Sunday, 3 February 2013
The child in the room next door - 05.03.2012
The child in the room next door is busy playing. She plays with toys and coloured things, creating imaginary worlds. The child plays in the patch of yellow sunshine under the window, completely absorbed in the story, the colours and the light. The child is not listening. Still, the child can hear.
The child hears grownups talking. Their voices are dull and cold. They’re talking over the child, and, in a roundabout way, about the child. The child hears the usual sentence, the sentence that IS a sentence. “After all you’ve done for her...”
The child doesn’t understand why the sentence feels heavy, dark and cold. The sentence feels like standing outside of the door, in the cold, in the dark, and the door not opening. Like a big, heavy wet blanket, weighing her down, freezing her up. The sentence feels like people turning away, like people looking down at you from high up there and not smiling. Never smiling. Never happy to see you. Doing things for you because they have to, not with you because they want to.
The child carries on playing. She is used to it.
The child does not understand about unconditional love. She does not have the words and she’s never seen the thing. She is vaguely aware of the fact that her friends’ lives are different. That her friends seem to be able to be good or bad, and be loved just the same. That they sometimes enjoy being naughty and only worry about being caught, not about being bad. That they don’t feel that they have to earn their place all the time. But they don’t get the look. They get the angry words, and sometimes a smack somewhere, but never that cold, measuring look.
The child knows she did a very bad thing. She isn’t supposed to be here, you see? Her mummy was happy, and then she was born, and it all went wrong. She made her daddy go away, and her mummy was sad. Her mummy has been sad ever since. Her grandmother is very angry about it. The child didn’t do it on purpose. She wasn’t born on purpose. She made a mistake, a very bad mistake, and was born, and everyone’s lives were ruined. People don’t know – we don’t tell people – but the child carries a terrible shame. A dirty, slimy, dusty, sticky shame that rubs off on everything. The shame was born when the child was born, and nothing can make it go away. The child is not sure, but she thinks people can see it.
That is why you have to be good all the time. When you are a bad, bad thing, you have to be good all the time. You can’t slip up. You have to do everything PERFECTLY. If you do everything perfectly, the shame can’t be seen, for a little while. For that moment, it can’t see you. It doesn’t crawl out and wrap its dirty tentacles around you. If you do everything perfectly, you don’t win, but you don’t lose. You can’t win, because the only way you can win is to do things better than perfectly, and that is not possible. Even the child knows it’s not possible. She tries, but she knows she can’t do it. But you have to try. If you do something and it’s not perfect, you get the look. After all you’ve done for her, she’s loud. She’s messy. She was running and she fell over and she ripped her trousers. After all you’ve done for her.
If you do something and it’s perfect, you’ve passed. Just. But there are always more things that need doing perfectly. It’s never over. And you cannot slip up. You cannot slip up.
Sometimes the child feels like she’s wearing armour. Big, heavy armour that keeps the outside out, so the shame cannot be seen, but it also keeps the inside locked in. She wishes the inside could relax and stretch. She wishes she could make drawings of things in her head, because they are pretty, not drawings that are good. She wishes she could sing and not worry about what it sounds like. She wishes she could run and scream and jump. She wishes, sometimes. She wishes that people would look at her and not measure her. She wishes that people would smile, and be glad to see her. She wishes she could stop worrying, worrying all the time about what is correct. But you can’t do that when you are a very bad thing.
The wishing is bad. It’s ungrateful after all they’ve done for her. They are a very good family, you know? They have a nice house that is always tidy and the most books and the most toys. She always has the most toys, because she cannot be careless with them. She cannot break them, because, after all they’ve done for you, you cannot break things. You have to be careful with things, and put them neatly away in their boxes.
They are a very good family. They go to church every Sunday. Every Sunday the child prays to God to make her good, but it doesn’t take the shame away. The child worries in church about her nails being dirty – her nails get dirty so quickly –after all they’ve done for her. She worries about being distracted by the shining, floating dust in front of the coloured windows, high up. The dust is brilliant and dancing, and the child loves to look at it. But you are not supposed to look at the lights in the coloured dust, you are supposed to pray to God, and even that is not going to be enough when you are a bad, bad thing.
When you are so bad that even your daddy doesn’t want to be with you, and leaves, and you hurt your mummy’s feelings forever and ever and ever, even God doesn’t listen, sometimes. And you scrunch up your hands (hide the nails) and you scrunch up your eyes, and you pray so hard you think your thoughts will carry all the way to the stars and to God, but there is never an answer.
Then you go home, and you sit nicely at the table, and try not to spill or drop anything and not to move too much and not to make too much noise, because you have to eat properly, after all they’ve done for you.
Sometimes the child looks through people’s windows, coming back from school. When it’s dark outside and there are lights inside, you can see right inside the houses. You can see houses with mummies who are not sad all the time. You can see grandmothers who smile and play. You can see children who don’t wear armour all the time. You can see daddies coming home. She peers inside the little houses, inside the glowing windows. She imagines a world without the sticky, slimy dark shame. If she could take the shame off, like a dark, dirty coat, then she could walk inside one of the glowing houses. But her daddy isn’t coming home, and the shame isn’t going away.
So the child plays in the patch of yellow sunshine under the window, and imagines worlds without mummies, and daddies, and grandmothers, and shames. She feels herself growing inside herself, inside her armour, a different person from the one outside. She feels herself growing and she makes sure it doesn’t show from the outside. If they can’t see her, they can’t put the shame on her. They give her the look, but it only goes to the girl outside. The girl inside is in the patch of sunshine, in the glowing windows, in the floating, shining dust, waiting, waiting.