Mother is Watching Over You
Have you ever experienced the sense of being watched from afar, a lurking shadow catching your eye only to vanish as soon as you bring your attention to it? Or have you felt that prying ears only metres away were hanging on every word you said, such that you could almost feel the salivation of expectation moisten the air around each word you uttered before it had even rolled off your tongue? I have.
Sitting at the kitchen table with Jayne we chatted frivolously about the endless possibilities that lay ahead of us upon our graduation from school. As fourteen year old school girls, the thought of freedom from the mundane environment of a classroom and from the desexualisation enforced upon us by thick, dowdy private girl’s school uniforms…was invigorating. Jayne was a friend from a new school I started in year nine. The daughter of a well-known football coaching identity, she was also a new student to the school as her family had relocated from country Victoria to the big smoke. She was a country girl through and through, more comfortable in a chequered shirt, jeans and a cowboy hat than woollen tights, ankle length skirts and collared white school shirts. Actually, if it weren’t for the broad Aussie strine that haplessly spilled forth from her mouth, the clone like impact of the uniform may have assisted her to blend right in to her new upper middle class suburban environment. However her family’s status in the football world did nothing to rehearse her for the dance that is required to initiate oneself into private school girl culture. It was quite fitting then for the foreign girl from the country and the girl who felt like a foreigner in her world, to become friends.
So there we sat, blissfully planning a post graduation adventure. True to the great Australian tradition, we proposed a trip around our vast and exciting county in a Kombi-van. Delighted I had found a friend to sit and romanticize with about my future, the conversation truly transported me into another realm…one of hope and thrilling expectation that life could and would be different. Then something shifted in my friend’s demeanour that brought me hurtling back to a place I would rather not have returned to. I noticed her stiffen in an instant, and as she leant ever so slightly towards me across the vinyl tablecloth, her head slightly tilted to motion over her left shoulder. She uttered through barred teeth, “Colleen, is that your mother?”
My eyes darted over her shoulder towards the rumpus room behind us. There was no-one there. I knew we were alone. My mother was the only other person in the family home that afternoon and she was somewhere in the front of the house, probably in her bedroom. I glanced back at Jayne again, the quizzical look upon my face prompting her to roll her eyes back in the same direction over her left shoulder. Once more my eyes flittered back to the room, suddenly catching the slightest movement from behind a glass sliding door that lead to my brothers’ bedrooms. My eyes adjusted to focus on the outline of my mother’s form pressed up against the wall, shoulder…and ear…to the glass.
It was moments like these that made it very difficult for me to sustain friendships. How do you explain such happenings, let alone justify the motivations behind them to a wide-eyed teenage friend? Typically, the pit of my stomach would just fall through the floor whilst a swirling “here-we-go-again” motion circled in my head.
Perhaps the most excruciating example of my mother’s penchant for spying occurred the following year. For reasons still unclear to me I had moved schools again in year ten, to an all girl Catholic college in my local area. Happily, I would ride my bike to school of a morning. I enjoyed the sense of independence and the opportunity for some quiet reflection. My legs took the controls allowing me to “zone out” whilst I scanned the tree-lined streets, my thoughts wafting away with the morning breeze to merge with the clouds above.
This particular morning, I happened to be ready for school earlier than usual. The house was quiet, my father had left for work already and my older siblings who were still living at home had their own routines, quite separate from my own. As usual, my mother had not emerged from her bedroom. So off I set on my path to school, happily meandering along my way. With plenty of time to spare, I followed the curve of the asphalt road before me, navigating through different streets for a change of scenery. Soon I found myself approaching the busy suburban centre made up of shops, cafes, a train station and bus stops. My school sat ostentatiously at the crossroads, the old bell tower of what used to be the school’s chapel that now housed class rooms, rearing up to the heavens above. At this time of the morning the streets were abuzz with throngs of teenage students making their way either by foot, bike, bus, car or train to one of the four schools in the area. The footpaths were literally a sea of green, brown and blue blazers, all rippling along in the one direction.
Then, like a tidal wave, the calmness was unexpectedly rocked by a vehicle that swamped me from out of no-where. Catching me completely off guard, it appeared from behind and swerved in front of me, forcing me to steer my bike into the nature-strip that lay between the road and the footpath. Quite ungraciously I landed, legs entangled in bike, in full view of what at the time felt like and could have literally been hundreds of school children. Within an instant, a couple of girls who recognised me from school stepped forward to ask if I was hurt and if there was anything they could do. Already on my feet and re-positioning my helmet, I had somehow found a millisecond to capture a glimpse of the yellow volvo out of the corner of my eye, thus leading me to identify the driver.
Sheepishly, I found the words “No, it’s ok thanks. It’s just my mother”.
My crime that morning it appeared was to leave the house twenty minutes earlier than usual. This provoked the surveillance that lead to my road-side obstruction and public interrogation. The lighter side of me…the survivor inside…use to ponder if she had antennae micro chipped in her head. But these thoughts came to soothe me usually of a night time as I would reflect upon the maddening ludicrousness of it all. It did not help soothe or shield a sensitive teenage self-esteem from the effects of the behaviour that would act as a repellent to a peer group for whom such bizarre displays were not acceptable, let alone comprehensible.
Good Lord Colleen. I’m speechless. Absolutely speechless. All I can think to say is that I am so happy for your gift of writing and your courage to get this stuff out out out and let it go.
Thank You for Your honesty. Namaste. 🙂
October 5, 2009 at 3:58 pm
Hi Bliss. I’m grateful that the words just appear to pour out of me sometimes. The effect of seeing my story there on the screen is empowering indeed.
October 6, 2009 at 12:56 am
If I were an editor at Harper Collins, I would publish your memoirs… see: http://harpertrue.com/
October 6, 2009 at 11:32 am
Wow. Thank you Marstead. What an amazing compliment. Today is my birthday, I’ve just returned home from dinner with my girls and some friends and this is now a lovely note to end on before I lay myself down to sleep. This is part of my dream…to share my story…and I am consciously practicing the belief that dreams can come true. So thankyou for you contribution. I will submit one of my posts perhaps to Harper Collins via the link.
Sending much gratitude to you !
October 6, 2009 at 11:50 am
And Here! Here! Sir Marstead. Excellent suggestion. Do it! Do it! 🙂
October 6, 2009 at 2:56 pm
Happy Birthday Colleen Dear Heart. You’re the 6th and I’m tomorrow the 11th. It is perfectly clear now.
October 11, 2009 at 5:53 am
Done !!!! Send me some good luck vibes pleeeaasse !!!
October 6, 2009 at 11:49 pm
I felt such resonance… Oh, how I have been there. The embarrassment, the shame… somehow, we made it to the other side, even though at the time I might not have guessed that was possible!
Very much appreciate your honesty and heartfelt story. I was on the edge of my seat wondering what you might say next. I know these memories are difficult, but you seem to be processing them brilliantly.
Happy Birthday to a courageous woman, fantastic mother, and talented writer.
October 7, 2009 at 4:04 am
Yes Belle, that’s the “updside” isn’t it ? That consciously or unconsciously we do tap into an inner resolve to get through it all. All the resources are there, it just takes some time to discover where they are hidden !
October 7, 2009 at 10:38 pm
Why do they teach us to always look over our shoulders? Lovely writing Colleen – happy belated birthday as well!
October 7, 2009 at 12:38 pm
Thanks Jaymie. Yes, I found it very difficult to permit myself to enjoy anything for a long time, always waiting for the “let down effect.”
October 7, 2009 at 10:37 pm
I think I finally felt your mother in this piece, Colleen. You are a master writer and I hope you will consider a memoir. Your story of surviving your childhood would help so many others who feel so lost.
You are amazing!
October 8, 2009 at 3:44 am
Thank you for your lovely words of confidence in me. I do believe that sharing my story will serve a purpose. Currently I work as an advocate for children in the foster care system so clearly I am drawn to using my past to help empower others. I’m excited by writing my story and appreciate the recognition it affords the child within me, whose confidence and esteem is bolstered a little bit more every time I write.
October 8, 2009 at 10:40 am
All I can say is WOW! So glad you are getting this stuff out in a way that is healing for you. Your writing is absolutely brilliant.
October 8, 2009 at 10:25 pm
Thank you so much Urban Cowboy for dropping in again. Happy to have you come visit ! And thank you for your kind compliment.
October 8, 2009 at 11:58 pm
Amazing that all of that did not in anyway hamper you being the wonderful Mum that you are to your daughters. Bravo, bravo and may this year bring you all the joy you can handle and a little more.
October 11, 2009 at 5:55 am
Yes, it only made me more determined to the the sort of mother I missed out on. And to be honest, the journey has been the best therapy I’ve ever embarked upon !
October 11, 2009 at 7:37 am
Oh the power parents have to mess their kids’ lives up. Your story reminds me of the poem by Philip Larkin: (please excuse the profanities, they’re his not mine)
Philip Larkin – This Be The Verse
They fuck you up, your mum and dad.
They may not mean to, but they do.
They fill you with the faults they had
And add some extra, just for you.
But they were fucked up in their turn
By fools in old-style hats and coats,
Who half the time were soppy-stern
And half at one another’s throats.
Man hands on misery to man.
It deepens like a coastal shelf.
Get out as early as you can,
And don’t have any kids yourself.
October 11, 2009 at 10:00 pm
Wow those are forthright words of Philip’s. Yes it so true that ‘hurt people…hurt other people’. I don’t agree with the last line of course, because it’s through having kids that I have broken the cycle and helped me on my healing journey. I realise of course that many people can not seem to achieve that, but in my case it was crucial. Thanks for sharing it with me Paul.
October 12, 2009 at 2:15 am
Colleen, I’ve read this three times and just couldn’t even articulate how I felt afterwards. I still can’t, really. All I can say is that I am amazed at the person you are today. Clearly you are a spirit on a mission.
Please stop by my blog when you have a moment to pick up an award. Thank you for sharing your thoughts with us.
October 12, 2009 at 1:24 am
Thank you Danielle for both your words and your Gorgeous Blog Award ! That these little offerings of kindness fly across the seas to the Great Southern Land Down Under and flitter into my Inbox, never ceases to surprise and delight me.
October 12, 2009 at 2:39 am