Day 8

This is the story of a little square.

Once upon a time there lived a little square. I could tell you more about her; what colour she is, for example, but no. She is just an ordinary tiny square. Her parents constantly preached to her about the great things about being a square. It’s not that she is ashamed of being a square. Oh, no, of course not! Never that! It’s that she quietly fancied herself to be unique.

Like all parents who pass down their experience and wisdom on to their little ones, the little square’s parents taught her all there is to know in order to succeed in life as a little square: watch the lines, don’t go bending corners and keep straight.

The little square tried very hard to follow the things she’s been taught. But one day she got into her little head that maybe she’s different. Maybe she is no ordinary square.

First she tried to colour herself. She tried purple, she tried green and she tried orange. No matter what colour she painted herself in, everyone knew right away that she was the little square.

Drats.

She tried giving it up for a bit, but then she’d try again. And again. And again.

Then she remembered her parents’ rule about keep straight.

“Right, screw this, I’m going to go down all those winding paths and twisty corners. I’ll show them!”

So off she went. Her little squareness made it really difficult to go down all those winding paths and twisty corners.

This is going to be a problem.

She sulked. As she sulked a big long sulk, she looked around her and saw all shapes of different shapes (haha) and sizes rolling, bouncing and twirling around. That day she decided to pluck up the courage to speak to a doctor about turning herself into a triangle.

After many, many months of cutting and taping, she became a triangle. And for awhile she was truly happy. She went back to her square parents, who had a hard time accepting her at first, but are now happy to hear her stories of a square living as a triangle.

But one night as the darkness settled in, she realised that she was still unhappy. She saw all the little round-shaped holes teasing her. Circles were tormenting her in the day, and spheres in the night.

And after many, many months of cutting and taping, she became a circle. And even though, like last time, she found herself happy again. Like last time, the darkness settled once more in her heart. And she found herself speaking to the doctor again.

And so she became an oval. Then a rhombus. Then a diamond.

A few months after turning herself into a diamond, she found herself at the doctor’s office again.

“Doctor, doctor. This isn’t me. You know what I really need to be?”

“No, tell me.”

“No, I am asking you. I don’t know.”

This time the doctor cannot bear the pain of cutting his patient any smaller. He explained to her that there is just not enough material on her to make her into another shape. If he does, she will die.

That very night, the once little square, sat by the fire in her garden. She stared into the fire as she sat there, and she got more and more mesmerised by the dancing and shifting shapes. She tried to lean in to take a closer look. And then she walked closer and closer to the fire.

Just a little more.

Oh, that’s pretty…!

And then she fell in.

And as she did, the dancing fire transformed her into a million tiny fragments to be carried away in the loving arms of the wind into the night sky.

Photo courtesy of Archiproducts

Day 7

Yesterday, Big came back home in tears. I was expecting her to tell me about something trivial, but after hearing about what she had been dealing with all day enraged me.

To keep a long story short and a private situation relatively private, she has an ex who is exhibiting psychopathic behaviour. This person is contacting people in her private life, spreading lies about her, and trying to exact revenge on Big for the end of a relationship that had already been terminated months prior. This person has said, in their own words, that they will turn everyone in Big’s life against her so that no one would ever believe her ever again.

Jesus Christ on a cob.

The thing that really did it for me was when Big told me she started questioning her own reality. She was accused of saying something horrifically mean to a friend, something that I immediately knew didn’t come from the mouth of my kid, but because of what’s happening, she just couldn’t be 100% sure.

Wait, hold the phones. This is something that I am dealing with in my own private life right now, as an adult. And I can barely handle it myself. There are days where I feel like I am actually going crazy, where I sort through screenshots and archives to try to piece together evidence that I am not actually insane, that I have actually lived the events that I claim to have lived. In my most vulnerable of times I have wished for someone to come in, take my word at face value and tell my psychopathic ex to shut the fuck up and leave me alone.

And then it hit me, this is the gift that I can give to my child. In the end, that’s what we did. My partner and I called the person up and told them to leave Big alone.

I want my kids to know that their home is a sanctuary for them, forever. That no matter what happens, no matter how big their fuck up is, that they can turn to me for unconditional support. That they can call me at 3am and know that I will be there, no questions asked, literally. That if they don’t feel good being somewhere, I will walk all day and all night if that’s what it takes, to take them away and bring them back to safety. And hopefully one day, if they ever decide to have their own children, to do the same for them.

Image: © Håkan Vargas/via WildSweden

Day 6

Holy Batman anxiety. A trip to the pharmacy this morning where I made a mistake in cutting the queue after having thought that there were two, instead of the one, has left me with a shaky hands, heart palpitations and stars and butterflies.

How did I even get here? When did I first begin to realise that this is a condition not everyone has?

Was it when I realised that I would get dizzier and dizzier when my parents pressured me to make calls to the charity hotlines when I was a kid?

No, because I don’t like peer pressure, that’s all.

Was it when I got shaky before I got on stage for concerts?

No, because I read The Berenstain Bears Get Stage Fright. If they made a book about it, then I shouldn’t make a mountain out of a molehill with my nervousness.

Was it when I caught myself going through the play-by-play of my mistakes over and over again in my head, as if I could go back in time and make it all stop before it had started?

No, because mommy said it’s important to review the mistakes we make every day so that we don’t make them ever again.

Was it when I got my first panic attack because of all the people and noise? Was it when I felt my stomach knotting up before going to a party?Was it when I would hide in the toilets before presentations? Was it when I would feel the world spin after turning red whenever I heard my voice crack from nervousness?

When was it? And does it matter?

When I was little there were some weekends where there would be a charity event on television. My father would always use it as an opportunity to try to toughen me up. There’s always the song and dance with him asking me if I would like to do a nice thing for the poor people out there, my responding that if we wanted to do nice things for people then we should just show it with our actions instead of donating money that would trickle down several middlemen and lose its meaning. It all usually ends with him throwing down an ultimatum before The Rehearsal.

The Rehearsal was where my parents would pretend to be the people on the receiving end and we would practice our lines before I actually make the call. A bizarre ritual in and of itself without all the rest of it. For reasons unbeknownst to me, they didn’t seem to realise that The Rehearsal just made it worse. Most times I can finish barely dialling the number and would start to be short of breath. Then I’d wheeze and then I’d start to cry. The rare times where I’d made it past the dial tone, my throat would close up and I wouldn’t be able to speak.

Then came the yelling.

There would always be the yelling afterwards: “Otter, it was just a tiny phone call to a stranger about something inconsequential. Why can’t you even do that? Are you going to avoid strangers your entire life? Is that it? You can’t hide behind us forever, you know!”

To be quite frank, I don’t really remember his exact words because it always happened in such a blur, his voice drowned out by my own crying and wheezing. They would try to backtrack when I would start to get the shakes, and then they would explain how they didn’t mean to hurt me and try to explain that they understood what I was going through. That was the worst bit, because they would always get it wrong.

The more they explained the more I shook. Then they’d babble and explain some more and it would get worse.

Rinse and repeat. Rinse and repeat.

My mother likes to say that I get panic attacks because I have a “weak heart”. She said that again a week ago when I was on the phone with her. I am just too fucking tired to argue anymore.

Now, there are good days and there are the bad. But sometimes I really wonder if my anxiety would have been this bad if I had been able to stand my ground and had said no to them, at least once.

Checklist for the day

  • 1 empty water bottle on the coffee table
  • 1 bag of clean unfolded laundry by Big’s door
  • 1 unplugged night light sitting in the corridor
  • 1/2 load of clean laundry lying on the bed in the master bedroom
  • 3 pairs of shoes in the entry way
  • 6 dirty glasses, 2 dirty coffee cups, 2 dirty dishes, 1 dirty pot
  • 12 glass bottles to take down for recycling

Image: © Mykyta Dolmatov/Getty Images

Day 3

Fridays.

End of the work week, bevvies, date nights, house parties, Netflix and chill, me time.

Every other Friday is also the day I go with my partner to pick Little up as she will be staying the week with us. This has been relatively new. It has been three months, give or take, so far. Maybe one day I will have the guts (and clarity) to write about how this all came to be, but today is not one of those days. I have always loved picking her up. We built a ritual where I would hide her snacks in my pockets so that she can look for them. She would run over, pat me down and do a whole thing about how she wanted this snack or that. On our way home she would tell me about her day while doing a sort of kiddie parkour and I would rush her home because I would need to get dinner on the table for the family. It was new every single time. It was fun. It was great.

Since the separation a few months ago, however, we have been having some difficulty setting a rhythm for pick-up because of the summer holidays and so forth. But every time we go now, there is an immediate sense of anxiety and panic even before reaching the school or the meeting place. How is she going to be this time? Will she scream and cry for her mother? How long will it take before she calms down?

I have been close with Little since the first day I met her, when she was still in her nappies. The memory I have of her from that day is when she began to grimace at me while holding the edge of the coffee table. I was so confused and worried until I realise that she was looking at me while doing a poo. Standing up. In the living room. I remember playing horsey with her so much that she started calling me Horsey, instead of my name. I remember when she started developing the habit of asking me really deep questions about life and love at really weird moments (like when we were taking a shower). I remember when she started using drawings to describe how she felt when she would throw a fit. Our relationship is special in the sense that she is not my biological daughter, but we have a bond that goes beyond traditional understandings of family ties.

I love her more than life itself and seeing her in pain– knowing that she is suffering– rips my heart out. I know that when she cries when she sees me now is not personal, that when she screams for her mom now it’s not because of me. I know that, but that understanding has not made its way to my body yet.

The panic was well on its way of rushing through my body several hours before pick-up time, despite my telling myself the things that I know (that she loves me, that I love her, that she has fun with us, that we nurture her and that we just need time). I felt myself getting squirrelly walking with the traffic rushing past me and with people coming up behind me. I tried to steady my breath, but all I can think about is her little face and how she howled the last time I picked her up to start the weekend. I tried to counterbalance this with memories of last week, when she first started school and when she spent the week with us. How she asked me to draw something for her to leave in her backpack so that when she’s nervous, she could look at it. How she asked me to “forget” to put her afternoon snacks in her bag so that she could possibly see me when I drop them off at the gate during lunchtime. But to no avail. By the time we reached the gate, Little was nowhere to be seen. We asked after her and told her teacher that she is meant to go home with us at this time. Waiting for what seemed like hours with her tiny scooter in hand, with parents and kids crowding around us, I finally saw her and the look she had on her face.

Framed by a mess of sweaty hair was the look of pure disappointment.

At that moment I felt myself melting into the ground, leaving only my head sticking out of the ground, screaming but with no voice and to no one in particular.

I never ever, ever want her, or Big, to have the burden of managing my feelings, but this is the pain that I am feeling every other Friday and the only sane way of managing it is by letting myself feel it and ride through it.

The only way out is through.