Tag Archives: memoir

Loveable Drunk

I never expect you, yet
I am ever sure that soon
you will reach my door,
your smile, your eyes, your body talking,
communicating all that I have longed for and all
that I refuse to dwell upon.
It rushes in as I lay aside the simple “sorry” on your lips,
mouthed beneath the clamour
of celebrating heart, racing pulse.

You are here.
I don’t mind that you dined
on Dutch courage before you arrived.
We’re both of us breaking the rules,
you renaging on a vow made for life,
me evading thoughts of your wife.

You need another drink.
Still I don’t mind.
You are with me again,
shoulders shrugging your duties away,
Germanic eyes pale as ice, yet
like a welcoming sky on the day that Spring arrives,
your lopsided smile issuing a silent enquiry.

How could you doubt my constancy?

Reading my body’s response,
you display ivories I’ve been longing to see.

“I’ll get my coat,” I say.
Dipping into the living room,
I relate a hasty Dear John to a misbegotten distraction:
“He’s come for me.
You can finish your coffee and take
the back way out once I’ve gone.
It’s been fun. Sorry it’s so sudden, but
we’re done.”
I have no time for his tears. At this moment
he repels me.
It’s not my fault, I tell myself –
I always told them no-one
could ever
compete
with you.

It’s true I am cruel,
but I think only of you and now
you are here.

You you you.

Maybe when we say
our last goodbye
I’ll train to be kind to those
who don’t compare to you.

Meanwhile…

we drive to a village pub,
stepping into a hubbub
instantly hushed by the arrival
of two outsiders.
As conversation resumes
we choose a quiet corner of the murky room.
You get the drinks while I
shake off memories of the void;
pointless days stretching to months,
aping passion,
faking pleasure with insipid imitations of you,
playing the field without reason
in a game where I cheat, don’t care if I kill,
where nobody wins and no healing takes place,
failing to fill a space while I wait for the one man
who leaves me intact.

As you bend to place the drinks on the table,
that rebellious forelock of blonde hair
flops across your face. As always,
you shake your head to move it,
and as always, your effort fails.
A kitten wakes inside me, chases a tickly ball of wool,
nudging the overfilled bucket of adoration in my chest,
spilling it everywhere.
I love, love, love you.
Wherever I go, love keeps me company,
pumping through these veins,
blowing in the wind, catching in trees,
filling me, stroking my flesh, its tendrils
caressing me, embracing everything I see,
yet still your presence
overwhelms me.

By the time we leave you’ll be three sheets.
You’ll drive slowly, perhaps your tyres will clip the bank,
but I trust you to keep me alive, like in the days
before I knew of your duality;
All those times you practiced knife throwing skills
while I lay, limbs akimbo
trusting that the knife would miss my armpits and thighs,
I neither knew nor cared whether
it was luck or skill
that guided the knife.

You take my hand.
I burrow into your shoulder.
Sounds issue from our lips;
inconsequential things that describe
dinners, histories, bricks,
while our spirits hold their own conversation..

You, my beloved one, my breath, my home.
You love us both, and that’s fine by me.
I ask only for your happiness.
Any joy that might come my way is a bonus.
Were I in your shoes, I would find it hard to choose
between homemaker and adventuress.

The clock ticks, timing each moment.
Later I will memorise this;
clutch it close for when I am alone.

It’s time to go home.
We sit in your car, letting it idle while
we pretend it is easy to say goodnight.
After a while you turn the key,
leaving silence. At this stage,
secrets trail silver streaks in the wake
of each word we speak,
me and my supreme, loveable drunk,
so we share light kisses, lips barely brushing,
sticking to the limits we set,
sitting on separate sides of the clutch.

Written for Paul Sunstone over at the café philos, in response to his brand-spanking-new

->->->-> poetry prompt <-<-<-<-

This was the day that I was finally going to catch up with the blogs, see how my friends are doing. But I got an email from Paul. I don’t know how to say no to him, so my time has been spent writing, and you all know how I hate to write. The poem doesn’t fulfil all the requirements, but the moving finger writes, and having writ, it makes an obscene gesture and moves on.

©Jane Paterson Basil

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For Eric

First morning of Autumn term.
I’m in the crush-hall, slouching with Bett and Marion,
stuttering into “business as usual” mentality,
shrinking from school-house stink,
bitterly regretting the absence of a time-machine
to take me to last week and drop me in a tree,

when

a cacophany of cat calls;
a confusion of piercing wolf-whistles
rudely explode from 3C’s nuisance crew –
led by Bill, with noisy aid from sidekick Dick and the usual losers.

A wit who is in on the obscure joke
yells “Blossom!”

Clutches of kids spin
away from crude authors to their protagonist;
a casually-dressed grotesque strolling toward us
by way of the students entrance.
Nobody but schoolkids use that door; the teachers
flatten their own, hallowed lane.

 The man  is setting a precedent
which he alone will follow for as long as he can tolerate
hypocrites and foolish heads of schools.

Later, he’ll be known by all as Eric,
sports coach by day,
youth leader in evenings and weekends,
heroic defender of child-friendly themes even while he sleeps.
A man who accepts our weaknesses
as natural or pained stages toward our individual choices  
of growth or decay.
He’ll never trill the truths we know,
instead planting daisies on the paths we scrape,
to illuminate the better way,

In his presence, my self-disgust will shrink,
and forever, memories of his generosity will boost me.
In latter years we will meet by happy accident and chat in the street.
I’ll reminisce, while he will weave his wise philosophy
like an invisible thread, darning the holes in my head.
He’ll speak of his yesterday’s hockey game,
of next week’s holiday in Thailand,
where he’ll visit his adopted son.
He’ll promise me saffron when he returns.
I’ll want to detain him, that I may bask
longer in his company.

In morbid moments I will think of his age, and imagine
that the sky will collapse, the planets collide
the moment he dies.

The Saffron will never arrive; instead a final announcement;
“The well known hockey coach, Eric Gale, after a brief illness…”
for an instant, I will hallucinate;
see the planets crashing to earth, the sun dying,
then his voice will come to me.
saying that life is about giving; in death,
he will never take away.
Grief and abiding gratitude will engulf me.

but today,
I only hear a nickname, “Blossom”,
whose background will remain a mystery.

As he passes through the hall, the bravest rebels repeat:
“Whoa, blossom; drop ’em, blossom,”
yet he smiles benignly, nodding and hello-ing as if
his tormentors are friends.

My friends and I shake our heads,
disgusted by the hecklers,
fascinated even as we are repulsed
by this track-suited, rucksack hugging man whose face
resembles a mismatched collection of unkind jokes
crafted by a demented plastic surgeon.

We do not yet recognise his glory.

Eric passes by,
his smile open, my eyes averted.
I glance at Bill’s elated crew
for a trace of shame,
but that will only come later.

.

Written in haste for yesterday and today’s Word of the Day Challenges: Blossom and Abiding

©Jane Paterson Basil

You Who Read Me

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In fledgling days
when I obeyed the angle of light,

my sky side
woke at night,
describing lives I had never known,
written on stolen pages torn from school notebooks,
secrets and stories to be stored
deep in the left hand drawer.

My earth side
spun in the sunshine,
spilling glee over barn yards and fields,
dousing in streams, trailing wet jeans up beckoning trees,
and I believed that never-never land
would never ever cease, and I
would never leave,

until
it began
to recede.

And oh, how I led them,
but how flippant to treat them like geldings;
slyly watching them watch me walk a tightrope
while they safely crossed the bridge that spanned two planets,
hanging from brittle branches while they squinted against the light,
plotting to test my agility,
looking for rips in my frills while I climbed high,
slinking through twisting limbs,higher still,
rising into the pit where nothing
is green.

Slow-dancing in quicksand
until I couldn’t feel my feet.

Still, there was the writing;
words that stretched in flair and length,
eager guests in a world of turned-away faces,
approaching from nowhere, blowing kisses on my brain,
reeking of grace and sensitivity,
wafting a fragrance of sociable escapee
from false imprisonment in coventry.

In between wording times
I covered my coffin with noisy achievements.
Builders’ merchants gulped, scowling at the cheek
of this mis-gendered heretic constructing fireplaces,
mistrusting any feminine figure who fiddled
with timber and drills.

Fighting exhaustion,
I carried on weaving rainbows from straw,
filling my space with a haberdashery of tools and scrapings,
an art school of paint,
a caterer’s larder.

Neighbours sprayed my surface with praise,
hailing my zest, my skills, asking how I found the time.
I smiled enigmatically, failing to say that it kept me
from what dwelt in my head,

knowing
that nobody listened,
nobody heard.

In search of fresh cities of silence
I rented a retail space in the main street, where strangers
reached to be friends. I hid my pretence,
letting them sketch my silhouette,
splotching in the colours they could see
and tinting my flesh with wild shades of misconstrued fame.

Still, there was the writing;
words that strolled into phrases, willing to stand in line,
matching their pace, that they might aptly describe
the flight of a dust mote,
the puffball of pride.

Yet the words were unread.

I found flowers,
pressed them neatly into my smouldering heap.
Healing herbs dug roots through every layer,
my hungry space feeding their blooms.

And still, there was the writing.
Words danced quicksteps in my chest,
spinning fiction, facing facts,
linking arms to make a metaphor that said:
The best way to break free from ice
is to melt it with sweat.

Even the warmth of soil could not sway
my mental creativity.

I was told I would crash.
Years on, when collapse came,
they suggested it was age;
a natural process of winding down.

I recognised it more as a grinding down,
a sign that too much breakage had occurred,
a need to curl around the cuts.

As I kicked off the covers to roll myself tight,
my sighs rose to cries, then dwindled to whimpers, receding
until you could think it was the whisper of an overused wind
fading into the distance until even the echo
grew indistinct, leaving me
with little to fear, and nothing
to hide.

Anxiety, like concrete,
is a heavy weight to lift, but changes of life
can chip swathes of it away.

Just as I have written for survival,
I write every wrinkle of shame into history.

So,
the writing remains,
my first passion, a myriad of faithful words that float with love unending,
requesting no return, begging only
to be poetry.

It is these that saved me,
finding me, offering unfailing constancy,
giving breath where air was thin,
and finally delivering me
to you,

you who read me.

.

Written  for the Word Of The Day Challenge: Sensitivity

©Jane Paterson Basil

Cold Where Women Are Wet

Written for the Sandbox Writing Challenge 2018 – Exercise 25

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“Do you see something of yourself in this little child?
If so, what?”


You ask what it was like.
Your brows furrow as I flip through multiple pages of rape,
hardly pausing to highlight imaginative beatings.

Memories of terror, visions of death.
Cringing hatred blurring the vision.
Images of crazy pistons, runaway trains.
Bruises burns broken bones invasion pain
bruises burns broken bones invasion pain
bruises burns broken bones invasion pain.

You ask:
given my past,
why the promiscuity?
Once, I hunted for excuses,
citing the tail end of the hippie era.
“Everybody was doing it.”
Still the question:
“But why you?”

I could tell you what the records show.

Looking back,
I think perhaps I was trying to re-enact
the horror, that it might shrink, morph into
a joke or a commonplace memory,
and I thought it could make me
normal, mistakenly believing that frequent practice
between the sheets in all weathers,

on the beach on balmy nights, under trees on starlit evenings,
on the back seats of a cars, in wheat fields and deep grass, in gardens,
behind cinemas, in derelict buildings, under bridges, next to rivers,
in my best friend’s den, in strangers’ garages, in  my grandmas shed
and an unwilling effort in a smelly public inconvenience,

would give me a taste for it.

I’ll admit the thrill of each easy catch.
Ego-tripping through pubs and parks, a skilled actor
playing the part of a sylph, twisting hearts, tweaking dicks.
Hiding my dearth beneath a pretty face,
swaying wet-dream curves, displaying fake sparkle which
splintered
as alien lips kissed the throat that used to choke,
and hands, so like those that wrapped around my neck,
stretched toward my shuddering breast.

Gritted teeth,
smothered screams,
cold in the places where women are wet,
shameful failure at pleasure.
Forever unsure
of my cause.

You wonder
how I feel about the past.

I’ll shrug and tell you
the child who dragged her baggage
through hiccupping failure, whose sleepwalking feet
crushed wilting daisies, whose foolish errors
infected the next generation,
finally grew balls.

Fresh air embraces me,
leads me into a waltz. Dancing with my skin and bones
I celebrate the gift of post-menopause.

You ask me how I am now,
your brows so thoroughly furrowed
they might be about to swallow your eyes,

but how kind of you to enquire.
I am like most of us; I have walked and run,
slipped on banana skins, been kicked
by beasts and healed by love.

I retired from lugging dust.

I am well.

.

©Jane Paterson Basil

Being There

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It is a collage this week. Writers will connect to it easily.

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So, let the fingers align to imagination, and bang on the keyboard. The format can be a a story/poem/rant/anecdotes/journalistic coverage of events/ reflections as usual.
Pour out, and let it flow ….


Flipping in long grass,
skipping, leap-frogging, cartwheeling over stiles,
feet so fleet it feels like flying,
flopping to sit cross-legged on fragrant nature’s floor.
Grass stained shorts. Grubby fingernails
cut careful slits through slim daisy stems.
Threading, making chains to dangle from supple neck.
Carefree sunshine and family love.

Once, this was me.

Breasts swelling, bursting
from a shock-horror bra, hips curving,
and worse, a monthly sticky thing that hurts,
which Grandma calls the curse.
Father stealing small licks to assuage the tip
of his hunger.
Mother loving, supporting
this poor little changeling.

Feeling dirty. filthy images of hot flesh slapping,
moist organs fitting,
slipping wetly together. Precocious hormones
that battle against desire,
hermaphrodite side crying “Let me
be a child”,
yet all the while learning the wanton game.

A teen with a siren’s face,
miming like a pro. Anything goes,
as long as it excludes loosening her clothes.
No sense of danger, blindly embracing
masked neighbour that ambles her way.

Rape and beatings, beatings and rape.
burst head, bleeding flesh, blurred vision,
cigarette burns, fractured limbs, bruises
that cannot be hidden. Torn wings
of a butterfly, entrenched in threats
that he may fulfil.
“I will kill”, he says.
“I will
kill
your family,
I will kill them if you hide from me.”

Weeping admission. Gentle assistance.
A groggy leap from the sizzling grill, only to slip
into spinning with trolls, a racy dance of ring-a-ring-o’-roses,
taking risks to prove she’s ahead of the game,
trying to hide her confusion and pain,
all of it fake, played out in vain.

Atishoo, atishoo,
she’s falling again.

Learning to stand,
wooing and wedding a kindly man,
only to fling him away.
To add to mistakes and shame,
the new man she catches, rapes her brain.
Years of fighting to gain control,
while the monster hints that she’s going insane
tripping and falling and failing again. Flailing.

An ill-planned, yet helpful escape.

Too late, she examines the damage.
Trailing her feet along a rough cloister, wrought
from life’s ill-conceived choices.
To the right, bright window panes reveal smiling faces.
Hands wave. She stretches her arms,
but can’t reach.
To her left, dust, rubble, crumbling walls.
Jagged scraps from her womb bear witness to her weakness, grimacing
as they juggle with jesters and thieves,
screeching to be healed.

A mouth opens.
A silent scream struggles out, to ricochet
off the ceiling. She swallows it in one.
It crushes her lungs.

“Please let me breathe.”

Rising up. Her children will not
be defeated by their demons.
Whatever it takes.

Whatever it takes…

This, too, was me.

A lone woman,
wizened by a boxed-up heap of experience,
sits in a high backed chair,
watching trees. The leaves expand into a screen
which conceals iniquity.
From her position, she can see
a clean horizon, distant meadows, whirling angels
that create sustainable energy, life-giving earth,
acres of sky.
Sometimes it rains,
but the sun soon breaks through.
When tears threaten, she strokes the jagged splits
that ripped deep through her skin, and feels
smooth silver strings weld and heal.
She is satisfied.
At night, she catches her reflection in the glass.
The allure that shaped her darker days
has faded with age.
Now, she is beautiful.

This woman is me.

.

Any life which stretches to reasonable longevity is like a massive chunk of quartz, cut from rock. Depending on the angle and brightness of the light, and on where you are standing, different facets can are visible. Also, the viewer approaches the quartz with his own pre-conceptions, interests and focus to detail. Furthermore, our aspects can change over time – even in the blink of an eye. This is one story of my life,  but – apart from the closing stanza – I displayed it from the dark side of the moon. I have many happy memories.

… an afterthought; reading through this longwinded poem, I learnt a horrifying new fact about my past – a detail that was staring me in the face, and yet I didn’t see it. While it won’t harm my emotions too much, I don’t think I’m ready to talk about it, but I mention it because, even viewed through the muddiest of lights, its still possible to spot new facets

Thanks go to Reena, for the inspiration.
©Jane Paterson

Without Prejudice. Finale

I throw out these scraps as if it’s all there is to tell, but these are mere highlights in my tale of our police. I could write a book, and on every page I’d describe some small or major kindness; the type of generosity of spirit that is too rarely commented upon; far too meanly treated, especially when meted out by the police. 

However, I expect this chapter to be the last, and it tells a story which ended on Thursda, with me weeping from gratitude, even though I had faith that it would happen. It concerns a WPS; S, who had a special interest in my daughter’s plight. She specialises in abuse cases, and she was involved with Laura for a while. During this time we met a few times, and had several phone conversations.. During this period, Laura was particularly unwell. She knew my deepest fear, and she shared it. Rather than pretending that she reckoned everything would be fine, she owned up to the truth; that my daughter was unlikely to survive much longer, and that no professional who was working with her, could understand how she’d stayed alive. She added that in the best case scenario, Laura would be involved in a serious accident which neither killed nor permanently maimed her, but took her off the streets for a few months, where her only choice would be drug recovery. Looking back, I expect she knew, as I did, that Laura had a reputation for running across and back in the path of moving cars. Even with this information and more, hard as they tried – along with the local drugs services, they couldn’t get her sectioned, as they have no authority over the NHS. Three doctors carry out an interview on the patient, and they have to agree that she is putting her life, or the life of someone else, at risk. People in psychosis are often remarkably sly, and more aware than you may expect. They frequently slip through the net. Sometimes they die as a result.  

Coming back to the subject at hand, S’s remarks may sound harsh, but she only told me what I knew to be true, and followed it up with my own secret wish. She was deeply intuitive; she knew that I had no desire to hide from the truth, and thanks to her being open, I felt less alone in the sustained terror of my daughter’s death. It’s true to say that the end of our talk I felt strangely relieved, to the extent that I began to hope that the grizzly miracle might happen, taking Laura’s recovery out of her hands and placing it firmly in the lap of the unwilling, underfunded, oversubscribed NHS., and giving her a chance of a future. If she ended up with a steel shaft in her leg, so be it. Better metal than graveyard mould. That’s how desperate I was to avoid what we all thought was a foregone conclusion until my WP friends gave me hope. 

Laura had not committed any crime; rather, she was chief witness (otherwise known as the victim) to a filthy batch of them. Perhaps due to limited court time (Rule Britannia, Britanna blah blah blah, Britain never, never, never shall be sane), only three were being brought against the abuser, but they were serious. Contact with S ceased to have any professional relevance when Laura proved herself to be too unwell to appear in court. The judge had no choice but to abort the trial in the interests of her mental health – not that it helped; at that point nothing helped. Laura continued to spin in a jerky trajectory that seemed to have only one possible destination. S continued to be privately concerned about Laura’s precarious lifestyle.

As many of you know, in Spring, Laura fulfilled my highest hopes by going into determined recovery, with the support of a kind friend of mine who has since become more to her, leaving all who truly know her dazed, while the addicts of this town continue to be cynical about the changes she’s made.

They haven’t seen her.

I got a thrill when I reflected upon how much better her life is now than mine has ever been – I still do – but one thing was bothering me. The police had not been told, and they deserved to know. On the day I called them to complain about the monstrous man who threatened me with death, the guy who took my call was so accommodating that I explained my quandary. Immediately – even eagerly – he asked me for a name that he could send a message to, pointing out that the police rarely hear the happy endings, no matter how they care and wish to know. I gave the name of my favourite WPS, and although he was in a call centre forty-eight miles from here, in a straight line, he was as good as his word.

On Thursday afternoon, as I worked in the back room of the Oxfam shop, I got a call from a private number, and before I touched the phone, I knew who the caller would be.

She sounded the same as always; warm and friendly. I gave her all the details of Laura’s current life – within reason; I didn’t mention her new clothes or finicky things like that, but she got my drift, and I heard the relief and pleasure in her tone. She told me how many times she had thought about Laura, and dreaded the expected final report on her desk, and it suddenly occurred to me that if the worst had happened, she would have been almost certain to have requested or chosen to be the one to visit me, if she’d been at work.

I could so easily have been soaking her clothes with my tears.

I held myself in check while she asked me to send Laura her warmest regards, and wish her the very best for her future. I kept it together while she said she hoped she would see my daughter in Barnstaple some day, and have the opportunity to speak to her now that her tragic mask of killing addiction has been flung onto the motorway that leads to her home in the city, and crushed by a million cars; now that he had finally silenced the wild cacophony inside her head, and returned to health – except that she didn’t word it quite so colourfully.

I said goodbye to S, who had once considered applying for a transfer to the City, where the would be more promise of promotion, but changed her mind when she realised that city police have less sense of community; she’d have less opportunity to apply the personal touch, and to work in a close-knit way with her colleagues who were less friendly than those in this country town. That’s why she stayed.

I put down the phone, and cried tears of joy. I knew how much her wishes would mean to Laura, and they meant a great deal to me.

The complex mix of emotions that rose as I was writing this post have exhausted me like no other I can remember.

I’m so tired that I can hardly stand. Maybe I’ll sleep on my sofa tonight.

©Jane Paterson Basil

The Author of my Being. Part 4

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…The continuing story of the trauma that threaded its way into my life when I reached puberty. Click on the links to read Part 1, Part two and Part 3.

WARNING! ADULT CONTENT

I recently turned eleven. Thanks to my mother’s gentle tact, I’ve bathed by myself since the start of pubescence. Now both my sister and I have more space to splash.

I lock the door against invaders,
but the peace of security evades me.
I imagine prying eyes, spying through the frosted window,
dribbling at my prematurely curved body.
I hide my breasts and genitals beneath clean flannels
that my she-devil nipples and the wilful triangle of hair
are concealed from peeping-toms,
and also from me.

I could soak and scrub all day,
but it won’t change the way I’ve become.
It won’t make me clean.
I can never be Me again.
It’s a cruel error,
this forced, false femininity;
this stealing of self.
It’s the end of everything.
Please Lord, if indeed God you be,
let me be a boy.
Let me be me.

I want to wake up free from this monstrous body, throw off my vest and run in the fields
unencumbered by the trials of Eve, but I don’t know how to strike a deal. In my panic, it doesn’t occur to me that a boy must eventually morph into a man. Recent events have made me less sure than ever of whether I like men.

Smashing up against all of this angst and agony, is the worst secret of all, one that often creeps up on me when I see my father’s photographs, and whenever I am alone in the bath. It’s a  humiliation that I try to press down, but I can’t. It thrums in time to the pulsing of my blood, a tantalising tickle way below the belt, lurking low in the belly, beneath budding flesh.

A flimsy flannel may cover up the sight of that rebellious part of me, but it cannot desensitise the site.

The beat is taking me, strumming deep inside,
I try to block advice from some devilish guide
plagueing me with vile and wicked temptation
to stroke and to probe the inner inflammation.
Apalling visions are swishing in my head
of naked women kissing in a sweat soaked bed.
I abhor the excitement which billows within,
insisting that I execute a dark, exquisite sin.

The thrills explode, but as the water grows chill,
I’m chagrined and angered by my weak lack of will.
I wallow in disgrace and I’m sure of one fact
It can’t be normal to commit such an act.
I’ve a nasty suspicion that I’m to blame,
For my father’s iniquitous act of shame,
and not only that, but the juvenile attack
is starting to feel like an earned comeback.

More ignominy awaits. My mother, with her kind sensitivity, has left it as long as is practicable, but one evening she brings the subject up, in as casual a manner as she can muster:

“When we go to town tomorrow, I’ll buy you a couple of bras.”

Heat presses against me, insinuating itself beneath my skin. My heart is hammering. I taste metal, a flavour that’s becoming familiar to me. I knew there could be no remission, but this feels like proof; the final nail, hammering into the coffin of childhood..

“I don’t… I can’t… I… All right,” I reply.

Her eyes slide in my direction, assessing the situation, then look quickly away. She knows I’ll shut shut down or hide my agony behind a mask of anger if she shows too much kindness or empathy. A brief sentence is all I’ll allow. I deal with unpleasantness in my own way. I don’t like soppy stuff, it’s for weedy girls, who burst into tears and let mum cuddle them and make it all better. My problem can’t be resolved, and expecially not in that way. I mustn’t show weakness.

If I was a weedy girl, I would probably be pleased to have reached this landmark. I no longer know what I am, but I’m not like the sissies in the village nearby, with their busty Barbies, frilly skirts, and pink hairslides.

“You’ll be more comfortable in a bra,” she murmers.

It’s evening, so I can’t run off to my world at the bottom of the field below my house, but when I go to bed I can plan how my first conversation with Paul will go. I see him, sprinting through the field towards me, his hair bouncing. In a moment I’ll reveal myself…

The next day, mum and I go into a low-key shop, a shop that’s not brazen about its bra display. I can’t look at the bras. To me, choosing one would be like selecting which type of lethal poison to take when you have no wish to kill yourself. Mum rummages around, then picks one up and asks me if I like it. I’m several feet away, trying not to look like someone who’s being bought a bra, so I mutter that it’s fine. I’m too embarrassed to try it on, so she guesses the size, gets two, and says that if they don’t fit she’ll bring them back and get a different size.

At home, I obediently go to my bedroom and try on one of the bras. It’s a horrible white pointy thing – this is 1966, and horrible white pointy things are fashionable. It feels uncomfortable, but I was expecting that. I can’t bear to look at myself, so I don’t know whether or not it fits. I take it off. I only plan to wear it for school. I go downstairs, where mum is trying to look indifferent.
bra1
“Do they fit?” she asks.

“Yeah, thanks mum, they’re lovely” I say, attempting to sound keen.

As it turns out, they don’t fit. Anywhere. I endure months of increasing itching and chafing before mum risks suggesting that I may have grown out of my first bras. We go through a slightly different routine, with a marginally less painful result. My mother, without fail, does her best for her strange, repressed boy-daughter. She has many difficulties in her life, and, however it may seem, I do my best not to be one of them, perhaps with less success than I would hope. Wanting to please me, she asks me if I like the style of my current bras. I don’t want to her to feel she’s failed in any way, so I say yes, thereby precipitating the purchase of exactly the same ugly, uncomfortable style. The fit is little better. I come to the conclusion that the mistake of my birth is worse than I thought. Not only have I inadvertantly been made into a girl, but my shape has been inaccurately designed.

Still, I think, at least this time I didn’t have to go through the discomfiture of being present when my mum bought the bras.

My father has taken to covering up his disgrace with fake jollity, adopting a hail-fellow-well-met attitude whenever I’m present. This is an in-between time in our relationship; it could go either way. He could apologise, and make whatever dumb excuse he may please. All my life he’s been a hero to me, so I’d be eager to forgive him, but in addition to being sexually driven, he is proud, arrogant, and selfish, so there’s little hope for real repair, and anyway, maybe I’m in the wrong, too. I’m the one who’s turning into a filthy monster. What he did could be partly my fault.

©Jane Paterson Basil