POPCORN chicken was new on the KFC menu when the social worker broke up with me.
The Big, Fat, Hairy Man and I waited in his government car as part of the drive-thru queue when he made the speech. “It’s not you, it’s me,” the man said as he turned the wheel slightly round the first curve.
We drove to the Kempsey riverside park as we munched fried chicken. “I’ve been moved to another office,” the social worker said. “There are other children I need to look after who need me as much as you used to.
“Chris,” he said. “You’ve come such a long way since I’ve known you. You know that right?”
The first time we met I was on my house roof. I threw rotten pumpkins at him when he came to visit. Then while he tried to wash the pulp from his salt-and-pepper bushman beard I asked if he could help me off. “I have no pumpkins and it’s been raining and I can’t get off,” I said.
He blinked as if to say “you’ve got to be kidding” but he did it.
When I was put in my foster home I ran away, was picked up by the police, jabbed with a needle and held down by nurses. Listen to the song Bullet with Butterfly Wings and you might know how I feel. I woke up in a hospital in nothing but a plastic dressing gown, a plastic band around my wrist which I believed may have been a secret tracer.
When I returned to the foster home I was faced with lethargy and loneliness. I tried starving myself, and then the big, fat, hairy man came over. He took me to the beach. We flew a Pokemon kite. The weight of the kite on my finger, the smell of the salty breeze, hearing the sound of the burly chuckles of the man who refused to have a turn.
A happy moment. A transformation of my life. He was my friend. The man in my life. The hero. The one I shared my first subway with.
There were so many social workers, so many psychologists and teachers and parents who gained my trust and over time moved on and found another project. They sanitised themselves – I wasn’t their responsibility – they moved on.
“I will come to visit when I can,” he promised, as if knowing what I was thinking. But I was stuck on the part where he said I’d changed. Because I knew he meant it. I knew then. I was a different boy than the 10-year-old who banged his head on the bedroom wall over and over for the fun of scaring his elderly foster mother.
I was nearly 12, I was nearly in high school, I was the best speller in my year. We sat in the car, watching a few kids run along the rickety bridge on the playground. “Want to play?” he said. The big, fat, hairy man knew how much I loved climbing up the curly slide, getting in the way of everyone, pretending the slide was a giant worm with its teeth at the bottom.
“Nah,” I said, seeing an advantage in this break-up. “Let’s get ice-cream.” And he said okay and we moved on.