The light entered through a small window that looked out upon a car park littered with beer cans and dandelions that grew to be almost a foot tall. With the light came the possibility of hope. But as the hours trickled by, the light would fade, so too would the opportunity to harness this potential optimism.
As a child, I would lay on my back and observe the world through this very window. I would try to comprehend the largeness of the world based upon the way the clouds drifted in and out of view. I was determined to pinpoint my significance upon it. I imagined drifting outside of my corporeal body and witnessing how small I was in comparison to the cities and the continents that adorned our Earth. I wanted to understand the microcosm of thoughts that fired through my brain as I lay there motionless on the threadbare carpet. From a young age, intuition wisely informed me that each brainwave was as insignificant as the last and yet they somehow held a physical reaction in my body. They caused my chest to close in on itself. They took my breath away. They became obstacles that grew larger and more daunting as I got older.
It was a familiar story – I was just another small boy whose father had abandoned him and struggled to make any friends. I relished the afternoons spent staring out of the window wondering what it would feel like to run my fingers through those almost palpable clouds.
Thirty years on, I look back and wish I could comfort him. I wish I could tell him that he was strong and that he just needs to dig a little deeper to find the courage to believe in himself. I would tell him not to listen to what other people said, that their words were like vapor, much like the clouds – they would eventually blow away. But I know that he would collect those words like invaluable trinkets and spend endless hours awake at night longing to tame the tidal wave of internal conflict. I know that he sought a connection, just one other person to understand him.
I got accustomed to loneliness fairly early on, it wasn’t something I welcomed, not at first anyway. The process was the action of sipping on a slow-acting poison. I’d listen to the other kids playing and screaming and having fun and I envied the fact that I wasn’t doing the same. I didn’t like football or sports so I was never invited to play. I was sensitive and shy and these weren’t the qualities that the other kids wanted to associate with. I would filter my life through the lens of fantasy and imagination. I wanted to find the rabbit hole and I didn’t want to return. I wanted Wonderland to become my new home and I’d do everything in my power to ensure the rabbit hole was firmly packed with cement so that there was no way I would find my way back. Looking back, I hadn’t been too attuned to my reluctance to face reality.
Reality came in the form of a rundown council estate and a single parent with manic depression. Reality was a latent issue with sexuality and an unfathomable fear of abandonment. After my father left, I would become fixated with the idea of my mother dying. I would spend many nights lay in bed wondering when she would die and who would look after me. I needed to prepare for the day that she would meet her demise and I had to know what it would feel like so that it wouldn’t take me by surprise. As a child, death felt very much like sitting in an empty auditorium and watching the stage curtain lower at the end of the act. Except, unlike a standard show, there would be no applause. Instead a dense hush emanated from the unoccupied seats. Death was a deeply mysterious shroud that no-one really talked about and it was magnetic. There was so much I wanted to know about this phenomenon but the crux of it was the knowledge that if one parent were to disappear, inevitably the other one would too.
Being brought up with a Church of England education, I was often presented with the simplistic concept of heaven and hell. I was told that if you were good, you would ascend to the clouds and be welcomed in to a place of eternal happiness. You simply drifted past the pearlescent gates and into the arms of your loved ones. Simple, idealistic – a basic human desire. If you sin, however, your fate would rest in the fiery pits of hell, forever to be tortured and humiliated for all the wrongs you did. These ideologies were burned into my subconscious, and added further weight to issues such as feeling an attraction to other boys or being deceitful about it. Two contradicting paradigms, yet both would send me to hell either way.
Obsessing about my mother dying stayed with me for a very long time. It instilled a need to be self-reliant and to know how to look after my younger sister. I had to be able to face the world without any form of parental guidance and I had to prepare myself quickly.
I carried this morbid compulsion with me for many years, and as a teenager, it acted to add further distance between her and myself. I was bolstering my preparation. I wonder now, had that young boy found a different path, had he felt the support from peers and parents, would their lives turned out as differently as his may have.
D Forest 2020