She was smaller than I remembered. You know how it is when you visit your first school, and everything seems so much smaller than you recall. You have to bend right over to drink at the bubblers. Or when you stay at your parents house, sleep in your old bedroom. How did I ever origami my life into this tiny bedroom, you wonder.
Maybe it’s because you bloomed once you left the confines of the school dormitory or the pink, floral bedroom you shared with your little sister. You bloomed, it didn’t shrink.
I was scared of the slippery slide at my primary school. It was shiny and far taller than my dad. He’s tall. The slippery slide was a mountain. It sizzled in the Queensland summer sun, slightly cooler in the winter months, but not at midday. It was a beast. You had to make sure none of your innocent pink skin touched the beast.
Funny that I was scared of the slide, but not of the seesaw that I fell from and broke my arm.
I was scared of her. She was terrifying. A beast? Sometimes. Tall, formidable, so unlike my little bird of a mum. She loved the man I loved even more than I did and she hated that I loved him too. She hated that he loved me. Hell, she hated me. Other people have hated me, too – I have a very punchable face – but she hated me with a deep and abiding passion that I thought I would understand once I became the mother of a much-loved boy, but I don’t. I love the girls my boy loves because they love him. Even the ones who haven’t been right for him; I love them too. Because you know what happens if you don’t love them? It makes your boy unhappy. It makes him say terrible things and it makes him…choose.
What if he chooses her, even after you’ve explained (and cried) about all the ways she’s wrong for him?
There she was, after all these years, right in front of me. As if on cue, she put her arms out to me and I embraced her. We cried heaving sobs that barely let us say the few words that had always needed to be said. ‘I’m sorry’ from me, and ‘I’m sorry from her. Perfect.
I was taller than her. I didn’t expect that. She felt warm, solid in my embrace. The room had changed. Someone had moved the table. That happens when you haven’t visited someone for more than two decades.
I was still in the embrace when I looked out the window. This isn’t really their house, I thought, but there is the exact place I stood with her husband while she cried about the engagement and they weren’t tears of joy. Why am I thinking about how much she hated me when she just said she was sorry? What kind of mean-spirited person am I?
We walked arm-in-arm outside. The outside area wasn’t right either. I tried not to notice the anomalies. There were lots of people here. People my mind told me were old school friends but none of them friendly to me. Best years of your life? I don’t think so.
I turned to leave. There…there was the place the uncle was really nasty to me. That was the uncle he loved, but the uncle turned out to be a snake. No kidding.
I wasn’t crying when I woke up. I sometimes used to cry in my sleep but only when I dreamed of him. I had never dreamed of her before. It can’t be a coincidence that I learned a deeply transformative pranayama technique then I had this dream 12 hours later.
You can forgive but you can’t forget unless you break free of it, physically. These hurts are carried around in my body. The arm I broke when I was 8 years old still aches on cold windy days. The pain of the loss of my first love and the memories of the cataclysmic months after his death are all hidden in my joints, in my cells.
Have you seen that movie Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind? I’m an absolute Jim Carrey tragic and this is one of his finest. Watch it. I am not going to spoil it by saying too much here but I’ll tell you this. I would forget the woman who told her son not to marry me. She was right. God knows all these years later I can see that she was right. We were so wrong for each other and that’s so hard to admit. I’d never forget him, but her I could forget tomorrow if she wasn’t buried in my marrow.