I grew up in what I later had labelled for me as “une famille anglaise typique” which consisted of me, my brother and my parents. It was as typically happy as those typical families that can be found in typical children’s books and children’s imaginations. We were that ‘close-knit family unit’ type family and we fitted perfectly into that ‘ideal family home’ of our typical red-brick English terraced house. It was one hundred years old but felt older and we went to church on Sundays. We were boring, safe, long-skirted.
We loved each other with the sort of love attributed to our type of nuclear state and I’ve always found it both funny and convenient that nuclear is a word for both bombs and families. Like the people who thought things up had wanted to draw our attention to how we were a touch away from detonation and a mere countdown from demolition.
Mummy blew me full of buck-shots; her Love was fired in rounds. Each cartridge of anger settled deep but left only pleasant traces behind. They lodged beneath my skin, etched with Protection and Compassion and Parenting, and those words bled internally into my immune system so that I knew how to identify hatred and remove the threat of it from my body.
If you’d asked me of Love I would have said that Daddy rubbed it through my hair when he said “Goodnight” so that it crept through my dreams when I slept. I would have told you how I’d clung to the fence of the infants’ playground until my brother had come to tell me that it was OK to let go. I suppose I might have said that it was an underrated ingredient in Mummy’s baking that she kept in a cupboard all by itself.
I would have passed you as many clichés as you could bear to take and I would have delivered them all in the half-smiling manner of a typical intelligent six-year-old girl.
We don’t sell clichés anymore. The business of Happy Family Stereotypes fell flat and we bailed out of the sinking ship in divers’ gear that only made us sink faster. Mum forgot to restock her shelf of ingredients and the time for Typical skidded through our fingers like shopping lists and childhood.
It’s not that we no longer lace our shoes with the same strings; only that the strings have been forced to fray and have shortened themselves with knots. It’s not that we don’t continue to Love each other but that we ceased to remember to love ourselves and, when we did that, there was somehow less Love to go round. What should have been an excess curdled and I watched it rise like water vapour from hedges after a frost.
On all of our To Do lists we manage to exclude the most important detail: Love Yourself. If we were to remember the task’s existence then we’d procrastinate a bit until something easier came around. We overlook ourselves and yet people still say that we humans are selfish creatures.
Too selfish to Love ourselves?
It’s not simply that self-deprecation is in fashion (although it is) or merely because we want to draw pity from those who spectate our lives (although we do) because it is with utmost sincerity that my friend and I agree that “if I was my friend, I’d loath me.”
We sit in town on benches by the fountain that sometimes forgets to spout water and rinse out the colours of our lives in the summer rain.
“Sometimes I’m scared that my friends don’t like me, because I can only ever see myself as annoying.”
“That isn’t a 'Sometimes' thing, Evelyn.”
It’s such a difficult thing to hold onto; like an idea or an aftertaste.
She laughs like I was cracking jokes on the paving slabs and says;
“Do you think we’ll ever grow up?”
And I ponder it because I know we’ll grow old but that’s not really the same thing at all. I wonder if I’ll ever grow out of my petulance and fantasies and idiocies and excuses.
“Not really. I don’t want to, to be honest.” To be honest; I say it like I'm the sort of person who wears truths around their neck and invites others to borrow them.
“Me neither. Everyone wants to fast-forward to Prom and then hold time there like, like, I dunno - like they would hold someone’s hand.”
“I don’t.” How relieving it is to confess that I have no interest in the event that 'you just have' to Love.
“It’s just an awkward excuse for dressing up and then standing around, pretending to look pretty.”
“You going with anyone?”
“Of course I’m not,” I laugh and hope that she isn’t either so that we can carry on being two lonely, ignorant, inexperienced best friends who’ve never tasted kisses and who have no concept of the term voluptuous. Boys don't fancy girls with flat-chests and freckles.
“You should go with Aidan.”
“Why, because we’re both as short as each other?”
I laugh at her suggestion even though I know how stepped-on I’ll feel when he arrives at Prom with a tie in a shade that fits my dress and an arm around another girl.
When I was nine, I followed an instruction manual for making a Secrets Box and the first secret I squirreled away was his name. I wrote it on a piece of paper and punched love hearts into it with red pen.
These days we’ve taken to exchanging banter in Tutor or Maths and I always make sure that I never make anything that’s too much like eye contact in case of humiliation. I busy myself with the fear that, if he looked at me too closely, he’d realise that I was staring back at him with my nine-year-old self. He’d recognise in my face that I still have the secrets box, empty of all but his name, and although I don’t quite believe that I’m in love with him I know that I smile inside when we have good conversations. I know that if he asks me to Prom, I’ll say yes and not just because he is the only boy with whom I am on eye-level.
“It’d be cute,” she says and I lean away, holding up my hands as a protest and a shield.
And here I go, hating myself again because I have absolutely no intention of ever telling her that I keep my heart like a secrets box. I confide enough in her to say that I don’t care for myself but starve myself of honesty when it comes to caring for someone else. For which, in turn, I procrastinate on the task of self-centeredness a little longer.
I don’t know much about Love. I know that there are four types – Philia, Storge, Eros, Agape – but who could say where exactly they filter into my life? I know that I ‘love’ beaches, I ‘love’ Rolos, I ‘love’ pencil sharpenings and the smell of good books but the truth is that, when it comes to Love, I'm a sherbet love heart that's been left to dissolve in a glass-jar ocean. I'm a Cadbury's Dream that chose to melt itself out. I’m a strawberry lace that someone likes to chew the end of.
not a poem really