When I was a kid, I had to spend six weeks with my father every summer. This annual hellish sojourn – which I came to think of as Shared Custody Row – usually spanned the latter part of July and all of August. I hated going to my father’s house more than anything because my father ignored me and my stepmother brutalized me. With my dad at work all day, I did my best to blend into the woodwork. I was like one of those Wall People from Flash Gordon, trying to stay clear on my stepmother who was Ming the Merciless. But summers without friends, activities, or pools proved to be quite challenging. There were really only three ways to kill time. The first involved daydreaming. I could eat up a solid two-hour chunk by imagining myself as Matt Dillon’s love interest in Over the Edge, the cult classic about urban planning gone wrong. The second involved reading books – anything with a Newbery Award seal on it was a surefire way to stave off misery for a few hours. The final time killer was a game called The Curious Silence. This was a very simple game that I invented: The object was to see how long I could go without saying a single word before my dad or Ming asked me a question, or became concerned that I was not speaking.
My record was five days. What was most interesting was the quieter I became, the more I seemed to see. And the more I saw, the more absurd everything became. I believe the medical term for this is disassociation, but I didn’t know any of that then.
Now, I know lots of terms, and I understand how it is that when summer comes I become quiet and still – only now – thank goodness – no one around me wants to play.