We are the only animal that in the face of trauma continues to retraumatise itself, playing and replaying that which has already happened to frighten us.Mark Epstein
I have led a sheltered life. In comparison. I have never ever been desperately short of money or work or friends. I was never stranded, lost or destitute, in a material sense. I never needed to pick myself off the ground all alone, there has always been someone around to lend a hand pulling me up.
But neither was I ever pampered or spoiled or handed opportunities, advantages, secret handshakes, that kind of thing, no family connections were played out for my benefit.
Mostly by my own choosing, naivete, ignorance or simply life, I have found myself in a couple of dodgy situations and sometimes, I could get quite scared remembering, imagining what could have happened.
And then of course, I have had a smattering share of scary matters of life and health and death. Haven't we all.
But the most scary, frightening thing that ever happened to me is this - and while it happened a long time ago, the memory is as vivid and immediate as if it had happened yesterday.
I am in my early 20s. At this stage in my life, I am working as a bookseller and the local radical bookseller's association (yes, this was something that proudly existed at the time), has financed a trip for me to attend the annual feminist book fair. It is sometime after midnight and I am on the bus from Wales, where I disembarked the night boat from Ireland, to London. I am seasick and sit in the front near the door. The bus stops in a couple of places along the way and I hop out for a breath of fresh air when I get a chance. At one of these stops, literally seconds before the bus leaves, two men push something onto the seat across the aisle from me and quickly run away. It's not something, it's someone. A middle aged woman in a stylish coat, long hair, sunglasses. She has lost one shoe, wearing only one black boot with a high heel. A large handbag. And she is drunk. Absolutely, completely, utterly drunk. For the next five or so hours, we travel through the night and I am terrified. I force myself to stop looking, watching her as she mutters and curses, drops her bag and spills the contents, picks some of them up, lets her body fall forward and sideways, almost slipping off the seat, cries and finally, seemingly, falls asleep for a while. I am covered in sweat, paralysed by the fear of a lifetime growing up with an addict. Like the child I once was, not too many years ago, I am hiding, afraid she might discover me across from her, look at me, speak to me, ask for help. For, of course, this woman in her smart clothes, her shaky hands searching for her lighter, her cigarettes, that last bottle, trying to brush her hair, this wreck of a person is my mother. At least for a couple of hours on a night bus.
I cannot remember what happened when the bus arrived. I know I met friends, attended the book fair, bought stuff, danced in a club, the usual.
How alone we are in the vast universe.
|my mother, my brother, me|