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My Dad phoned. Said that he wanted to see me. Said that he had something that would put joy back in my life. I said OK, and arranged to call round later in the day.
But I knew what was coming, and I did not want to be there. I knew that my sister must have phoned him and that, as my husband says Churchill said, my Dad always carries the imprint of whoever has sat on him last. And my sister had already tried to get round my husband, and to have access to my analyst. So I phoned again and said that if he was going to persuade me to see my sister then I did not want to come.
He said that he had found pictures of me as a child, and I look happy in all of them. He thought I’d like to see them. He said that I had said some horrible things about my mother and he had been very upset to hear them. He said that my problem was that I had too much time on my hands, and that I always wanted to be perfect and I still resented not being sent to a private school like my sister . He said that he was worried about my analyst and whether he was messing with my brain. He said that he was worried that I was damaging my family and that ‘a source’ said my older daughter was being damaged by seeing me crying all the time.
Oh, Dad, where do I start?
If I ever, ever was upset about my sister going to a private school and my grammar school education, I grew out of that many, many years ago. Of course, now that I have my own children, I can see that there is a world of difference between a state education and a private education, but I do not remember it feeling like that at the time. I did not enjoy school, but then my school was made up of a bevvy of dried up old spinsters teaching in freezing portacabins twelve miles by sickening bus from where I lived, and I was a small dwarf in a class of giants, all older than me, and some a great deal older than me. Precociousness has its downside.
As for my daughter being upset by seeing me cry,
a) that is normal
b) but it’s only happened about three times in her life
c) and the last time was when my sister accused me of being a judgmental witch damaging my godson and his two siblings by not seeing his mother who had run off with her lover who, in turn, had left a small baby and three children, when, in point of fact, I had bent over backwards to continue to provide some semblance of family belonging to the abandoned husband and his three children, with some degree of success since (as she now knows) none of them imagine Christmas complete if not spent at our house.
d) children can learn more from seeing their parent upset and getting over it, than they can from never seeing their parent cry
e) I bet “the source” was my sister (confirmed by you …)
f) so, basically, that’s a load of crap.
And then the analyst. So. First point. He was recommended by an elderly and highly regarded professor of psychology from Edinburgh. Secondly, he has written recently published a new book, the reviews of which draw attention to his national reputation, his standing as a lecturer on child attachment problems. Thirdly, I went to see a recently retired family psychologist to ask for further references for him. She confirmed that he is sound, that three of her friends have seen him personally, gone through the analysis process, and are happy with the outcomes. Fourthly, he is a proper psychiatrist and trained Freudian analyst and there are not too many of them around. Fifthly, he doesn’t so much tell me things as tell me what he thinks about what I’ve said, from a position of invisibility behind my head. Sixthly, I do not have the feelings of attachment hunger because I have been to see him, but I went to see him because of the feelings of what-I-now-know-to-be-attachment-hunger.
I have never said that my mother was a bad person. In many, many ways she was a good person. As you say, she was already ready to help anyone, and brought me up very well. I have never said that she did not love me. I have said that she was not able to love me as I needed to be loved. I wanted to be hugged, enveloped in a comforting embrace, praised. Ah, you say, but she was practical. She was. “Practical”, but not passionate. If she ever felt like smelling her children just above their ear, or running to meet them, or just plopping down beside them to watch television, she never showed it.
There is so much I could say, but all you want is to know that my mother was as you knew her to be. Your idea of my mother will always be just that – “your” experience of my mother. We will agree on some things, on many things about her, but you will never know what it was like to be her daughter, how that felt. And I will never know what it felt like to be her husband, though I suspect that you were mostly her son. Ouch. Shouldn’t have said that.
Anyway, do stop worrying about me resenting my state education. I cannot imagine that a private education would have made the important things any different, and I am happy with where I am, would not want to be anywhere else, and so I cannot wish away anything that has happened in the past, because it all shaped me, made me who I am, for better or worse.
Stop worrying, too, that I am some neurotic invalid. I function, I flourish and we are happy (as we can be given my sister hanging over me) in our little nuclear family. We’ve had quite a bit to deal with this year, but we’re OK. I’ve got two jobs, lots of interests, good friends, good health and lots of love. I’m OK. Next time my sister gets her knickers in a twist, point the finger at her.
We left it that I’d go and see the photos sometime, though it is about making him happy not me. So he can say “See, you did have a happy childhood. What are you making such a fuss about?”
Is it me? Or is it her? How can there be two different realities?
She phones up and from the minute I hear her tone of voice I know she is in a bad mood. I hate that voice. It makes me feel very bad. She tells “So, you’re going on a cookery course in the summer” and I say “No, but we were thinking of it. The children weren’t keen enough and it was very expensive” but she does not seem to hear this and goes on telling me a long and involved story about how her friend, whom I’ve met once, worked there for six weeks last summer. Even though we are not going there. I know she must have been grilling my daughter. I want to change the subject. I just say how wonderful it looked and then I ask about her son, and what he thinks of the bad behaviour of his football heroes. She says that he doesn’t know anything about the bad behaviour, that he hasn’t read any of the reports, that there haven’t been any reports in the newspapers they read. I say that there hasn’t been too much in the Guardian either, but I’ve read it on-line. Then she tells me to go and get the Guardian and makes me read out the crossword clues on the quick crossword. In doing so I prove that I am wrong and that she is right and there is actually no difference between the clues in the British Edition and the European Edition, and I remember last year, nearly a year ago, that my husband and I had been sitting with her outside a café in a French village and had been amusing ourselves with the quick crossword in the European Edition, but that is had seemed ridiculously easy and so one of us – perhaps him, perhaps me – had said, by way of possible explanation, that perhaps the European edition and the British Edition had different crosswords. And she had remembered this and stored it away and now needed to prove me wrong. I felt attacked, and made my excuses …I had to be at the tennis club with my daughter within fifty minutes and we had not eaten yet. And she told me that her son and daughter had both played tennis today. I wished she would stop competing with me, needing to keep up with me, and needing to prove that I am wrong and she is right. I remember that her husband is away in India. My daughter and my home-help tell me that I was really nice to her on the phone.
A day or two later she sends me an email. All it says is “Knock knock!” and I am suddenly so annoyed by her stupid game playing and by her childish attempts to move on from her angry phonecall, and by her constant competing with me. I write back to her saying “Who’s there?” and then, because I am fed up, I tell her that we don’t need to compete any more, that we have four wonderful children and that we do not need to compare them either and that they should not have to bear the legacy of our childhood. This is because my daughter had been staying with them a few days earlier and had come back and said that she thought her cousins were better than her, more well rounded, higher achievers in more areas, and I wondered why she was thinking in those terms and she told me that her cousins had told her all their grade scores. I was upset about that. I could not bear the idea that my daughter had been got at, that the whole situation had been manipulated by my sister, that my precious daughter had not had me there to protect her. It was not that the cousins were doing “better” that upset me, but that they needed to make sure that we knew all about it, that they thought they needed to compete with us.
And then the shit hit the fan and flew out in all directions. First she said how hurt she was and how mean I was. And I replied that I did not think there was much hope for our relationship until she was able to look at our childhood and see how her behaviour contributed to our difficulties. Then she tried silence. Two weeks. Then she demanded that my husband phone her and when he did, she bent his ear. Then she ignored his advice to keep away from each other and wrote the next morning telling me that I was not to talk about our childhood with her ever again, that she did not find it helpful, and that I had to see her in May at a time of her choosing. So I talked it all over with my analyst (I lie, I cried as I read out the correspondence) and decided that I would tell her that I could not see her in May.
Now she is in a fury. How dare I! she says: the crossword thing was a lighthearted joke because she and her colleagues prided themselves on finishing the crossword every day and she is a very lightheated jokey person, an adult living in the present. She says that she would like to talk to my analyst. I say “No” and she gets more angry. She throws all sorts of things at me, including the future happiness of the four cousins. I still say “No”. She writes to my husband. He writes back without telling me saying that she should leave it and that he does not know why she is pressing so much when she had made herself absent when we visited her town in the autumn. He says she is a bully.
Jokes are concealed aggression in my family. It was something she learnt from my Dad.
But perhaps it is me. Perhaps I’ve got it all wrong and it is me that is unreasonable. Perhaps it is me who cannot take a joke, who takes it all so seriously. Perhaps I am mad, mentally ill. After all, it is me who is seeing an analyst. Not just once, but twice a week. And doesn’t she sound so rational? And don’t I owe it to my daughters and her children to give them a happy extended family to grow up in, and isn’t it unchristian and plain unkind to deny her access to us like I have? And am I not just playing a game, making a mountain out of a molehill when I should have just brushed it all off? And am I not histrionic, unable to tell good intentions from bad intentions, unable to distinguish a friendly voice from a malign voice? Paranoid even? Is it not me, rather, that is the narcissist? Always wanting attention and wanting it may way, and spending all that money on therapy just to get more attention? Isn’t that reality more real than my reality? Is my reality not just self-serving?
We got talking, my friends and I, about jeans. Buying ones that fitted. I told my friends that I’d bought a couple of pairs, at huge expense, because they were designed for, let’s say, the more mature woman. Being four women, we then discussed price and reductions and sizes … and I said that the jeans I eventually bought had a ridiculous sizing system because I’d been encouraged to try, and then buy, a size 8 (US 4) and there was no way that I was anywhere near a size 8 and that the sizing was a such a fraud that I could not even take any pleasure in it. It was a story told against me, if you like. And the others are thinner (and younger) than I am.
I bumped into one of those friends a few days later and she told me she’d gone to the same shop and bought a pair of jeans in size 6 (US 2) and that her husband wondered whether she could breathe in them. I smiled. I did not mind, but I did notice. The odds of her telling me that she’d bought a size 10 were about the same as the proportionate parts of a homeopathic remedy, one in a million.
I shy away from competition, but, like it or not, it infuses female friendships and often, at the root of the competitive urge, are sibling positions in our family of origin. I often find myself returning to the chronicle of the highs and lows of female friendship, written by two friends: “Between Women: Love, Envy and Competition in Women’s Friendships” by Susie Orbach and Luise Eichenbaum. It is a very sobering but accurate (in my view) account of the reality of many friendships between females and sufficient explanation for the joy that women often find in their much less competitive friendships with men. How many times have I been tempted to send a copy to someone as a sort of literary passive-aggressive F**k off! And I sometimes find myself an amused observer of subtle indirect catfighting between two of my more competitive friends, happy that their aggression is not turned on me but on each other, even if I might be the prize they both want and are subconsciously fighting over.
I’ve been enjoying learning to play tennis for nearly a year and look forward to my weekly coaching session enormously. It has been a revelation to me, the enjoyment that the game gives me and the progress that slowly but surely I have made in my strokes. Now I can confidently hit a good, strong forehand, breaking my wrist, following through to put spin on the ball, standing square on, and placing the ball mostly in the half of the court that I’ve chosen. I am happy with my progress in learning to play (in two senses of the word).
But I have only played one competitive game and lost badly, and I notice that my game falls off even when my coaching hour ends with a few points. I begin to hear an old injunction “Do not win!”, and need to keep repeating to myself “It is OK to win”. Of course, it is easier to find this new affirmation when I am playing with my coach because he enjoys reminding me every now and again, with a faster-than-the-speed-of-sound smash down the line, that he could win every point if he wanted to …
It is not so much the fear of failure that keeps me fleeing competition, but the fear that I might win. To my mind, it is easier to deal with my own disappointment (at losing) than it is to deal with the Other’s aggression (at losing), an aggression played out over subsequent weeks in small manipulations that are noticed only by a growing sense of unease. Writing this, I realise that there is no necessary connection between my opponent losing and this long tail of aggressive behaviour. A game of tennis can be just that – a game of tennis – with defeats felt only slightly and used only to spur the loser to want to win more next time. It no longer has to be a fight for survival, for resources so scarce and play so dirty that I gave up and took myself out of the game, refusing to play, wanting only to be left alone. Learning to play – at my age.
Almost ten years ago I found myself seated next to a much older woman on a plane. She was an American, a psychotherapist and artist, on a plane to the South of France where she lived. Then I really hated flying and had begun to sit separately from my family so as not to infect my daughters with my fear. We got chatting and at the end of the flight she told me that she felt as if she had fallen in love with me, and that I must keep in touch especially since we shared the same skin tone, thanks to the ginger gene. Bizarre, but I did phone her and she asked me a few questions about my background, and then told me that my mother had been emotionally abusive and that I needed to learn to play and that if I wanted to talk to her again I would have to pay for a 50 minute therapy session. To say that I felt violated is an understatement. I felt angry with her suggesting that my mother had been anything less than perfect, and I felt angry that she had represented our relationship as one of friendship when she now seemed only to be looking for a new client. But, a decade later, I know she was right, even if the problems were ones of omission rather than commission, but I wasn’t ready to see it then. I had an email from her not long ago, saying that she had been thinking about me, reminded of our encounter by seeing an old friend, my doppelganger. I did not reply.
So, the theory goes, we all have three ways of being inside us. We can behave like children, or like adults, or like parents. Different behaviours are associated with each state – most of our emotions, our feelings, for example, come from the ‘child’ state. Anger (though not temper tantrums) often accompanies a ‘parent’ state, except for ‘righteous anger’ which is properly adult.
At best, we all have a happy, free, fun-loving child who has been well-fed with praise and love. And we have a good merciful parent with firm boundaries. And we have a rational adult, capable of thinking through problems and making sensible decisions without being flooded by the (childish) emotions running parallel or allowing an overly judgemental parent to reign supreme.
Our child states and our parental states are formed by our experience, primarily by the experiences we underwent at the hands of our parents in the first few years of our life. The adult comes later.
But things rarely go entirely smoothly, and sometimes the child is very upset, and sometimes the parent is very critical and sometimes people have such a hard time functioning in all three states appropriately that they ditch the difficult ones. So a man might ditch the parent (and the adult most of the time) and resolutely occupy the child position for as much as possible. Or a woman’s default position might be to hide her suffering child and cluck like a mother hen instead.
What sometimes happens, when one of these ego states or life positions is missing, is that the lopsided person finds another person to cling onto and between them they make one whole person. So the man who is the pillar of his community but never a child, finds a childish wife to play on his behalf. He can be happy with her child, even enjoying her naughtiness, and she is absolved of the responsibility of being the parent. There is a symbiosis that can appear stable.
But, in truth, there is something missing in both of them. He has no joy in him, only vicarious joy in the play of others. She is undeveloped and rendered incapable of thinking for herself. The stability arises because both has a great deal to gain from the symbiotic relationship continuing. He does not want to deal with his own less happy child. She cannot be bothered with the disclipine of becoming a parent.
Over time, however, each may start to grow. He may become tired and fed up with always being the responsible one. She may crib-bite at the playpen that limits her possibilities. Each may meet others who help them to dare to feel that forgotten state and each may desire to be whole unto themselves – separate, independent and open.
Simon Jenkins has attracted a great deal of attention with his article published in the Guardian last Thursday (11th March, ‘The bankers lied. And Darling, a mere puppet on their string, knows it’) in which he lambasts the government for its failure to ensure that the banks were accountable to it for the trillions (a million million millions) of pounds poured into them in October 2008.
A week or so ago I heard Michael Sandel, televisual law professor from Harvard, speaking in a Guardian debate at the British Museum, point the same finger at the American government, denigrating the lack of accountability that had accompanied the US bank bailout. He, though, invited a comparison with the UK, where board seats and shares had, at least, been the price for the security offered.
Simon Jenkins does not mince his criticisms. He demands to know whether the money was necessary and where it has all gone, and why banks have felt the generosity of the government when businesses have not:
“The nearest to an explanation came from the man responsible, Alistair Darling, on Michael Cockerell’s recent BBC documentary on the Treasury. If he had not acted in October 2008 as he did, Darling asserted, “the bank doors couldn’t have opened, cash machines wouldn’t have functioned. All over the world people wouldn’t have got money”. Who says?”
Hindsight is a wonderful thing. Rewind to early October 2008, when the banking crisis was burning with greatest intensity. Then Simon Jenkins had the Chancellor in his sights – not for sending too much money the way of the banks, but for not doing enough and for not doing it quickly enough. Jenkins had no doubt, then, that the banking system was in meltdown and only the government could save the day. He did not care what the government did. The government had to do whatever was necessary: “Absolute financial security must be underwritten”.
“Darling’s statement to parliament on Monday beggared belief. The financial equivalent of al-Qaida had penetrated the nation’s defences and placed explosive devices in every financial institution in the land. The threat to the economy was unprecedented and immediate. Yet all Darling could offer was to do “whatever is necessary to maintain stability” and say that it would be “irresponsible to speculate on specifics”.
He mentioned no new cash to the money markets, no guarantees for personal or corporate deposits, no Europe-wide action and no bail-out for the banks. Indeed he said nothing, except to imply distaste for the emergency measures already being taken by foreign governments. He thus indicated that he would not join them.
Nothing could have been more damaging to confidence than this non-statement. Darling wiped a mind-boggling £100bn off the value of the top 100 British companies, the biggest one-day fall in history, offering every economics student a vignette of regulatory ineptitude. If Darling’s resignation were not the last thing Britain needs just now, he should offer it.
The only source of new credit is the government, backed by the future flow of taxes. Her Majesty’s Government must become, for however brief a time, a bank. The need for that outcome is now glaringly obvious.
Yet by nationalising only two banks, Northern Rock and Bradford & Bingley, Darling has effectively undermined the others. If he now buys their shares cheap, he must be guilty of “shorting” them.
For the government to become a bank it must not merely muse on the idea and discuss “doing whatevers” and “pondering options”. It must get on with it. Whether this takes the form of indemnifying bank deposits, insuring interbank lending or buying bank shares – or all of these – does not matter. Absolute financial security must be underwritten.
What makes Darling’s dithering all the more extraordinary is that he and the Bank of England must have prepared for this for weeks. Yet their staff apparently told bemused emissaries of the big banks on Monday night that they were “still working on a plan”.
Darling has implied, over and again, that he will do the same as his Irish and German counterparts when they faced a bank collapse. He has parroted that he will do “whatever is necessary to ensure stability”. Yet he will not say what this is, and indeed he objects to the actions of the Irish and Germans. The impression is of a man who simply does not know what to do, like Lord Lamont in the sterling crisis of 1993.
The longer that deposit security is delayed, the more markets will withdraw cash and speculate against bank shares. It is not irresponsibility or panic that has led tens of thousands of Britons to move their balances out of the domestic system. They may be overreacting, but the chancellor has encouraged them to do so. Would you gamble your savings on Darling’s decisiveness, or on that of the present governor of the Bank or England?
The stupefying sums of money allegedly required to restore market confidence are not real. The indebtedness of banks is underpinned by real, albeit postponed, value in the economy. Assets “recapitalised”, or nationalised, by the Treasury are sellable as the economy improves – as was British oil in the 1980s – and taxpayers should be able to benefit from the risks they have been expected to take. This will happen quicker when the Bank finally lowers rates and company liquidity is eased.”
Simon Jenkins is a polemecist and his strident views help to sell the newspaper he inhabits. His recent article hangs on to the coat tails of the recently published “Too Big to Fail” (Andrew Ross Sorkin) – dubbed the “definitive history” of the banking crisis in America – and an unanswered question: were British banks also too big to (be allowed to) fail?
The crisis came about when confidence, primarily in the US and UK banking systems, collapsed. Banks had been developing ever more complicated instruments to increase profits, speculating more widely through rarely understood market derivatives, and lending recklessly in the American ‘sub prime’ mortgage market. The pus built up until, inevitably, the volcano threatened to erupt and drown civilisation in its seedy lava.
“The recession came about for many reasons, but mostly because of worries about the banking system. UK and American banks took huge risks with their lending and investments in the noughties, and when things started to go sour towards the end of the decade, debts couldn’t be repaid. Much of the blame was laid on sub-prime mortgages where banks lend to people who are considered less likely to be able to pay them back.
When large numbers of mortgage-payers miss their repayments, the banks lose money. With less money available, they can’t lend to businesses, meaning less investment and reducing the potential to make a profit. With less chance to make money, fewer people want to invest in companies, and this caused the value of the stock market to fall, or ‘crash’.
Banks also stopped lending to each other and to consumers, resulting in what has become known as the ‘credit crunch’.”
On the 13th October the British government announced that it would be rescuing three banks – The Royal Bank of Scotland, Lloyds TSB, and HBOS – with a package worth £37 billion. In return for the injection of taxpayers’ money, the government would end up owning 60% of the first bank, and 40% of the other two, with vetoes on bonuses. The state investment was intended to be realised in brighter times, realising (it was hoped) a substantial profit for the British people. In other words, this was the equivalent of the failed entrepreneur staring into the abyss of bankruptcy and clutching at the expensive but life-saving deal offered by the only person willing to lend. The UK government became the heart and the lungs of those banks, without which they would have failed. In response to the news of the bailout, the FTSE 100 index surged 8.2%. Hope was not dead.
The UK taxpayers now own 68% of RBS and 43% of the merged Lloyds/HBOS banks and their debts (but not their assets) of an estimated £1.5 trillion could be added to the national balance sheet, even though the Lloyds/HBOS holding is still a minority one. New statistics from the Office for National Statistics (ONS) already puts the public debt at a deficit of £848.5billion, equal to 59.9% of GDP (compared to 83.4% in the US for the 2009 year) and the worst deficit since 1978. Public borrowing in February stood at £122 billion for the year, and, for the first time since records began in 1993, the UK had had to borrowed money (£4.3 billion) in January. Adding the banks’s debts to the balance sheet would leave the public debt equal to or exceeding GDP, according to the ONS. January is usually a good month for government receipts, but income from corporation tax and income tax has dropped dramatically, hence the need to borrow.
Government critics point to the fact that UK public borrowing continued to rise under the Labour administration even when government receipts were rising prior to the recent recession – due to the government’s increased spending on health and education. The Conservatives promise that they would cut the deficit as their first priority – no details provided. But as the UK heads towards a hung parliament, the Liberal Democrats hold the balance of power and have pledged not to support budgetary cuts. This is in line with the Labour Chancellor’s preference for ensuring solid economic growth before embarking on cuts to public spending, a preference which has gained considerable support amongst economists (http://www.thisismoney.co.uk/news/article.html?in_article_id=499929&in_page_id=2) who hark back to the ignored warnings of Keynes in 1932:
‘The voices which, in such a conjuncture, tell us that the path of escape is to be found in strict economy and in refraining, wherever possible, from utilising the world’s potential production, are the voices of fools and madmen.”
Simon Jenkins, too, wants us to follow Keynes. Perhaps, after all, he is not out of step with the Chancellor. He is, however, in a happier position. He is merely a commentator, writing about decisions others have to take. He has the luxury of nothing hanging on his words or actions except the sale of a few more newspapers.
See also comparison of national debt with other countries: http://www.economicshelp.org/blog/economics/list-of-national-debt-by-country/
He stood holding the door open for her as she came in from the pouring rain. Her arms were full of bags of shopping and a wayward umbrella, and her raincoat was sodden. Her hair hung in wavy wet strands across her forehead and she could imagine that steam was rising from her as she dumped the bags at the foot of the counter and searched for her purse. A drip formed at the end of her nose and she used her tongue to lick it away, sniffing.
The man moved back behind the counter. His presence was calm and silent, like a solitary warm bath. Just what she would have wanted at that moment. His hair was grey, quite short. She put him in his late fifties. He was wearing a fine woollen jumper and a checked shirt, open at the neck. His skin was healthy looking. He looked as if he had all the time in the world for himself. Peace flowed out of him, seeping into her. His movements were not hurried, nor sluggish.
“Can I help?” he asked.
“I’ve ordered a book. I wondered if it was in yet.”
She gave her surname and the title of the book, and rummaged in her bag until she found a screwed up slip which confirmed the details. She put the slip on the counter. Her hand left a wet mark afterwards.
He turned to the shelves behind the counter and returned with the book.
“Is it for you?” he asked.
“Yes – someone suggested that I read it. Is it any good?”
“It all depends what you like.” He smiled as he answered. There were smile lines at the outside of his eyes, like tiny fans that opened as the smile rose up his face.
She hummed her assent to what he had said, suddenly shy, and looked down at the ground. She handed over notes and received the change and went to pick up her bags.
“Would you like to browse, have a cup of coffee? It’s still raining outside and the coffee is ready to go.”
Now it was her turn to smile.
“That would be good – if I can leave all these bags here.”
“Sure – I’ll look after them and bring you a coffee. How do you take it?”
“White … no sugar. I mean, “Milk, no sugar”.”
And lightened by leaving her bags, she swept the strands away from her forehead and walked forward a few steps into the bookshop, searching out the subject titles at the top of each of the black shelves. She hesitated, then, having decided, set off in search of ‘Poetry’, self-conscious, knowing that her choice mattered. She felt strange, as if she was walking on cushions of air, as if nothing in the wet world outside the bookshop existed, as if she could rely on this man to look after her. Which was, indeed, strange, because he had only offered her a cup of coffee.
She always made her own coffee, though. That was it. She was used to making her own coffee and was quite particular about how she liked it. Generally she thought she was the only person who could make coffee just as she liked it. It felt good to have the coffee made for her: she found that she did not really mind if the coffee was terrible. She had the same feeling when she went to the hairdressers and had her hair washed. Best of all was when a head massage was thrown in for free. She never wanted that to end: she could have grown old and died there in the plastic reclining chair. Her body sunk into itself and her breathing slowed.
The coffee came and the rain stopped and she picked up her bags and the umbrella, tucked her new book inside one of the bags, and carried on her day. He had held the door open for her when she left, and he had smiled again.
“I hope you enjoy the book. There’s a group that meets here once a month, on Tuesday evenings, at seven. I might choose that book in a couple of months. You might like to come to the discussion. I’ll put a poster up. Keep an eye open for details. The rain’s stopped now. You should get home without getting wet again. Take care.”
My ability to believe in a kind God-the-Father who loved me was blocked by my own experience of my parents, and the commandment to honour my parents was the dam that prevented me overcoming those archetypes and setting myself free. Only when my mother died, and the necessity of adhering to the commandment seemed to fall away, could I painfully and slowly begin to remake my own idea of what a mother should be, of what Mary, the Mother of God, might be. Only when I confronted my father and cried over his failures, could I cut myself free from the hopeless search in him for fathering, and allow myself to feel free to experience the love of the father I never had.
First I had to face up to what my mother was, all that she was able to be, and how short she fell. Then I have to feel the pain of that reality, of being the emotionally unmothered child, cutting off to cauterise the pain and to neutralise the competition-to-death from my sister. At at the same time discovering that imperative sense of what I needed as a child in order to feel loved. In discovering my innate knowledge of what a loving mother is, I come face to face with the Sweet Kissing Madonna.