*Photograph courtesy of Lilith Prins
Lucas was twelve years old when his father left him. His younger brother, Cameron, had been diagnosed with autism at the age of four years old. The father had stuck around for two years before he decided that he couldn’t hack it. He couldn’t handle the fact that for the rest of his life he would have to sit around and watch his child with autism grow up. So that’s when he decided to leave the family. He went somewhere, doesn’t matter where. But he left the family. Cameron was now six years old, Lucas was twelve and their mother, Helena, was working full time to support both of them. That left Lucas to mind his brother. They were given some government support. But that was basically nothing. Just the ability for Cameron to go to a special school that would take care of him during the daytime. Lucas had to meet his younger brother every day after school and pick him up and take him home. Ensuring that he was fed and taken care of as their mother worked long hours to ensure that they could afford the things that they needed.
It was difficult to know what Lucas felt about the situation. If he could feel anything. At that time in his life he was just told that he had to do this and that’s what he had to do. He would meet his brother after school, after he had finished his own studies, they would both take the bus home together. Then Lucas would fix Cameron something to eat, sitting him in front of the television and then Lucas would complete his homework. After Lucas completed his homework, it would be time to cook dinner and he would do so. These were just things that he needed to do. That his mother told him to do. In short, Lucas was robbed of his teenage years at the same time as losing his father. He didn’t have the experience of years yet in order to determine how he felt about the situation, about how other people were living their lives or anything like that. He didn’t know what other people were doing with themselves. He was just faced with this massive responsibility and that’s what he did. That’s what he knew. He knew that his mother was at work and that his younger brother had autism and needed his help.
So every day after school Lucas would pick up his brother and they would take the bus home together. Sometimes Lucas was late as he had to do other things at school to ensure that he was keeping up with the school’s coursework. He had just entered his seventh year, or the first form of high school, and there were a lot of different things going on. As most of the other kids were going through puberty and the boys were flirting with the girls and the girls were flirting with the boys, this is what Lucas had to do, every single goddamn day. He would wake Cameron up every school day and prepare him some breakfast. Just a simple meal of orange juice and cereal. Cereal or toast. His mother by that time had already gone to work. Early start and late nights, that was what was happening with her. He would drop off Cameron to the special school and ensure that there were teachers there that could look after him and take care of him. Then he would go to his own school. Some days he would be late. The teaching staff seemed to understand, once he had explained his situation, and for those days that he was late he was given an exemption.
He paid attention in class. Making sure to sit up the front of the classroom where all of the other students made mockery of his person and played practical jokes on him. One day one of the older kids in the school decided to go up and talk to him.
“Hey kid!” The older student grabbed Lucas’s attention, “Why are you always listening to the teachers? Why do you spend your time in the library studying? What’s wrong with you? Don’t you know that there’s plenty of poon-tang to be had?”
“What’s poon-tang?” Lucas asked.
“You know girls, pussy, poon-tang…”
And that’s when Lucas explained that his life was already full. He was already helping raise his little brother who had autism and he couldn’t afford anything else to distract him at this point in his life. He just had to get through his studies and then he could think about those sort of things later on in his life. The other kid, the older student, was shocked by this. He was shocked that this year seven was already burdened with adult responsibilities. So that’s when he decided to stand up for Lucas and make sure that he wasn’t hassled by any of the other kids in his own year level. Lucas’s personal situation soon spread through the rest of the school and then a lot of people started helping him out, or at least leaving him alone. Allowing Lucas to focus on his studies hassle free.
Some days, on the bus to school or back home, he would think about it. His father. How he had left him and his mother to fend for themselves. Neither one of them had heard a word from his father since. It was just one of those things. Life’s not fair, why should we pretend it is? He would dwell on it from time to time. The whole situation would make him angry. He would release his anger by punching the wall or kicking at things with his foot. He knew that it was silly to do anything more, though he often thought about it. He was the man of the house now. Both his mother and his little brother were both depending on him. It was such a huge role to play in his little brother’s life. But nevertheless, he pursued his course of study and continued to see to the needs of his younger brother.
There was a time in his life where Lucas nearly gave in to the schoolboy hive mind. It was midterm in his tenth year of school, or fourth form. All of the other kids had started partying. Not all of them, but a fair majority of. One of the other kids had invited him to their house so that he could smoke marijuana with them. He accepted the invitation, reluctantly, but he still accepted.
He went to the kid’s house after school. Neglecting the care of his brother. There were a whole bunch of them gathered around, in the lounge room of the kid’s house. They were chopping up marijuana with scissors and mixing it with tobacco. They had prepared a glass bong and filled it with water. There were three boys and one girl sitting in the lounge room. He was one of the three boys attending the session. They were all asking him questions about his little brother and his life. And they were all laughing about how screwed up his life was.
“And you’ve never been with a girl or had a girlfriend?” One of the boys asked.
“No, never,” Lucas replied.
It was then that the girl lost it among the group. “Come with me, I want to show you something.” The girl took Lucas by the hand and took him into another room. Then she started explaining things to him, “Look, I know you just want to hang out and have fun. But you can’t do that. At least for the time being. You have to go and help your brother out. I understand that, all of the other girls understand that. These boys are just being idiots. Once high school is all said and done. Then we’ll hang out with you. I promise. But for the time being… You just have to keep on doing what you’ve always done.” And then she engaged Lucas in a passionate kiss, an embrace. Their lips locked and their tongues intertwining.
Lucas seemed to understand that. He left the others with one of the boys calling out to him, “If you ever need anything. Just ask.”
He was about half an hour late that day to meet and take his brother home. The teachers who looked after his brother were upset, but they forgave him for all the things that he had to go through. That night, after he had picked up his brother and returned home, they sat around and watched television together. Lucas watched Cameron as he sat in front of the television. Cameron was watching the television, but he wasn’t. He was drawing a picture with pencils and paper. Lucas went up and saw what Cameron was drawing. It was a picture alright. The picture was of two figures. One had a bloody sword and had decapitated the other figure. When Lucas asked Cameron what it was that he was drawing. Cameron replied by pointing at the figure with a sword and said, “That’s me,” and then pointed to the decapitated figure, “and that’s you.” Lucas sighed, thinking of what sort of weird world it was that Cameron was living in. He cooked his brother a meal and then saw him off to bed.
Later that evening, Lucas and his mother had a talk. About what Lucas was going to do with his life. “Mum, I don’t know if there is any future for me. Apart from looking after Cameron, that’s all I’ve really done with my life.”
“You’re getting good marks at school, there’s plenty of things that you can do. What are you talking about?”
“The other kids mum. They’re doing all sorts of different things. I don’t know if I fit into their world.”
His mother gave him a hug and replied, “You don’t fit into their world. You fit into ours’.”
“And that’s a good thing is it?”
“Of course it is. You’ve helped out a lot with me and Cameron. You have already undertaken adult responsibilities in your own life. Where these other kids don’t even know what responsibility is.”
“It’s hard mum. It hurts.”
“Not knowing. Being stuck. Doing the same old thing over and over again, day after day. With no release or assistance from anybody else.”
“That’s the pain of being an adult I suppose. Do you want me to book an appointment with a psychologist or counsellor or someone?”
“What good is talking to someone going to do about it? I’m still going to be stuck doing the same things. Looking after Cameron, away from the other kids.”
Helena took her son by the hand, “Look, I know it’s really hard for you. A lot of people do. But that’s what we all have to do in our lives. We all have to soldier on, carry on and make the best of it. There will be good days too, I promise.” And that’s all his mother could say. What else was she supposed to say? Was she going to lie to her son and tell her that he could be anything that he wanted? Was she going to mislead him, tell him that he had some choice in the matter? That everything was going to be okay? No, the best thing that she could say to him at that time was there will be good days, but for the majority of the time you just have to soldier on and make the best of it. Because, when the options were cut down and the essential question of one’s freedoms and liberties came into question. We all have these things that burden us, these weights on our shoulders that we must carry. Lucas understood that all too well and so he carried on day after day. He continued going to school, picking up his brother after school and making sure that everything was taken care of.
It wasn’t until Lucas finished high school that he found any free time to do the things that he wanted to do. He graduated with top marks. Marks not high enough to gain him access to study in the field of medicine, which is what he really wanted. But marks that would enable him access into any other course of study. It was a shame that he couldn’t see himself doing anything else. So instead of going into a field of study that he didn’t really want to do, he found himself meandering around his own home. Just watching television, reading books and enjoying his leisure time. For the first time in his life, he had the option of doing the things that he wanted to do. And it was terrifying. For himself at least. He would sit in front of the television, binge watching television series that he had missed out on while growing up, with a bucket full of ice-cream, spoon feeding it into his mouth. Is this what the other kids had been doing with their lives? The whole time? He felt jealousy at the thought of that. He quite enjoyed the fact that for the first time in his life, he could relax.
When he had graduated high school, he was sure to obtain the phone number of the girl that he had kissed in year ten. And now that he was free, he could phone her and they could converse with one another. Nicole was her name. She had opted to go straight into university and she was studying the arts. It turned out that she had an aptitude for painting, she would spend her time in parks with a sketch book and sketch the local scenery. Sometimes they organized to spend the day together. And Nicole and Lucas would go into the park and she would sketch him in different poses around the place. She was reading quite a lot about feminist issues. The hot topic was that of ‘toxic masculinity’. She would express her fears about living in a world where you could never be certain if a guy wanted to kiss you or rape and murder you. That’s how confusing the world was to her. Lucas would look up at the sky and stare at the clouds and talk about his life. What he had gone through raising his younger brother, how his father had left him when he was a boy. It didn’t seem like Nicole was listening most of the time. But they would spend their nights together. Either at his house or hers’. They would kiss, make out, fondle each other and get lost in the throes of passion.
It wasn’t that Nicole was ignoring or neglecting Lucas’s side of his life. It’s just that she already knew about what he had gone through. His side of the story. And she felt that he wasn’t listening to hers’. She always seemed to be complaining about all of the crappy and crumby relationships that she had found herself in over the years. How they had all ended badly because of one thing or another. Some of the guys that she had been with had turned violent. And Lucas didn’t know exactly how to respond to that. Both of them were caught up in their own past traumas and neither one felt that the other was being listened to or heard. And for that reason, their relationship came to an end.
Lucas was heartbroken when it happened. She did it over the phone, past experiences had taught her not to do such things face-to-face. Lucas couldn’t believe it. They had only been together for a couple of months, where he was expecting that they would end up spending the rest of their lives together. It sent him into a rage. The rage wasn’t just because the relationship had ended. It was a culmination of his life experiences. He had lived his entire life, looking after somebody and for the first time in his life, it was meant to be about him. About what he wanted. About what he needed. He was upset. The whole world had let him down. Or at least that’s how he felt.
For the first time in his life he understood that there would be no relief from the burdens of his own life. He would forever be looking after his younger brother with autism. It was a long road up ahead, he calculated and measured the distance for the first time in his life. And the thought hurtled him into unrelenting pain. It was savage. He spent a month completely despondent to what was happening in the rest of the world. He still picked up his younger brother from his own school and took care of him. But he was doing those things on instinct. The rest of the time he would spend curled up inside his room, on his bed, trying to find warmth under his blankets in what appeared to be a cold, cold world.
That’s when Lucas remembered the boy who had told him that if there was anything he ever needed, he just needed to ask. Those boys had been smoking marijuana in year ten of high school. He knew where they lived and so he went to make a house call upon them. It was strange at first. The house wasn’t quite as he had remembered it. The lawn had overgrown with weeds and the trees hadn’t been pruned. But he was sure that it was the same house. He rang the doorbell and sure enough, the same boy he had seen all those years ago answered the door.
“Hi, it’s me. Lucas, do you remember me?”
The boy looked him up and down, “Yeah, sure I remember you. What do you want?”
“Well, you said if there was anything I needed, all I had to do was ask. Do you remember that?”
“Sort of… Come in…” And so Lucas entered the house. The house was a mess from what it had been. There was a bong on the coffee table of the lounge room and there was a guy passed out in a sofa seat unresponsive. “So Lucas… What exactly is it that you want?”
“I’m hurting quite a lot. I just broke up with this girl… I don’t know what to do. I just know I don’t want to feel like this anymore.”
“Okay. So do you have money?”
“Yeah, I brought sixty bucks.”
So the boy grabbed out a little packet with a golden brown powder inside. “Do you know what this is?”
“No. What is it?”
“This is heroin. It will take the pain away.” And so the boy brought out a piece of tin foil. And then a plastic straw. One of those ones from McDonalds’ that had been cut in half. Lucas held the piece of tin foil and they placed the powder on the foil. Then, with a lighter he lit beneath the surface of where the powder lay. And with the straw, Lucas inhaled.