This took place when I was 14. This is one of the incidents that hammered home to me that it didn’t matter what I did ‘I can’t get it right’. The words in quotes are so deep within me I’m not sure I will ever completely unlearn their meaning for me. That ‘I can’t get it right’ has its roots deep within my brain and it’s my old brain that responds first – with fear. I am learning to wait a few seconds after the thought is activated, to allow my new brain to assess the situation and rationally decide my best action. This lets me realise sometimes that I don’t need to run away, cry, shut myself away for days or any of the other actions my old brain switches on through fear. My new brain thinks about what’s going on and decides I don’t need to even acknowledge what’s happening – it’s old stuff and the original situation can’t happen again. I can’t do it everytime but I am learning.

1959

She watches the snow, white-falling from the sky and pulls the brown school jumper over her head. Outside her father tries again and again to start the car, each time the getting-nowhere sound grows angrier. He sits for a moment, then opens the door and gets out. She watches as he looks at the car, looks at his watch, looks around in exasperation. A door opens across the street. Another man, a neighbour from one of the prefabs, mouths words as he walks down his path, opens the gate, offering help, pointing to the car with gestures of pushing. She watches. Another door opens, another man offering help. Her father gets back into his car and the two helpers begin pushing. More help from more doors. Soon five men are pushing the car. Nothing. No engine sound. Still she watches. She can feel the frustration and anger in her father building up. Leave the window and the white-falling snow. Leave the window. Don’t watch. Don’t let him see you watching. But she watches. She has to.
Her father gets out of his car again and they all stand and look at the machine that can raise tempers and voices with its mechanical stubbornness. She rubs her eyes with her fingers and watches. Her father lifts the bonnet of his car and puts the rod in place. Anger is in his every movement. Still she watches, fascinated by the play of baffled men beaten by their own creation. All the men look at the metal pipes and wires and tubes, and poke and prod and make suggestions with waving hands, pointing fingers, scratched heads, shaken heads, arms folded, hands on hips, mouths moving. Anger growing and growing. She can almost feel her father’s tight anger connecting to her as she sits on the front-row-window–seat. His face grown cold, closing down.
He glances up at her window and she smiles. He looks at her smiling, his face set, his eyes cold, closed down. She smiles more. He turns and speaks to the man beside him and walks away from the cluster of men. He walks towards the house. She hears him climb the stairs. Her door opens and he comes into her room and walks towards her. She turns to him still smiling. No words, no warning given. His right hand hits the left side of her head and face and she cries out as she falls back onto the window-seat. Without a word her father turns and leaves the room. Her ear and face are stinging and there are tears again. Tears and more tears, and the fear, the not-quite-knowing-why. She goes down to the kitchen and her mother. Comfort there and perhaps explanations. I’m crying again and I don’t understand anything, I don’t understand what has happened. He hit me. Mother asks the girl but she doesn’t know why. Surely she must know why. She is hated and loved.
My father comes into the kitchen and looks from mother to daughter. Looks in anger and frustration. Anger at a car that won’t start, anger at women who stand and look at him. Frustrated angry man with no reasons or excuses to offer, simmering and seething, pieces of anger breaking away from him. Trapped, loving wife torn into too many pieces. Protective mother trying to protect herself and her children from all the anger. Sad frightened daughter watching the pieces of her mother and father crashing and tumbling around them. Why did you hit me, I was doing nothing but watching? You were laughing at me.

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