My finger-tips came to rest upon the golden door handle supported by a steady hand, delicately placed with all the resolve of a surgeon preparing for the first incision. It was quite a feat actually considering the rest of my body was shaking and I could no longer feel the carpeted floor beneath me. I was aware the slightest movement of the handle would create a squeak and I had not made my mind up yet if I wanted to make my presence known to those on the other side of the door. The internal struggle was creating havoc in every aspect of my being. My lips quivered, sweat ran from my pores and the beating of my heart could not catch up with the pace of my breathing. Thoughts swirled around my head as if my mind was set to a rapid spin cycle. Should I or shouldn’t I? The temptation pulled with magnetic force but the risks involved were also quite prominent in my mind. This could mean an escape…a way out, the voice of hope persisted in my head, Given what’s happening they may not need to much convincing. Yes, but would they really take me seriously?
I can’t entirely recall the events that had lead to my predicament that afternoon as most of the visual memories present as images of the interior of my bedroom. Possibly I had the music turned up in my room to drown out the sounds of physical scuffles and hysterical voices on the other side of the walls. Plus, there were many scenarios in my family experience that were similar to the one playing out before me. This time it related to the youngest of my four brothers Aaron, and the constant struggle he found himself engaged in as he grappled with his intensifying anger towards our parents and his growing acknowledgment of their contribution to the miserable persona that engulfed him.
It is interesting how each child’s personality and specific traits impact upon their experience of survival from an emotionally destructive childhood. Personality impacts upon one’s level of resilience that in turn, affects the inevitable choice to either confront or deny the behaviour. My brother was at last attempting in his own way to confront our parents for the years of soul-destroying torment he had endured at their hands. Tortured by a stutter that manifested as a consequence of the anxiety experienced due to living within an explosive and unpredictable home, ridiculed for his sensitivities and set up to be ostracised by his older brothers, he had a fractured sense of identity that left a gaping hole in his core. I don’t think at that stage he was able to identify the link between the years of their belittling of him and his current state of social isolation and unhappiness, but the anger had risen to the surface and was directed fairly and squarely in their direction. I was glad of it. I was hopeful that in lashing out at them and at the world, he might be steered in the direction of help…outside help that was bigger and braver than anything I at thirteen years of age, could offer.
It seemed that he had already sought that help. And this afternoon’s experience taught me that therapists can sometimes offer rather strange advice. Apparently my poor brother had sought the guidance of a highly respected psychologist who suggested he “have a couple of stiff drinks” before approaching my parents to challenge their behaviour towards him. It may have seemed reasonable to the therapist to offer this type of advice to a twenty year old male but the risk of him taking the recommendation just one step further was indisputable and, I suspect it may have resulted in consumption of more than a “couple” of drinks. During the confrontation that ensued in the living room that afternoon, my parents who were unaccustomed to their authority being challenged, would have looked intently for any signs of influence to my brother’s newly ignited courage and located it on his breath. Unfortunately, this was perfect fodder for their catch-cry claim as innocent victims at the hands of the bullying of their children. And so they dialled 000 and requested the police attend the home as soon as possible.
“Our son has turned on us, he is going crazy and I fear he will attack my husband”, I hear my mother say down the phone in feigned tones of fear and distress.
The presence of three marked police cars in one’s street is not a welcoming look in a quiet middle class neighbourhood. No wonder none of the housewives who regularly witnessed such commotion at number 24 through their lace curtains, ever came knocking at the door with offerings of home baked muffins. As a child my world-view was one based on fear. Every occurrence, every outsider, every belief system or custom that differed from my own, was ingrained within me as having corruptive influences. It took a while for me to understand for those on the outside looking in to my world, the view would have been as scary as hell itself. For almost all, it was in fact too scary, to really want to get involved. I soon learnt there was no hope of rescue by an outsider.
With my ear pressed up to the gap between the bedroom door and the wall, I heard a police officer guide Aaron from the front of the house away from the commotion and down towards the end of the hall way, just outside the door to my room.
“Ok, have you had a couple of drinks mate?” inquired the friendly sounding female constable.
“Well maybe…” responded my brother breathlessly as he tried to elaborate on his distress.
“I can see nothing is going to be resolved here”, the policewoman interjected.
“How about I walk you outside and you head off then?” she offered.
Take me, oh take me too!, a voice inside me screamed silently as my body stood frozen behind the door while my energy pulled violently towards the hallway.
The police had no idea I was there bearing witness from behind the scenes to all that was going on that afternoon. When I had glimpsed their vehicles arrive from behind the heavy curtains that framed the front living room windows, my parents had ordered me to my room. I was happy to comply.
Maybe I won’t need to come out voluntarily. Maybe they’ll come looking for me? Surely they’d want to know if there were any other children in the house?
I stood immobilised as I listened to their footsteps walk back up the hall in the direction of the front door.
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
“Good night Baby Bear”.
“Night Papa Bear”, I respond as the closing door takes with it the last sprays of golden light that radiate from the hall-way beyond.
As a pre-schooler of three or four years of age, this was the comforting exchange that would end my day. On this note, I would be happy to snuggle into the added comfort and warmth of my soft toy as I drifted into slumber. It was as it should be…a father comforting his child as she relaxes into the knowing that all is safe and secure in her world, with him there to protect her. This was of course, how things were before I had learned to shut my door, turn the music up and suck in my breath.
For a very short period in those early years I looked to my father as a soft, rounded, reliable figure. I recall being perched on his shoulders at a circus, his thick hands gripping my ankles reassuringly as I strain my neck to peer above the crowd. I am Safe… in the knowing he will not let me fall. I feel the pride swell in my four-year old chest as I follow him faithfully up and down the white chalk lined boundary of a soccer field, whilst he yells directions to the boys chasing the round ball within. I am Secure… in the knowing he will not lose me in the crowd. It was as it should be. This was of course, before I learned to hunch my shoulders and shrug out which ever response was expected as he carried out my mother’s business.
Numbness connects these memories of my father. A blank white wall confronts me. I stare and stare but can’t seem to find the detail. I cannot distinguish the surface from plaster, timber or brick…I have no idea if its’ finish is gloss or matt. Impressions of my father have simply become a white-wash of nothingness. Over the years, each experience of betrayal I encountered caused the illusion of my father as an ally to dissipate into a languorous puff of indifference; his role as my mother’s accomplice in the game of manipulation gradually exposed.
On so many many occasions when I needed a voice of strength and authority to stand up for what was right and fair and normal, his silence ricocheted from ear to ear, echoing in my head with voluminous discord. At other times his outbursts of rage literally shook the floor boards beneath me, and saw me scream “Stop it…Just Stop It !”, only to be ordered to my bedroom by my mother. The fear and confusion incited by my view of the limbs of a father and his sons entangled in a violent scuffle on the rumpus room floor, soon transformed to disgust and eventually contempt. As the dynamics between my four brothers disnintegrated, cruelly orchestrated by my mother, I came to despise his placid allowance of her manipulating behaviour that had turned the males in my household into virtual putty.
Interestingly, acceptance of my father’s role as silent conspirator settled easily within me as a young child. I did not struggle against it. Generally, I did not question it, though at times I did ponder how he could adjust to the world beyond our front door …the real world…as an employee and colleague in a high profile company. That he did exit the house every morning to maintain a seemingly well functioning professional persona, made his betrayal of his children even more unforgivable. Yet his incongruous existence did not consume me. I simply grew to see him as a pathetic figure who had succumbed to a life riddled with false premises espoused by an emotionally corrupt woman, that even an eight year old could detect.
When I was around the age of ten or eleven, I witnessed a scenario that cemented my understanding of him as a conscious conspirator in the madness that was our family life. I recall a commotion one evening that lead me to quietly inch open my bedroom door, just enough to provide a view to the top of the hallway. I saw my father standing with his hand on the door knob, a brown leather suitcase at his feet. “I’ve had enough. I’m leaving”, I heard him say. Good I thought Go Go…She deserves it. My mother was on the floor, hysterically grabbing at his legs. Maybe if he leaves, the bars of control that trap us in this existence will melt away freeing us from the poisonous happenings within. Yet I see him pick up the suitcase and retreat back into the front room. Weak I thought, shaking my head in disgust. Yes that’s him…Weak.
Words spewed forth
A sausage string
consonants and vowels
In the ears of a child
…Syntax error alert !
Naive cognition fails to compute
From veiled meanings
Crafting the scar-tissue
Around the Heart
Words spewed forth
Enmeshed in a tangle of lesions
Giggles of innocence
Bubbling with love
Swept up in the swell
of motherly joy
Enter predestined passions
A professional calling
Awash in a whirlpool
Riding the waves
of growth and fulfillment
Caught in the rip
Whipped up by moonlight
In muddied roles
Momentary stillness descends
Pressure rising and falling
Silence stems the flow
Providing the compass
to temporary floating
Til the dawn tide
At the birth of the Sun
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
As I’m often reminded it’s not all about me….
In the midst of my current “woe is me” mindset that has been spurred on by the heartless actions of someone in my life whom I’d once trusted implicitly, I have been touched by the words of a young man, who in reaching out to me has exposed his own vulnerability with a maturity beyond his mere fifteen years. He has shared with me his own sense of isolation from those he loves, which sadly reflects that of many teenagers I know.
With a deep sigh of relief I can reflect upon my own relationship with my lovely teenage daughter and confidently report a close and trusting bond, that lends itself to frequent D&M’s on the couch. Even very recently during a momentary pause in one such lengthy chin-wag she looked at me and said “You know mum most of the kids at school don’t talk with their parents like this.” I asked her why she thought that was and she replied, “Oh they’re all usually too busy doing their own thing”.
It made me think about a recent comment made to me by a stall holder at my local farmer’s market a couple of weeks ago. My younger daughter and I were wandering through the market, leisurely yet enthusiastically seizing every opportunity to sample the local tropical delights of fruits, cheeses, and even ‘lime and chilli chocolate’, and had stopped by The Spice Man to taste some citrus infused ‘Relaxing Herbal Tea’. The Spice Man commented that it was lovely to see a mother and daughter spending time in each other’s company. He referred to his own efforts as a father of two now adult daughters and how valuable such shared time was to enhancing their relationships.
I didn’t consider his feedback too deeply at the time but am coming to understand that parents, whom I have expected to be much wiser and practiced than me, appear not to acknowledge the importance of involving themselves in their children’s lives. Instead they choose to stand on the periphery as mere commentators to a sport they have forgotten how to play. Even more importantly, I feel they underestimate the value their children place on this involvement which carries so much greater meaning than spoiling with money and other material tokens of care and attention. Most young people I know respond appreciatively to simply being listened to and understood; the most significant priority in spending “time” together.
Perhaps I take for granted the loving bond I share with my girls that has grown out of the time we share with each other, but even in the depths of despair and stress that as a sole parent, can sometimes can envelope me, my “shard of light” in the darkness is the recognition that my daughters will prosper as a result. All the personal or financial woes in the world cannot take away from the self-confidence, optimism and sense of empowerment I see in the way my girls regard themselves and the future journeys they will one day embark upon with gusto !
To the young man who took the time to extend his love in his own time of despair – Let your inner resilience warm your thoughts and dreams for an exciting future soon to unfold…