Sunshine soaked comfort
Caresses tender, innocence
Salt tainted sea breeze
Augmenting parched desire
An inner thirst
For a want, then unnamed
…Yet secretly possessed
For a pink bunny to hold dear
Your sweetness echoes
in floral strains, near
….A glimmer of me
Shadows of you
Discharged into the arms of a stranger
Wearing a government badge
They sent him out into the world
All of three weeks old
Stamped in blue ink
Across the back of his borrowed jumpsuit
Not even a bag
To carry his mother’s milk
Let alone to pack some dignity and respect into
And they said it was okay…
“This is your new home”
They told him
Pointing to the bare grey concrete floors
And the musty, worn sheets on the bed
A frozen pie for dinner
$1.99..is what you are worth
While he watched them eat steak
It was a roof over his head
He should be grateful
And he was reminded so every day…
He dared not move
As they pinned down his arm
For “You have been a bad boy !”
Said the scalding hot water
As he looked the other way
But “..accidents happen”
The perpetrator said
Easier to turn a blind eye
He watched the officials slink away
After telling him he was “okay”
These are the stories of the little ones…
Who simply want a safe space to play
And ‘tell someone whom you trust in’
Is all we have to say
“But we always took her on family holidays !” became the familiar retort espoused by my mother in an attempt to defend her ‘excellent parenting skills’ around the time I finally sought help to leave home. She’d tell anyone who cared to listen… the family doctor, priest, police, social worker, judge…man on the street. She even tried the defense on ME as she barricaded me from exiting the front door on my eventual day of exit from the madness. It was an attempt to paint me as a spoilt, ungrateful teenager; which in hindsight was of course as transparent and feeble as the ice queen was herself.
I had neither the opportunity nor resolve during that period to illuminate those whose opinions may have mattered regarding the truth of what a ‘happy family holiday’ realistically entailed; yet the physical reaction her comment evoked within me was palpable. The inner turmoil in response to her audacity broiled inside each time I heard the defense repeated. My breathing accelerated and the veins in my neck and arms were hit up with intense shot of adrenaline. Yet at that time, even as a sixteen year old I still did not have ownership of the release of expression from my lips. Subsequently they remained in their locked pose, except on the handful of occasions when I simply knew my future depended it. Somehow then, I found the words.
“You’ve ruined my make up !”, she screamed, the accusation sweeping through the two bedroom cottage like the scream of cyclonic wind signalling an encroaching storm. “What have you done? You’ve ruined all my make up”.
I was eight or nine years of age. My parents had agreed that I could invite a friend from school on our trip to the Grampians, a rugged mountain range in the Victorian countryside. I looked at the figure of my friend Siobhan who sat on the opposite bed in the small room we had just begun to settle into after finally arriving following the long car drive. Her small frame shrunk back into the shield of the curtains, surrounded in the late afternoon light that filtered through the ominous mountain ranges surrounding us. The eerie fall of dusk across the vast national park had already set the tone for the first night of our stay. I had tried to shrug it off as my regular “doom and gloom” outlook that must have snuck into my suitcase as I packed that morning. Perhaps it too wanted to have a holiday from the oppression that typically created it, unaware it was hitching a ride with the perpetrator.
Coming to my senses, I quickly leapt up from the bed and stepped into the hallway, urging my school friend to stay put. Poor Siobhan sat frozen with a stunned expression, utterly flawed at my mother’s sudden outburst. I had no idea what I was walking into, but experience told me it was best to try and shield my friend from at least some of the commotion and just get it over and done with.
As I closed the bedroom door behind me, a hand clasped my shoulder and I was spun into the front room of the cottage where my mother had started to unpack her things. I blinked and tried to gather my bearings, unfamiliar with the wooden paneled interior of the holiday cottage.
“You touched my make up and now look at it. It’s ruined. RUINED”, she screamed hysterically, both hands now upon my shoulders.
My body rocked back and forth to the rhythm of her ranting but my consciousness sat squarely within my head which was spinning metaphorically as I struggled to make sense of her accusations. Whilst I concentrated on anchoring my feet to the floor, as the room swirled around me, I retraced my steps from the moment we had arrived at the cottage. We had all brought various pieces of luggage in from the car, my mother, father, Siobhan and I. Did I pick up the make-up case ? I couldn’t recall. Could it have been tousled about in the boot of the car enabling the contents to end up in the strewn about fashion they now resembled ? Possibly… but dare I suggest it ? I was exhibiting text book behaviour of a victim of abuse at eight years of age by questioning my own actions and sense of responsibility for my mother’s distress.
“But I didn’t touch your make-up!” I cried…then instantly regretted it.
“Don’t lie to me ! You lying, dishonest child” she shrieked as the sting of a open palm reverberated across my face.
I spent the next hour ‘cleaning up the mess I had made’, painstakingly attempting to filter bits of powder back into little bottles whilst Siobhan sat bewildered and most likely quite frightened, in the bedroom. What would I want with your make-up ? I thought to myself angrily as I worked, As if I’d want to paint myself to look like you !
I wonder why my father does not feature in these memories at all. I believe at some stage he emerged from the shadows, by which time the scene had played out and the damage done.
Needless to say, Siobhan was not the only friend to regret agreeing to accompany me on a ‘happy family holiday’. There was more such fun to be had…
(To be continued…)
I always knew
the well ran deep
A seemingly bottomless pit
So dark and hollow
That for such a long time
I dared not look into…
For the vastness scared me
When I peered inside
Having never learnt
There were walls
With special nooks
That lay within
To tuck away
Like a needle
Pierced straight through the heart
Patterns that bleed
Through each year
Of the tapestry
My Childhood Story
in my stomach
…Stitched so tight
Leave gaping holes
In my core
My sense of love
So intrinsically linked
Whose child ?
Whose child ?
Hides their eyes
Whose child ?
by a Bureaucracy, blind
To lips pursed in anguish
…Yet no words to describe
Who will protect the children
Society denies ?
One of my favourite Buddhist Proverbs, “When the student is ready, the teacher will come” materialized in my life with great clarity towards the end of 2009. Grappling still with a sense of bewilderment at the repetitive nature of the cyclical patterns of hurt and disappointment that were occuring in my life, I sought refuge one afternoon in the soothing hub of my local “Well-Being” Centre intending to seek relief from my anguish through a deep tissue massage. I walked out three hours later without the massage, but with a completely new, somewhat bewildering… but definitely invigorating outlook on the evolving journey that is my life.
During my initial consultation with Paul, the owner of the Centre, I poured out my desire to better understand the purpose behind my presence in this world in order to put an end to the patterns of grief and longing which consumed me. Paul unexpectedly yet gently proposed the idea of embarking upon regression therapy. Having previously explored other forms of transpersonal therapies I understood the concept that the subconscious, memories and ego are interconnected in a mutually influencing web of experience of the Self. I therefore felt comfortable with the objective of regression therapy. Paul’s offer was free of any financial cost but purely a gesture to help me on my course of healing. I accepted his offer with no request for further explanation regarding the process itself, as I did not want to taint my experience in any way. Yet, an element of wariness still waved its’ red flag in the corner of my mind. This is the story of how the session unfolded.
After a period of “settling in” as I lay on the massage table in a candle-lit therapy room, Paul reassuringly guided me towards the following memories:
Paul: I want you to take yourself to your earliest child hood memory
- I am standing in a cot. I am maybe 10 months of age. I am gripping the bars of the cot as I stand looking towards the closed bedroom door. It is painted a dull, eggshell shade of white. My feet are bare and I wear flannelette pants. I stare at the door. Why aren’t they coming ? I am not distressed. Just alone. (The voice of cynicism said as it watched from above “Yeah well, you’ve seem photos of yourself at this age so you have a rough idea what you looked like”.)
Paul: Now I want you to go back even further
- I am looking up into my mother’s face. I see dark brown waves of hair framing her face. I feel her arms supporting me. I am an infant…a newborn infant. I experience a sense of knowing that she is my mother. The surrounds feel clinical.(Again the skeptic piped up “How many images of a newborn child in it’s mother’s arms have you seen over the years ? You know, like in that kleenex commercial..?”)
Paul: From here I want you to return to the womb. Sense how it feels and what it looks like if you can
- I feel myself in a cramped, darkened cocoon. Dark red and blackened walls are throbbing around me. A steady pulsating drone echoes in my ears. (“Yeah, yeah…here you are imagining the inside of a womb as pictured in those pre-natal documentaries”..said Ms.You-Can’t-Fool-Me !)
Paul: Now I want you to move to the moment of conception…
- KA-ZING ! A surge I can only describe like an electrical charge pulsates through my consciousness. This is not a physical, bodily sensation and I continue to lay still in a state of complete relaxation. It is powerful. Awesome. Like nothing I have ever encountered. (The voice of doubt is silent on this one !)
Paul: And from this point, if you can, I want you to go back to before conception…if you can…
- With little effort I am there. I am floaty, formless….I possess no end and no beginning. I am pure energy. A bright shining light engulfs me. Oh the Bliss ! I am riding a wave of blissful Joy and Peace. A warm gentle breeze swirls around me. Suddenly a knowing washes over me that it is time to go forward…into Life. Why must I go ? Why would I want to leave here where all is pure and divine and harmonious ? I am not yet human, not yet a child, but I possess an adult-like knowledge that is warning me of a tumultuous journey ahead. I must have courage. I must accept my path. (By this time the sceptic within had left the building.)
Paul: Now I want you to return to your birth
- I feel myself struggle. Confined and constricted. I feel pain. Cramped and Twisted. A bright white light hits my eyes violently causing me to cringe and flinch and squint. This is not a pleasant arrival at all. No wonder, I didn’t want to be here. But here I was. Here I am. A heavy weight fell upon me.
When we were finished and I had some time to try and configure my now quite scattered thoughts, Paul asked me if there were any themes or messages that struck me from the experience. The first words that broke through the fuzziness still floating in my head, were Courage and Acceptance.
It took some time to come down off the thrill and wonderment of the experience itself but once my feet hit the ground, I began to ponder those two big words and their meanings. Courage….to create the life I do want to live…I choose to live , distinct from the shackles of my childhood. Yes, I can emphatically say I am on that path. And Acceptance…perhaps the acceptance that this is my journey of learning through this life time and there is no point rallying against it by asking Why Why Why ?
I also instantly made sense of an inner thought pattern that has plagued me ever since I was a very, very young child as I looked around at my parents and siblings….Who are these people ? What am I doing here ? Why was I born into this family ? I do not want to be here with them ! I do not belong here ! I do not want THIS life ! Oh yes, now it all makes so much sense !!!
Sitting next to Georgie on the orange painted timber bench, I squinted through the door way of the shelter shed into the piercingly bright summer sun. It lit up the asphalt of the school yard beyond, then hitting the tar like a yo-yo, bounced off again transforming into a thick steamy haze. I watched the pairs of black school shoes trimmed by white ankle length socks scuttling back and forth outside the door. In the shadows of the steamy haze, they soon morphed to a blur of black and white carried along by skinny limbs; and suddenly I found myself a spectator to a herd of zebras passing by. I chuckled inside at my cleverness as I eased my back into the gray concrete wall, allowing the cold hard surface to permeate through my cotton school dress. I was in no particular hurry to get outside and play, so the school rule that lunch must be eaten in the undercover area before going out into the scorching heat, was one I could be grateful for.
Peering into my plastic lunch box I poked dismissively at the cling-wrap that had already unfurled itself in disgust from two pieces of white bread slapped around bits of soggy lettuce and tomato. To merely look at the slathering of butter that oozed forth from the sandwich and slid insidiously onto the plastic, made me feel nauseous. I glanced into Georgie’s lunch box on the bench beside me and settled on a neat looking jam sandwich, lovingly cut into four equal triangles. I snatched it and ran. Before she even knew what was happening I’d stuffed it into my mouth until I was almost gagging. Jam never tasted so good. The thrill was infectious and I continued this pattern at lunch times sporadically throughout coming weeks until one day Georgie’s mother confronted me in the playground after school. Needless to say I was so mortified that I never did it again.
Over the years the recollection of this behaviour has confused and embarrassed me to the extent that it is not a memory I whip out to display on the mantle at Christmas. Some say ‘time heals all wounds’. It takes more than time to heal a broken spirit. The journey of healing and understanding is long and arduous, but mine has now enabled me to take that school girl by the hand, sit her down under the sparking lights of the pine tree and tell her it is ok and there is nothing to be forgiven for or embarrassed about. Caressing her with loving words that tickle like a string of tinsel placed around her neck, I am thrilled to see a giggle arise from within her at the silly side of it all. I am proud that my understanding can release her of the guilt and enable her understanding that it wasn’t the sandwich she really desired…she would have been content with the crumbs. Oh to have had a taste of just one or two of those emotional crumbs of warm and loving regard from a mother to her daughter, that spilled from Georgie’s lunch box ! Yet despite gobbling up a whole jam sandwich in seconds, there she sat on those hot summer days still feeling the emptiness inside, deprived of the love and affection that carefully prepared jam sandwich so intrinsically represented.
For such a brief episode from childhood to sink so deeply into my sense of self that it required a considerable process of peeling back the layers to absolve, simply highlights the divisive impact of emotional trauma on a child’s sense of self-worth. With all the might of an insidious tumour, the patterns of emotional neglect eat away at the cells of thoughts and feelings that make up the very core of the child’s wholeness. It leads to disintegration of the self involving intense terror and trauma that is often only subconsciously realised. In adulthood it is often replaced by confusion and utter desperation that requires a deep well of loving understanding to slowly be re-built into the centre of self. I emphasise that it needs to be re-built as this well of pure love and acceptance is gifted to us all on our entry to this life, but sadly for many it is cruelly raided by those who lack the fortitude to find more loving ways to replenish their own.
The following series of images was created by Jorge Lizalde for his project Mnemonic, based upon a post I had submitted a few months ago titled Care Bears in the Clouds. The project aims to recreate participant’s earliest childhood memory by collating shared videos and images from the web, to recreate the memory landscape.
Care Bears in the Clouds
One of my earliest childhood memories is of being whisked up into the arms of an older brother and taken outside into the backyard of the family home. Here we would sit atop the timber picnic style outdoor table and chat about anything. It didn’t matter what the topic was. Maybe my brother would point to some birds flying overhead, or we would laugh at the antics of the pet dog. Often we would look for Care Bears in the clouds. Though the topic wasn’t important, the ritual was. It served as a distraction you see… and I think even as a four or five year old I knew it, but it was easier just to pretend. For somewhere inside the house, usually in the kitchen or front living room, my mother would be on the floor hysterical and unwilling or unable to pick herself up. My father and maybe another brother or two would take an arm or shoulder each, in an attempt to lift her up and escort her to her bedroom.
Somehow, someone must have been delegated the responsibility of removing me from the scene. Considering I was seven to ten years younger than all my four brothers, I imagine they were well accustomed to the drama but had wanted to shield me from it.
My memories of these instances present in quick, sharp snapshots, like the clicking frames of a camera and usually at angles that just allow for a glimpse around the corner of the dining room wall or behind a kitchen bench, as I looked back over the shoulder of whoever was carrying me towards the back door. It was confusing and scary, but easier not to ask questions and seek out those Care Bears in the clouds instead.
‘Then you should say what you mean,’ the March Hare went on. ‘I do,’ Alice hastily replied; ‘at least, — at least I mean what I say — that’s the same thing, you know.’ ‘Not the same thing a bit!’ said the Hatter. ‘Why, you might just as well say that “I see what I eat” is the same thing as “I eat what I see!”‘
—Lewis Carroll, British writer, Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland, 1865
For most of my life, I have approached the task of translating my thoughts into words with the same confusion as poor Alice. I think. I formulate. I hesitate. I rephrase…dilute…censor. I rehearse…then hesitate again. By the time the words pass through my sensibility filter they are often skewed, soft and more than likely, a little muddled. Surprisingly, I’m generally not too fussed by the habit, except of course when hindsight slaps me about the head on the odd occasion whereby I fail to clearly articulate… (there I go diluting again!)…I mean to say, in situations when I don’t speak up assertively about how I truly feel.
Naturally I have spent some time reflecting upon this little character trait of mine and marvel at how it has crept into my personality with such insidious stealth, that it has taken until my 33rd year to truly recognise. The child within in appears to shrug back at me quite nonplussed about my apparent dilemma. But ah huh! There it is…the lips are pursed tightly, trapping any little urge to transmit the tiniest squeak within; and I see an expression behind those hazel eyes that tells me it is worth delving a little deeper.
My mother’s voice rings harshly in my ears, “If you don’t have anything worthwhile to contribute then don’t say anything at all”. I am about ten or eleven years of age and sitting in the back seat of the family car at a set of traffic lights in the middle of a busy intersection in the city of Canberra. We have just arrived after a five hour car drive from Melbourne…a very tense, silent five hour journey. Our Christmas holiday had not got off to a fabulous start, with one of my older brothers being physically forced by my father into the car after a tousle at the top of our street, where he had tried to jump out of the car as it slowed to obey the stop sign. He was roughly eighteen and had insisted that he had no interest in being dragged along to the obligatory family holiday. I didn’t blame him for trying to shirk from participation which involved the expectation to pose like a happy middle-class little vegemite to the world for two weeks whilst silently scratching at the suffocating walls of oppression that surrounded him.
Now in the middle of a busy city intersection, he had exited the vehicle in the same way. Another brother sat smugly next to me, clearly revelling in the drama. This was the dynamic between these two, the youngest of my four brothers, that had been created by years of manipulation executed by mother’s penchant for inciting hatred between my siblings. Meanwhile, my parents sat and yelled accusations at each other as they debated what to do, oblivious to the stares from passing vehicles around us that caused me to shrink lower into my seat. I could feel my blood boiling under my skin, as it bubbled up my neck, rising steadily towards the back of my ears. I couldn’t contain myself any longer, as much as I tried. “Why didn’t you just let him stay home, then none of this would be happening!,” I blurted out in defence of my brother. It was at that point my mother swung around, whipping me with her icy-toned instruction to keep my mouth shut.
This was not the first nor the last time I would have this directive barked at me. Even as a young child I soon learnt that offering my opinion or entering into debate earnt the wrath of my mother, particularly if I dared do so in the presence of other adults. During a rare extended family gathering at our home one Easter time I had snuck unto the kitchen to steal a piece of cake. As I lifted the tea-towel to reveal the goodies on the plate underneath, I was blissfully unaware that I had apparently at some time that day, pushed through those unmentioned boundaries of freedom of expression that existed in my household. Grabbed by the shoulder, I was spun around with such force that I found myself cornered between the stool that respectfully sat under the framed colour photo of the Pope and the pantry, my back literally up against the green papered wall. “Do not dare to question me in front of others,” she snarled, her nose only an inch or two in front of mine. I had no idea what I’d even said!
Then there were the times, like the road trip to Canberra when I knew full well what I meant. And I meant what I said. One that stands out in my mind for all the wrong reasons is the first funeral I ever attended. My mother’s uncle, a man not very familiar to me but one she professed to have considered her his “favourite” niece, had tragically suffered a heart attack and died at the wheel of his car as it crashed into the cliffside on the highway that curled along the Mornington Peninsula. His wife next to him in the passenger seat and his adult daughter and her family were witness to the event as they followed in their vehicle behind. They had been on their way home from a leisurely Sunday family outing.
As we sat in the upper level of the church I looked down to the pews below, absorbed by the intensity of grief that filled the church with a thick oppressive energy as it circled the glossy timber coffin and clouded up the colourful stained-glass windows above. Even from a distance I could see the tears rolling steadily down my great-aunt’s cheeks as her fragile frame shook uncontrollably despite the many arms draped around her in support. A pain welled up inside my chest to see such suffering and love for a man, who as the numbers of people packed in the little seaside church demonstrated, was clearly adored. Then in a rare moment of softness towards my mother, I turned to look at her next to me, concerned naturally for her personal anguish. I considered the impact of the collective suffering that had engulfed me, and pondered its’ affect upon her. The look on her face however… her inimitable demeanour amongst the collection of solemn mourners, left me dumbfounded. A sudden chill shook through me as I recognised a clear expression of icy satisfaction in her eyes.
In the car ride home, I sat quietly in the back numbed by the sorrow of the day. Coldly and callously my mother dissected the grief experienced by each of her uncle’s daughters and questioned the authenticity of their feelings. On and on she rambled in the comfort of the front passenger seat, my father silently fixed on the road ahead. I tried to lose myself in the stories that lay behind the gum-tree lined properties that flittered past my window. Eventually, I could bear it no longer. I exploded with contempt, “How can you talk in such a horrible way about the family of a man, your uncle, who has just died? Let him and them, have some peace.”
That’s where my memory blurs. Maybe that’s all I need to remember. I can only imagine the type of personal attack upon me that my impassioned outburst provoked. Yet despite my confusion about my mother’s lack of sensitivity, I applaud my nine year old self for accessing the compassion and respect that eluded the two adults in the car with me that day. It gives me hope that all the ingredients…the strength…resolve…passion are still and have always been contained within me. I just need to keep reminding the child within she now has the freedom to unlock those lips and throw away the key forever.
Just when I needed you
There you would be
Paddling in the shallows
A lone figure under a tree
When I walked
Watching from afar
We spoke the same language
Shared footprints in the sand
I did not choose you
You made me your friend
Circling my energy
With you in sight
My travelling companion
I learnt how to skip
And jump the puddles in my path
I felt your melancholy
Sensed the longing for your tribe
So touched by your presence
You never went unnoticed
My feathery spirit guide
Many of my childhood memories conjure up images laced with disturbing emotions that leave a cold, isolating imprint in my mind. For that reason, over the years I have unconsciously and almost certainly wilfully swept them aside, the broom of awareness tentatively leaning across their piles of murkiness in the corners. Although not completely discarded, they are at least out of sight…for now. Episodes of true joy and bliss from my childhood memories are few and far between. Unearthing them typically requires major excavation through my mind. On discovery however, the sensation is comparable to a rebirth of the child within, as I access feelings of innocence and wonder.
One memory from my childhood that gives me such cause for celebration centres on a simple yet loving gesture from an elderly lady who lived in my street. It all came about as a result of the many afternoons I would spend in my street, perhaps as a strategy to escape the tensions inside the home. As I a young child, around the age of five or six, kneeling on my worn and splintered “hand me down” skateboard, I would propel myself along the footpath with my hands. The resulting calluses from paddling along the path left the little pads of my hands rough and sore, but that did not take away from the fun of traversing Michael St., dodging stones and bumpy concrete as I went.
I recall fantasising about the lives acted out behind the various front doors I passed on my way. I distinctly remember the home with the high timber fence painted an austere blue with a grey pebbled pathway leading to the door. My mother disapprovingly remarked that the girl who lived there was encouraged by her mother to “dress up like a model in ridiculously modern clothes”. I was not to know that this focus on “inappropriate attire” would be a theme that would be revisited in the years to come as I grew further into girlhood. The comment however, did little other than to instil an almost envious curiosity within me. I was always on the lookout for the teenager, but strangely she rarely appeared.
Then there was the two-story house with the weather-board extension that had been added as the family grew. I never recall interacting with the two children who lived there; perhaps they may have been a few years older than me or attended a different school. So I was even more deeply shocked, hurt and scared when one day they pelted me with “flour bombs” as I passed. These were small packages of flour encased in plastic wrapping that exploded on contact. I was mortified that they could be so cruel as I hung my white doughy head and sped off down the street to number twenty-six. This was really only one of a very few negative incidents to occur outside of my home but as a very sensitive child, the sense of injustice at having done nothing to provoke the attack sent me into self-imposed confinement to my bedroom for a while.
When I emerged again in the afternoons on my return from a day at school, I became more aware of a pale brown brick house about halfway up the street, with a matching pale brown low brick fence. A steel gate painted white, closed the simple concrete driveway off from the street. Often in the afternoons the old man who lived in the house would stand on the foot path leaning back against the fence, framed by the numerous rose bushes that lined the garden side of the wall behind him. I imagine this was his hour or so of reflection as he watched the world of suburbia pass by. Over time, considering we were the only two people not to rush off and disappear into the mysterious worlds I imagined behind those front doors, we struck up a rapport. I cannot recall what we may have discussed, or if much was said at all. I do know though that he became a comforting figure, ever present and gentle, just like the brown cardigan he would always wear. I knew he had a wife but I did not see her often, only rarely catching sight of her petite, fragile figure as she tended to her roses.
Then one day I must have mentioned that it was soon to be my birthday, for when the day of my birthday arrived, there the lovely old couple were, together at the fence waiting. Leaning in towards me the old lady handed me a small package wrapped in soft purple tissue paper. As I put out my hands I looked up into her face and noticed for the first time the plumpness of her skin and the loving twinkle in her eyes. With nervous excitement I peeled back the paper to reveal a little pillow that had been made by sewing two cotton handkerchiefs together. One was adorned with a red and blue patchwork pattern and the other had a picture of a puppy printed on it. A lovely scent wafted from the pillow and as I raised it to my nose I was instantly absorbed by the meditative effect the aroma inspired.
“It’s lavender”, the old lady explained, a sweet smile radiating from her lips, “Keep it under your pillow and whenever you have a headache or cannot sleep it will help bring calmness to you”
How did she know ? I thought to myself. How did she know I suffered from a terrible inability to sleep that was sometimes accompanied by a pounding in my chest and a strange sensation that felt like stomping footsteps in my head rapidly approaching, increasing in volume and intensity, until I thought my head and heart would explode with the tension? Fascinated and grateful, I thanked her for the lavender filled pillow that would become a treasured and truly soothing accompaniment to the night time rituals I developed to help me escape into a wondrous dreamscape of fantasy; a place that brought me so much relief.
Not long after her loving and knowing gesture, the old lady passed away. I didn’t see the old man in the street as much after this but one day I did tentatively approach him. He told me that each night he would lay his wife’s nightie and dressing gown out on her side of the bed and place her slippers alongside on the floor. Although the admission somewhat overwhelmed my naive understanding of grieving and loss, I was pleased that he had found his own gesture to comfort and soothe him in his time of loneliness.
Reflecting upon the gentle impact this sweet old couple had on my childhood has helped me appreciate that whether we encounter significant trauma in life or even just minor hurdles thoughout our days, we need to cherish and honour the little rituals that we develop to help us survive.
This afternoon my daughter and I went for a walk and contemplated our five key ingredients to leading a satisfied life.
This is what we came up with:
- A roof over our heads
- Clothes on our back
- A full belly (We are true foodies !)
- Love in our hearts
- Friends in our circle
I sometimes wonder when it was I first realised my mother was “different” from other mothers. I haven’t been able to isolate a specific time or place but generally recall the gentle wave of acknowledgment that slowly seeped into my knowing. It has forever left me questioning why I was born to this woman. I remember reading the children’s book titled Are You My Mother?, and being absorbed by the tale of a baby bird that hatches whilst its’ mother is out foraging for food. The baby bird sets out on a journey to find its’ mother and comes across a cat, hen and even an excavator, asking each “Are you my mother?” until eventually it is reunited with the mother bird. I remember my response to the story, even as a very young child, was that I would have chosen the excavator if I’d had a chance.
As I began to spend more time at the home of friends for play dates or birthday parties once I started at school, I would observe the “naturalness” of the rapport shared between my friends and their mothers, so free of the tensions I experienced with mine. I observed my friends act boldly at times, challenging their parents with a resolute stance, hands on hips and steadfast in their agenda. I would stand back in awe…literally removing myself from the exchange, finding a firm footing a few steps away in anticipation of the eruption that I predicted would ensue. In most cases I was left stunned as the mother after a momentary pause, would throw her head backwards releasing a hearty belly laugh, clutching her sides in hysterics. She may also have been in a state of awe, but more so for her child’s ability to stand their ground, to exhibit the strength and confidence they would need one day when they flew out from under her wing.
Over the years I encountered many other mother figures and they always fascinated me. They almost appeared to float around their homes with a lightness that was so new and refreshing to me. Shadowed by their children as they busied about their chores, their conversations were candid and uncontrived. They were not infallible creatures…they each had their own source of distractions, but they were mostly present and attainable in an authentically loving way.
I truly believe that even amidst this stage of tender childhood innocence I was still discerning in my assessment of what constituted normal rhythms of interaction and was not lulled into a false idealisation of a picture that in reality, was less than perfect. I witnessed the tears, frustration, illness, stress and isolation that peppers the lives of all women as they struggle to balance the competing roles of wife, parent and in some cases “career woman” at a time when this role was still trekking a path through new terrain. I felt the tensions that arose between parents on the verge of separation; in families where the father was late home from work night after night and in the households stretched by dwindling budgets, tested as additional babies arrived home from hospital. Yet I encountered a vibrant honesty flow through these families whose inner and outer worlds were generally at peace with each other. Mine however was the exception…unpredictable and closeted…the ebb and flow of energy spiraled in a constant whir of negativity, creating a fluctuating climate that was depended upon the emotional whims of my mother on any given day.
By the early years of my primary school education, around the age of seven or eight, the awareness of my mother’s strange demeanour had became an ever-present strain. I tried to disassociate myself from her at every given opportunity. I enjoyed my walk to school in the morning which in hindsight, I recognise provided an opportunity to relax into a meditative state in preparation for the day ahead, as I pounded the footpath and reconnected with the rhythm of my heart. It meant I could walk through the gates, un-tarred by the heavy aura she dragged along with her.
For a time, although I acknowledged that my experience of my mother was quite distinct from that of my friends, I was content that it remained largely uncommented on. Although I sometimes caught the quizzical expressions of other adults in response to her odd demeanour and inappropriate remarks, I felt safe that my friends and their families had not yet tuned in to her oddity, allowing me to blend in to the playground without prejudice. Then the day after I had a friend over to my house for a play date, the child approached me at school and stated with an accusatory air, “My mum said your mum looked at her very strangely when she came to pick me up”. I was devastated. My secret had been exposed. There was no way to respond other than to offer a faltering retort of “I..I don’t know what you mean”. But my heart sunk with the realisation that other people could really see it too. I pondered what it would mean for me. Little did I imagine that her behaviour would have such a devastating impact upon my peer relations that in a few years time, the teenage me would be left with no option other than to retreat into the school toilets at lunch times in a desperate state of isolation.
Ever since I was a young child I have enjoyed taking myself for long walks. Typically I would leash up the cocker-spaniel Sophie and walk in the direction of the ocean that fringed the beach-side suburb of Melbourne where we lived.
Sometimes I would challenge myself by traveling routes that weren’t so familiar to me, weaving through the backstreets as I went. Although my path may have varied, my aim always remained the same – to stay away…far away from the family home as long as I could. Poor Sophie would often look up at me, tongue dripping, panting furiously as she pulled in the direction of home, only to be ignored and told to ‘walk on’. Even though my late return would earn the wrath of my mother when she heard the side gate latch click sometime just after dark, it was worth it. The chance to escape into my own thoughts and transport myself into a land of happy families was too precious to be limited by the turning hands of a clock.
We lived in a fairly comfortable middle class suburb in the South Eastern suburbs of Melbourne. It was the 1980’s… a time of financial prosperity, for “keeping up with the Jones”. This was reflected by the number of fancy Volvos and shiny Fords housed in the double garages attached to architecturally designed homes that became more abstract and ostentatious as I made my way closer to the beach. I recall one home I actually nick-named “The Castle” because it’s façade was fashioned to represent a miniature castle, complete with turrets and all!
However, it was not the silver badges standing up proudly on the bonnets of the cars that pulled into drive-ways around me, nor the obligatory BMX bikes that dropped on the pavement before me as children ran to greet them, that caught my attention. It was the emotion that permeated the air as families regrouped after their day apart. Strong enough to filter through the otherwise constructed symbols of contentment, when those remote controlled electric gates opened, it hit me like a rush of warm breath on my skin…Happiness, Unity and Tranquillity. I inhaled, allowing it to soak through every pore on my skin until my heart swelled with a painful longing that jolted me into moving on.
I was around eleven years of age when my older sister married and I discovered that her new brother-in-law and his wife lived with their two young sons in my suburb. I had met them maybe once or twice…he was tall, robust in stature and handsome; she was young, blonde and fashionable. Their street name was instantly recognisable to me due to the scoping of the area that I had accomplished over several years worth of long walks. I remember spending one evening walking up and down in front of their home, ecstatic to discover that they had not yet closed their gates thus allowing me a viewing section a metre or so wide between the walls of their high blue-stone fence. Slowly I would stroll across their drive-way trying to inconspicuously snatch a glimpse into their world. Dusk had just fallen so the light of the living room lamp illuminated my view of two tall glass vases filled with oranges, strategically placed on each end of the mantle to frame the collection of family photos above the fireplace. Crossing the road for another viewing, I thought I saw movements deeper in the home as children were prepared for baths before dinner. I imagined their mother lovingly combing back their hair and wrapping them in their dressing gowns to protect them from the cold night air.
I must have made a strange sight, pacing up and down like a burglar’s apprentice casing the premises in preparation for a midnight break-in. On reflection, I’m surprised no-one approached me to inquire what I was doing, considering I was a young girl alone in the street with only a confused dog by her side, whilst every other child was safely ensconced in the pre-dinner rituals of suburban family life.
Suddenly from across the street I heard the clanging of a rubbish bin being dragged up a gravel drive-way and I recognised the form of my sister’s brother in-law approaching the nature-strip. I felt an urgent longing to bolt across the road and throw myself at him, pleading him to allow me to come inside. I imagined pouring out my story of desperation to escape the bizarre and lonely world I inhabited to his beautiful wife. I envisaged her wrap her warm Country-Road clad arms around me, assuring me she would provide the maternal care and protection I craved.
I put my head down and walked on.
Looking at the sixteen year-old girl who stared back at me from the mirror atop the old white dresser, I felt a tremendous sense of compassion. She was alright after all…fairly pretty really, with a curvaceous figure and long auburn hair. The corners of her mouth turned ever so slightly upwards and her shoulders dropped as she let out a long deep sigh. It was a sigh of relief. Freedom. Sure, she looked pretty daggy this morning in fleecy tracksuit pants two sizes too big and an old faded white t-shirt, with a pattern across the front which was now undiscernible. But that was forgivable. After all, packing clothes when she left had not been a priority. So the clothes she now wore had been delivered by the police on behalf of her older sister, who had thrown together a bag for her that night she left her parents home forever. “Your not so bad after all” I told her. It was important to let her know this. She needed to hear it. And I felt satisfied as I saw a glimmer of hope shine through her eyes.
It was at this point that my ever-evolving journey towards self-love and acceptance began.
One of my earliest childhood memories is of being whisked up into the arms of an older brother and taken outside into the backyard of the family home where we would sit atop the timber picnic style outdoor table and chat about anything. It didn’t matter what the topic was. Maybe my brother would point to some birds flying overhead, or we would laugh at the antics of the pet dog, or even look for Care Bears in the clouds. It didn’t matter. It was a distraction you see and I think even as a four or five year old I knew it, but it was easier just to pretend. Somewhere inside the house, usually in the kitchen or front living room, my mother would be on the floor, hysterical and unwilling or unable to pick herself up. My father and maybe another brother or two would take an arm or shoulder each, in an attempt to lift her up and escort her to her bedroom.
Somehow, someone must have been delegated the responsibility of removing me from the scene. Considering I was seven to ten years or so younger than all my four brothers, I imagine they were accustomed to the drama but wanted to shield me from it. My memories of these instances present in quick, sharp snapshots, like the clicking frames of a camera; and usually at angles that just allow for a glimpse around the corner of the dining room wall or behind a kitchen bench, as I looked back over the shoulder of whoever was carrying me towards the back door. It was confusing and scary, but easier not to ask questions and seek out those Care Bears in the clouds instead.