Loren woke to find his mother kneeling beside his bed in the dark.
“Wake up,” she whispered. “We have to go.”
The boy pawed at his eyes.
“Your father kicked us out,” his mother said. “Now pack your things, we have to go.”
She stood and padded silently from the room.
The boy thought that the encounter had been a dream until he heard his mother open his brother’s door down the hall moments later.
He found his suitcase open on the floor by his bed. He packed his clothes and comic books. Thinking again, he took out the comics and filled the space with school things.
No time for kid’s stuff, he told himself. You’re going to have to be a man now.
With his mother pulling the car out of the driveway and his little brother and sister dozing in the backseat, he asked again why his father had kicked them out.
His mother stared straight ahead into the lightening dark and said, “He doesn’t want us anymore.”
As they drove away, he glared at their trailer sitting up on the hill with his father sleeping somewhere inside, and the boy tried to set fire to it with his eyes.
They stayed a couple weeks at his aunt’s house in Jersey. During the day he’d play in the wooded lot next door. His mother instructed him to hide whenever cars drove past so that no one would wonder who this kid was creeping around when he should be in school.
One afternoon some of the neighborhood kids saw him as they were getting off the bus. They shouted and pointed as though he was some kind of rare woodland beast, or maybe the Jersey Devil.
During his time at his aunt’s house he began working on a code of conduct. A man needed such a code, he reasoned.
How else would he know he was being a man?
He worked on it in secret day after day and night after night, scribbling the rules of life into a green, spiral bound notebook. The more he thought about it, the more endless they seemed.
Never make your mother cry; Always be brave; Learn kung-fu or karate; Be the best in the world at something; Always be…