Home was......a Scapegoat's horror story!
Not really a prison, more of a nightmare! And not only for myself!!!
I suppose that I made my only 'reality' when young the virtual world of the school day, and my morning and weekend jobs which I had held from the age of eleven. Each time I headed for the house it was with a lump in my throat, for fear of knowing that I would be guilty of something or other. Only the gravity of the crime was left to be revealed! A packet of biscuits opened without permission, or perhaps a broken glass! Terrible crimes like that. A burnt saucepan, forgotten on the cooker! Not having pulled the chain after having been to the toilet! The list was long, and arbitrarily adjusted to suit the occasion! A school outing could be cancelled under the pretext that a bed had not been made properly, or that money was supposedly missing from a purse, which was of course very, very serious and merited a serious punishment. The embarrassment of having to go to school in torn trousers! Judged, sentenced and punished all in five or ten minutes! It was rapid, the justice in down-town our house!
In fact the whole suspicion thing had started when I was 6 or 7 years old. At that time we lived in a brand spanking new Cornish roof style house in Collier Row, Essex. One Sunday afternoon, being a good and loving son, eager to help my parents around the house during the parental ‘ahem...just going to lay down for ...ahem... an hour or two’ ritual, I had been left to look after my sister Sally who was perhaps 12 months old at the time. My aunt Pam, who had been living with us, had gone back to live at my grandfather’s. I was therefore the eldest, and, to whit, responsible for everything. In order to arrange that which seemed to have been disarranged I decided to inspect the kitchen and it's boiler, a heating apparatus fuelled with carbon coke. The level seemed suspiciously low to my eyes and so, being a whiz at working out how things worked, I opened the grill, took hold of the coal scuttle and shook the contents into the hearth.
At that very instant a nugget of coke, very red and very hot, trickled out of the fire, jumped down onto the open boiler door, skipped onto the floor, and ran under the sofa!! All on its own!!! I thought to myself that this was not a good thing. Not for the coke, nor for me! And when I saw smoke rising from under the settee I was sure that it was not good for the furniture either. When the flames started to melt the cushions I decided that it might be important to tell the 'big people'.
I had a secondary problem, that being that it was not a good idea to interrupt the parental interlude. What to do?
I panicked!! I screamed! And it did the job. Interestingly the Pater and the Mater, who had arrived at breakneck speed, were shouting and waving their arms furiously as if in a trance or dancing! Their eyes were ex-orbited and red with broken blood vessels. I was terrified. Then I realised that it was my neck that risked being broken. Not only for what I had done but also for what 'they' were about to do. The retribution was swift and severe, my feet not touching the ground for at least ten minutes, and my backside not touching a seat for something like ten days...(in my souvenirs at least)
My uncle Jack, who just happened to be our insurance broker, came over straight after the Fire Brigade had left the house and reassured my parents, if not the sofa and the surrounding walls, carpets and furniture. He growled at me as he often did, being a constant growler, and told me go and make growling noises in the garden!! I asked myself if he had done the same thing as me when he was little? I didn't understand at that time that he was negotiating with the 'ogres' the damages and the resulting indemnity that could be pulled out of the affair!
It was only a few days later, when the kitchen had been rebuilt as new and with the arrival of a brand new three piece suite that all became clear! They had punished me in order to make it look as though they were angry! But in fact they seemed extremely pleased with the new design kitchen, and they thanked uncle Jack without cease for what he had been able to do for them. And as for myself, not a single word of praise for my contribution!
The years passed, we moved home, my parents went their own ways (or at least my father went his own way!!) and every time something went wrong it was who's fault? Guess! The TV broke down, it was Graham!! The milk turned sour, it was yours truly! One of my sisters fell over, or off, something, must have been me! Finally I came to accept that nothing I could do would ever be seen as being of good faith. The Scapegoat Syndrome had arrived at our house and had perched itself firmly on my shoulders.
It took me a number of years after having been finally expelled from the family hearth, and with my mother's second marriage when I was seventeen making of me an undesirable element, to understand that I was not responsible for all the badness that exists in the world. That, after having been firmly encouraged to believe that it was the case during the last ten years or so!
My salvation came with my life outside of that environment. A life where all is as real as getting up in the morning and smiling, saying hello to a neighbour, whistling a tune that has stuck in the memory......making mistakes, and recognising them! Helping those in need, with or without recognition! But certainly without guilt.
I try to explain to my own children that an error is only an error, of judgement, or tact, or attention. Errors exist to help us to learn and design our own behaviour and comportment patterns. We can talk about errors, and laugh about them when they have little gravity for their victims. The idea is, finally, to be able to make better judgements based on our lived experiences. To learn to be responsible for our acts without fear of being punished if punishment is due.
Ah, the good old days...!
Copyright © 2010 Graham Denis Hewstone, Paris
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