|The 40 In 40 Days Project.|
33. The Shove From Above (1993)
The Au Pairs
personality was one of extremes.
An exceptionally kind-hearted, generous
man, always willing to go out of his way to assist people around him –
whether he knew them well, or hardly at all. Gregarious, sociable, at
his happiest in company – he loved to go into a new pub, to take up
position at the bar, and to strike up conversation with total strangers,
who would invariably be charmed and invigorated by his presence.
And yet – I have never met another
human being with so much anger inside him. His tempers were frequent
(usually on a daily basis at the very least), completely unpredictable
(he could fly into a rage at seemingly nothing), ferociously savage
(although rarely violent) – and piercingly, devastatingly eloquent. In
less than a minute, he could destroy me utterly, reducing me to a
tearful, trembling wreck, consumed with a wretched, self-loathing
misery. In these moods, he was terrifying – and yet, looking back, I
can now see most of them as nothing more than the temper tantrums of a
spoilt little boy who had never quite grown up.
Although he loved me unconditionally,
he was quite unable to accept me for who I was – sensitive, artistic,
creative, thoughtful, critical, analytical, questioning, vulnerable,
emotionally intuitive, emotionally open. In fact, I think my personality
actually scared him. He didn’t want a weedy cissy for a son – he
wanted someone practical, physically strong, emotionally resilient, who
could share his conventional and conservative values and stride
confidently through his corner of the world. Unable to comprehend or to
accept me (beyond a certain pride at my academic accomplishments), he
constantly sought to change me – mainly by berating me, at great
length, for everything which I was not.
The result: I lost all self-confidence,
and instead developed an all-consuming self-consciousness. Unable to be
my true self, unable to pretend to be the person my father wanted me to
be, I was left with no idea as to how to conduct myself in the world.
Instead, I closed off, and retreated into my own, deeply private, inner
life, where no-one could reach me. I kept my own company as much as
possible (and was, of course, roundly berated for it).
Only one thought kept me from total
despair – the thought of escape. I knew that eventually, I could start
building my own personality in my own world – I just had to ride the
storms, and wait until I was old enough to get away. At heart, I have
always been an optimist, and thankfully this kernel of hope was never
quite extinguished within me.
In adulthood, the tensions slowly
eased. Revealing my homosexuality to my father may have been, in some
ways, the final disappointment for him – but in other ways, it lanced
the boil. On some level, I think he finally came to accept me for who I
November 1993. K is away on business.
Breakfast time. My stepmother calls with wholly unexpected, shocking
news. It was a heart attack; it was quick. I am numb, strangely devoid
of emotion. In my teens, after a particularly savage attack, I once shut
myself away in my room, gripped with a single, awful worry – what if
my father dropped dead, and I couldn’t cry? Now, it was happening, and
no tears would come. They never came.
In a daze, and having excused myself
from work for the rest of the week, I decided that I might as well do
some ironing. I set up the board, grabbed a shirt, and started thinking.
That disastrous marriage of his to Sally. A war zone. A hideous mistake.
A terrible mess. They never loved each other, or if they did, then they
stopped many years ago.
The next thing I knew, I was sprawled
out on the parquet floor, hot iron still in hand, backside aching from
the fall. I have no idea how I ended up there. I looked up, ruefully. OK
Father, I thought to myself, I guess I was wrong about that one. Of
course you and Sally loved each other, in your own ways. I’m sorry I
ever doubted it. But there was no need to shove me over quite so hard,
Eight years of slowly increasing,
slowly burning anger followed, as I endlessly, obsessively re-analysed
and relived all the shameful failings on my father’s part. Self-pity
obliterated grief. Until, eventually, on the eighth anniversary of his
death, I decided I could be angry no more. For the first time since the
funeral, I visited his grave. I placed the flowers, stood in silence,
and made my peace. Just before leaving, I found myself saying these
seven words out loud.
“I love you. And I forgive you.”
The ghosts are all laid to rest now. I do love him, and I have forgiven him. Actually, he was one hell of a guy.