Tuesday, 29 January 2013

my story

The last time my father spoke to me, he was on the doorstep of the foster home I'd been living in for over a year.  His forehead  furrowed and his head tipped quizzically to one side as he looked me in the eye and quietly asked "I just don't understand . . . why are you so bitter?"

I was originally taken into care for 'a break'.  The words that went unsaid might have just as well been ten feet tall in flashing neon ~  yes, a break for me from them, but mainly, a break for them from me.  I quite simply didn't care ~ I was out, and that was good enough.  One of the difficulties for social services was that in every other situation I was fine ~ academic overachiever, polite, well mannered, but, according to my parents and brother, once at home I morphed into some kind of devil child, uncontrollably angry, violent, and self harming to a worrying degree.  As much as I might wish I could proclaim complete innocence,  some of their claims had grown from a seed of truth ~ I didn't eat at home, I didn't sleep.  Instead, I sat on the floor of my bedroom, with my back against the door.  Every night.  All night.  Doesn't  take a psychology degree to analyse that one.

I would go into each lesson at school and sit down, trying so hard to keep my eyes open.  The teachers' voices were muffled, distorted, as though they were underwater . . . or I was ~ drowning on dry land, struggling to suck in enough oxygen to keep going, always questioning why I was bothering to fight, wondering what it would be like when I stopped. Not if, just when.

In retrospect, I'm not sure anyone realised how fragile that thread was, binding me to life.  Stretched thin as spider silk, brittle as spun sugar, such a precarious link between me and the world other people seemed to inhabit so comfortably.

By ten minutes into the lesson, I would be asleep, my head resting on my arms.  Teachers would wake me up at the end of lessons once the others had cleared out, and give me the homework assignments.  Of course, my homework was always done very thoroughly ~ it wasn't as if I  had anything else to do at night.  I would light candles on the floor next to where I was sitting, holding my hand a foot above the wick, so that I could feel the heat.  It was one of my many strategies to stay awake, to stay safe ~ if I started to fall asleep my hand would drop closer to the flame so I'd be pulled back into consciousness by the pain.

I know now what it was, that intangible thing that stopped me from walking in front of a car, slicing through my wrists, swallowing bucket loads of paracetamol (actually, I did that a time or two, but then threw up ~ turns out five years of bulimia has a bright side ~ it does an excellent job of teaching one how to vomit on command!).  As wretched as I felt, I couldn't bear to make it that effortless for them.  I could picture their tear~stained faces, clutching at one another's hands, desperately mourning the tragic loss of their daughter ~ so convincing, a family united in grief.  Ironically, one of the more useful personality traits I inherited from my father was a never~ending supply of sheer bloody~mindedness.  It was this which, in combination with the absolute inability to let anyone else have the last word created a perfect storm of sorts ~ an immense capacity for anger and stubbornness, stirred up over and over and over again, providing me the impetus to keep breathing.

I can look back at it now and see the humour, but also the tragedy of a teenager so isolated that she had no one to tell what was happening.  Shortly before I left Crawley for university I asked a teacher why I was never in trouble for sleeping during lessons. "You were always so pale, so clearly in need of sleep, and we [the teaching staff] all knew you were having trouble at home".

Trouble at home . . . such an innocuous phrase, as if carefully constructed to dampen down a teenager's natural predisposition to melodrama.  I had often overheard peers complain about parents, commenting on how utterly unfair their draconian rules and restrictions were, how deeply they hated these adults whose entire purpose in life was clearly to wreck and ravage the dreams and enjoyment of their (of course!) entirely innocent offspring.  When you live with real hatred instead of the exaggerated enemy dragon of a fairytale, people can't hear what you say, they hear instead what those words mean to them.  While I looked at you and saw fire and flame, others saw only harmless puffs of smoke, until they realised my skin was blistered and raw, for they could no more comprehend your nature than I could ignore it.

So, father of mine, you were right after all ~ I was bitter.  I still am, even though I've now lived away from you for longer than I lived under your roof.  The day that tipping point was reached, I thought of you and your anger and your lies.  I thought of your hands, bruising me.  I thought of your whispered endearments, confusing me.  I thought of you, and I thought of me.  And I paused . . . and then I moved onwards.  You see, I have achieved something I could never have forseen all those years ago.  I won.  I'm still here.

The best revenge
is to live.

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