It is Thanksgiving eve. Actually, it is one thirty in the morning and Thanksgiving eve is behind us. And here I am in bed making these notes…
I was reflecting during the course of the day, that is has been a strange day, for at one level, I have been living, alive and well, with my wife, celebrating in a non-celebratory way, Thanksgiving in 2010 here in the US. But at another level, I have been living – one can’t say at, in, on, or around 1954-1956, but in a way, yes, I have. As the previous posts, Absence and Presence, indicate, I have begun piecing together a narrative for those years.
And it is so strange at so many levels. As I street view googled 13 Rothesay Terrace, I could not enter the street. Google does not go in that close. So in effect, also in some strange way, even 50 or more years later, Rothesay Terrace is closed off to me.
I have puzzled over the hours of the day about this story, my upbringing. And what has had me go get my diary and make these notes, at this time of the morning, is that, somehow, somehow not yet clear to me, 13 Rothesay Terrace – curious number – is the key to the whole family narrative. The key lies in opening the door to those years.
From the day in 1950, or so, when we arrived at the empty house, prior to taking up residence there, with a huge black coal scuttle, or coal box, of about six feet square and some four or five feet high, inexplicably sitting there, at an angle of some 35 degrees to the square, in the center of the empty living room or entry hallway, – I don’t know which. A strange object indeed to have in an empty house. A strange greeting. To the point in 1954 or thereabouts – I was seven – when the Edinburgh city council, in the person of the child welfare service, or whatever its name was, came and removed us, my brothers and I, from my father’s care to a children’s home.
The story may not be the one that my wife envisioned when she encouraged to write of this gap in my life, and, since the years of 13 Rothesay Terrace remain shut to me, it seems the key to the whole story, The family narrative. With the entry made to those years, all else surely falls into place.
So I am not attempting, I do not attempt, I do not seek to open that door at this time of the morning, but simply to record what I feel, with every fibre of my being, is the Miss Havisham moment. That here is the centre of the Sargasso Sea.
I have the energy. I am wide awake. No calls are to be made upon my time tomorrow that I am aware of.
So what is the key? The key that opens the door to the memory of those years?
Vague memories of my time in the house are with me still. But they are vague.
What event during those years is the clarifying moment? Is it the moment when my father threw my mother out of the house? How did he announce it to us? In what way did he tell us? I know that any number of times later he justified his act to us. But what did he say to us at the time?
He threw her out of her own home, his home, our home, for what she did.
But what did he do? What act, or action, did he take that drove his wife to seek affection – an affection hungry woman – elsewhere? I think it could be fairly said, with the little knowledge that a son, the eldest son, might have on such matters, that mother could not live without men, without a man.
But wait a minute. In the timescale I have sketched out earlier, Absence, there is a key area: – My God, here it is: – Between the time, from when my father threw my mother out, to the when we were taken by the council to the children’s home to be rescued from there by my mother, during this period we would visit my mother. I know we would visit her, for the memories I have do not link to the time when we were staying with her.
How do I know that? Because my father’s voice is in the background of every visit we made to her, mocking and belittling everything about her.
There are two things to consider, so let’s pause for a moment to look at them.
One is that I am employing the language that was used at the time to describer the actions taken at the time.
That my mother “dumped” us on my father. Where does that particular expression come from? Who in this narrative used it first? My father? My brothers and I? Hmmm.
To use other language in the direct narrative of recounting the events of those years would not be honest.
If I I step back, as an adult, to comment upon these events, then surely another vocabulary is entirely appropriate, indeed is necessary.
The other deserves careful examination. Too strong a term? Perhaps, let’s see.
I think it is this brief period, of my mother being thrown out – let’s say MTOTD (mother thrown out the door) and us being retrieved by the council men (I don’t remember any women) and PIACH (placed in a children’s home);
So between MTOTD and PIACH is a brief period and the pause is to consider the effects of this and I am going to diagram it for clarity.
So there you have it. Let’s spell it out. What we have diagrammed is an untenable situation.
Put simply: you have two people whom you love equally. You love both. As a child there is no concept of being asked to choose on over the other. Of loving one more than the other. But that is not the correct formulation. Of being asked who do you love more? Of being challenged: why do you love your mother? why do you love your father?
There are no answers to these questions and the questions themselves are senseless to a child. You cannot choose.
Indeed, the questions are senseless to an adult. But to say they are senseless questions is not sufficient. That is not quite the case.
You, as a child, can be in the custody of one parent, and that parent can bad mouth the other parent to you, and indeed, demand that you respond, that you show your love (translate: loyalty) by disavowing your love for the other parent, and by affirming your love for the present parent, the one in front of you. You, as a child can cope with this situation. What, I think, cannot be coped with is if you have both parents making the same demand at the same time.
An adult in such a situation; it is a well known torture technique, will find it extremely difficult to cope with. If the situation is prolonged, it will drive most adults mad. We can find it in us to imagine such a situation.
A child is much more vulnerable than an adult in such a situation. Can even our imagination help us? No, it is not much use. What a child goes through in such circumstances defies comprehension, defies imagining. And it is perhaps best left that way.