There was a boy who lived down the street from me when I was growing up. His name was Ian. He was the oldest of 6 children (and he himself was only 8 or 9), only two of which had the same father. He had a hard life for one so young. My older sister and I both babysat these kids on occasion and we both have horrendous stories about our experiences.
So, Ian. Ian was a skinny, short kid with a shunt in his head from a brain tumor when he was young. (his story just seems to get worse, yeah?) He terrorized kids his age, i.e. my brother, Taylor, not to mention many of the adults on the street. I remember Taylor telling me about the time that Ian peed in a pitcher, added some water and ice to it, and brought it to my neighbor and offered it as an apology for some previous rotten behavior. He told her that he'd made some lemonade for her. I don't know if she drank it or not, but these are the kinds of things this child would do.
Ian loved to swear. He would walk around cursing his little head off and flipping the "bird". I tell this story because I have the image of Ian flipping the bird while I, and anyone else who happened to be around, stifled laughter. You see, Ian thought he had it all figured out. He loved to shock people with the naughty things he knew. But he had missed something in the lessons he took on giving the finger. He would come up to you with his face all screwed up in a sneer holding out his hand threateningly with one finger extended above the others... but it was his pointer finger rather than the tall middle finger. No one ever told him his mistake. I just remember feeling relieved that my little brother couldn't learn that particular trick from Ian.
As I sit here and type this, I wonder at the cultural significance of flipping the bird. For years Ian thought he was doing something really mean, which, in actuality, was comical to those around him. Just the difference of one measly little finger shifted the situation from offensive to laughable. I have a lot of thoughts on this, none of which I'm articulating very well, but it's given me something to think about.
I've wondered, off an on through my adult life, what happened to this family. I thought of Ian and his siblings as Devil Spawn when I was young, but I have a different perspective with passing years. I see now that they were shaped, in large, due to their rough circumstances and family dynamic. I feel compassion, where I once felt judgment and irritation. I hope those kids learn that they can overcome their past. They are not doomed to repeat it. Like everything, it comes down to choice.