Memories Before A Lifetime’s Work
The seeds of a career in therapy are often planted by parental divorce.
Our twin rooms down the far end of the dark corridor — the yellow one and the mother one — were a cold sanctuary where we would huddle around a small, whirring electric fire watching the high, familiar dramas of Peyton Place, head on mother’s lap, who insisted on removing ear wax with the curved end of her hairpin.
She was a veteran poker and prodder, crevice hunter, and remover of obstacles often before their sell-by date. I have a vague idea I was toilet trained by ten months with all the consequent euphoria of victory and ahead-of-timeness. Beating life’s odds and careening to the top of any pile (no pun intended) was — in the absence of any understanding of what children needed or how they functioned — clearly the way forward.
Her own upbringing, initially by Indian ayahs and then, miserably, at boarding school in Clevedon, England, was notable for its absence of mothering touch. By 25, she was back in the cold bosom of family, who had warned her against marrying the divorcee and had tried to prevent it. I told you so hung over us, a full cloud that at any point could burst, spilling unwanted words.
She had gone to art college, trained as a teacher and secured herself a post in what later became the biggest inner-city school in Europe, two tots in tow. We would sit, attempting quietness, at the back of the class. As her parents lay in their warm bed, a purple Ford Anglia parked in the driveway, she would — in the depths of winter — manage to get us on the first of several buses to her job.
I had no concept of racism of course but found myself lined up with the white kids facing the black ones for games of British Bulldog and pre-arranged fights.
Terror! I was just three years old.
Accidents were natural outlets for all that was repressed, suppressed, buried and hidden in the great swathes of the collective unconscious which seemed to have funnelled through my family and telescoped themselves into my small being.
New shoes, black, shiny and slippery. I rush from the yellow room down the corridor minus traction and fly headfirst into the bannister.
Blood is pouring, skin is soon sewn. The wound is where the light enters.
I recall little of my mother’s boyfriends although we had cleaved to each other in our loss, which must have made any incipient relationship difficult. We were, in short, everything to each other — two grievers bound by shame. Inseparable — or so I thought.
When did Ivor show up with his own early-toilet-trained idea of efficiency, needing a piece of pie for himself, having to wedge crowbar between mother and son? Eager to escape the bread and water offering of his Welsh chapel home for the hopefully nutritious offerings from the English church family.
His own boy was starving to death and would do whatever he could to exchange Welsh crumbs for an English loaf.
I still have the picture of myself — a small boy with a pencil moustache, silver foil trident, angels’ wing and devil’s horn. It was another, kinder victory.
1st prize for my grandmother’s artistry, her cleverness and her vision. A seaside holiday camp victory while the new parents honeymooned in Holland. I am sure they were planning a good life for the new family, the one with the father airbrushed from history and whose sons, he thought, were headed for Australia.
As if, once more, a new continent — or at least its proposition — might erase what needed erasing.
For years, I had a torn photo with me sitting on my father’s lap, to be given the other half many years later, to find my mother and brother on the other side.
In the playground of the new school from the new life outside of the city, another boy comes towards me. Another bully, the one they are all scared of. He had picked on someone and I erupted.
He swings and I turn and duck, hitting him; he goes down.
The seeds of my reputation as a scrapper, as defender of the meek, underdog champion with fists of fury, were surprising given my extreme shyness, the twin to my shame.
But while my family’s feelings were interned, immured by their conditioning and own shame, they had planted a bomb in me that could go off at any time. For within me I carried the secret and had to live the lie as if Reality, History and Truth, could be wrapped neatly in a parcel, tied with a pink bow and stowed away.
Looking back, the immensity of their foolishness and ignorance, fear and shame remains shocking. Personal limitations were not known, developmental stages had been completely bypassed.
They were like children attempting to build a life with plastic bricks, without any help.
I think even then I pitied them, saw their shortcomings, felt their pain and tried to love them when my sweetness was paramount and my fury at slumber.
On Ivor’s birthday, I borrowed some money to get him a present and offered it tenderly, like the most delicate of flowers.
‘Never a borrower or a lender be…’
‘Never a borrower or a lender be?!’
It was the best he could do. The plastic covers were still on his parents’ new car — or would be years later. He was chockful of ideas of duty and conditioning, how-to-behaves, and failures in love.
I watched my mother slide into his abyss.
She was, like Alice, going down a whirlpool, one I was too young to rescue her from despite my desperate pleas and achievements.
I could achieve my way out of this hole. Couldn’t I? That seemed to be the way ahead. But prizes and approbation can only supply so much fuel to a battery long depleted.
It was a Herculean task and one that despite my efforts I soon realised I could not win.
© simon heathcote
Simon Heathcote - Medium
Read writing from Simon Heathcote on Medium. Working with the deep soul as a psychotherapist; writing on the human…