Natalie is finding her voice, self-expression in writing thanks to Deborah Shepard’s Master Class in Memoir held at the Michael King Writers’ Centre, a serene setting on the hillside of Takarunga Mt Victoria in Devonport.
Again I’m mediating my parent’s mudslinging fights, in hindsight. I should have left them to kill each other. No boundaries, no space to breathe, walking on egg shells. Distraught I used to vomit bile. I never spew now, it’s too loathsome.
My father doesn’t acknowledge me as he slinks out the door, “Look after your mother.” I recall those instructions, the numb blankness. I was seven years old.
I’m on the train on my way to a memoir class. The theme tonight is ‘A childhood memory in close up.’ My carriage passes the old stone-walled Mt Eden Prison. I look at the tiny disused side entrance and am transported back in time, to age three. A sentry guarding that doorway ushered my mother and me through into a large room, with a polished wooden floor, trestle table on one side with long bench seats and a big stage at the end with the longest red curtains I’ve ever seen.
My mother surreptitiously passes a small packet, to a man sitting opposite. I have no memory of my mother’s warning; not to tell my grandmother where I’ve been. Apparently I told her I visited a big Church. My mother was in hot water. The man sitting opposite is a stranger to me and he is also my father, in prison for violent assault.
When I was six my mother asked me, “Shall I divorce your father?” And I said, “Tell him to go away”. She didn’t. For many years my mother lived in denial. She said, of all the women my father had affairs with, he said, she was the best. His china plate. What she said was always right and I dare not question her. I was forced, to live a life full of deception. A passive aggressive mother, a sadistic alcoholic father; both parents neglectful of their children’s normal needs and wants. My childhood reminds me of Dicken’s Oliver Twist. “Please Sir Can I have some more? Asks Oliver. ‘What MORE,” he bellows. “You ask for MORE.”
By the time my father finally left when I was eleven, it was too late, the damage was done.
Looking back, I realise amnesia, protected me in a hostile environment. But there were also fragments of vivid memories, not lost.
I couldn’t always suppress the fleeting tremors that surfaced from subterranean depths. Later in life illness, shaky feelings, became my resources; used like the miniature pieces of a jigsaw puzzle, fixed together to understand and create a coherent narrative of childhood pain. Confronting my demons. Perplexities thank you. I am now working through my writing for future revelation of who I really am, to embolden myself.
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