When I was at the Boarding Concern conference I went to a workshop for the wives and partners of boarding school survivors. It was pretty gruelling stuff. Lots of talk of ‘staying with the feeling’. Lots of talk of people who needed to ‘come home’. Women who had waited thirty-nine years for their husbands to show them a bit of emotion or affection. My marriage, by comparison, was very young, and really not that bad. Most of the time.
Yesterday my little boy was ill. at tea time I performed the fish and chip test, and he failed it so I called the doctors. I described how he was and the doctor asked me to bring him to the surgery in ten minutes before closing. At which point the small child had a sudden burst of form, refused to put his coat on, and hid behind the sofa. And my husband and I turned into giant exaggerated caricatures of our various psychological problems. I have massive anxiety problems to do with all things medical, and something which approaches a phobia of being late. So the illness, short deadline, child-behind-sofa interface was a very uncomfortable one for me and a certain amount of hysteria ensued. My husband, it might be suggested, has been conditioned to repress his emotions. He has also been taught since the age of eight, that any acknowledgement of a frightening or upsetting situation is at best undesirable or at worst, dangerous. Confronted with the extreme emotions of others he can be a rabbit in the headlights, or just plain stubborn, or something else i do not understand, but whatever it is it is aways interpreted by me in the heat of the moment as not giving a shit. My own anxiety then increases exponentially, as if there is a certain amount of stressing which needs to be done in any given situation, so if he sits slowly and calmly munching the rest of his fish supper, then I need to be almost nauseous with panic. Moreover, while I may understand rationally and logically the reasons for the way he is I still, when i am sad or frightened, feel it as an abandonment, that he just doesn’t care about me, doesn’t love me. And many unhealthy parts of me what him to fix it, to be my knight in shining armour, inside I am screaming ‘just man up will you, just strap on a pair and put that bloody child’s coat on’.
This was one of the challenges of the ‘wives and partners workshop’, to think about why we had chosen these men, that we had been so desperate to fix some broken man, and then over time assumed the role of the lazy, stupid, useless child who needed to be fixed. I can think of many reasons why I might have done it, but yesterday really hammered home to me just how much I have done it. especially as I walked out the door with my coatless child wrapped up in a blanket and found myself shouting I’m sorry, I’m a terrible person, I’ve messed everything up. And meaning every word.
But I ‘m not sure that I want someone to rescue me,on the whole, I just want to stop being asked to do impossible things. “Give this child this medicine three times a day and this inhaler every four hours”. But he spits it out, or squirts it all over the house and he has the strength of ten tigers and I do not have the correct number of limbs to hold him down, hold an inhaler to his face, and release the spray. I cannot phone the doctor or the health visitor to ask for advice because they will say “don’t you have any family or friends or neighbours who can help? ” and I will have to say no and that will make me want to top myself. Because my family live far away, my friends are nice but funnily enough not available to pop by every four hours and help me assault a toddler, and who has neighbours that help them any more what sodding planet are you on? And maybe I should just accept that this is impossible and stay in my dressing gown and say fine, don’t have your medicine and feel rubbish, you will either get better without it or get worse and i will be able to overpower you and make you take it. But its easier to need a hero, because then our hero can let us down. No doctor, my family live far away, my friends are busy, my neighbours are mentalists and my husband is an arsehole. Safe. Because if there is one thing more frightening than being unloved its being loved.
The part of the workshop that really made me cry was at the end when the wonderful woman leading the group described some wonderful day in the future, when one day you just look into your partner’s face and see the person you love, and it made me think of that beautiful poem by Yeats or whoever it is that always makes me cry, when he talks about someone who ‘loved the pilgrim soul in you’. Said wonderful woman saw me crying and asked ‘what just happened Sally’, and I burbled something about how that sounded nice, how it was all so tiring and how i had had so many babies and everything, and how really I knew that it was me who pushed my husband away. And everyone agreed that yes it was very tiring and goodness yes that is quite a lot of babies and the woman asked And who are you? Who is Sally? A mother. A wife. Someone with something to say. A woman who wants to come home.