Growing Up – Instantly.

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She told me that the last words he ever said to her were, “Watch it bitch or I’ll punch your head in.” Recently broken up, they were at the same house – an engagement party with a Hawaiian theme.  Not much of a family affair, really more of a booze up.

The groom to be worked at a large fabrication factory and most of the party were his work mates.  Her newly engaged friends lived in a neglected house on the edge of town where the bitumen road turns to dirt and the house slouched beside disused paddocks.

She said it was cold, mid winter and she was freezing in a white flowing dress with a fake frangipani lei and flowers in her hair.  It had been weeks since she had seen him, that is if you didn’t count driving by his house to check if his car was there or pulling into the dark corner of the football ground on training night.

As she spoke I felt everything changing from the flighty catch up exchange we had been having into this deep revelation of a time when I had been sliding through life with her and yet I had not had a wisp of an idea about what had been going on.

At the party she had been chatting with one of his mates, one who had always liked her. “To be honest,” she said, “I was being full on.  Look at me, so cute, so together.     I knew he was checking us out.  I drove out there and wasn’t drinking.  For sure, he would need a lift home and you know, we’d get back together.”

Going on she explained that after awhile when the other guy went to get a drink, he started walking towards her.  “In my head I could hear him telling me I looked great, that he had missed me and we’d be hanging out for the rest of the party.  That’s not what happened.”

Her eyes looked down for just a second then she pressed on but with a determined voice.  “He came up beside me and leaned in close and spoke softly in my ear.” “Watch it bitch or I’ll punch your head in.” She said his voice was cold and eerily deliberate but that his face had no such expression.  Anyone watching would swear he must have swooped in and said, “Hey. Glad you came. Have fun.”

“He barely stopped.  He said that to me and just kept walking.  I stood there alone and stunned but only for a few seconds.  You know what, I remember every last detail.  I turned around and walked over to the table.  I put my plastic cup of water down and went inside and thankfully the grinning couple were right there.  I told them I had to go, that he was drinking and in a mood to make trouble. They tried to talk me out of leaving but I felt so calm, in control.  I swear it was like a switch being turned on.  When I went out to my car I did not look back and I just knew I was walking away forever.  It was a physical feeling so deep inside of me but it felt good, sad too, but so good.  As I drove back past the house I expected to see him coming out, to catch up with me, to say sorry, to say he didn’t mean it. Nothing.  That was the best thing he ever did for me.  Right then, that night, driving away alone – I actually remember thinking, I just grew up.  I just grew bloody well up, at last!  I felt it, right in that moment I knew everything from that point on was going to be be completely different.  And it was.”

She did give me a sheepish grin at that point as I think she was taking in my utter astonishment.   How could I not know?  Why did I not see it, sense anything?  I was never fussed on him and could never see what she had seen in him, but this?  So is this how it happens – victim allies?

Yes, she tells me his private behaviour could be despicable.  Yes, he did get physical at times.  Yes, he was abusive and rotten to her.  On and off, with her covering up, making excuses to herself and most importantly hiding it from everyone.  The shame of it was hideous she said, but the shame of anyone knowing, well that was just unbearable.

My good friend, whom I know and did not know says, “For sure I wish it never happened.  But it did.  I allowed it to happen too.  For me, I wanted to accept that.

I had some ownership in those awful years.  But that night, that horrible night – just got me to wake the hell up, to grow up!”

She reached over and hugged me then. There were no tears in her eyes, no regrets in her voice.  I was still stunned; my head was shaking silently without moving.  It felt like maybe I just grew up; all be it – quite a few years behind my friend.

 

 

 

 

 

Family Matters

 

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Is it ever acceptable to discuss the physical comparison of a living child with a child who has died?

Even in the context of a well meaning family, if the mother of the living child finds this discussion of resemblance upsetting – should not the conversation cease immediately, without any attempt at justification?

As a young mother I found myself in this very situation. My husband’s parents are very loving and dedicated family people.  In the spare bedroom of their home, a photo of a sweet faced young girl in ponytails and school uniform was set on the dresser and remained there until very recently. When our first child – a gorgeous girl, reached school age and would be visiting for Christmas holidays, my mother-in-law began to raise the idea that our daughter looked very much like the little girl who had died. I never agreed and still don’t and secretly the comparison upset me. More so, I felt very guilty that I was distressed as it seemed disrespectful to the dear girl who had died and to her family. As though that is not bad enough, I also had to chase away the superstitious feeling that because of these comparisons my own child might develop the same hideous illness. Yes, more shame on my part.

I spoke to my own mother about my feelings. A practical Scottish woman with zero tact, she told me to tell my husband’s mother not to say this anymore.  I didn’t. My mother-in-law is a kind woman, always means the best and I did not want to appear rude.

Though I always denied the resemblance, I never expressed my feelings openly to my husband’s family. Years came and went, there were many more children in the family including another girl and a boy for us. When our daughter became older than the girl in the photo, the fear disappeared for me and with busy lives and more people around, the whole business became an event of the past.

At least I thought so.

Recently late one night I checked a ping on my phone to see a photo added to my husband’s chat group with his family.  I had set this chat up so he did not have to rely on my profile to talk with his brothers and sisters. I rarely access it but as chance would have it, I had been sending photographs of our house renovations to engage his Mum in our latest happenings.

There on the screen was a communion photo of a little girl with the prompt of – Who does this look like?  I thought it was one of the sisters – it was not long before the pings indicated it was another younger photo of the precious girl who had passed. I found myself watching a pinging conversation about my daughters. Crazy, how in a matter of minutes all those old fears and certainly the guilt, came flooding back.

But this time, I felt I had the right to a voice.

I stated that the comparison had always been upsetting to me due to the tragic circumstance.

By now all this had brought on late night emotions and some tears – for my girls, for the child who had died so young – and for three wonderful Mothers in my life who had each somehow survived the loss of their child.  I heard the phone pinging but chose to ignore it.

When I woke, of course the upset had passed – there is nothing like daylight to erase the emotional spillage that comes far too easily in the late hours.

A call from our builder about the exact position of our way too expensive fancy black sink had my full attention.

Looking to forward on the pics – I rolled down, not up and thus caught a glimpse of a message aimed at me.

The messages I had ignored the night before had indeed moved on to a whole new topic.

Except one.

One stung.

One message responded to my ‘voice’ claiming the right of justification.  These are not the words.

I deleted the message the moment I read it.

It went along the lines of – “Well, sorry if it upsets you, but comparing family resemblances is to be enjoyed as part of family life and how delighted would the mother of the little girl be to know of all this.”

I disagree strongly and return to my first question.  I believe that once a parent has been honest enough, and trusting enough in the relationship to say – this is upsetting to me, then all public discussion ends and no justification is ever warranted.

I wondered if I was being oversensitive.

There are wise and wonderfully rounded parents in my life whom I adore and respect so I reached out to them for their opinion.

All, indicated that they too would find a comparison (no matter how kindly intended) of their living child to a deceased child, unwelcome.

All, found any justification once a parental distress was shared – unacceptable, no matter the words.

Who has not had Granny tell them their new born looks just like great, great Aunt Bertha?

Who has not looked at family baby photos and squealed at the likenesses?

Who has not compared a niece or nephew to a movie star?

These are certainly joyful, loving comparisons which embody family ties.

As for the comfort of a Mother – if discussions which do not include me (and why would they) bring her some peace and joy in the memory of her dear girl then what a wonderful blessing that would be.

This subject matter is deeply distressing and if only there could be no lost family members, especially children to mourn.

Words are like toothpaste, once you squeeze some out – you won’t ever be able to put it all back.  Just like the paste, the impact of words can linger no matter how much you try to take them back.

So What’s Everyone Blogging About?

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In his memoir, “On Writing” Stephen King includes two quotes before the foreword.

Honesty’s the best policy. – Miguel de Cervantes

Liars prosper. – Anonymous

So how does this apply to the 90s phenomenon which began as web log and is now globally embraced as blogging?  I wanted to better understand the concept of blogging so started with a definition – “a person who regularly writes material for a blog”.  Ok, so that summary was not particularly insightful so I tapped deeper – “a personal chronological log of thoughts published on a web page.”  I will confess (the honesty part) that I had guessed it might have been a play on the words ‘bragging’ and ‘logging’.  Personal and published – the two Ps, now that makes sense, after all isn’t the intent of all writing to be read, just as we speak to be heard and with both, understood?

New to the concept of blogging because in the late 90s and the decade that followed I was navigating the mothering of three wonders, trying to hold on to a teaching career in the midst of the touch and go life of a ‘military spouse’ which other partners of service personnel and those who must up stakes regularly for employment will understand.  Now that the life bag of excuses is depleted, the old but new to me arena of blogging is sitting right in front of me – literally.

Writing that is compelling and raw with honesty is my blogging choice.  My choice to read, my decision to write.  I do though agree with ‘Anonymous’ in every facet of life, liars do indeed prosper – I am sure we can all dredge up examples as such but in this new domain of blogging, honesty is the best policy, the only point really.

What is my blogging goal?  I do not think that I am very good at goal setting – I tend to rush at things but I am a pretty darn good finisher.  If the blogging is to have a purpose other than to write, to express – it is about gathering and sharing thoughts, ideas, joys, memories, hurts, disappointments, hopes and providing legacy.

So here I begin, blogging on about everything with Miguel’s words ringing in my ears.