The Ubud Writers’ Festival and Women of Letters have combined to create a digital space for people who want to write things to other things. This month’s theme is To my childhood, and as I am a Women of Letters stalker (the most exciting thing about signing my book deal was how it brought me minutely closer to ever being invited to one), I wrote this. You can submit your own letter here.
It is not your fault, what I’m about to tell you. It can’t be, surely, not with all of your bright parties and elbow-deep terracotta clay and seven cats like dwarfs. Not you, I am certain, with your summer holidays and your frilled-neck socks and your Sunday lunches in the hills.
It’s just that, childhood, I seem to have held on to the worst parts of you.
There was that space behind the wicker doors, in the room that used to be mum and dad’s room before it was my room (but before it was my brother’s room) that was made exactly for sitting. In the afternoons the sun came through in thick rods and I should have splashed in puddles on the carpet but I sat, instead, right in front of those painted doors, where someone had propped the painting of dad. The abstract painting, with just the one nipple and the smear of red even though his hair was black, then. Someone had propped it there and I sat in front of the doors and
It’s just that loneliness is the first emotion I can remember, childhood. Before happiness (though I must have felt it, from you, with your chocolate birthday cakes and nanna’s brown sugar scones) and before jealousy (though that must have been there too, with that bundle in the blue blanket and his tight little fists) and before love (though it was definitely there when we danced to The Beatles in the sunroom extension).
It’s my fault, not yours, but when I feel lonely now, as an adult, as a fully-fledged human, it is the same loneliness from the room with the sunbeams and the painting of dad in front of the doors.
And it’s definitely not your fault, childhood, because remember how mum and dad had a tab at the stationery shop on Kensington Road, and they believed me when I went there and said that yes, the office absolutely did need an enormous new sketchbook and eight black textas and a packet of those caramel lollies (though they were free anyway)? And then Kerryn took us to the movies and I spilled popcorn all over her car but she didn’t mind, and her hair was always perfect?
But there was that other time when I hinted all year at a Lady Lovely Locks, but when the time came and I unwrapped all the presents, there was just a dollhouse hand-crafted by a man in a giant rocking horse, and a pair of My Little Ponies with personalised necklace beads, and no Lady Lovely Locks at all.
And now — and this is my fault — when I am disappointed as a grown up, as a person with a car loan and a red electricity bill, it feels exactly the same.
But it can’t be your fault because remember when I played the grandma in Stone Soup, and my own grandma came to the concert and dad videoed it, and I remembered all my lines and afterwards we went home and watched it again straight away on the TV? And dad remembered which cords connected to which other cords, and we sat on the brown couch and mum took a photo of my toes?
So it’s not your fault.
It’s just that there was that time in the corridor after maths, when the other kids were at lunch and it was just me and Hugo, and didn’t he look like Shane Warne? and I had worn the same shirt for three days. And he had one of those old compasses with rust on the end and he didn’t like that I was crowding his space with my B.O. and my fatness and he thought it might help everyone if he took that compass and stabbed me with it. Just in the classroom, where I had nearly finished my maths homework.
And it’s totally not your fault, but there was that other time when I was sitting in the car with dad, and he was taking me to Jane’s party, which was a surprise party, and when we pulled up he said, If you’re always like this, one day no one will like you.
And then there was that one day, and it was clear and sunny in the way only an Adelaide spring day can be, and I walked across the basketball courts and did a lay-up and picked a bit of yellow blossom and then went to the chaplain’s office and told him I wanted to die?
None of this is your fault, childhood.
I just wanted you to know.