The Neighbour’s Son

Jamie the neighbour’s son came over last night. Well, he skated past while I was chopping kindling out the front. He called out “Hey Jules”, and came up the drive. Obviously something on his fourteen-year-old mind. Turned out his mum is in hospital with pneumonia and his dad — Daryl — was in there with her, as moral support. There’s a shadow on her heart and they’re going to operate to find out what it is. She’s had cancer once already.

They’re messed up people, Daryl and Loraine, but they do right by Jamie. They’ve taken the route in life — forced to by circumstances I expect — of working hard rather than overcoming their emotional difficulties. As a result, they drink a fair bit, smoke a lot of tobacco (wacky and not), have the messiest yard in the street, and leave Jamie on his own a bit more often than he perhaps needs from them. But he loves them. He’s a solid kid with a lot of love inside. Most of his days he spends down at the river fishing or BMX-ing around. His dad encourages him as much as he can by taking him and his school friends with their rubber dinghy to the fishing spots he knows from his own childhood. When he’s not working both weekend days that is. I know all this from conversations I’ve had and overheard, in that suburban way.

Thinking of Jamie and all the unguided worry he’s dealing with, made me realise how much one can cope with if they have a bit of nature in their lives. Reckon that’s something I’m missing a bit. Could do with some kind of activity that takes me into the interactions of birds and trees, insects, flowers, rabbits and sheep. Leaves, branches and good solid earth. Yeah, even in winter. What would that be, though? These days all the professions are bastardised by machinery and radios playing The Rock FM and contracts and profits and deadlines. Forget that shit.

I had a childhood surrounded by nature — even after we moved into the city from the country, our house had a small orchard of twenty-five fruit trees. As a child I was always outside, except if it was raining or snowing — then I was only half the time outside. Making dams in the gutter. Slipping around in the paddocks. Playing in the sandpit on sunny days. Climbing trees. Trampolining. Camping in the backyard, or further afield. Walking all over the Port Hills, walking to friends’ homes up and down the steep winding stairs and streets of Lyttelton. We were poor (my mum raised four kids on her own) but I was happy.

Once I left home it felt like it was all over. Everything I’d loved suddenly became a luxury I couldn’t afford. Unless you pursue it into adulthood, learn to make it work for you, create money through doing the same things you’ve always loved. Right?

Well, that hasn’t worked for me either so far. No one’s going to feed me to climb trees unless I’m cutting them down. Or unless I’ve a doctorate degree in botany that’s been written on cut down trees. No one’s going to feed me to walk through the hills unless I’ve got a goal. A destination. Or an audience.

It becomes a profession.

Growing up is so fucking overrated.