Sadness In Remembering

Sometimes when I think back it is with a strong sense of sadness. Occasionally this sadness is unaccountable, making no sense, seemingly out of place let alone out of proportion to the memories being relived.

There were things to be sad about, of course: a family pet dying or a funeral or recalling first tearful days at school. I can recall being in trouble for doing something wrong, remember what it was like very clearly to be in trouble, and the condition of naughtiness, as if it were a passing but very real affliction, is strongly linked in my mind with incidents where I wondered whether it had worn off yet. There was punishment and shame and wondering if having been naughty you were still a naughty boy or if it was past now. And perhaps I still wonder about this today.

We were never smacked much, although we did get smacked a few times (it wasn’t considered child abuse in those days), but those few incidents served mainly to make my sister and I unwilling to ever do anything too bad, as we didn’t want the consequences, we feared them, and it’s only now that I think about it all again that I can guess mum and dad were probably scared somewhat too – not sure how to react, how stern to be, how much fear to inspire – certain aspects of being a parent need to be learned, I’m sure.

But it isn’t just fear and grief which seemed characterised by sadness. There was a sense of despair which I can’t quite explain. The world outside was full, potentially, of unpleasant people and experiences. There were things which never quite made sense and situations which seemed less than fun. Other families did things differently. They went on holidays, and we didn’t, at least we didn’t very often. But it wasn’t all selfish stuff like that. I recall a grandson of the woman who used to babysit and act a bit like a housekeeper to my sister and I, and for some reason one school holidays he was at the housekeeper’s house, where my sister and I were for the day, and he called his mum on the phone and somehow accidentally (but with a kind of joshing bravado) I said somewhere near the receiver of the phone the worst insult I knew at the time, “Ya idiot”, as I thought he was mucking around and not really talking to his mum, but he was, and for some reason we were all to go to his house for the day a few days later, and his mother would be there, and he told me I’d be in very deep trouble indeed. I didn’t know what to expect from being in trouble from a stranger and felt pure misery for days and days. It seemed the worst thing that could happen. I’d been rude to this guy’s mum and I didn’t mean it, and now it would get bad, and there was no-one I could talk to about it. No-one who could tell me it would be alright. As it happened, he was being a smart-alec, and if his mum heard what I said she took no notice and certainly didn’t think this little 6 year-old would be capable of the sin I thought I would be punished for, and I couldn’t believe how nice she was to me, and kept thinking that there would be repercussions, despite the woman being friendly and caring, and I was just withdrawn and scared. And afterwards, when the cause of my angst came up, the boy said he was just mucking around, and he did make out something bad would happen but he didn’t expect me to take him so seriously, and I’m still not sure I can believe it happened that way.

Yes, my reaction was exaggerated. As if something drastic were not only possible but likely. But I could not believe that people would play with other people like that. Make a joke, a joke which was not at all funny, a joke which could not be shared, and was never intended to be shared, and the whole thing was intended to provide five minutes of mirthless amusement at someone else’s expense, purely because the opportunity was there, while the unintended consequence was a shy little boy experiencing a private agony which lasted days.

There were situations which were characterised by awkwardness. My uncle was a well-meaning but at times abrasive character who seemed to think that all boys liked to play wrestling games, all the time, when some don’t, and it seemed for the most part to be a lingeringly baffled question which kept battering away, unwilling to leave my mind alone when we stayed with my grandparents: “Why is this man always here?” Life was much easier when he wasn’t around.

And possibly I’m remembering my memories in a less acute way than I used, but it seems to me that even the good things were tinged by sadness. On one hand I think of school as a happy time in my life, but there was so much desolation associated with it. Time at home was the ideal, and going back to school was this minor disaster, but the time at home at night served not as a relief between school days in those early years, but somehow to reinforce where I was going back to. The next day. And the next. I had friends and got on well with my teachers and enjoyed learning. There was little to complain about. I had toys and loving parents and enjoyed good health. And yet I can’t help wondering whether I was somehow suffering from depression-like symptoms. It was as if the weight of the world was on my shoulders and there was so much to fear and be apprehensive about.

Perhaps the real angst moment in my life happened somewhere between age six and eleven. My version of the adolescence other people describe. Yes, I felt awkward as a teenager, as if everybody was looking at me and judging me, all the time, and I did some rebellious things and acts of naughtiness which were of an altogether different order to my childish wondering about if I was still naughty, but overall I was fairly content. I certainly wouldn’t describe it as the worst time in my life, and I wouldn’t say I only just got through it alive, or any of the other things you hear people say.

But there is sadness. Sadness in remembering. Sadness in the memories themselves. Sadness in the intangibility of the previous life I lived and the fact that I can never go back there. Sadness in the innocence which, once violated, cannot be restored. But that means I’m sad because I can’t go back to what it was like in a previous period when I was sad, and that makes no real sense.

I’m a melancholy kind of chap. When I look at a photo of me on Santa’s knee or I think of the taste of Space Food Sticks (which mum packed in my lunchbox when I first started school) it makes me want relief from the pain of transient sorrow. But it also makes me want to relive the experiences which are evoked, to make the sorrow less transient, for it to stop completely, and to grab it with both hands. And so all is confusion and nothing truly makes sense.

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Published in: on August 29, 2012 at 8:33 pm  Leave a Comment  

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