Tea Break Read
A serialised short story
By Allan Hunter
I wanted to hand in my paper about all that stuff last week, but I didn’t. I wrote 12 pages, and it was good stuff, too. It felt as if I’d jinx it all if I handed in the paper. And so I had a few minutes talk with Malcolm at the break, and he said that it was OK. He said that what was important was that I’d written it, not whether I’d handed it in for a grade. The important thing, he said, is that you know what you’ve written, so you might want to re-read it, just to remind yourself. I know what he means. I sometimes re-read my stuff and think – wow, I knew that, and then I still went out and made the same stupid mistake. Why can’t I be wise? Why don’t I use what I know when I need it?
And then Malcolm said something interesting. He said – perhaps you don’t want to hand in your paper because it’s about trust. After all, he said, you’ve got plenty of reasons not to trust men, and here I am, a man, so why should you trust me with the information that you’re learning some lessons about how to trust yourself more? Do you think that has anything to do with it?
Um, yeah. It’s like you get one layer of yourself worked out and another layer needs to be dealt with. These unconscious defenses (that’s Malcolm’s phrase, not mine) are tricky little bastards, aren’t they? That’s for sure.
And that sent me back to thinking about GooGoo. He’s a person I trust, but that’s because he’s who he is and he’s not really a guy. He’s gay, I’m sure of it, so he’s not like guys and he’s not like my father chasing after his girlfriends and treating me all girly. He’s who he is and he treats me like an equal, all the time. I don’t go all defensive around him. You know, now I think about it he’s not a guy and he’s not a girl and so he’s safe – at least I think so.
The exercise we did this week was interesting. We were asked to remember where we lived at about age 8. Well, there were moans and groans from the usual people in the class – ‘we lived in two places’, ‘I can’t remember that time’, ‘my dad’s house or my Mom’s house?’ And all that kind of shit. I mean, grow up people. He asked us to choose a place we remember, a place we felt was home, round about age 8. He doesn’t have to give everyone permission all the time for every little decision, you know?
So when we’d got our house in our mind he asked us to sketch out a floor plane. Only one rule – no erasers. He wants to see any mistakes. Well, the good girls and boys were all upset about that because they wanted to hand in a neat drawing. Don’t they get it? It’s not about whether it’s neat or not, it’s about whatever the hell it’s going to tell us when we’re sharing the pictures and Malcolm gives us some pointers (his word) about what it might all mean. I swear, these people, sometimes.
So I drew my house from when I was 8, and I made a bunch of mistakes. I made the stairs way too big, and my Mom’s room too small. Stuff like that. It didn’t all fit together. I wasn’t the only one, so that was a relief.
And then Malcolm got into his “suggestions” about what it might all mean. And it turns out those mistakes were pretty interesting, after all. So he spelled out how we’re not drawing an accurate diagram. We’re drawing an impression of what we feel the house was, the way we remember it, and the way we recall what it was like to live there. That works even if it’s the house you still live in. For some people, he said, the house represents a safe place they enjoyed, or perhaps a place they were glad to leave. That’s what it was like for Jessica. She said how she really really loved that house, and the friendly neighbors, and how sad she was when they had to move, and how nothing ever felt like home since then. I thought that was sad.
Then Malcolm said that when we draw space we draw what’s important to us. So we probably all knew exactly whre the TV was, and important places in the home tend to get drawn bigger. Unimportant places even get left out sometimes. And I could see what he means. I drew my room as quite big, but my brother’s room was bigger, which makes sense because he was older, but I’m actually pretty sure our rooms were the same size. It’s just that he got all the preferential treatment. My Mom’s room turned out small in my drawing, which makes sense too because we never were in there much. It didn’t matter to us. But I drew the stairs as very big. And I thought about that, and I can recall how they used to creak because they were polished wood, and how that meant someone was coming upstairs, and I never knew who it would be. It might be my dad (and he was not really good news when he was around). Later it was one or other of my Mom’s boyfriends, and I was scared of some of them. I mean, really scared.
It brought up a lot of feelings.
Malcolm said that any house is a struggle as to who controls which space, just like who controls the remote for the TV is a struggle. Did we feel we had control over space? Did we have our own safe space?
And that’s when Kayla described that she’d drawn all the rooms small, but that she’d drawn her closet as much larger than it really was, and that was because each night she’d crawl in there to sleep, because she didn’t feel safe in her real bed. She had a whole alternate bedroom crammed in there, and she showed the picture. Then in the morning she’d pretend she’d slept in her real bed.
And I thought about the stairs again, in my picture, and how scared I’d been. And I thought about how I’d drawn the kitchen as larger than it was, because that was where we’d eat and it was always friendly and warm down there.
Mike described his Dad’s basement, and the “man cave” he wasn’t allowed in. He explained that this was Dad’s room, where he drank. I think he has a few problems around father figures. It shows sometimes.
The thing is that every diagram (Malcolm’s word) is a suggestion about who had the power in the house. Who ran the place? Who was in charge? The person who gets the most room, or the best space, tends to be the one who has the most power. So who was it in your family? Who ran the place?
I’d have to say it was my brother. He was always in trouble, always doing something weird or failing classes, and he took up so much of our mental space that he was the one who “ran” the place, really. We all had to work around him. His special classes, everything. I got kind of pushed to the side, and dad was never really present. Well, he was on the road with the band. It wouldn’t have been so bad if he’d actually made some money, but he didn’t, and mom had to make it all.
Malcolm told us how a kid in a class years ago had been unable to draw one room, the music room, and it turned out that she’d be molested by her piano teacher there, and so she simply couldn’t draw it – even though she drew the garden and everything in it – which is where she’d escape to. Her diagram was a map of her mind, of sorts. Fascinating. I can’t get my mind round it all, but I can see how it works.
This is the strangest class.
So Malcolm says again that this exercise is yet again about identity. Who were we in the family? This matters because when we get out into the real world we’ll tend to think that this is our role, and so we’ll take it up. If we’re used to not being able to have any space to ourselves then that’s what we’ll expect, whether we’re sharing a place with a roomie or a significant other. We’ll feel that way because that was our “normal” and if we don’t question it we’ll be that way all our lives.
Then he said something interesting. He said that at age 8 we’re just starting to notice things about power and authority. We start to be expected to be more responsible at school, we can’t pout and cry and get away with it so often. And, also, we have ambitions – we want to be doctors or astronauts or superheroes but the reality is we can’t even choose our own bedtime. So we’re very sensitive to who has the power. We have to know who has it because we know we don’t!
Now I think about it I can see more about why I find it hard to trust, especially men. I saw my Mom trust men – and they didn’t stick around. I saw her work hard for a man who didn’t do much and then didn’t stick around either. I saw my fuck-up of a brother run us all in circles. Then Rudi goes and dies. But before he did he gave me a real gift. He let me know I deserved to be loved.
Now I can see where my insecurities come from they don’t seem so big. I know some people trust me (Goo Goo) and respect me. I know Malcolm trusts me to trust myself. But do I trust me?
At the end of class I gave him my paper anyway. And I said, “I trust you”, and he smiled. “Trust” he said, “comes when we trust. You learn to trust by trusting. That’s the way it grows. There is no other way”. I smiled, nodded, and walked away.
As soon as I was round the corner I whipped out my notebook and wrote it down. That was too good to miss.
Later that night I thought about my name. Everyone, most people, know me as Ann, my middle name, my mother’s name. I don’t use Hilda, of course. Or Hildi or any of the variants that could be invented out of it. I think it might be time to claim my name, so I think I’ll just use the last bit of Hildi and call myself Dee. Yes. That’s what I’ll do. It could take some doing to convince people to change, but I can try. Old habits die hard. But I don’t want them I want new habits.