When I was seven or eight years old, I couldn’t sleep without having a nightmare about walking down a hospital hallway. The walking feels like some abstract Picasso, disjointed. Like I was walking sideways and halfway, the hallway misshapen and closing in.
Later, I think my brain has added the memory of my mother crying in her hospital bed. Or maybe it’s real. When people ask me what my first memory is, I usually make something up about cherry blossoms in Japan. But thats bullshit, I only have access to my memories of Japan, from the story I’ve pieced together from old photographs.
I was dealt a good hand. White, female, born to two married parents from white working class families in a young and peaceful country.
And then someone rolled the dice.
My youth was watching my two parents attend the funeral of their second child, my little brother. The casket was the same size as me, except I was here, my socks wet from running on damp grass. I wore a red cape to the funeral. I remember the red satin flying out behind me in the wind, the little button that clasped the neck shut, was tight and pinched my skin.
I chose the cape because in some way, I think I had known that from then on, I would need to be a hero.
The next few years were spent watching my parents disintegrate.
My memories are blacked out, like someone has reached in and ripped them from me.
I remember the green and pink flowers on the bedding of his cot. I remember rocking it. I remember my Dad crying. The only time I’ve ever seen him cry.
I remember scribbling on a piece of paper, and calling it a spider. I came into the dining room wanting to show it to my mother, to find her sitting at the window seat, staring out the window. The memory of her eyes will forever remain etched in my mind. There is no way to describe the way grief looks in a mother who has just lost her child. I showed her the picture, and she started crying when she took it. I left the dining room wondering if she had started crying because my picture was bad.
In our kitchen one of the cupboards was a cylinder shelf that spun around, designed I think, to allow people to stock more things on the one shelf. I remember jamming my fingers into it by accident when I tired to use it as a stepping stool. I had been trying to reach the bread that was sitting high on the bench to make myself a honey sandwich for lunch, because I didn’t want to bother my parents.
I remember my first tooth coming out, and I remember Dad dropping the trey of breakfast he was carrying up to Mum he was so excited. I remember that because it was the first time I had seen him smile.
My parents stayed together, and got pregnant again.
My sister was born and life seemed to be back on track. I walked into the same dining room my mother had been crying in two years before, to find her swaying with my father to the song Moondance by Van Morrison.
My memories start to come back after that, but I never felt like I could trust my parents again. I think children realise their parents are vulnerable, a little stupid, and very much not the invincible gods we idolise as young people, when they hit forty. I just realised that fact, when I was about two years old.
I mothered my sister, was paranoid about roads, stairs, bushes, highways, lateness, big angry kids on the playground and in general just turned into a very bossy and over-bearing six and seven year old. At least bossy was the label I received from everyone around me.
In truth, I wasn’t bossy. I was shit scared because I knew, if one string was pulled, the entire thing would unravel. I knew it only took a snap of a finger, the roll of a dice for everything to change. And I knew my parents would be gone again.
I was living in a state of heightened anxiety that has never really left me alone after that.
No seven year old should have to be parenting both her sister, and her own parents. And maybe I wasn’t, maybe I just had an over inflated ego and was too full of myself thinking everyone needed me. But I used to lay awake at night crying, because I didn’t know what my parents would do when I eventually left home. I didn’t know if my sister would be safe, I didn’t know if they would be safe.
I could have stopped grabbing my sisters hand to cross roads and pedantically reminding my parents of the time if we had somewhere to be. But I couldn’t stop, because I couldn’t be sure that everything would be alright if I did.
My Mum was laughing again. But sometimes she would just fade. She would stare off into the distance and not reply when you talked to her. Or return to the conversation a few minutes in, a bit lost. I was terrified she would fade at a crucial moment and then feel bad if she came back to see she could have averted an accident. I needed to be paranoid, so that I could protect my mother from ever feeling pain again.
My sister and I got on well. I couldn’t understand how she was so happy though, and I resented her for it. She had gotten the happy parents. I remember being so angry one night, that our parents had gotten happy for her, but not for me. I remember wondering what it was about me that hadn’t been enough for them.
As you can see, some pretty deeply seeded comparison and feelings of inadequacy issues to throw into the mix along with my charming good looks and strikingly sexy sense of wit.