The Things I Still Don't Know
Yesterday I peeked through the gap in my daughter’s door. She was lying on her bed, feet up on the wall, dancing her fingers through the rays of light that fell onto her duvet cover. Toast crusts curled on a plate by her side. She was half watching a film she’d seen a million times. She was half in her head, the brackets of a smile on her lips. She was in a place I could no longer go. Adolescence.
I remember me at fifteen, perched on the back of my found-on-the-street sofa bed, a stolen Silk Cut in hand, the window open onto our geriatric street of beige raincoats and yappy dogs, wondering when my life was going to begin. Who I was going to be. Where I was going to live. Who I was going to marry. What I was going to do. None of these things felt like something I had to decide or work towards. I honestly believed that one day the needle would hit the grove and suddenly I’d be living. I kept on waiting and wondering. Eighteen. Twenty-one. Thirty. I thought by then that I would know things. Things like where Northampton is or how to convert stones to kilos. What a trundle wheel does. I thought I would understand inflation and what shadow cabinet ministers did. Why we can’t just print more money? I think I thought I would accumulate knowledge like a shelf accumulates dust. I didn’t. I don’t. I still can’t count, multiply or divide. I don’t have any sense of direction. I don’t know where anywhere is. I don’t understand most road signs or box junctions. In fact, I often worry I am driving on the wrong side of the road. I don’t know how to pronounce a lot of words. Sometimes, I concentrate so hard on listening to people that I forget to listen. I don’t understand the conflict going on in the world. I don’t get how cameras and videos work. I still feel like I’m waiting to grow up. Recently, I went to see 'A Little Life' at the theatre. When the main character ran round the stage naked, other people cried. I laughed because his penis was flapping, and it looked like Cyril Sneer.
I miss cartoons. I miss thinking milkshakes are healthy (calcium plus fruit). I miss believing that Kellogg’s Frosties were an essential source of vitamins and iron.
I didn’t think it would be like this, growing up. I thought filling my car up with fuel was going to be way more fun. I thought I would stay up late and not be scared of thunderstorms or getting told off. I thought I’d play loud music night and day. As a kid, all I ever wanted was to be older. I shucked off childhood faster than that charity shop coat my parents got me and made me wear to school, where the old owner pointed out it used to belong to them.
And now I am older, and this is what I know.
I am still scared most of the time. Of the dark. Of something happening to the people I love. That I am going to lose my mind and randomly drive my car off a cliff. I am scared that my children will have the same problems I did. I am scared that I am not making the most of my life. I am still waiting to understand how the world works and what my part in it is going to be. Right now, the sun is shining. People I know and love are battling cancer in metal framed beds. Outside, big fat stripy bees dance round the buddleia in my garden, yet I am indoors writing this to blog to no one.
This is what else I know. I am not sure any of the stuff I don’t know matters. The maths and the directions. Even if I’d known (insert a complicated mathematical equation here) or why it always rains in Manchester, I don’t think it would've helped me. I wish I’d been taught a different curriculum. Schooled in how to fail. I wish our intimidating PE teacher had lined us up on the school field and had us scream NO into her face until we learned how to do it without fear. I wish I’d been taught how to defend myself from dangerous men and toxic people. I wish I’d been taught how to pay bills and juggle relationships and soothe babies and tie knots that will not come undone. I wish I’d had a mock exam in heartbreak. That I had practised losing little things. Buttons and scarves. Wallets and tents. That photo of you. My favourite cardigan. The pillow I can’t sleep without. All this to prepare for real loss. I wish I’d been taught how to pick myself out of a line-up, recognise myself in among everyone else. How to love my body for what it is.
I wish I’d known how lucky I was back when I was a kid. That I’d appreciated not having to hold my own coat or do up my own shoes. The roof over my head that I didn’t have to worry about paying for. How the fridge filled itself with milk and cheese by magic and there was always bread and biscuits in the barrel. That someone locked up for me at night. I wish I could be fifteen again. Just for a day.