MemorySunday, Apr 26, 2015 · 1100 words · approx 5 mins to read
I’ve had the draft version of this milling around in my mind for years, but it’s one of those personal subjects I find hard to get down on the page because it’s difficult and very personal. It’s partly about the life I had growing up, until I became a young adult. Potential trigger warning: I’ll maybe talk about abuse, bullying, alcoholism and suicide. Don’t know yet, depends how this all flows out. Please close your browser tab if those things really upset you, just in case.
Lastly, before I start, I don’t write this for sympathy or empathy or anything else. I’m at peace with everything I’m about to write and explain. I’m writing it as therapy, and as context for the interesting observation I’ll make about it all at the end.
I was abused as a child. Not sexually, thank goodness, but in most of the other ways modern society would measure it today. Starved, physically assaulted, psychologically and emotionally abused, neglected. At the time it just felt like childhood, you know? Just life, going the way it’s supposed to go because you don’t know any better. You get glimpses, going round to friends houses to see how they live and how their parents are, but really you just accept it. I imagine almost all children who experience the same levels of abuse — serious enough to having lasting effects on the child for the rest of their life, but not serious enough that anyone ever does anything to make it better for you, because nobody is raping you, or putting cigarettes out on you, etc. — just get on with it.
I won’t go into too much detail as to why it all happened, or who did it (they’re dead now, so whatever). That’s not important for what I want to say. Just know that it happened, and happened until my late teens.
I was bullied, too, as a child. Bullying for me was basically just child abuse, but carried out by my friends. That’s the curious thing about my bullying, I guess, although reading about bullying for others it’s maybe not so curious at all. For the longest time, pretty much right until I stopped accepting it, the people that did it were my friends. I’d go round to their houses after school sometimes, or they’d come round to mine. We’d hang out at school. But they’d make fun of me, assault me, pick on me in front of others, make me do stuff I didn’t want to do, and in the end it got reasonably nasty. They stopped the facade of friendship and just went for it properly, no fucking around. I still felt like we could be friends again at the time.
Some of my bullies are dead now, which used to weird me out. Now the understanding that they’re dead just makes me sad.
In both the abuse and the bullying, as I’ve found peace with it all, something interesting has happened to my memories of it all. I can remember the key events, and there are many, clearly. The places. And not just the understanding of the places, but memories of them where I can variously recall the decor, sounds, smells and tastes. Plenty of detail, in memories that are now over 25 years old in a few cases.
I can remember songs that played. The number plates of some of the cars I was in, never mind their make, model or colour. The clothes I used to wear. The rip on the right shoulder of a horrendous jacket my mum used to make me wear, that she’d gotten from a charity shop, because she’d drunk all the money we had and I needed a new one.
But I’ll be fucked if I can remember the faces. And in some cases I have to look at things I’ve written down to remind me of the names. Slowly but surely, those bits of the memories are fading away. I sometimes can’t remember my own mother’s face unless I look at a photograph.
Most of the people I went to school with, junior or secondary, I can’t picture facially. I can remember hair colours (Scotland has a national hair colour, so the stereotype goes), but I can’t picture their faces, especially for those that hurt me. I didn’t take pictures of them with me in my life when I managed to leave them all behind. I think I did that entirely on purpose and with extreme prejudice, looking back.
My first few years at university, before my mum died, are filled with knowledge and what I was taught, but not the face of anyone bar one friend and one lecturer. The girl that first taught me how relationships can be torn down in an instant is faceless to me now.
It’s not necessarily special or unique; you’ll forget the facial details of how certain people look as you age and grow distant from them. It happens. But it’s rare for it to happen with the first girl you really loved, or your own mother.
It’s because of the trauma of remembering them as people, of course. They did bad things to me, so my mind is putting something up between the memory of the events and the human element therein that caused me pain. I get it.
I don’t know if one day I’ll suddenly recall the missing faces. I mostly hope not, but I kind of do at the same time.
The point of my musing is therapy really. I have no grand advice or anything like that. To admit it clearly that it’s happening, and probably won’t ever unhappen if I’m honest, is good for me. But purely from a self-interest point of view, where I want to understand how I work, I find it fascinating, even though I’m truly OK with almost everything that happened to me, that my subconscious still hurts on my behalf to let me get on with things.