It’s hard to be precise but, as I count them now, I reckon there were 18 adults who at different times across my childhood were responsible for my day-to-day care. I have only seen one of them, my father, since I turned 16 (I’m nearly 40 now).
Each of these 18 adults represents a loss. An ungrieved loss. Of course not all losses are equal – as I have discussed elsewhere, not all these adults looked after me very well and I was glad to see the back of them.
The biggest loss of all, the mother of all losses if you like, was my mum. You see how I made a crass joke there? I did that to deflect your sympathy, your pity – it makes me uncomfortable. I don’t deserve it. Because the pain you may think I should be experiencing is just out of reach to me. If I try hard I can sometimes just about touch it with the tips of my fingers.
I want to feel it, immerse myself in it and swim around for a while. Perhaps then I could grieve and, perhaps then, I could start to feel better. Properly better – not just the cloak of wellness I wear to function in the world.
I didn’t just “lose” my mum of course, she didn’t die, nor has she fallen down the back of the sofa. She abandoned me when I was very young (I write about what I know of this here and here). Maybe, in her mind at least, there were mitigating circumstances. Maybe it was the best she could do at the time. But it was still a choice. To leave me or not leave me.
In my mind I speculate about what she might be up to now. I imagine her with a new family – a husband and two or three kids. I assume that she is living a lie and has not told them about the boys she gave up. I wonder how painful it must be for her on my birthday – unable to give voice to her loss. But, then, perhaps she has buried it so deep she does not think of me at all.
I picture her as a sentimental and narcissistic old drunk, swigging on White Lightening in a park. She pulls a crumpled photo out of her bag, light damaged and faded, two pre-school kids smiling obediently at the camera lens. Mum waves it at her fellow pissheads and waffles on about her “beautiful boys”, she drinks up their nauseating pity and deflects her guilt with a rant: “fucking social services…”
Or maybe she is a drunk in a park and not thinking of me at all.
I think about all this but – I rarely feel much at all.
I can sometimes experience the other losses. An image of a face or point in time will jump into my mind’s eye and then jump out again. Usually an adult caring for me or saying something I didn’t accept the truth of until years later. I feel some sadness then.
But mostly I just become overwhelmed by a general sense of loss rather than a specific one. This can hit me at any time – driving, watching TV, at Tesco, work, out running, whenever. I will feel the prickle of tears in my eyes and a heavy sense of the futility of everything. My body will actually feel heavy, as if I am walking through treacle and if I can I will lie down. Obviously it is not normally possible to lie down so I have to carry on.
I wish I could write poetically and give you a stronger sense of this but I can’t.
It is odd, therefore, that I have chosen a career guaranteed to create even more excessive loss in my life. In the last 12 years I have, for varying lengths of time, had responsibility for looking after perhaps 30 or so children. Appallingly, I am not sure I can remember them all. But I can remember most of them. I think about what has become of them and I wonder if they think of me.
Of course some relationships are more significant than others and some of the children get inside you more than others. I am not sure I can articulate why.
Sarah, who I have written about in earlier posts (here, here, here and here) sent me a Christmas card: “I am really missing you lots, I hope I can see you again soon.” I can experience this loss – the pain is searing. I don’t have to reach for it. I have to try to avoid it. I am told she is not doing so well (“she poured nail varnish on her rice and ate it one grain at a time”)
I cannot see her. I had to leave, there were mitigating circumstances. It was the best I could do at the time. And so I have become the abandoning parent. And I will never forgive myself.
They fuck you up your mum and dad.