A Boy’s Life
This story was inspired in 2003 by a boy I knew. Request permission to reprint through the contact page.
Looking up from his gameboy, Michael noticed that we were just a few blocks from school. He sighed as her turned back to his game of Yu-Gi-Oh to finish his battle. He was one move away from victory.
“Michael, come on it’s time to get out,” said his mom. He realized that they were stopped by the gate for the kids who get dropped off in the morning.
“Okay,” he said slowly, and became focused again on his game, “just a second. I just need to finish this battle.”
“Michael, come on!” his mom said with frustration in her voice. “You know I’m going to be late for work.” Austin, his younger brother was already out the van and had gone through his daily ritual of saying ‘I love you’s’ and blowing kisses.
“Okay, okay, I’m done,” he said as he put down his Game Boy and looked for his mitts in a rush. “Where are they?” he said with agitation. “You’re sitting on them,” said his mom, as she reached under him, pulled them out, and passed them to him. “Have a good day,” she said now with a smile and he climbed out of the van with his Game Boy back in his hands.
“Love you too. Bye mom,” he said softly with a little wave as he shut the door and walked off with his younger brother. They walked along the side of the school toward the entrance and play area. They had their heads bent down to block the freezing wind. It was the middle of the coldest spell of winter at the end of January. Several days they had been allowed inside because of the extremely low temperatures and wind chill. Today was one of those days, being -37oC and -45oC with the windchill factor. Austin was in Senior Kindergarten and was allowed to go directly inside in the morning anyway, but today Michael would get to go in directly too. A few times, when it wasn’t cold enough to go directly inside, their mom had taken them to Tim Horton’s for some Timbits. Michael thought those moments were great because he didn’t have to stay outside for very long.
Michael didn’t like playing in the snow. Actually, he disliked winter with a passion. It wasn’t that he didn’t like playing with the other kids, but he didn’t want to get wet and cold. He preferred to stay in an area by the entrance that was sheltered from the wind so that he could play his Game Boy. Usually, he and his friend Travis stood or sat playing their Game Boy’s alongside each other, comparing tactics, hints, and progress.
He was glad that today he was allowed to go inside, because he was starting to feel cold in just the short walk from the van to the school. They walked together to closest entrance. Austin was chattering about what he’d just recently learned about penguins. Michael wasn’t responding as he was still playing his game as he walked. When they got inside, they walked the route to Austin’s class. Austin said goodbye to Michael, and he responded with a short ‘bye’ as he turned to walk to his own class which was at the other end of the school.
After hanging up his outside clothes and school bag, Michael put on his school shoes, sat down at his desk and resumed his game. He noticed that it was fifteen minutes until nine o’clock when class would begin. Many of his classmates were there as well, talking, drawing, reading, and mildly fooling around. His teacher was at her desk, marking spelling dictations from the previous day. She didn’t have to ask them to leave her alone, because they were trained to wait until the bell on days like these. The bell came too soon in Michael’s opinion. He quickly put his Game Boy in his backpack and grabbed his agenda and novel from his backpack. He just made it to his seat as Oh, Canada began.
Michael was very quiet as he completed his work. In every subject he rushed to finish his work well enough to be left alone, and then took out his novel, the latest R.L. Stine Goosebumps title, and read. He had started this novel yesterday and was half finished. He enjoyed horror fiction and didn’t feel the need to challenge himself. He loved to read. It was his third love next to video games and television. Last year, in grade three, he got in trouble a few times for secretly reading his novel during a lesson. A few years ago, when he was learning to read, he hated it, but once he discovered the imaginary, fantasy world of fiction that he could read himself, he was hooked. He thrived within his own imagination.
When Michael finally admitted that he liked reading, his parents were very happy. “Michael, we’re happy you like reading, but you have to stop doing it when it’s not allowed,” said his dad calmly. We were secretly pleased that he’d gotten in trouble for such a thing.
Michael said, “I know. I just like reading so much.”
“We’re glad you like it, but not while your teacher is teaching,” said his mom firmly.
“Yeah, yeah,” he said pausing and then adding. “You know most of the boys don’t like to read very much.”
“No?” his mom said questioningly, surprised with this observation. “Why do you think that?”
“Well, sometimes they say things to bug me about it.”
“Who?” asked his mom.
“Jamie. Justin. Most of the boys who play soccer. The ones who like sports. We don’t have much in common,” he stated with conviction. “I just hide my book in my lap. I hate it when they bug me.”
“That’s too bad,” said his mother with a sinking feeling inside. “You know, people who can read well make more money when they’re adults.”
“So, what does it matter how much money you have,” he said matter of factly. “It shouldn’t matter. Love. People matter,” he said in an admonishing tone.
His mother felt a twinge of pride at his comment, but added, “Well, it could mean not having a car, not being able to go on trips, and things like that. We want you to have a good life.”
“Umm, I guess,” he said.
At first recess it was still too cold to go outside, and Michael was glad to be able to play his Game Boy inside at his desk. He was disappointed that it was warm enough at lunch to for the kids to go outside—only -18 degree Celsius. Michael had eaten his lunch as slow as possible to delay going outside. He wasn’t really that hungry, but he had figured out how to play the game of delay. The grade six monitor, Caitlyn, came back again to get him to go outside. She sent him to the cloakroom to put on his outside clothes. It was 12:30 pm and there was a half-hour of recess left. He moved as slowly as possible to put on each item of clothing. He was dressed with all but his mitts when Caitlyn came back to make sure he had gone outside. He was quietly standing in the cloakroom playing his Game Boy when she peered around the corner.
“Michael, you have to go outside. It’s way past the time when you were supposed to go out,” she said.
“I know,” he responded slowly as he looked up from his game. “I just can’t find my mitts.”
“Where did you put them,” she asked.
“I don’t know. I put them in my bag, but they’re not there.”
“Let me see,” she said, as she began to rummage through his backpack. “There right here,” she said as she passed them to Michael.
He said, “Thanks,” not actually sounding thankful, and started to put them on.
“Bye, Michael,” she said nicely, as he went out the door of the classroom. He walked at a snail’s pace to the outside door. When outside, he stood in same sheltered area as usual to play his game. The bell went a few moments after he got outside.
At the end of the day Michael got in the bus line. As usual, Austin was already there and he was happy to see Michael. Again, he played his Game Boy while waiting and on the bus. He sat by himself on the bus, but a girl sat beside him. He looked annoyed that she had sat beside him and told her not to bug him.
She laughed and jabbed him in the side.
“Leave me alone!” he yelled at her adding an annoyed groan. “You’re such a nuisance.”
She laughed and poked him again. It was clear that she was not bothered and was enjoying her antics. It’s not that she didn’t like Michael. It was just that he always has great reactions when she teased him. She turned and chatted with the girl across from her. He was glad that she was finally leaving him alone.
“Michael,” called Austin. “Michael,” he said again loudly with irritation in his voice. He hated when Michael didn’t listen to him. Michael had looked up suddenly realizing that Austin was calling him and seeing that it was their stop. He got up and pushed past Kayla who gave him a push back.
“I hate you,” Michael said to her and then made an animal hiss at her. He followed Austin with his bag over his shoulder. They got off the bus and walked over the neighbour’s lawn to get to the babysitter’s house, as they did every day.
Once inside, Michael seemed more enthusiastic than he’d been all day. He tore off his clothes and called out. “Hello, Miss Amber, we’re here.”
“Hello, hello, hello Michael. Did you have a good day?” she asked exuberantly.
“It was okay, except for this stupid girl on the bus,” he said with derision. “She’s always bugging me,” he added.
“Just ignore her and she’ll stop,” she said helpfully.
“No she won’t. She never stops. She laughs and pokes me. I wish she would die,” spat Michael. Miss. Amber looked concerned with what he’d just said and he looked away with a frustrated look. “I’m sorry,” he said begrudgingly. “I shouldn’t have said it. She just bugs me every day,” he emphasized.
“Girls can be like that sometimes.”
“Where’s Tanner?” Michael asked.
“He’s downstairs.” Tanner was her son. He was four years older than Michael, but they liked a lot of the same things. Playing games with Tanner was the highlight of the day.
“You want apples with cinnamon for a snack?”
“Sure. Can I have it downstairs so I can play Game Cube,” requested Michael as he started down the steps. Austin had also taken off his things and followed Michael down the stairs.
“Yeah, go ahead. I’ll send it down.”
“Can I play too, Michael,” asked Austin hopefully.
“No, just Tanner and I are playing,” said Michael harshly.
“Michael, everyone can play who wants to,” called Miss Amber from the kitchen.
“Okay,” Michael replied with irritation. Then to Austin he said quietly but menacingly, “You get to play last.”
“Uhh,” uttered Austin as he frowned at Michael. He loved Michael and wanted to play with him. He didn’t understand why Michael didn’t like him. He sat on the couch beside Michael and watched while he loaded the Mario Sunshine game. Tanner came out of the washroom. He always got home first and usually started playing before they got there. He joined them, watching Michael’s progress in the level.
Mel brought the cinnamon apples down on a plate and the boys started eating. She was Amber’s daughter. Just a year older than Michael, she was one of the only girls that he actually liked. Austin was getting impatient.
“When do I get to play?” Austin half moaned, half whined.
“Ughh, you just made me die, Austin,” Michael yelled. “Go away!”
“Michael,” Miss Amber called, “you need to talk nicely to everyone Michael. No more yelling or you’ll have to come upstairs.”
“Okay, okay,” he responded. Tanner had taken a turn and got stuck on a difficult part. He let Michael try to beat it.
Austin was bored waiting for his turn and was playing with the Bionicle, snapping together pieces to make an alien robot. He was proud of his result and said, “Michael, look what I made,” as he held the toy in Michael’s face.
“Austin!” yelled Michael. “You made me die.” Austin shrunk back with a shamed look.
“I hate you Michael,” he whispered.
Miss Amber called down for Michael to come upstairs.
“Why?” he called back.
“You’re still not talking nicely.”
“Austin got in the way and made me lose. He should go upstairs.”
“Has Austin had a turn yet?” asked Miss Amber. Tanner explained that Michael was playing again for him. “Michael, it’s Austin’s turn to play now. Give him the controller.”
Michael tossed the controller to Austin, but turned off the game. “Use your own file. Don’t go into mine,” he stated. Austin got into a new file and started the game, but there was a lot of reading to get started. He asked Michael to read it to him. Michael had gotten his book and was reading. “Read it yourself,” he said meanly.
“Ughh, I can’t read! You know I can’t read. Help me Michael.” Michael continued to read his book. Tanner had gone up for another snack and came down the stairs with a plate of veggies.
“Hey, bud. I’ll read it for you.” Tanner began reading the introductory story of the game to Austin and the instructions for how to use the controller. Austin became frustrated quickly because he was having trouble moving the way he wanted. He gave the controller to Tanner and went back to his Bionicle. Making things was his favourite past-time.
Michael scoffed as he stormed upstairs to switch his book for his Gameboy in his backpack. He settled into the living room couch, alone, and was quickly absorbed in the world of Yu-Gi-Oh. Pacified and content for the moment. Most at peace when left alone.