Turning sixteen was an important landmark to me at the time. I’d made a chart and I had been ticking off the days, even when there were hundreds still to go. I thought that when I turned sixteen, I’d have more control over my life. I could leave home. Though, none of that happened in a way that I could have quite predicted. There was absolutely nothing sweet about my sixteenth but it did signify changes. It was the age of consent. And sex and boys were never too far away in my thoughts.
And I had to dismiss the vast majority of this to write Black Eyed Boy. Emily, the main character, couldn’t care less about her birthday. She has far too much to contend with for her sixteenth birthday to mean very much at all. Though, suddenly, sex and a very specific boy are beginning to creep into her thoughts too.
The day before her birthday is the worst day of her life as her mother passes away. Sixteen means pain and a grief so deep and cutting that she can barely breathe. I still cry when I read that scene and I am sure that I am not alone. The timing of her mother’s death and Emily’s coming of age collide. She can’t stand to be there; within the walls of the house where her mum just died. She wants to be Dylan. And once she’s with him, she doesn’t want to let him go. Being held in Dylan’s arms is Emily’s safest place; the one place that she doesn’t feel so terrifyingly alone.
Here is an excerpt from Black Eyed Boy:
I stepped out from the caravan and I just stopped dead in my tracks. There were dozens of balloons on strings tied to the trees. Someone had decorated the caravan with “Happy Birthday” signs, everyone was there toasting marshmallows, and there were so many smiles for me that I worried that I might burst with an overwhelming appreciation for every single one of them.
Nobody had made a fuss about me like this before. Baby Matthew’s birthday had always knocked Mum for six, and she had never recovered in time for mine. That hadn’t been a problem; I understood that the anguish she had felt drained her, but it just made this so much more endearing. These people who barely knew me had gone to all this trouble.
“I hope you don’t mind,” Siobhan smiled. “We weren’t sure that you would want to celebrate, but sixteen is an important one and we thought we should mark it. And, Nancy really loves birthdays, so you didn’t really have a choice.” Siobhan grinned.
That made me laugh. Nancy couldn’t keep still, and her excitement was more than evident.
“Can I give her my present now?” she asked, not waiting for an answer as she flung herself forward. She proudly handed me a piece of paper. I read her sweet childish writing which said, Happy Birthday Emily. I love you. From Nancy. I kissed the top of her head. Her fluffy ringlets tickled my nose.