My first grade teacher was pregnant all the time, at least that’s how I remember it. I think I might have tried to make a connection somehow. It failed as she went away on leave. We had a substitute teacher when the first Mother’s day came. Cardboard paper cuttings, making silly looking cards for Mother. I could hardly remember her face, all the pictures we had, photo albums, wedding pictures, it was all gone.
I sat there doing nothing.
The teacher would say; “I can help you, what colour would you like it to be?”
“I don’t have a mother”, I’d say. Being rather cheeky about it, knowing that I couldn’t let anyone inside my lack of feelings.
She asked: “Why, everybody’s got a mother?”
“She died”, I said.
The first year I ended up doing something silly for my grandmother, his mother. The second year I made a drawing of “there must be something you would like to draw”. The third year I didn’t show up for school before Mother’s day.
All other occasions were difficult too, like making presents for birthdays and Christmases, I hated making things for him.
Other children would ask me why I didn’t have a mother. I said she died. It must have been scary for them. I learnt how not to feel anything. Once I almost started to cry, as one of my friends cried, I am not sure why. I hope I was sad, I hope I felt something, but I am not sure. And I learnt to see those situations coming, new teachers, parents day at school, Christmas plays, concerts… those were days of special alert. No-feeling-days.
I had few friends, but they were quite close, three, I think, but rarely more than one at the time. They knew what to avoid. The only way I could be together with other girls was to be a bit tougher, a bit rougher around the edges; always being the one who stuck my head out. I had a quick answer to anything, and nobody would know that this was the wrong way of coping. Least of all me.
I loved to swim. Once I swam from our beach over to the other side. I guess it’s almost three kilometres each way. When I got close to shore on the other side, I waited for a huge ship to pass. Then I swam back. I was 11 I think. Big enough to not tell any friends that I was going to run away, they would tell… big enough to stop hiding in the garden, where he would find me… big enough to get out of the house from my tiny veranda on the second floor. I climbed down a pillar, and made sure that there was something to thread on in the shingle I had to pass to get to the lawn. Without making noises. I use to remember to always have some sneakers in my room, and threw them out on the lawn. Big enough to get out of the way when things got dangerous, without making a sound.
In the summer I had friends staying over. We put up a tent in the garden, and read comics till late with flashlights. We made breakfast and ate outside. We went swimming together in the sea. It was fun. Safe.
I sometimes slept in my brothers’ room at weekends, but he never liked it. We didn’t have much in common. Or maybe, we could never speak of what we might have had in common. Still can’t.
I never had my own room till after my mother died. He rebuilt some of the second floor after that. I got a small room, with a veranda, and a way of getting out. As I’ve written earlier, the house was old and worn, and there was not a floorboard that didn’t have its own sound. Sometimes I knew he was coming and I was too late. I couldn’t get out. I HATED the colour of that room. It was like mint green-ish… like hospitals…
Other nights I went out anyway. Just in case. I went down to the sea, sat there looking and listening to the waves, thinking.
Sometimes I cried, I think mostly because I was so tired. And I thought of swimming. Then I would think that it was so cold, and that I WOULD make both over to the other side and back, anyway.