A Question of Balance

I wasn’t allowed emotions when I was a child. It wasn’t the done thing. Some children at school were sad, but we, or certainly my sisters and I, were told there was something wrong with them. One boy cried a lot, even thought he was one of the bigger, older boys. In fact there were two boys like that. One smelled and to this day I don’t know why or how that happens. I can hear an adult in my head saying that soap has always been cheap, but now I’m old enough to be an adult it seems to me that having soap isn’t enough, you have to know what to do with it and when, and why it’s a good thing to do.

One of my more abiding memories is almost constantly being told to smile. The reason why a small child has to be told to smile is obvious; because they aren’t smiling. Instead of addressing the problem, which is nothing to do with whether your mouth goes up at the corners as mine was advised to do almost daily, my family simply steamrollered on, as ever. Sad was bad. Or at least showing that you were sad was. And anger was reserved for grown-ups, but in fact it was only realy reserved for the two people who were older in the house I lived in.

To say that they were grown-ups implies that they were fit to have children. Neither of them were. For my father, when he could be bothered to be there, when he wasn’t playing Daddy in his other house, with his other wife and other family, the one we found out about when my mother tried to divorce him, anger was a thing he was good at, unlike, for example, being a decent human being. He had an explosive temper. For a variety of reasons, many of which I now think were to do with the way that children in abusive families are set against each other, I never got on with my sister, then or now. It seemed to me that she was encouraged to be aggressive and her school seemed to encourage stupidity, or at least the way she presented the things that happened there appeared borderline cretinous. The day she came home from school saying that they had had ‘some sort of test’ was the day she failed the 11 Plus. Whether or not the exam was a good thing or not isn’t even
vaguely the issue. Despite seeming to want to appear to be stupid, despite being deliberately provoking she didn’t deserve to be attacked by my father when he pulled the car into a layby in Burrington Combe specifically to get out, open the door and beat her up while my mother sat in the front seat. There was no help in that family. There was no trust. How could there be?

I was bullied at school. I allowed myself to be bullied. By the time I was nineteen I could run faster than our Irish terrier, as he found out several times when he escaped as a puppy. But at school I couldn’t run and I wasn’t allowed to fight. I didn’t want to fight, particularly, but my mother insisted that I mustn’t hit people. Now I think that was to stop her being hit by me, so that she had exclusive rights to violence after my father had gone off with a hairdresser to live in Andover in a gold-painted Mark II Jaguar with a back seat full of carpet of unknown provenance. And yes, that really was my last memory of my father before I learned that he had had a heart attack and died, still causing trouble after he was dead when the car he was driving, a company Audi, ploughed into three other cars. Perhaps because sometimes and unpredictably I can’t hear people properly, perhaps because I retreated into myself and didn’t like football or cricket much, to the extent that I simply refused to play either at school and sat with the boy with asthma and the boy who seemed to be modelling himself on Oscar Wilde, long before any of the pupils at my country church school had any idea who he’d been or what Sir Arthur Saville’s crime had beeen. I did have a fight. Throughout it I knew I was not allowed to hit the other boy. I allowed myself to nearly break his arm and to ram his head into and through a wooden gate, into a brick wall, but I wasn’t allowed to hit him. Obviously this was a one-sided rule. I hated being a child and I hated being in my family.

As I got older I began to allow myself the luxury of anger. Like many luxuries, too much of it isn’t very good for you. I solved the family thing when I was thirty by simply stopping talking to them. There might have been a better way of dealing with them but nobody was going to talk about what it was, so I gave up on it. With other people, especially with women, I put up with a lot then exploded. Drinking did not help. Somehow, especially as I got older, I had girlfriends who left ‘pretty’ for other girls, moving straight into OMG-Stunning category. And like me, being too much of something to be ordinary, they had their own issues with that too. Some of the simply most attractive women I have ever met have had something ripped out of them, usually their confidence. Usually by their parents. It made them needy, but seemingly not of me. It made me angry and I didn’t know how to deal with anger.

All I knew was I was back in the monkey cage with sticks being stuck through the bars. I am trying to learn that everyone gets angry, but they deal with it in different ways. That the best way to deal with it is to wait, to acknowledge it, but not to let it drive you and deal with it when you aren’t angry. Otherwise you end up like the man in Roger McGough poem, probably himself. He wrote that in the middle of an argument some woman had said to him something that was wrong. That shouting didn’t become him. I knew exactly how he felt when I read that, that she was wrong, he begged to differ; shouting did become him. And he became shouting. That’s what it feels like when you give in to it. Shouting and anger does become you. And they are all you become.

I’ve learned to stop the shouting part. I need to stop being driven by the anger until I can see a way of dealing with the thing that caused it. The immediate thing, naturally. I think it’s a bit late to deal with my father without an ouija board. Anger has not helped me. Several times anger has become me. Several times in my life I have become anger. I have not gained from it.

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