Only God Knows Why

The Ignorance of Youth (For all I know, there’s far more I don’t)

I grew up in a household of noisiness. Everything that occurred was accompanied by sharp, deliberate, intrusive, raw, exploding sound. Each passing second going by with more than just the mere, sedate ticking of a clock. As children, we made sure that the business of our living was noticed.

Being the coolest kids on the block, we spent all day glued to the Super Nintendo that was set up next to our kitchen table, overflowing with the pragmatic mess of every day life. Squashed between this giant wooden centre of our house with bills and papers teetering precariously on top, and a crockery cupboard, I would watch my brother play as if he were a wizard. His older fingers ran swiftly over the buttons in a way that mine couldn’t, and my eyes would follow his on-screen self, mesmerized, as if the two of us were involved in some kind of digitally mediated snake charming dance.

But what I remember most clearly about his performance, is the way that when his character was vanquished by some difficult opponent (always to my great surprise, I couldn’t fathom that he could be defeated at all) he would slam his left leg against our crockery cabinet.

CRASH! The plates would fly around inside, a loud symphony of china against china for such a small defeat. The ceramic bread bin would dance its little tattoo on top and just as we all thought this would be the time that it would meet the floor – the level would reboot and we’d breathe out. The bread would settle in its fragile home and nothing would be broken. I have a lot of memories surrounding that brother, that Nintendo game and that kitchen. I still love him and my other brother (despite the regrettable actions we all undertake under the guise of “sibling rivalry”) with a fierce, sisterly love.

But what I remember most about us growing up is that we refused to be seen and not heard. We were the new age of children: no one was going to steal our spirit, our bare feet or our voices. We weren’t naughty children, we were just making it up as we went along and letting everyone share in our noisy, happy existence as we ran wild, swallowing the world with our shouty mouths. They say that the empty jar makes the most noise, but we were full full full! Full of joy, love from our parents, love for each other, playfulness, innocence and the sweet light of two children who are playmates above all and know no need for anything else. And we wanted our noise to show this to the world – each frustration, each triumph.

Unfortunately for us, this sweet family world would not survive the bumps of life intact, like that bread container. When I was a teenager, my parents separated and I came to understand the fundamental difference between me and adults. A gulf of wisdom that I do not know how to traverse. While I was used to setbacks being coupled with loud anguish and demonstrated frustration, the death of my family was met with almost complete silence.

My parents had been separated for some time when the decision was made for them to divorce. My mother had a new boyfriend and I was living with my father at the time. I came home early from a university lecture and found my mother serving divorce papers on my father. She handed them over, he thanked her cordially and she left.

This, I could not understand. This was that gulf – I still have not learnt this art of secret acceptance.

I wanted them to get angry! I wanted them to shout about the hurts they had inflicted upon each other, the break that had caused in the home of these messy, happy, loud children. Scream about how none of us would be the same, how much they loved and hated each other. I wanted them to remember the day they met, how sweetly they fell in love. Cry over how they would never share those feelings for each other again, that the person who they had loved for over 20 years would no longer be theirs.

‘Get angry!’ I thought, ‘Your marriage is over! You’re saying goodbye to the person you thought would be the love of your life! Show God that you hate him for what he’s done to you! To us! To me! Slam your fists on the ground, wail, keen! For God’s sakes!  This is so unfair! And it shouldn’t happen to anyone – GET ANGRY!’

To me, I felt we should honour the sanctity and death of their relationship with an end that fitted its importance. But my mother smiled hello to me, no trace of nostalgia or sadness, and drove away, saying she would see me later. I felt exhausted, as if we really had beat against the wall of fate as I had wanted us to.

All I could think was:

How silently that which is done can be undone.

A few years later, my grandmother became very ill and her heart actually stopped for a few terrifying moments. We all really thought she was going to die. She was taken to hospital and put into a critical care section of the Emergency Department. We sat outside, white as the bleached hospital linen against her skin. I had driven with my father all the way from the city, where I was living at the time.

If we had been living in a bubble of a safe childhood, then this was the woman that was blowing them. She had lived with us ever since we were born and owned half of our house. She easily took on the role of mother to us when my own mother (for reasons which I’m sure are clear and compelling to her) was unable to take care of us in all the ways we needed, as the unique children we were. She was a warm lap to climb into when our parents had scolded us and was always on our side. She was a strong structure in the storm of us growing up – and I knew it.

I remember that I once told me mother that I dreamt of being a writer and that I didn’t want to continue studying math for my final year of high school. The careers counsellors at my high school called a conference with my mother and I. We fought like cats and dogs. If, by cats and dogs, you mean a pack of hyenas and a Pomeranian.

Your maths grades are brilliant
, they said, You’re throwing away your future! they said.  You could be a doctor if you wanted. You could be anything you want!

I held my ground, and they bared their teeth.

You’re a scholarship student. They said. Why am I paying for this school then, you should go somewhere else if you’re not going to try to do well. They said.

I went home, demoralized. I loved the high school I went to – my best friends were there, I loved my literature teachers and I’d just started going out with a boy. The creative atmosphere and relaxed self-directed ethos was perfect for someone who found it difficult to follow gratuitous instructions.

‘My God,’ I thought. ‘They can’t send me somewhere else. They’d eat me alive out there!’

My grandmother was there when I got home, and we washed the dishes together. I remember this moment clearly, the sunlight was coming through the blinds and landing upon us in refreshing shafts. It mirrored perfectly the way I remember sitting with her on our brick fence the day before I went to kinder, looking at the trees and talking about what I was going to be like when I was grown up.

You should do what you want to do. She said. I’ve been here long enough to know that’s what matters. Don’t do maths if you don’t want to. You know what you want.

And so I didn’t.

I hope that story gives you some understanding of the role this woman placed in my life, particularly after my father and my brother had moved away. She was a woman that had had great triumph – she had a massive family of high achieving, healthy, loving people, but she’d had her fair share of pain. Her husband had died two years before I was born from a disease caused by a dirty, unfair war known as World War II. She watched the love of her life slowly wither away and go before his time. A man who apparently is just like me – genuinely loved people and is brimming full of life, reduced by an evil disease to being stuck in a bed. I cannot imagine what this would be like.

And here we were, facing losing her. The whole of my family sitting silently in the waiting room. What the fuck! I wanted to know. There was so much anger, sadness, hurt inside me. I was supposed to be quietly accepting that this matriarch, because of an advanced age, was no longer going to be around for me. Nodding and saying what a good life she had. Fuck that!

If you only ever read one thing in this blog, let it be this:

Death is not a fitting end to any life.

I truly believe this, to the core of my being. No matter how old, the world is still losing something from the passing of a great human being. Death may be inevitable, but it’s not fitting.

And boy I wanted everyone to know what I was losing! I wanted to throw things, plead loudly with fate that I didn’t know how to go through life without her as a strong, guiding force now my family was decimated. Fortunately for me, she survived the heart attack. And later she told me:

I wasn’t ready to go. I didn’t want to die yet.

Good. Because I wasn’t ready either. And how easily others accepted this possibility was something I couldn’t relate to. The eerie, mature acceptance of the unfairness of fate, because fate is unfair to everyone.

I know that this post will greatly reveal how immature I am. I can’t accept things quietly, I can’t watch the world go by with my hands tied.  I wish to God I could show the dignity that I have seen in those who have really suffered.

I am by no means saying that I have suffered greatly in my life – I have had it very, very easy and I have seen my friends go through many horribly, horribly terrible times with a dignity and strength that I respect and envy.  A skill I want badly.

But the times I have experienced loss, I haven’t been able to let the feeling pass over me quietly but accepted, like  the sensations of a phantom limb. The ignorance of my youth is that I still want to honour the unfairness of life and what we are losing with the noise of my childhood.

Even now I am a young adult, I get this feeling. I know it shows the depth of my immaturity, and perhaps a fault in my character.

I was recently driving  home the Finnish friend of a good friend of mine, and he was talking about that kind of crying where your whole body shakes and you’re wracked with sobs. And I realised on all these times, when I had wanted to beat against the wall, I had stood by, silent.  My body screamed at me to create a whirlwind of emotion as an homage to the misty past, but I didn’t. I mirrored those around me and instead of either throwing up or choking, I just swallowed the childish unfairness I was feeling. I couldn’t remember the last time I had really sobbed like that, only that I had wished to.  I don’t know what to make of this nearly post-script discovery that I have not sobbed as I had wished but numbed myself instead.

I suppose then, there is something in the silence I can understand.  It’s about letting something go. Like watching your breath dissipate before you on a clear cold night, you let your silence make you into a wall between what has gone before and those you have to protect.

And how quietly wounds are inflicted upon us before birth. In utero, we inherit lacerations that were never requested, nor accepted voluntarily. And  how silently a father decides that he will be the end of this chain, that his children will not inherit his birth right.


2 Comments so far
Leave a comment

You write amazingly. I am a tantrum-thrower too. I don’t let bad things happen while I sit back and watch silently, I protest and chuck a fuss.


Comment by Kerry

haha, thanks. I read this post, and I thought… Vix, you are one histronic son of a gun.


Comment by ivegottamove

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