Wednesday, 14 September 2011

Nineteen: Adventures of Poland

Mostly of the emotional kind, I'm afraid.  It was on the whole a successful trip, but being away with someone else's family brought a lot of stuff up for me.

29th July

Just crossed the Polish border.  M and I committed the cardinal sin of going for lunch at McDonald's when we stopped at a petrol station - M's mother and her partner seem to want to drive non-stop from 9am to 7pm for some insane reason - but barring the occurrence of any tragedies of the natural or human kind we should reach Gdansk in good time this evening.  I'm going to attempt to use the rest of the journey productively, and finish Volume I of "Le Morte D'Arthur".


Is M's mother still cross with me? (for stopping to eat lunch at McDonald's.) Her silence says that she is.  Why do I suddenly feel so small?  Guilty, fearful and tense.  The pull of negative energy is so strong it's as if we were the only two people in the car.  It's exhausting.  Imagined or otherwise, I wonder what the setup here reminds me of.


It was probably inevitable that this car journey would remind me of going away with my parents as a child.  My mother would drive, and my father would use a map to get us hopelessly lost.  They would fight.  Sometimes it got nasty.  Nevertheless, I remember it fondly.  Sitting in the back with my brother, a bag of sweets between us, being lulled to sleep by the motion of the car and the BBC World Service rumbling low on the radio.  Secure in the care of the adults in front of us, who (mostly) knew where they were going and would always get us there safely.

The later journeys weren't so peaceful.  Either there was more fighting, more tension, more silence, more failed communication and a greater sense of discord between the four of us (well, three - my brother never really featured in my emotional configurations of the family) or I simply became more aware of what was present all along.  My mother became a vicious, relentless harpy, wounding with words chosen for their lethal precision, the threat of real violence never far away.  My father would either become the bleeding martyred target for her poisoned arrows, or beneath a shield of heavy silence emanate a violence of his own.  His aggression erupted rarely, but when it did it was with an amplified and eventually disastrous effect.

Childhood perception is not wholly trustworthy.  After continuing a while in this vein I find myself explaining my father's suicide in the following way:  as she had almost done to me, my mother lashed out one too many times at the most vulnerable part of my father, and unable to cope with what she had discovered, left him alone with it until it consumed him entirely.  Ergo, my mother killed my father as she had wanted to kill me.  (It may be of interest that, after much provocation, my brother did once actually hurl this accusation at her).

But this isn't the whole story.  My mother loved my father.  The silence and the distance he forced between them hurt her deeply, and the final silence was devastating - she lay immobile on the sofa for days, refusing food and literally wasting away.  After he died, I could find no trace of the former spite and malevolence I thought I had detected in her.  Even in the flashes of anger that sometimes came over her when she felt most painfully her abandonment, the "evil" of before was absent.  She was just another fragile hum being, who had loved too much.  However slowly and reluctantly, I have come to accept that who we were and who we are, what happened and why is a puzzle that may never be pieced together - least of all by me.

                                                                       Botanical Gardens.  Wrocław, Poland.

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