any darts until I’ve got to the top,” I told him. I was sort of afraid he would. There is some kind of memory that is telling me I sought assurance from him on more than one occasion.

Unconvinced as I might have been, off I went. Not two steps passed above the dartboard in it went; a dart right in the back of my calf to a point where it could not go any further. He did it on purpose Mum. I know he did. I think.

I don’t remember crying, or making a fuss. I remember going to see Ian’s Dad and telling him, showing him, what had happened. He seemed very calm also; just knelt down, told me to hold still, and pulled out the dart. All done. No blood or anything. I think.

That is it of the memory, the action at least. What endures is the knowing that Ian did that on purpose.

I could never work out whether it was in some kind of revenge for the straw swapping incident; which was his fault for laughing, which lead to the consequence of his Mum punishing him; which could have then resulted in me being punished even though I was fine with the curly pink straw.

Or maybe, unlikely, that he dared himself to see how close he could get without hitting me; but I don’t believe that.

The actual reason I think he did it was that he wanted to. As if he was curious about would happen if he threw the dart and it stuck in my leg. Maybe it was a terrible shot and he was actually aiming for my back (and hadn’t thought about that until just now, Mum). Maybe if I’d just said to him, “I’m off to the toilet,” rather than suggested he might not want to throw darts while I going up, then he wouldn’t have done it.

Is it odd Mum? That compulsion to defy; even when we know what we’re doing is wrong. Is it just in children, before we are polished and refined so we slip nicely into society? Maybe we just become more sophisticated at defiance, or accept its futility.

I wonder where Ian is now. I remember you telling me some years ago he had spent a lot of time going to the doctors, and was taking medication for something or other. But I saw him a few times that year as I drove past the tennis club. He looked perfectly fine to me. I think.

I will write again soon.

All my love. Your son.

Thomas

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