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Unresponsive rejecting dismissive mother
No hugs, no praise
So low down Maslow’s pyramid
No self esteem
No safety even
She is unhappy too
Father likes his children more than her
This makes her feel bad
This is not what she thought it would be
We are her patients not her children
Never in pain, just uncomfortable
Loved most when we are ill
She keeps the children away from him
In bed before he comes home
He escapes home to the water
Alone, free, no concerns
They row, he throws a plate
And the scrambled egg slides down the wall
Tantrum, little paddy, cussed.
He takes his daughter with him sailing
And they enjoy together the feeling
Of being alone, just the wind
And the boat
She is resentful
But resentment is not allowed
You shouldn’t need praise
Even on your wedding day
Don’t look beautiful
You look like him
Look plain
And I don’t want to be preferred
So I run myself down
Self-deprecate
Fail
To make it easier for the others to compete
And he cannot reconcile
The preference and so
Pushes me away
He should love her most
They hate me
With their velvet gloves
And I wander the minefield
Between unwanted love
And hate
Arms up to shield me against the incoming
Bombs of anger and frustration
That never stop coming
My sister piloting the plane.
Relief when She dies
Not having to love her any more
Death is the end
Nothing remains
Save a brick in an ugly wall
My doctor said keep the marriage
relationship the most important
Everything else follows from it
So wise.

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“When I speak of self-sustenance and self-parenting, I am not advocating an existence of Spartan reclusiveness and celibacy. On the contrary, there can be many people and rich friendships in your life. There can be sexuality and all manner of stimulating new and old activities. The only abstinence required is to abstain from allowing the current vacuum in your life to draw you into any kind of addictive gratification of your Attachment Hunger, be it drugs, drinking, compulsive eating, compulsive promiscuity, or another compulsive “love” relationship. One man said that he felt he was always walking around with him umbilical cord in his hand, looking for someone to plug it into, and he did plug it into the nearest relationship. He learned very little about his own capacity to be alone and self-sustaining. The more you stop yourself from these desperate attempts to face your separateness, the more you can experience a mature, self-respecting, almost stately sense of who you are ….”

Howard M Halpern


Dad arrived bearing Easter eggs. He came into the kitchen and noticed the new six-foot painting on the wall of a nude. Naive, red background, reclining voluptuous woman holding in her outstretched palm a pear. He asked who she was. I answered that she was a poet, the mistress, and later the second wife, of the artist, and that we had bought her from the daughter of the artist’s third wife.

‘She must have been glad to have got rid of it’, he said. Which I thought was very rude.

He sat down and looked up at the mantelpiece above the Aga. ‘Did you paint those?’, he asked, meaning the two gilded icons either end of the shelf. ‘No, but I’ll show you a couple I have painted,’ I replied.

Big mistake. When will I ever learn. Opening myself up like that, showing my vulnerability, needing praise. Why do I never learn? I went to fetch the two almost finished icons from another room and placed them in front of him.

‘Do you always have to paint such miserable faces?’ he said, which I also thought was very rude.

He brought out a brown envelope, and I began to realise what was coming.

‘I want to talk to you about your childhood’ he said, pushing the envelope in my direction.

‘You have said some terrible things about your mother, and I won’t forget it.’

At this point, my younger daughter, who had been sitting at the kitchen table in anticipation of her Easter egg, decided that she did not want to be there, and, finding her older sister, both of them left the house and went shopping in town. I was left alone, and began feeling scared.  I hadn’t said anything about my mother except that I did not feel loved, that she could not praise me.

I knew that the brown envelopes contained photographs he had scanned and printed. These photographs proved that I had had a happy childhood. He took them out of the envelope and started jabbing at them with his finger.

‘See!’ he said and kept on saying. I wanted him to leave, but I was frightened that he would smash everything up, so I felt that richtus adaptive smile stretching my lips and I ended up agreeing, just to preserve the peace, that, yes, I’d had a happy childhood.

There was a picture of me as a baby, in someone’s arms, but they are not my mother’s arms. It is fuzzy. There is another of me lying on a cushion in an arm chair and my father is sort of engaging with my hand. There is another of me being held up for approval by my seated mother who is presenting me at arm’s length to the camera. I am four months old, judging by the Valentine’s Day cards on the mantelpiece. Then nothing until a picture of my father sitting in an armchair holding my baby sister in one arm. I am rigid in the other arm, my arm closest to him locked in a strange straight line, my head turned away. We must have been put like that. Another picture, taken at about the same time, shows me sitting in an armchair holding my sister. She is smiling at the camera: it is impossible to tell whether I am smiling or crying.

Then a gap, and a couple of photographs of me playing with our neighbours, two girls the same age as me and my sister. One in paddling pool, another pulling a sledge. I look as if I am having fun. Which just goes to prove that I did have a happy childhood. I hate myself for agreeing with him just because I am frightened of him.

Eventually my father leaves, when a friend of mine arrives. I feel like howling, but keep it all together. She doesn’t need my problems right now. She comes and goes, and another friend arrives. I am barely surviving, but his presence and his good humour soothe me. I don’t have to pretend with him, which is nice.

An hour or so later my father phones up and says that he didn’t wish my daughters a Happy Easter. I tell him that my younger daughter is crying in her room because she’s lost her favourite Top Shop top for good at school. I wish him a Happy Easter and say that I forgot to give him his Easter egg. It is still sitting in my kitchen, though my husband keeps asking if he can eat it.

My mother and I are alone on a boat.  Quite a luxury white sailing yacht, all white decks.  My mother asks me to take the mainsail down, which means I have to go to the base of the mast where the halyard is fixed.  She turns the boat into the wind so that the power is taken out of the mainsail.  This is normal when you are taking down a sail.  Both the headsail and the mainsail are flapping.  Suddenly the boat gibes, the mainsail swings over, and, at the same time, our boat hits a moored yacht in front of it and begins to capsize.  The boom catches in the water, and I fall off under the sail.  I feel all the sheets tangling about my legs, and the white sail above my head shutting out the sun.  I know I will never get out and am going to drown and that there is no point fighting.  Everything goes very quiet and very white and muffled as if I am dead to the world and wrapped in cottonwool.  I wake up.

D and I are larking about in his beloved Subaru to which, bizarrely, he has added a huge convertible roof.  The inside of the car has been replaced with a large bed (or bath … cannot remember which), but the car looks fabulous and we are having fun.  A huge overweight clergyman comes up to us.  He is wearing a dog collar and tells us that he has a large river boat that he is taking for trips.  Next thing I know, I am no longer in the Subaru, but instead inside this flat bottomed pleasure boat with a glass roof, and my mother is, again, at the helm.  We are going very fast, skidding over the waves.  My mother tells me (us?) that there are two ways to turn this boat round.  I start to feel very scared, but she throws the boat into a 360′ turn at speed.  We are all thrown about as the boat heels over, but, incredibly, we seem to have survived.  I wake up.

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