AT LONG LAST ...
Here goes ...
Promise not to yawn, please.
I'VE KEPT THIS AS SHORT as I can manage.
MY LIFE, up until the age of eight, was so uneventful as to be almost "boringly" regular. My parents seemed relatively happily married. The only remarkable thing I can think up was that, due to a hitch in the emigration process, I was born not in balmy Sydney, Australia, but in the damp United Kingdom. I mention this because I spent many years of my childhood feeling somehow out of place in what my Mum called a "cold country".
Looking back I was a happy child with one younger brother and churchgoing parents. Nothing remarkable occurred until my Mum had a crisis of faith when I was about seven. This spelled the beginning of the end`of my parents' marriage. Within a year they were separated (for good); there were no reconciliations. They divorced soon after that.
My Mum, who had been an apparently increasingly desperate-feeling housewife began her break to freedom by enrolling in college. The problem was (for me) that she spent so much time away that I never saw her. I tried to get up at 6am to be there when she kissed me goodbye. But I couldn't manage it. I was my mother's son. I felt utterly bereft without her. In her place they hired a French au pair called Elise. But Elise was no replacement for my Mum.
A year later my parents finally did separate. Elise flew home to Cointreau-land (her sister worked in the factory and smelled of oranges). My Mum quit home, leaving my brother and me in the care of my Dad. This was only ever meant to be a temporary arrangement until she got her career in motion. A good (male) friend of my Dad's took over our daily care. My brother and I saw my Mum every other weekend, which was sad, because all I wanted was to be with her. So I spent every othe Sunday eve back home at Dad's and crying.
We knew my future stepmother and brother for some time before amalgamation into one family was ever on the cards -- because they attended the same church as my Dad. They remembered my brother and me clearly from the day Harriet threw a barbecue at her house. Two timid children, who had never been brought up to speak our minds, or to ever venture further than unquestioning obedience to our elders skulked into Harriet's house under a dark shadow. Years later Harriet said she wondered what was wrong with us that day. Nothing: except for the stultifyingly suffocating home we came from. She and Jonathan recalled us clearly because we were so very inhibited, so obviously devoid of joy.
We continued seeing Mum at miserable fortnightly intervals. And I continued crying. I never, in fact, ever actualy stopped crying at that particular time. I missed my Mum so very much. I was so lost without her, my life had no meaning at all. Life was bleak. A wasteland. Featureless and void.
One afternoon, I remember sitting, alone, on a low wall. Inside I felt an acheing emptiness. I was missing my Mum terribly. All of a sudden, she came up and grabbed me from behind. My joy lasted but a moment as a gasp of disappointment gave way to embarrassed apology. A lady I didn't know had mistaken me for her own little boy.
Strangely I remember that trivial little incident as one of the saddest of my whole life...
The misery really hit the proverbial fan when all was actually going well. My Dad was seeing more and more of Harriet, a lady I really liked and who genuinely cared for me -- or actually loved -- me and my brother unconditionally from the moment she became involved in our lives. Paul and I got on really well with Harriet's son, Jonathan. When teh whole lot of us were together, it was like the family I no longer had. At the same time, my Mum was seeing more and more of a man named Brian. She lived in a single-bedroom flat near Windsor, where Brian spent more and more time. Their bedroom door was always barricaded every morning. As if at ten years old I didn't know what that meant ....
One Friday night my Dad took me for a long walk. It was just like the walk he took me on when he told me he was getting divorced. Only this time the news was happy. He was marrying Harriet. I was delighted. The next day Paul and I went to stay with my Mum. When he was out playing she took me aside and told me she and Brian were getting married: would I like to come and live with them? I responded by bursting into tears. More than anything I wanted to be with my Mum. But I knew what circumstances were dictating. This was never going to happen now. So in the midst of all this happiness I was more miserable -- by far -- than I had ever been in my life...
The human mind has an odd way of playing tricks upon its owner. Rapidly I was distracted from my dilemma about who to tell what about living where:- a new crisis loomed. I became ill. Drying off after swimming (the only sport I've ever truly enjoyed) I encountered drops of water that would not pat dry under the towel. They were blisters. And as I fell ill with chicken pox my mind flipped out.
I became obsessed with the idea that I was dying of cancer. This had nothing to do with the chicken pox. To me, a ten year old, cancer was an illness with no specific symptoms, an invisible cause ("radiation") and you didn't know you had it till it was too late: you were dying.By my next visit to my Mum's I was already in a state: crying all the time. Convinced that a mole I had picked off my arm years before was now going to kill me. Looking around at the trees, the clouds, the sunshine on the river I mentally said goodbye to these things, knowing I wouldn't be with them for very much longer. What was the point, in fact, in living what little time I had left? All was meaningless. All was "vanity". Better to die now and have it over with. Why suffer the intermediate waiting-time of life? Death took everything. I would rather die now. And I was just ten.
It's the story of my life that when I've been in great distress it usually goes unnoticed. This was the case now. Although my Mum did say I was "a bit low" after I spent the entire weekend in floods of tears, nobody else seemed to notice me. Weddings came and went. Both parents got remarried the same weekend. Only my brother and I were not invited to my Mum's wedding. Sour grapes, I expect. My Mum and Brian thought they'd snookered my Dad into relinquishing custardy of Paul and me; obviously not having counted on his marriage which was coincidentally timed and no deliberate war-move in my divorced parents' ever-deteriorating relationship. Fate was playing awfully strange games with my future and I knew who I was meant to be with, knew where I was meant to go. Never having been brought up to speak my own mind I never had to chance to say where I really wanted to be -- with my Mum. Aside from the first time, nobody ever asked me. And besides, even if I had said it, who would have listened? What would have happened? Fate placed me with my Dad. Or, if you want a religious interpretation, God ensured I stayed with my Dad. I knew this at the time. Unhappy a I was, I knew there was no point in arguing, knew where life was taking me. It nearly killed me; but weeping and near-defeated by depression, I came compliantly along.
That was my nightmare.
Harriet and my Dad went to Spain. Jonathan also flew to Spain with his Dad who had coincidentally booked his summer hols ther months in advance. In the midst of all this excitement, my brother and I were left back in clement England, packed off to a kiddies' summer camp runy by my Dad's church. My mental state spiralled down and down. I spent all week at camp worrying about this cancer. An idiot grown-up had told me that worrying about it could actually bring on the disease. This was the coup de grace. A perfect vicious circle was set up. The more I worried, the more I convinced myself that my worrying had made me terminally ill. As far as I was concerned I was a walking corpse. As other kids whooped and yelled and had fun:: I withdrew. And worried. And worried ever more.
Back home I had a telling dream. Trying to tell my Mum I had this cancer, repeatedly - but she would not listen. Nobody paid any attention whatsoever until that morning when I woke up screaming.
My Mum assured me that she would never abandon me like that. (She already had done.) Harriet told me some people were "sensitive". She had been a "sensitive" little girl. But I was "extra sensitive". She kept asking why I was crying. But I had no answer. I was just very , very unhappy.
As September came, I went back to my last year of primary school. This was a year I spent obsessing, worrying. As cancer subsided, "germs" took over. Dirty hands. Contamination. Obsessed me. Nearly everything was unclean and not to be touched. Most especially money, which I refused to handle unless immediate handwashing facilities were available. Using the toilets at school or in public places was a particular ordeal. The taps were too dirty to touch and turn offwith my newly-washed hands so I often just left them on. The push-down variety I often pushed with my elbow. Even though I was pushing to wash clean, why contaminate any more than necessary (it was my hands I was bothered about; not my elbows). Remember those towel machines that ran a kind of eternal dishcloth in a loop? I had to pull this by the very top where it came out of the divice. Otherwise I was just touching a million other people's filthy germs ... And no way could I touch the door in any way except with my foot when I eventually was clean enough to leave. If I could not somehow manoevre it open with my foot, I had to wait for someone else to leave or enter and then make a run for it ...
Many years later I discovered the meaning of all this hypochondriaisis and obsessions. I was basically suffering from depression that evolved into obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD). This OCD lasted two years and was severe enough that at winter-time my hands chaped up so bad from the repeated washing -- maybe 100 washes per day or more -- that they chapped and cracked open, esp. between the fingers, and bled.
Harriet salved them in olive oil and tied them into plastic bags each night, which helped me a lot. I defeated OCD only by sheer will. I didn't want not to be able to handle money, telephones, pens (especially other people's), cameras (they touched people's noses which were full of filthy snot...) Yes, I had it bad. But I did not want to be opening doors with my elbows for the rest of my life ...
My Dad recalls a time I was unwilling to take down a bottle of disinfectant from a dusty utility-room shelf because it was dirty. Some days I was scared even of handling the soap (because other people had touched it)...
Ever so gradually the symptoms receded and faded. I helped them along their way by going against the obsession. I.e. if I thought I would die because I'd trodden on the pavement cracks:: I put this to the test by treading on them deliberately. I wasn't so scared of dying anyhow...
I never got completely better, though. Depression came in repeated waves all throughout my teenage years. Kids at school (jokingly) called me a drug-addict when I was walking round in a daze. My stepbro once called me a dinosaur. He was right. Tho dinosaurs, I would expect, had keener reflexes than I did in those depression times.
Insomnia kicked in sometime in my mid-teens. I remember on adventure holiday, staying in a tent. Lying awake after a full days' strenuous activities - hillwalking, swimming etc etc. And I stayed awake till dawn.
Brian, my mother's husband, turned out to be a nasty, childish, domineering man. When, on alternate weekends, he drove us to our mother's house, car conversation turned into interrogation. He jibed at my Dad and Harriet, his church, our family, everything I and we stood for. And tried to make me answer for it. I hated him for this. Utterly loathed him. I had books about deadly toadstools and knew the one I would get him with: amanita phalloides -- the death cap. Most toxic fungus in the world. Give a low dose and death is more drawn-out and more painful. But death inexorably comes. I don't know why I didn't serve him this in his chicken and mushroom pie. Oh yes I do: because search as hard as I would (and I really did look) I never found anything stronger than a fly agaric Would I really have done it? Well I didn't, did I? I could have burned him alive in his bed but I didn't. Eventually I learned that hatred harms the hater far more than the one who's hated. So take my advice: chill out and love everybody. I know what I am talking about.
(RE: the toadstools --
Correction: I did once find a "panther" (amanita pantherina), which looks like fly agaric but with a greeny-grey cap. And that is fairly poisonous but I was too scared to touch it (doesn't that say everything?!). And wasn't at all sure it was fatally poisonous anyhow. So there you go ...)
...Of all the addicts, of all the junkies, saddos, psychos, nasty people and plain weirdos I have ever known before or since Brian came along, none has ever come anywhere close to making me feel as insulted, degraded, disrespected or injured as that man did. He loathed all my family stood for and he made his loathing plain. How I hated him!! He and my Mum bought us presents that we weren't allowed to take home. They took us out, bought us sweets, tried all they could to lure us away. But I just did not want to be in that sad man's presence.
After a year or more of this, the Court-Appointed Welfare Officer (a type of social worker) who had never listened to my point of view, set up a meeting with her and my mother where my mother put to me emphatically what she had only communicated through my Dad/etc before :: If I wanted to see her, I had to see Brian also. She knew I didn't want to see the Monster but she would not budge. So I had to sit there and say well then I don't want to see you then. I was thirteen years old when I chucked her out of my life. I never saw her again until I was nineteen.
And that, my friends, is my childhood.
American psychiatrists have said that abandonment by the mother predisposes the "patient" to all manner of downfalls in adult life. They also say that childhood misery hardwires the brain to a future of unhappiness. Maybe that's true for others. Maybe it's not. It's certainly true for me though ...
So that's it. That's me.
Not much of a story, but a lot for me. I found a painkiller that has nearly killed me. Don't know which way I'd be better off sometimes, anyhow ...
Sorry if this is more boring than you expected but I wasn't going to jazz up the truth to make it any more delicious. I don't "blame" these things for anything ... having said that I was hung up on a lot of them for many years.
Well I don't know what else to say so I'm off to fetch some cyder.
Have a nice day!
And don't be nasty to children.
Here's a piece of music that came back from Spain & v much reminds me of a certain time. I had never seen the "video" before ...
Jeanette - Soy Rebelde
Brings back all manner of memories ...
A website I found just now, if anyone's interested: Paediatric Cancer "Blogging for a Cure" ...
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