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Even the enormity of the grief was preferable to the tormenting uncertainty. He had wormed and grubbed in and out of every aspect of their relationship and her person, in order to be able to wrench himself free. Free of her. As though she were the torturer, the gaoler. The screw. She abased herself in the sight of his confusion. He shunned every effort on her part. He needed more freedom, less freedom, children. He needed to be madly in love every single day, not this gentle, comfortable love that they had grown into during their seventeen years together. In his desperation he stripped her of every shred of innocence. He confiscated every happy memory. She became, by dint of his determination, guilty of his unhappiness. Basically what he really needed was to get away from her. But he couldn’t tell her that. Or he didn’t know it. Finally, in one tiny flare of self-preservation, she had told him to leave. She had then withdrawn into a world of sadness and self-doubt, of unanswered questions and feeling old. From hurting without showing, to hate when hurt is gone The questions without answers, the sunrise without dawn I’ll think of you with fondness, like a half-remembered rhyme And try hard to forget how I loved you at the time It used to be about other things. Weight, for example. Weight had always been a issue. A lifelong battle against the bulging inevitability of her genes. Fat, fatter than yesterday, fatter than that woman, going to fat. Or thin, thinner than last week, thinner than those women, getting thin. As a teenager, she’d lain on the floor to zip up her jeans, knowing that, once fastened, the unrelenting nature of the denim would flatten and smooth. Admittedly, getting back on her feet wasn’t easy, and until such time as the jeans were loosened, she would, of course remain standing, since sitting down in them had an alarming effect on her circulation, but it was worth it, wasn’t it? It used to be about clear skin. Although she had inherited the body shape of her mother’s side of the family (short and inclined to barrel) she had not been blessed with her mother’s flawless complexion. Her father’s slightly superior height had not been passed on, his acne had. The spots which had ruined many a teenage evening would disappear when she started taking the pill, she was assured. The same people promised improvement after her first baby was born. The baby arrived, the acne stayed on. To be fair, it wasn’t the terrible disfiguring acne that some people have to endure, and the scarring was slight, but she was not, and never would be, clear-skinned. It used to be about good white teeth, long dark eyelashes, thick shiny hair. There was even a time when it was not about appearance at all, but about self-assuredness, independence and or an interesting career, the ability to make intelligent conversation, even about having a seriously funny sense of humour. Now, she finds, it’s all about age. The one thing that cannot be learned, bought, worked on or cleverly accessorised is youth. How cruelly is woman punished for her carer/bearer role. Man’s fat-cells, genetically fewer in number, do not begin to cluster in unsightly lumps round his fortieth birthday. His upper arms do not sag and wave middleage. It is writ that the woman who no longer ovulates no longer needs a tight bum, pert breasts, a waist recognisable as such, and veins not varicose. The woman Tom had left her for was twenty years younger than she. This woman’s acne was youthful, her fat still gravity-defying. Knowing that this is temporary, so fleetingly temporary, is no consolation. All pleasure in achieving such age, the wisdom, worldly or otherwise, the serenity, all can be negated by a confrontation with this one fact: it’s all about age. Her feet, she found, remained remarkably unchanged. Maybe that chador thing isn’t such a bad idea, she thought. All sagging, wrinkling, ballooning things concealed, and then those youthful feet peeping out, in a pair of cute, strappy sandals. This thought signalled a return, albeit slow and not particularly steady, to a kind of normality. Gradually, a renewed sense of self began to become apparent. It had to be renewed, since she’d lost sight of the old one. No, that’s not right. The outside layers were still quite intact. That realisation was what set her off on the first part of The Search. What was it she was searching for? Good question. The search had the nature of beachcombing; seek, and ye shall find, the success is in the finding, doesn’t matter what. And finding herself cast adrift With mooring all but gone She played herself the joker Whose sense of one was one she found particularly suited To this unexpected dawn As a baby of eleven months, she had been tardily diagnosed as having two dislocated hips. A common problem, and easily rectified when caught early. There were two orthopedic consultants at the hospital. One
used surgery to solve this problem, forcing the joint to comply by means of metalwork. Her doctor believed in helping the hips to adjust naturally, in a long slow process. Her pliable baby-legs were gently teased into a contortionist’s worst nightmare, then firmly held there over a period of up to three months by an assortment of plaster casts, traction and wooden planks. Every three months, a new position was introduced, and pinioned and tucked. The whole process took slightly more than two years of hospitalisation. On two separate occasions in all that time she was released in the contraption of that moment for a two week family holiday. She has two photos; in one, she is sitting in a pram made for twins because of the splint she is wearing, which forces her legs into a convincing split; in the other, there is a wooden board doing the same job, and she is propped up on the ground by cushions. The only other photo of those years is of her in a nurse’s arms at the open window of the hospital. It was presumably taken at a moment of visiting parents’ departure. At the beginning of the search, she stared intensely at this photo, trying to find her inner child in the eyes of herself as an infant (this because she’d read in one of the many popular books on self-help psychology that the inner child held the key). She looked for a sign of sadness, or accusation, any recognition of the injustice being done in taking a small child away from her home and family and imprisoning her in a metal-framed circus of a bed . But nothing. Not a sausage. Strange expression. As if a sausage is a thing of little or no substance. And there were doors that she’d never dared to open For fear of what she might find inside No curiosity was strong enough to overcome the instinct to hide. In the end, she gave up and looked for help higher up. The psychologist (real, not a book) said that it was a known fact that an adult with this kind of childhood experience would develop an extreme sense of selfpreservation. An impressive survival instinct. This child would make sure not to upset any of the uniformed and white-coated apple-carts surrounding it. The psychologist then tried to get her to describe how she was feeling. Not thinking, just feeling. She politely acted out the part of a good patient for the remainder of the hour, thanked the apple-cart, er…. psychologist, and left, without making a new appointment. And those who shout, “Let your inhibitions out”, take care The wallpaper might turn out to be what was holding up the walls.
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