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Sunday, December 30, 2012

From a Once-Ghost to a Now-Ghost

My support worker suggested that I might find it helpful to write a letter to my 12 year old self whose mother sent her to live with her (abusive) father after a fight.

Everything in the letter below is true and accurate as my perception of the events (and I'm fairly sure, true and accurate as to the facts as well), although I did take slight creative licence on the ages as I won't actually be 30 for another two weeks. My niece, though, really is 12, and does shout the same thing I told my mother.

This is, at this stage, still a first draft. I promised my support worker I wouldn't edit the original minus small rearrangements until after she had read it, and I find that after such an emotional outpour, I'm reluctant to reread and edit just yet. I wanted to share it, anyway, though.

You are twelve years old, a ghost and a memory, but that doesn't stop you being here with me. You view me as a wisp, an ethereal image hazy with what might be but I can see that you are a stamp of yesterday as indelible as octopus ink. You are in my eyes, and under them, in the depths of who I am. You will be changed, soon, by a moment that falls heavy around your shoulders even as it darts away.

When it happens, you will know that nothing will ever be the same, but you won't know how much this moment will become part of you. You won't know that for another 15 years, when you will revisit this moment in the hospital, undressing yourself and folding the adult part of you on the chair for later. Nakedly you will tell the nurse how it feels to be vulnerable and left to his mercy.

You will remember what you shouted, and you will remember slamming the door. You will remember the first time you ever heard her swear was that day, and she was calling you a bitch. You will remember the terror you felt when you realised she was calling your father, and you will remember begging her not to send you away. You will remember that you heard your little brother plead your case, and though you won't remember her reply, you will remember the tight way she speaks, and the sinking of that balloon of hope in your chest as she gets on the phone and tells him to come and get his daughter.

Unaccountably, you will remember the day when you were small and one of your brothers had placed a sandwich into the VCR. You will remember another phone call, to the Police (or so you still believe), and the certainty with which she tells you all that they are coming to fingerprint and take away the guilty party. You remember knowing it wasn't you, deducing it was one of your brothers and not knowing which. You remember you begged them each separately to confess, that you would not be torn through the middle; two magnetic poles no longer touching. Years later, when you remember that other moment, you will remember this one, and you will also remember that picture in your mind, of a small face peering out the back of a terrifyingly large vehicle. In your dreams, that face will be yours.

You won't remember whether it all happened slowly, as if you are stuck in time; or if the inevitability of it all sped you through to its conclusion. You won't remember what this fight was even about, but you'll remember that you didn't mean what you shouted and you both knew it.

You will remember her giving you a bag and telling you to pack your things, and you'll remember only that you sat stiffly in the car, cradling your stereo, and that you cried the whole way to your father's.

Years from now, you will remember, also, some of the aftermath as well, like the day your mother tells you she has antidepressants now. By the time you are 14, you will know this is your fault, and she will confirm it.

By then, you won't remember whether you gave any thought to the friends you left behind, but you will discover that when you return, most of them will remember you. Some of them will reclaim you, but Kylie, with whom you shared a birth month and with whom you were close, will never forgive you for leaving her behind. You won't mind because you aren't the same girl anymore, but you will regret the bullying that follows as she gradually steps up the levels of violence.

Still, you will survive and you will believe you are mainly unscathed. You will believe for many years that your mother is the good one. You will believe that all of this will disappear, fade into the background of who you are. You will believe that it is all your fault.

You will believe it, but it won't be true.

You are twelve years old. Twelve. You don't know it now, but when you are 30, you will have a 12 year old niece, and you will see in her the same streak of independence you had at her age. You will hear her shout those same words to her father, to her mother, to her grandmother... to you. You will see past them and know that they are words that come from a place of anger, but mostly from a place of hurt and confusion.

You will know that if anyone tries to send her away, it will not be her fault, and it will not be a reflection on the value of that 12 year old girl trying to make her way in a world that is often confusing and scary. You will know beyond any doubt that she is beautiful and amazing and wonderful, and that even when she makes mistakes, she is still all of those things.

You will know that no matter what the world throws at her, she will always have value. At 30, you will begin making connections between that 12 year old and the you that was 12. You will write yourself this letter, and in the writing, you will begin to let go of the shadow that has followed you for 18 years, because you will begin to see that at 12, you are still a child. At 12, you are a child who cannot be responsible for the actions of an adult. You are not the cause of your mother's illness, and though you may have exacerbated it without knowing or intending that, it is still not your fault.

You are twelve years old, a ghost and a memory, but that doesn't stop you being here with me. You have been changed by this moment, and you will be changed by many more that are to come, until you become the 30 year old writing this letter. You will look in the mirror one day and though your hair is greying and your skin wrinkles like unironed sheets, you will see, still, the stamp of who you were; the stamp of moments; lived, loved and regretted; all over the solidity of who you are.


  1. I wish I had known you then. I wish I had been able to offer some support, some knowledge of all the things you have now learned that you did not know, could not know, then. I wish these lessons had not been so hard in the learning. I wish I could hold 12yo-you and now-you. I wish I could tell you then what I know to be true - that you are strong, and courageous, and valuable. That you are beautiful in every way and that you have much to offer many people. That the circumstances of your childhood are not your fault in any way, that you in no way invited the treatment you received at the hands of others.

    I wish I could write to my younger selves as honestly and healingly as you have to yours.

  2. Bless you. Sorry I haven't replied sooner, I knew replying would mean re-reading my post and I just wasn't up to that yet. ;)

    I wish I had better words to say in response, but thank you. You know how much you mean to me, and I hope you also know how much you help me, every day, just by being you and by being part of my life.

    Re writing your younger selves, a first step might be to imagine someone you love in that position, and write as though it was to them? I know that PJ was a huge influence in my being able to write this, and to being able to take so much from it. If I hadn't had that comparison between her and myself, I don't think I would've been able to do it -- certainly, it wouldn't have had as much impact on me.

    (And now I have yet another thing to be grateful for about that wonderful young lady! Not that I was ever in danger of running short there.)