You are currently browsing the daily archive for April 9, 2010.

“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.