Yes, my right leg when I was a year old. How it happened is shrouded in mystery because, as with all my early childhood, no one openly talks about it. What my mother dripped into conversation over the years is that I slipped from her arms at the bottom of the stairs. I asked my oldest sister about it once, when I was about 11 years old and staying with her (which I hated; she didn’t want me there). She is 14 years older than me. In answer to my question, she said ‘What are you thinking about that for?’ making a clear point that I should not be thinking or talking about it. I took the hint and never mentioned it again.
I don’t believe that there is any sinister explanation for my broken leg. Rather, the secrecy around it is typical of the atmosphere I absorbed into my very being as a child, knowing that there were ‘things’ that were hinted at, dropped into the conversation, but I wasn’t allowed to ask about. Another example is when my mother asked my father to move out (after years of not wanting me to speak to him, despite us all living in the same house). My mother was complaining about him to me, something she always did (and continued to do until his death), so I wasn’t taking much notice as I hated it when she did that anyway, and she suddenly muttered under her breath ‘getting a divorce.’ I said ‘No!’ and she simply said ‘Yes, I can’t take anymore.’ And that was that. A few days later my father told me that my mother had asked him to move out. He asked me whether I wanted him to go. All I could say was ‘I don’t mind.’ Truly awful words. But such was the fear of speaking my truth in that household. Indeed, the fear of speaking.
I accept now that my mother was locked in so much pain and resentment towards my father, as well as suffering from mental illness, that she didn’t have the capacity to consider my feelings or let it occur to her that I had any at all. She dealt with things the way she has always done: packing them into boxes in her mind and carrying on. But she let them spill over when it suited her; mutterings under her breath, flashes of anger, comments like ‘the worst mistake of my life’ knowing I would see and hear them but, being the well behaved child I was, wouldn’t say a word. I suspect it was her way of reaching out, as strange as that sounds. She needed my companionship, wanted to express herself in the only way she knew how. She had no concept of my fear. And I was remarkably good at hiding it, being strong, moulding myself into the listening ear.
Returning to my broken leg, I’ll never know the truth, but I suspect she was at the top of the stairs when she dropped me and I tumbled down. These things happen. I don’t blame her for that. What I wish is that she could simply say ‘Oh yes, I dropped you, it was terrifying, you just fell.’ We could talk openly about it. But my guess is that she, too, was afraid. It was yet another thing she had to force away in the depths of her mind, lest it reflected badly on her. Mum has chronically low self esteem, the outcome of her own childhood. It so often is. The irony is that if she could have come out of her shell and dealt with her own pain, we’d have both been okay. But isn’t that the epitome of the human journey?
I know this post paints my mother in a terrible light. She is actually a very sensitive, caring, intelligent woman, and we get on well now, within reason (she still doesn’t do emotions). Her mental illness has passed. Her physical health is not good. I have healed a lot of my emotional pain. I have found acceptance. We relate as adults. We never talk about the past. Maybe in that way we will remain as we always were. But we talk more openly and freely about our lives now, today, and I can be thankful for that.