I still remember how i felt that day. The second time my father left us. It may as well have been the first or last because it stirred inside of me the first emotions of empty bitterness and betrayal which had previously been unaccustomed to my life story.
I was 8 years old and only recently became aware of the looming fact that the changing grasp of a universe i once thought existed purely to satisfy my lasting happiness had been replaced by a brooding darkness filled with joyless mornings and sombre Saturdays. I felt it in my heart, i felt abrupt and discreet when i peered out my front window at the awesome wonder that illuminated the grassy green opposite my house, knowing all the while that a cold, unyielding lull played its games deep within me.
That day of days when my mother sat me down to explain in tones of shrill sadness, still haunts me in ways that only those affected by the peerless abandon of hope could ever possibly need to understand. I left school that 4pm in May, a shy and smiling boy of innocence but i returned a shameful wreck of creaking unkindness. The schoolyard which once gave me the impression of youth as a base canvas upon which to discover the universe at its most beautifully diverse, was now a spoilt wasteland into which fell the limited tears and broken dreams of a forgotten kid buried in his own chasm of ever declining satisfied souls. My dearest mother, a woman who had bled herself to keep me safe, chose that day to break her recent silence about my father’s unexplained departure in a manner which softened my center satisfactorily but allowed for the deep and painful ache to worm its way plentifully without pardon or bashful lessoning.
“Come sit down a minute James” she rarely called me by my actual name. An event such as this was reserved for times of great triumph or catastrophic failure. The mere utterance of this sent me into a spinning gloom and shivers overcame my body in each split second until i heard her utter another syllable of speech. “I need to explain some things, i need to be honest about what has happened these past few weeks, i have not been honest or myself lately” this brutality of realism shocked me somewhat. I struggled to come to terms with its context or what she could possibly have meant. I had been acutely aware of the distance she had forced between herself and the outside world in recent weeks but been of that age i could not relate to her in a meaningful way so as to understand why this may have occurred. Too busy enjoying the worthwhile nature of a youth blessed in its own petty foibles, instead i passed her off as having the kind of troubles i see manifest themselves in my adult teacher every day. The unfailing ability to reach from cautious brooding to wholesome anger was something i had come to accept in general normality and i was to leave it unquestioned for fear of opening a strand of human emotion that could never be closed again.
My regretful response of “Oh” was somewhat lacking in any definitive thought but borne out of a failure to properly contemplate what doom was about to be unleashed upon my life. “I know this is going to be difficult to hear but your father has not taken short term leave to work abroad helping the disadvantaged” she muttered almost cautiously and with a quivering lip dying into her mouth as if the mere mention of an actual truth was somehow a catalyst for the heart and childish innocence within her to finally be swallowed into a swoon of unabashed anguish.
The fearful but forthright nature with which she approached this had taken me aback and given rise to a fuller sense of myself for the first time in my little life. I was brutally aware of everything. The tears which had so far kept quiet within themselves were suddenly unleashed between her eyes, as a release of every solemn moment beforehand led to that one display of pure and virile melancholy. For the first time i had come to see mother’s raw and unflinching pain betrayed before me without a worry of saving me from the harsh realities of what unquestioned loss can do to a human being’s sense of suffering. Still a child or not, this was the day i became a man.
I gathered my senses momentarily. Enough to search her face for clues as to what possible alternative meaning there could be behind such an appalling statement. The plain view naivety was assuredly within me. How could this possibly be true? How could any of this be real? Was i to dare question the woman who had succeeded in giving me the warmest embraces on the worst mornings and taken the best care of me when i fell deathly ill? This was the newest departure for her, a moment recoiled in terrible betrayal for both of us. How could it be that she would dare lie to me and how was it ever possible to believe that my father had really disowned me like an unwanted animal sent for mocking to a shelter? None of this could be real and yet deep down i knew that mother’s deep and seering sadness was the only sign i needed to know that my life had irrevocably changed and the painless pride with which i strode my path would be replaced by a seething angry stomp over cracks in the pavement. Cracks which more than concrete could surely never fix.
“What do you mean he hasn’t taken short term leave. Where is he then?” was my prolonged and long overdue response. I felt like an inquisitor, a serial investigator baying for answers from a frightened prisoner. Maybe it was too much to expect mother to have all the answers, perhaps its the natural childlike manner to seek such fortune from such tragedy but i forged ahead with a look of silent seeking in my soul.
“I..i…i.. i need to tell you things about your father you may not want to hear” she said interrupted only by her own sharp unwillingness to reveal too much of her own grief in a sentence. “Okay” i reverted back to short and disdainful retorts but i wanted this to be over, nowhere near anticipation but in a dismissive manner as if i wasn’t remotely prepared to hear the home truths which had until that point been so engrossed in envy at my carefree childhood.
“You see, the thing is with your father…” was wholly followed by an indeterminable pause that felt like one long and indifferent arch. “the thing is with your father…. he decided to leave and i don’t know when he’s coming back, i don’t know if he’s coming back” now the sheer vagueness that accompanied this utterance, quite puzzled me. The tears which hitherto overflowed were now replaced by a softness in her eyes, a certain abandonment of thought, a resealing of old wounds to be gutted in by equally immortal, callous and deep new ones. Mother was healing the news of heartbreak by gathering in my nervous vigour. Her focus had shifted to me and how news of my father’s departure was going to affect the deep recesses of my young mind.
“You don’t know if he’s coming back? Why?” At this point i was so obscured by the softness in her approach that it hadn’t dawned on me that a person of adult age could simply decide to leave of their own free will without a moment’s thought for those they so brutally leave behind. “James, your father doesn’t belong with us any more. He needs to be in a different place right now. Its not anything we have done, its his choice” Hmmm, her attempts at justification were fallow but worthy. I could sense an unease in how her manner changed. Her hands were shaking rapidly, her fingers slowly taking aim against the cushioned covers beside her thighs. This moment was bereft of a silver lining, she waded through her amplified vocabulary to find the reasoning that may satisfy me wholly but such an impossible task would always come up short against the shock and horror a moment such as this would reign down upon a child. It was necessary but unsatisfactory, it was plentiful but exasperating.
-“How could he just leave us? It’s not fair, its not right”
– “I know its not fair, James but none of this is your fault, our fault. This is him”
– “I don’t care, what kind of awful person would do that”
At that point a sudden, swift, embodiment of reality swept its way inside of me. This was the very first time that a real sense of grief had descended to me. The hollowness of feeling, the anger and despair, the lack of reasoning, the wept shores which mother had so proudly displayed as truth before me were all the surest signs that this was not a simple childhood event that needed explaining. This was the unravelling of perfectly sealed satisfaction, unwound on the world to be ravaged by the unjust foil of adulthood. A child shall remain a child but an adult can swoon his sword without fearful reproach or lustful examinations of his attempted anarchy.
Mother’s pity for myself was confounded by the enormity of the situation. “I am so sorry, so very sorry” Perhaps, looking back i allowed too much of it to fall on her. The weight of burden lay heavy like a cloud bleached in the blood of a thousand terrors. The enormous sense of feeling left us both misjudged and somewhat escaped. There in the moment but hardly ever there.
-“Its not your fault mum, its him. We are together, please don’t leave me”
I felt weak and uncomfortable, ripe for the picking. The scars had begun to peel away so many layers and the immense frustration overcooked the thoughts running through my head. Thoughts so unclear but rabid and fascinating, nonetheless.
-” I will never leave you, i promise. You are all i have in this world, all i love and all i need. I am here with you forever” This momentarily comforted me. The solemn shaking disappeared, gracefully but only fading into the background, not fully unkept. It maintained distance but nervousness remained equi distant.
For now i wish my mother had chosen that day to explain to me that my father had left us some years previously. This time he had done so in darkest winter. I was only 3 years old so what little grasp i had on the waking hours of daylight, i am sure i would have had little chance of processing his absence much less discerning any possible future correlation from such an occurance. I understood why my mother shielded me from it back then but by 8 i felt old enough to deal with the unfolding drama which en masses swallowed up my tenderness and time. Much later when she died and in my father’s letters to me, i felt a great sense of regret that i never found the chance to discuss with her the full scale of human devourment she suffered at the cold dead hands of my repulsive father. For her, a woman who so bravely met such challenge, the light diffused in her heart was so easy to see flicker and flame out as the years went by but in my own selfish style, i reverted to the casual talk of simple platitudes and mundane mockings. How so much of life past could have altered swiftly with a little thought or tolerance.
As i learned too late to changed our fate, my father, a precipitous railway worker at the time, developed a keen eye for the many various groups of travelling musicians that would pass through his station day after day. To him they lived the kind of life he yearned to be free within. Their vacancy from responsibility thrilled him much more so than the actual sound of their music. That was temporary, their alterior existence was permanent. Every Tuesday their joyous patter on the platform was gloriously followed by the faint humming of a cloud nine song that he sometimes failed to fully grasp but one that never failed to intrigue the wanderer inside of him. He could hear joy and music but more than both he heard a life which promised him the etheral servitude and distinct fancy which had so far eluded his conscious failings. He never felt so free as for the moments when he could surrupticiously hum along to such tunes as he may never have known but therefore loved. He knew that he had to get away and disappear to alternative innocence before the plain and simple sickness of bored reality drove him to decisions that would crush the hope of all who surrounded him. I could never have forgiven him for such selfish acts as to be the ones bestowed upon us but at this later point in life i had a surer sense of why my young life had been ripped so viciously from its roots without fear of waking.
My earliest memories were the happiest ones. And surely they all seemed to exist in sunshine. Perhaps its wistful and delusional to only see life in those terms but my very early passions were fuelled by the unmistakable sense that brightness was the only polemic on which to lay foundations for living. We lived on the side of a hill between a house, another house and a row of shaking sheds which come winter became home to the animals who forever determined that hibernation was not their muse. Out the back plumed a lake or a stream, i was never sure what to call it. It flowed eloquently west, its drops dripping in beautiful elegance as it strode naturally to its resting place. A home such as this could never have been built on less than sweetness. I spent days searching for tadpoles, weeks a plenty by life’s end, trailing their feet from one end all the way to the ridge where the stream embraced its future and move past mere delights. The simplicity in the silence was thrilling. But for the sound of splash and the curious ache of small fish swimming against the tide, there was only silence and sight, perfect and as wondrous as you could ever hope to discover in sunlight.
My first pain felt so vicariously strange. When i was 4, i cut myself chasing a rabbit through the listless fields between the house and the other house that was across from our house. By then my father had left home and returned, the first time. Unaware of such fuss or the inconceivable thought that adult life could afford such distractions, the harshest pain forthcoming was the ability to graze my shinbone on a wire fence chasing such extravagant extremes. The cut was shallow but stung, my pride was overwhelmingly stated and momentarily left to exclaim its own virtue without success. My mother however, a woman so adept at curing the most fullsome of ails set about restoring the very confidence which had been forlornly broken. “Now honey, the next time you chase a rabbit, make sure and catch him before you make it to that fence” She was a great woman, who’s first thought was not to scold me for my attempts at such petty playfullness but to remind me that getting knocked down in life does not mean one should stay down. Pain is but a wound waiting to be healed, short and sharp, unrelenting but baying to be thwarted. The only wilting needed is from those who simply do not have the strength to subdue.
We endure because the alternative is frightening. We exhale because breathing life is the only excuse not to die. As minimalist as that may be, each breath is the forward stride to take us from beginning to end and back to begin again. So as i sit here and remember the people, places and torture that led me this close, i wonder if i have made the right decision. I wonder if its all for nothing or can it be for something, if the lasting effects of blurred life can be categorized as merely unfortunate circumstance or is it something more. The thud and clash of thunder reverborating inside my head, the glances and glimpses become flash floods circling the hollow recesses of my soul. The vibrancy of a once youth delicately destroyed as remorseless angst played chords of unsurity softly against my better judgement. I feel weak but this weakness does not destroy me. The thought of dying does not victimise me. I have searched so long i am no longer lost. The only assuredness against the flood is the timeless ticking of promise but everything it portrays gets swept inside the vulgarity of variables. The promise of such beauty comes rarely without scars. I can still see the tadpoles paddling against the stream with a hopeful nod and a wink of charm, i can still feel the sting on my shin from when i cut myself. I can still hear mother’s words so delicately tearful and tragic, i can hear her voice so agonisingly angelic. I miss her more now than every day since she passed away, my heart begs for hope but all i feel is hopeless. The light that burned so bright and once burned out, is now a short candle with both ends whispering in the wind. The flame is turned to smoke, deathly calm and devoured. The day before me is dark, shattered, woeful and stolen, the years in front of me are hell, unkind, wasted, broken. So as i sit here with all my life exemplary, i feel nothing for saviours and no sympathy for aching. I am not lost because i have never been found. Shortly the train is coming, i have spent so much of today thinking, soon i must go.