I feel like I want to write. I don’t know what about. I’ve wasted all day messing about with Facebook and Reddit. What am I avoiding?
Come on, little one. Talk to me.
I see you. It’s a grey and chilly day. You’re a burst of colour in your red lacquer raincoat; a tiny solitary figure on the edge of that big, still pond. I remember the coat, and the gloves on a string to ensure they stay inside the coat. They’re dangling loosely outside your sleeves. I remember the ill-fitting knitted tights that always, always would sag, no matter what. I remember the little boots that were snug and warm. What I don’t remember is being out there all by ourselves. Not an adult in sight.
You’re what … three years old, maybe four? Where is Mum? How did you get out there all by yourself?
You didn’t go out much, Mum and you. She didn’t like to go out by herself, and Dad was working day most of the time. You only went out shopping when he was around. When he was not, all we would go for was for doctor’s appointments and to see Grandma – Mum’s mother. Sometimes, in the weekend, you would all go and see Gran and Granddad – Dad’s parents, or maybe drive out into the forest. But that didn’t happen very often at all. Most of the time you were just by yourself, because Mum wasn’t very well and spent a lot of time in bed.
She did let you go out, as long as you stayed on your level of the apartment block. But soon you got caught up in play and went exploring all over the block. The waste disposal unit and the storage units were your favourite playgrounds. Soon enough, you and some other kids on the block ventured further afield. The nearby primary school; the park, and the pond. It was all within earshot of the apartment block, but Mum would have had a fit if she’d known.
I guess one day she found out you went to the pond. I don’t know how. Maybe you had a seizure and were found near the water. Or maybe social services found you wondering by yourself and made enquiries. I do have a vague recollection of you having either innocently wandered away, or deliberately run away, trying to find either a police friend of the family or a blind female friend of Mum’s. I cannot remember why.
It wouldn’t be that last time you’d wander off. One time, at nursery school, you went home with a boy in your class, Roy. I can’t remember much about his Dad trying to find out where you lived, but he must have, because eventually the police and Mum and Dad arrived. You did not know your name and address to tell him who you were and where you lived.
Those years were bad years.
When I think of you, little one, I feel the cold concrete of the place pressing in on you. I sense the oppressive darkness and the despair that shrouded it. It feels like a maze from which there is no escape. I feel the stress and anxiety building up in you like a pressure barrel with no outlet. Something’s got to give.
I see you standing on the threshold on Mum’s bedroom, begging for attention, but Mum’s face down in her pillow; too deeply sunken into her grief and depression to notice you. Another day of solitude in this concrete prison looms.
Mum was suicidal at the time. Actively self-harming. And it was around that time that you were rushed to hospital to have your stomach emptied because you had drunk a bottle of shoeshine. You were 4 years old. I don’t know why you did it. I guess you were thirsty and found this yummy looking shiny bottle in the cupboard and downed it. Not a jolly experience.
Maybe that incident prompted an enquiry, who knows. Maybe that’s why we had years of family care coming in every day to ensure we got fed and the house work was done. Something must have prompted it. That doesn’t just happen because Dad is working and Mum is suffering with depression. There must have been clear and present danger to you for Social Services to respond like that.
In those early years, both your anxiety and epilepsy were entirely uncontrolled. You had fear-fuelled visions of monsters and crocodiles. Nowhere was safe. The anxiety triggered the epilepsy, and you because very, very ill. A raft of doctors and therapists got involved.
We were never told the honest truth.
For years we were told how Mum fought the doctors to get to the truth for you, and that they always told her she was an overly concerned mother. The diagnosis, insofar as I knew for years, what minimal brain damage (nowadays known as ADHD) and epilepsy. The former I refute. Our behaviour was and is a result of adverse childhood experiences and sustained trauma. The appropriate approach to that is wholly different from ADHD. As for epilepsy, I came upon discharge papers from the epilepsy clinic you spent a year in, and it states clear as day that a significant proportion of the seizures and symptoms you experienced were psychogenic – caused by stress and anxiety. As your grown-up version I can reassure you that it gets a whole lot better. I’m even allowed to drive now! The epilepsy is nowhere near as bad as it seemed at the time. So much of what you went through, little one, was because of the way we were forced to be.
Always on tiptoes, careful not to upset Mummy … heavens forbid! And desperately trying to make her smile; keep her mood light. Who knows, we might even get a bit affection out of her. Several years later, after the epilepsy clinic, somehow we were forced to become her confidante; her therapist. What an unbearable burden for a 10-year old. Now it was Dad who had finally caved and become depressed. Mum was more responsive that she was many years ago, but she never fully recovered. She’s now holding up the façade of strength and forced jolliness, but it’s all fake. And inside she’s quietly withering away.
You’re a 10-year old, who’s just returned from having been sent away for a year. You feel abandoned, once again. Now your father has crumbled, and your mother is acting as if nothing is wrong, and to top it off, she’s leaning on you for support, and is actively trying to isolate you from your family.
Everything is changing around you. Back home, but home isn’t home anymore. New school. You’re being relentlessly bullied. You live in significant poverty. You have no friends. You’re being isolated from your family. Your home isn’t safe and secure. You feel awkward and unwanted.
Abandonment is such a brutal wound. And we’ve been dealt it so many times. It’s what we’ve known since earliest childhood. It’s what we knew all through the early years of primary school. It’s what became a visceral reality when we were sent away to the epilepsy clinic. It’s what haunted us all through puberty and adolescence. It became a weapon in the hands of any potential abuser, because we must, above all, have approval. If we cannot have approval, or if it is withdrawn, we know once more that which we know at our core: that we are not good enough.
But I tell you, little one: you are good enough. I am good enough. We must not shoulder the burden of responsibility for the failings of our parents and care givers. It was upon them to make us feel safe and secure; to bond with us and to make us feel loved. To give us the affection and unconditional love every child needs and deserves. They tried their best, and they loved us, but it came too late and was ineffective. And for that we are not to blame.
Neither do I blame them. I know enough of their story to feel compassion and forgive them. But I do hold them to account.
So cheer up, little one.
You are safe. You are loved. And you are free to live your life in joy.