Letter to My Bully

I found the old class photograph and I looked for you.

I can remember your words, most of them.

The words that stung, that ripped into me, then undermined me even when they made no sense: weird, strange, not normal, ugly, stupid, clumsy, useless, soft, cry-baby, weak: the jibes about my body, my face, my hair, my skin, my family, my past, my future.

I remember the separation, the isolation, the other-ness.

But guess what? Your face itself is blank.

Do I wish I learnt earlier to hide the pain? Maybe.

Perhaps I wish I had stopped looking at myself sooner and looked at everyone else instead to see that their vulnerabilities, their weaknesses, their weirdnesses, stupidities and so on were no less than mine. It was simply that theirs were not pointed out.

I certainly wish that it had not taken me so long to realise that you were the one with the problem, not me.

Someone who could uses fear to make companions is just as friendless as someone who sits alone. Maybe more so.

And if I was vulnerable and sensitive, in fact, if I am still vulnerable or sensitive then I am glad.

I have learnt that these are good things to be.

At least I can recognise pain and doubt and fear and try to comfort rather than exploit. I want to be kind and loyal. I bitterly regret every unkindness or disloyalty I have ever been guilty of.

And I do not fear failure. I know I can start again and again and again.

You thought that failure makes you weak. But you were wrong. It is not failure which makes you weak. Failure makes you strong. Failure makes you look at yourself and analyse what went wrong and move forward.

Being cruel makes you weak. Being a bully makes you smug on victory, building yourself up and up … but there is nothing but destruction waiting when you fall.

So I can look at the school photograph and find myself. I remember how alone I felt in that class of young faces. I can name most of those other children, including the ones who told me afterwards how afraid they were of you and the ones who tried to be kind even when you picked on them for trying to befriend me. But I can’t find you. If you’re who I think you are then you looked like everyone else. You don’t look so scary.

I am not ashamed to have been that shy, lonely little girl who didn’t know how to hide her feelings. I am proud that I have grown to want to be kind.

Are you proud to be the one who made me cry?

b&w

Copyright 2016 by Paula Harmon. All rights belong to the author and material may not be copied without the author’s express permission

Moving Forward

“Laptops?”

“Check.”

“Mobiles?”

“Check”

“Credit Cards?”

“Check”

“Tablets, wifi passwords, address books?”

“Check”

“Sat Nav?”

“Check”

“Have you packed your smart suits and shiny shoes?”

“Yup”

“Right come on, let’s get on board”

Mary, Steve, Rob and Jenny hefted their rucksacks and waited for the commuters to climb onto the train and settle down, juggling their cases and newspapers and styrofoam coffees.

There was no room to sit: all the seats and aisles were packed with people trying to get to work, trying to prepare for work, wishing they’d prepared for work, or loudly discussing work on mobiles so that the rest of world could see how important they were.

Mary, Steve, Rob and Jenny didn’t mind. They stood, balancing between swaying carriages as the wheels rattled over the smooth rails. The refreshments trolley squeezed through and ran over their booted feet. The ticket collector raised his eyebrows at their destinations and scribbled random symbols.

Town by city by town, the commuters got off, leaving room to breathe at last.

Mary, Steve, Rob and Jenny moved into an empty carriage, opening the tiny window to let some air in and blow out the odours of perfume, panic and depression; watching the buildings recede as connurbations gave way to country side.

The train slowed as it started to describe a slow bend on top of a steep embankment. Below was a wide stretch of water, splendid in unvisited isolation.

“Laptop?”

“Check.”

“Mobile?”

“Check”

“Credit Card?”

“Check”

“Tablet, wifi passwords, address books?”

“Check”

“Sat Nav?”

“Check”

“Have you packed your smart suits and shiny shoes?”

“Yup”

“Right come on, shove them all out the window quick while we go round this bend before the ticket inspector comes back – we’re leaving it all behind and starting from scratch.”

 

train travellers

Copyright 2016 by Paula Harmon. All rights belong to the author and material may not be copied without the author’s express permission

Big Sister

Hold my hand, hold it tight.

Don’t walk too fast, just saunter along as if we’re going to the market. Don’t look back, keep looking up at me and smiling. Laugh – pretend I’ve said something funny. That’s a girl.

Don’t worry, keep hold of my hand. Let’s skip for a bit as if I’m playing with you. No we can’t run – people will notice.

You’d think we’d be invisible wouldn’t you? All these crowds, all these twisting alleyways. But there’s always someone watching, always someone who will remember. Don’t worry, here, I’ll put my arm round your shoulder.

Let’s go this way and then we’ll double back a little bit along. Come on.

Don’t look down at the shadows and the dirt, look up at me. Look up at the sky. Can you see how blue it is? Isn’t it lovely?

Here, let’s slip through this way, we’re not so far from the edge of the settlement. Don’t tremble sweetheart, don’t look back. No-one is following now. We just keep walking.

Look! Can you see through that gap? Can you see the mountains? Look at the sun on them, turning them golden. Let’s pretend it’s a friendly dragon waiting to protect us. It’s not so far.

I know your feet are tired lovely, but you can walk a little further. We’ll be safe there, I promise. There’s a place on the mountain side and they’re waiting for us. Hold my hand, we just need to slip out through here and into the shadows again.

I promised I’d save us, little sister, I promised we’d get free. We’re nearly there… hold my hand. Soon your smile won’t be pretend anymore.

dawn

Copyright 2016 by Paula Harmon. All rights belong to the author and material may not be copied without the author’s express permission

Flight

Of course he could fly, he knew it.

In pain, though, in waiting silence, he was not so sure. His arms, once strong, could now barely lift themselves from the covers.

They were holding him down. They waited till the pain was worst and pinned his arms to the covers and whispered at him: “it’s impossible… impossible to fly. You can’t….you can’t.” Then They went; abrupt and silent save for the whisper in his head: “you cannot stop us coming back”. They became more real than daylight or love or hunger or the desire for flight.

In the daytime, his mother put him to sit on the balcony and look out. That was where Theresa had first noticed him. She had seen him staring up into the freedom of the sky and then onto the shackles of the ground. When he looked down, she did not flinch, she waved. Two days later, she blagged her way in to the flat, talking and moving too fast for his mother to have time to stop her.

Now she came round every day.

“Why don’t she ever take you out?” she said, when his mother was out of earshot.

“She says she can’t.”

“Can’t be bothered more like. What a lousy view. It’s better from mine.”

“It’s not so bad.”

Truth to tell, he could remember no other view. He knew it was better than his own face, also forgotten. His mother had removed every mirror. Now his world was what he could see of the flats opposite. He knew three whole floors – every window, every balcony, the setting of every aerial on the roof, the scrap of scraggy curtain flapping, the feeble plants and saggy washing. It was hard to see much sky.

He asked, forgetting, “how many floors is there?”

Theresa considered and plumped vaguely for fifty. It conveyed, at least, the wearying height of the place. “There’s nothing but rats on the ground floor,” she added, “scares me silly.”

Even his mother agreed with that. It was a disgrace, she said.

He sat and looked at his view every day and thought about other people. There was a woman who used to come out onto the balcony and cry and her husband used to drag her back in. Once, when he was watching, the woman tried to jump. She was trying to fly. She shouted it, stretching out her free strong arms, yet looking more pinioned than her invisible, immobile observer. She could not fly. She could only fall. Someone dragged her back, kicking and shrieking. He hadn’t seen her for a long time.

He sat so still. Some days he imagined miracles about himself. Other days he couldn’t stand the dreary greyness anymore. That was when he leant back in his chair and stared into his personal scrap of sky.

The sky could swallow you up. As clean as a jewel, it curved and circled, drawing him towards itself. The very first time he felt it, his arms lifted, achingly, and for a few moments he could almost feel himself soaring and rising up over the aerials and the dirt into the heart of sapphire freedom.

All he had to do was learn the secret and he would be free. His mother said it was nonsense. But then, she was free but had forgotten the secret. He was no longer free and had to remember it.

Once his mother wouldn’t let Theresa see him.

“It’s a disgrace, you two wittering on,” she grumbled, shoving him early to bed, “talking nonsense the whole time, as if someone could fall in love with you, the way you are. You might as well face it, you won’t escape and sure as anything not by wishful thinking.”

She left him and went to bed. He could hear her snoring as he lay with nothing but covers to embrace him. Then They came for him. All around the bed together, They held him down. He couldn’t hear Them but he knew They were laughing and waiting. Closer They came. Closer than ever. He cried out but his mother, talking in her sleep, called “stop your whimpering… shut up… shut up!”

When morning came, he was soaked. His mother was silent with thin lips. It was the worst thing.

But she let Theresa in and she let Theresa wheel him out and take him up to her flat two floors above. It was the first time he had gone out since…. was it really two years? The bannisters above the sucking blackness of the stairwell were sticky and the lift was dank and malodorous but he touched them in an ecstasy of novelty.

Theresa’s flat was different. Flowers rejected by florists filled jars and bottles. Clashing throws and rugs and charity shop finds made the room buzz with colour. There was a picture on the wall. It was of a death but seemed to be filled with vigour and defiance. A man had his arms outstretched to fly but someone had pinned him down. His arms were nailed down, his legs were twisted and nailed down, his head had fallen forward, nailed with thorns. He was nailed down but an energy came from him.

“He understands,” said Theresa, “he understands being trapped and stuck. Right in the middle of everything though, he was free, he never stopped being himself.” She paused, “I think he knew that it is not about flying away but about flying anyway.”

They went out onto Theresa’s balcony. The evening was noisy. Around and below was music, argument, distant games, the blaring of sirens, the constant heavy flood of traffic. Was he drab, in his dull dressing gown, quiet and broken? Theresa’s hand crept into his and her head lay on his shoulder, as if he was her rescuer. Night became lovely. It was dark, but the sounds had dimmed and above the dull orange, he knew the sky was the black of translucent coal and hot with diamonds. Peace called him silently to fly.

Something was different now. He had been wrong all along. His mother did not know about flying because she was free but didn’t realise she was free. He knew about flying because he was tied down. He could not escape, but even if the sucking darknesses took his useless body to their claws and teeth and laughter, if they did, he could still go into the soaring singing freedom of his mind.

Theresa arms came round him and she looked into his eyes. He wondered what she saw, remembering only vaguely his perfect face from before and knowing it ruined. Theresa seeing him as he truly was, kissed his lips, wiped his hair from his eyes and settled his tired arms around herself. Flying tandem.

alleyway

Copyright 2016 by Paula Harmon. All rights belong to the author and material may not be copied without the author’s express permission

The Promise

My daughter.  My precious girl.  You look up at me with limpid eyes, trying to focus on mine.

Baffled by the freedom of your limbs and losing the warmth of my womb, you curl on my breast, try a tiny suckle and then close those lovely eyes into sleep.

I am exhausted too and I am ready to slumber, but first I will make you a promise.  In you, I can see my mother and my grandmother and your father’s mother and his grandmother.  Already I am sure that you will be determined and funny, maybe quick to anger but loving long.

How do I know?  You are such a little scrap, your ears like little shells, your nose like a tiny bead, your little feet a miracle of craftsmanship.

You are perfect.  You are neither evil nor a disappointment nor a failure to me because you are a girl.  Do not tell me, who has just given birth, that women are weak.  We are stronger than oxen, stronger than the rain storm, stronger than the mightiest tree.   One day your work will be as necessary as your brother’s, your mind as fast, your ideas as fascinating.

Maybe you will find it hard to trust, and you will not be wrong little girl, the world is a cruel place and those who say they love you will say that they must protect you by changing you.  They will say that evil lurks in wait if they do not do that thing, that you will never marry, never carry a babe of your own, that your own body will rise up and destroy you if they do not do that thing.

But I have decided I will not let them.

If I have to run from my own family and from your father’s family, from the wise women with their rusty blades and the wise men with their threats of violence, if I have to run with you, I will run.  I don’t know where we will go my little bird, my little mouse, my precious gem.  But one day the cutting must stop.

And I make this promise to you my darling, that for you and me it stops today.

sky

This Summer

Here is the pale shady tree
and here is Summer returned:
silken breath of sweet smooth heat
under the rippling boughs
and the trickling leaves…
But where are we?

The sky is just the same blue.
The sun, as hot, still stares,
cold into this pool-like world.
The grasses heave and sigh
with flowers floating
but you and I…

Promises have fled like months;
burnt in pyres of Autumn leaves –
the ashes tumbling in floods
or scattered, for the world
to mock, by the winds…
Ripped up like us.

I have walked this far and stop
to stand and gaze where once before
I never gazed. And where the haze
reflects abundant gifts –
the breeze dissolves pain
into new peace.

Here is the pale shady tree
and here is Summer returned:
silken breath of sweet smooth heat
under the rippling boughs
and the trickling leaves…
Let me pause here.

tree in summer

Copyright 2016 by Paula Harmon. All rights belong to the author and material may not be copied without the author’s express permission

Cliff Face

SNV31422

Lost
Hanging onto the edge
“Don’t look down” –
If I fall, there’s no way up
“Don’t look up” –
I’ll be overwhelmed
“Don’t look over” –
Tantalising yet distant
If I take one step
It might be over
Or night will descend.
I press my face to the wall
Nothing but blank rock
“Hold on”
Maybe
Someone can help
“Look down” – I’ve come so far
“Look up” – I’m nearly there
I lift my face and
Look sideways – I am not on my own
I will reach out one finger
I will take one step sideways
I will hold out for the light

Copyright 2016 by Paula Harmon. All rights belong to the author and material may not be copied without the author’s express permission