Something Written and Forgotten

Feb 2014

“Da da da…” he muses thoughtfully as he runs one hand over the other for the millionth time this morning. Fascinated by his own dexterity he opens and closes his sticky fist again then suddenly, shrieking with glee, he throws himself backward wiggling those fat little feet toward the ceiling.

He looks up at me with huge ocean blue eyes, waiting for approval, his tiny hands and feet beating furiously against the carpet as if he might explode with happiness at his newest discovery.

“Oh my clever boy!” I coo enthusiastically as I sweep him up into my arms. I nuzzle his neck and breathe in his sweet smell like I may never hold him again. He rolls into a ball and pushes his face into my chest, emerging with a huge smile that would melt the coldest of hearts. I brush the whisps of blonde and brown away from his forehead and kiss the smooth, warm skin. It is a delicious feeling, and I kiss him again as I squeeze him tight, holding desperately onto this beautiful moment of pride and discovery and love.

Soon he arches his back, his face contorts into a look of discomfort and the arms he so joyously punched back and forth a moment before are stuck straight out from his body like matchsticks, his red little fists screwed tight. He looks at me to make sure Im paying attention and then, with all the flavour of a recently bathed cat and a yowl to match, he wriggles and forces his way out of my arms and onto the carpet once again to continue his marvelling.

The emotions rise hard and fast. As he wriggles onto his little pot belly, my hot tears spill down my face and onto the carpet. There are not many eight month old babies who enjoy being held the way he was, and although his huge slobbery smile is back and he is once more reaching for my hair to climb up, the bitter sting of rejection deep inside is what I feel strongest.

I know that he loves me, I know it when I look at my cherubs face and see my own eyes, so full of wonder and amazement stare back at me. When he leans forward and stretches with all his might just to touch my hand. When he falls asleep nuzzled into my chest like he never can with anyone else. When he wakes crying in the night and just a stroke down his face reminds him he is safe and loved and sends him straight back to sleep. There is no doubt in my mind that the love we share is beyond all understanding.

And yet every bit of it can be washed away so quickly, so easily. The lump forms in my throat, the guilt washes over me in waves so strong I feel I’ll drown. The pain cuts into a piece of my heart never reached before. I know its not his fault. I know he isnt sending what Im receiving. I know hes not trying to hurt me, but right now I feel so overwhelmed and unbearably sad, it doesnt seem to matter whats real and whats not.

“I’m a terrible mother.” The familiar mantra rears its ugly head. I trawl through memories and parade them in front of me once again. I remember when he cried because I picked him up. When he sat on my knee stretching to play with Dad instead. When he gleefully stared up at him and shouted “DA DA DA!” in his biggest big boy voice. I remember every tiny slight and they cut like a thousand tiny knives. “How twisted must I be” I wonder, “to take such a beautiful baby boy and impose on him the responsibility for my feelings. What a monster I am.”

The thought terrifies me. I know no matter how much love I give or how much my heart swells with pride for his every breath, eventually Im going to fuck it up. Eventually all of that painful horrible mess inside of me is going to spew out and smother him, irremovable and permanent like hot tar. No matter how beautiful he is, no matter how amazing and comforting he finds me now – one day hes going to be old enough to realise that Im not supermum, and not just that but not even close.

What if this dark cloud which has slowly smothered and suffocated me for the last eight months swallows him too? How can I protect him from myself? How can I spare him this crippling heartbreaking agony of rejection and worthlessness and failure, which rears its head at the slightest opportunity? How can I teach him the fullness and satisfaction of being true to yourself, when I feel like a ghost, an empty shell of who I was?

The guilt is crippling, and I panic and I cry and I whisper apologies for now, for yesterday and tomorrow into his tiny ear as he rests his head on my shoulder. I pray desperately that God will spare him this agony I myself have inherited, and I pray for the strength never to show him the wreck I truly am.

I hate who Ive become, I hate that everything hurts when it shouldnt. I hate that even as I say “I know its not real” it cuts deeper than any physical pain ever could. I hate that my family suffers for my weakness, for my inability to control my irritation and my emotions in general. I hate that they have to spend so much time on my rollercoaster that often they miss out on their own.

Please God, if you need me to feel like this for the rest of my life, if I have to spend every waking minute feeling inferior, inadequate, stupid, worthless, lonely and small. So small… then so be it.

But please God, dont give this to my baby. Such an amazing gift I know I can never afford. Help me to raise a happy, healthy, stable child. Dont let him know that I doubted my maternal ability for a second, dont let him see my broken heart. Let him know that I love him unconditionally, that I would die for him if he so much as mused on it. Dont let him see me broken. Please God, dont let him see me cry.

No names.

There’s a photograph knocking about of the day we left Liverpool for Belfast. We’re all lined up along the edge of the boat. Everyone’s turned around, looking out to sea. Only I, on the end, stare grinning down the lens. Desperate for attention and validation as ever. 

I was eight, and I look excited. I was excited, I’d spent weeks telling everyone at school where we were going and I couldn’t wait to get there and see what adventures waited for me. I couldn’t wait to make friends, but of course I didn’t. When we arrived we were just too different, and after getting burned the first few times I stopped reaching out to people before long. 

When the new girl came, they were the same to her. Well, actually they were worse because she smelled bad and didn’t brush her teeth. She had the same name as me, and being that little and feeling sorry for her I thought that was a good enough reason to be friends. I didn’t really want to be, she made me play weird games about getting married and hiding under the bed even though nobody was looking for us.

She had a little brother, all covered in rolls of baby fat he toddled up and down the street in his nappy, his pudgy hands opening and closing when he saw me but I was way too little to ever pick him up. I used to bend down and cuddle him instead, but her parents hated that so I didn’t do it often. I can tell now that these children I played with were victims of abuse and neglect.

At eight years old it’s hard to imagine, firstly, that people like that really exist. Harder still to identify them in your own life. But the house smelled and was dirty, the kids were the same – the baby was never dressed, and often toddled the street alone in a sodden soiled nappy before he could even talk. The adults sat in the front room and smoked, they were not to be disturbed, ever. And if they were they would roar, and the kids would pale and run. And I would desperately want to go home.

One day the girl my age who kept bringing me here to play sidled up next to me and grinned, she cupped her hands around my ear and whispered hoarsely into it. “My brother wants to be your boyfriend!” She hissed, I could smell her stale breath between her fingers and it made my stomach turn. “Will you be his girlfriend then?” She was jigging on the spot now, flexing her fingers in excitement, her dark eyes shining. 

I felt the shame creep up my neck and across my face. I had no idea what to say or do. This boy was much older than us, I think he was about thirteen. I didn’t want a boyfriend, I didn’t want to be there at all most days, but when she asked me stuttering and blinking to come over and play I knew what she was really saying. “Save me. Don’t leave me in this house alone.” So I went, and I played, and I counted the minutes until I could leave. 

I had never been taught to be assertive, to protect myself or stand up for myself. I was taught to be seen and not heard, to be meek and mild, to just get on with things and not rock the boat.

It was this sense of needing to please people and hating to disappoint or embarrass them that made me finally say “Yes. Ok.” 

I avoided him like the plague. If I saw him coming I would run, hide under the bed like she showed me, or play with the kids in the street. I wanted never to be on my own with him, I was scared. But she didn’t understand, and she helped him.

I was outside with the baby, holding his hand when she called me over with a wry smile and said “you need to go to the kitchen!” 

I had no idea what a wry smile was, or what they meant. So I went to the kitchen. And there he was. Stood in the kitchen swigging cider out of the bottle. She slammed the door behind me and held it, I couldn’t get out, and I still don’t know if she knew what she was doing or if this was just a silly game.

He held my face and forced his tongue in my mouth. The cider tasted rank and I wanted to be sick, but instead I froze. Rooted to the spot in sheer terror. Soon she moved from the door and he stopped slobbering on my like a dog and the next thing I knew I was being dragged to the bathroom by my hand and she was singing some stupid fucking song on the stairs behind me. I asked her to help me, I was terrified and she was laughing. I don’t think she knew.

Next, in the bathroom, she held the door again while he held me against the wall and pulled down my shorts. I was shaking and afraid and I couldn’t speak, but I didn’t say no. Should I have? Would that have made a difference? In not doing so, did I give consent? Of course a child can’t give consent, but he was a child too. 

Eventually he freed me from the bathroom. I ran, all the way down the stairs and into the street and I sat on the kerb, shaking and breathing as deeply as I could. Trying my best to calm down. When her dad came and said it was time to go home, I could have kissed him. I got in the car and never looked back.

She asked me again, but I never went back to that house after that. I remember a year or so later, me and a new friend id made found a little boy crying and wandering the streets on his own. We asked him what was wrong and took him to her house to see if her mum could find his.

He told us another bigger boy had shown him his willy and he was scared and ran away. No matter what we said or did he would not stop crying, and it was making us scared. 

By now, me and my friend with the little boy were being marched down the street by their mums to this older boys house to see what’s gone on. The kid was still crying and it was stressing me out, so I squeezed his hand and I said to him, “don’t worry. It happened to me too, it will be ok.” And he stopped, and I breathed a sigh of relief.

The mums must have heard me, because when I finally got home my mum was waiting too. She asked me if I had lied to that little boy to make him feel better. I said no, it was the truth. I stood at the top of the stairs, waiting to be released to my room. She stood at the bottom hands on hips. She pursed her lips, looked at me and said “you know, if we go to the police station they will know if you are lying or not, and you will get in a lot of trouble. So tell me the truth – did you make this up?”

I had long been a liar. I was the middle child of five, I wanted attention and love so I made up stories of elephants in playgrounds and meeting celebrities at the shops. It was harmless, but it was annoying, and that reputation in my family stuck to me for a long time afterward. Nobody ever believed me, truth or not.

I thought about how long ago it was. I thought about the clothes I’d been wearing, the exact same ones I grinned so happily in on that photo on the boat to Belfast. I thought about them finding nothing, calling me a liar. I thought about the way my family would think and talk about me if they thought I had lied about this. I was sick to death of always being called a liar and never being believed. I was terrified of what the police would do if they came to the wrong conclusion.

So I looked at my feet. And I rubbed the toes of my trainers together, and I looked down the wooden hill at my mum and said, “I made it up so he would stop crying.” 

Her face changed, she relaxed. She told me to go to bed, and she went into the living room. That was the last time we spoke about it for ten years or more. That was the last day I ever told a stupid lie.