The next day, a Saturday, dad decided I was to do some sweeping. He thrust a broom into my hands and frog-marched me to the nearest classroom. He stood over me as I swept, repeatedly jabbing me in the chest.
“You’re An Animal!”. JAB! “You’re An Animal!” JAB! “you….. ANIMAL!” JAB!
I carried on sweeping, flinching in time with his percussive accompaniment. He grew weary of such a one-sided conversation. Grabbing hold of my collar, he pulled my face up to his, and shouted:
“You’re Useless And Good-For-Nothing! What Are You?”
To which I replied, as ordered, “I am useless and good-for-nothing.”
This wasn’t an uncommon litany between he and myself, always taking the same form. He would say “You Are X. What Are You?” and I would have to reply “I am X”, where X is a placeholder for ‘Selfish’,’Useless’,’Spoilt’,’A Waste Of Space’ or something of that kind. Sometimes he would say it almost amiably, he was simply imparting a piece of information about which I needed to be made aware. But it was more usually delivered in the manner of an angry Sergeant addressing a Private on the parade ground.
Mum suddenly appeared, and had a semi-hysterical fit while lying face-down on the floor. I can’t remember what she actually said but it was along the lines of ‘Stop it!’. It was the one and only occasion that she ever showed any kind of concerned reaction to his behaviour towards me.
Dad stomped off. Mum got up and went shortly afterwards. I just stood there for a while, still holding the broom, realising that I’d spent the entire few minutes sweeping the same one square metre patch of floor.
I went upstairs and lay on my bed.
The television had become a useful palliative. It offered distraction from the relentless, grinding, cyclical dialogue of ‘Shall I/Shan’t I?’ that was going on inside my head. I decided to go to the TV room which was on the first floor.
The first floor of New College was on two levels, the lower landing being joined to the upper landing by a flight of five steps. I had just arrived at the base of these steps when dad materialised at the top. He used this platform to announce my punishment:
“If you’re that depressed, you won’t want to watch television will you!” he sang.
Yes, he actually sang these words, so pleased was he with this construction. And he had every right to be pleased because it was masterful. If you accepted the premise that ‘depression = not wanting to watch television’, it automatically followed that this deprivation was no deprivation at all.
I was about to turn around and go back upstairs when he ran down the steps, grabbed hold of my collar (again!), and shook me.
“I Could Quite Happily Kill Him Sometimes.”…
…shouted my father to my mother, who had just emerged from the TV room and was standing further along the upper landing. Mum had nothing to say about his statement of occasional, joyful intent. She had exhausted her lifetime’s quota of maternal intervention a few hours ago by lying face down on the floor for a couple of minutes.
I wasn’t too concerned that he might kill me (well obviously! duh!), it was the word ‘happily’ that was disquieting. Did the verb ‘to kill’ really need an adverb of manner?
Here’s a weird thing: It never occurred to me to go to a relative for help. There were enough aunts, uncles and grandparents who would willingly, gladly even, have given me sanctuary, and listened to what I had to say. They would most likely have been horrified to hear what was going on at home.
The trouble was, I had no sense of self-determination.
It’s hard to describe how I felt because I didn’t feel anything at all. I simply existed, and would remain in a state of existence until such time as I no longer existed. I had no interests, no ambition, no sense of purpose, no desires, nothing. All of the basic biological imperatives were working though. I ate when I was hungry, and slept when I was tired. But apart from that there was nothing.