It Felt Like Cannibalism


Is it just me or do you also hang on to all manner of items because of their sentimental value?

I have every envelope that James and my Mother have ever written my name on because it has their handwriting. Not such a silly thing because when Mum first got ill with her Alzheimer’s and Dementia and almost died, she had no idea of how to even hold a pen let alone write with it. I had to try to get her to sign a form and once I had put the pen in her hand (the right way up after a number of attempts), she didn’t even know how to hold it let alone mark an ‘X’ in the box. I had to take a photograph of her with the form and the pen etc to send with the paperwork. The irony being that it was a formal complaint to the NHS about her appalling mistreatment and misdiagnosis which had lead to this moment.

Nothing stays the same and there are no guarantees in this world of anything, including seeing your name written on an envelope by those who you love most in this world.

James bought me a Caramac bar at least six or seven years ago. I still have that. I kept it because he ‘found’ the Caramac for me after I mentioned that I hadn’t seen them in ages and really fancied one. Then he came home with a big grin wielding a Caramac and it moved me so much I couldn’t bear to eat it. It has even travelled back and forth to LA with us each time.

Talking of LA, I still have an ‘Oscar’s biscuit’ (baked in the shape of an Oscar with gold icing) from our Oscar’s brunch at the Four Seasons a year ago, just before we moved back to London. Our friend had flown out to spend a week with us helping to pack up and have a mini holiday and so the biscuit has all sorts of emotional memories attached to it. James is horrified and has asked me to throw it away. It’s in an airtight Ziploc bag and will never be consumed (obviously) but I am not yet ready to say goodbye to it.

Perhaps I am a hoarder in training?

My grandmother was a fully fledged hoarder. She lived right next to St Giles Church near Centre Point and would go for a wander along Oxford Street each evening after the shops shut and would bring home all sorts of treasures that had been thrown out. There was so much ‘treasure’ that you could only open her flat door wide enough to squeeze through. The downstairs hallway was literally full to the ceiling with stuff. Her bedroom was so full that it was FULL and her husband’s bedroom (her blind alcoholic husband) had to feel his way through a pathway only inches wide but solid up to the ceiling to get to his room. The pathway went all the way up the staircase to the living room, bathroom and kitchen. There was nowhere to really sit down apart from Jack’s chair, or to climb high and perch on stuff that was all over the sofa and other armchairs. My grandmother would sleep perched aloft, like the Princess and the Pea. Sort of but more dusty.

I’m not like that. I hope. I just keep small things and am more than happy to throw out others but all of the things I keep have a memory attached to them.

Perhaps I do it because I can. When I was a child, there was so much instability and lack of security in my life that I always needed proof that my Mother existed. Sometimes to this day, I even need proof that I exist. I think it’s a side-effect of the trauma.

The proof can take any form and I cannot know in advance what will or will not evoke feelings in me one way or the other. The bad things are discarded as much as the good things are kept.

After I was attacked by the pretend supply teacher in my primary school, I got rid of all of the clothes I had been wearing that day and changed the way I did my hair forever more, thinking that somehow those things had been partially responsible. What I had chosen to wear and the way my hair was parted had obviously made a random paedophile walk in off the street and attack me.

Likewise, things that evoke positive emotions need to be kept safe.

My therapist calls it magic thinking, which sounds way better than a lot of other things she could call it.

Once, when I was seven there was an item I wanted to keep safe but was not allowed. It was Easter. My Mother had bought both myself and my foster brother Easter eggs. My Mother had also bought me a weird Greek plaited loaf of bread thingy that will no doubt have a starring role in the new ‘My Big Fat Greek Wedding’ film.

I was going to save both the egg and the bread. There was no fixed plan of how long I would keep them but I didn’t want to eat them as my Mother had just said goodbye and gone on her merry way back to her life without me. I was filled with a sadness at being abandoned again and worrying that I might never see her again.

My foster brother ate his egg and I didn’t. He didn’t share a morsel. I kept my Easter goodies on the table in front of me and was just revelling in their existence. As long as they existed, so did my Mother. And so did I.

My foster brother wanted more chocolate or was complaining about the fact that I still had my egg and the weird plaited loaf thingy to our foster Mother. As usual when he complained, without her hearing both sides or even caring what the truth was, I was automatically in the wrong even though I was four years younger than him and had done absolutely nothing. At this point I was seven and he was eleven. I am not blaming him for this. He knew what the situation was but as with any child he was going to milk it for all he was worth.

My foster Mother took one look at my Easter booty laid out on the table in front of me and assumed (I can only assume) that somehow I was being greedy. She ordered me to share my egg and the bread and I when I refused she got angry.

Instead of hearing what I was really saying, my words, “I don’t want to eat them!” was taken as defiance. Instead of doing what she should have which was to tell my foster brother to mind his own and then doing that herself, she decided to punish me for defying her.

I was forced to eat every last crumb of both the egg and the bread right there and then in front of them both with a torrent of tears falling down my face. My positive proof stuck in my throat with each bite and mixed with my feelings of immense loss and humiliation. It was sickening and painful.

Even now as I write this I can feel the injustice and sadness at not only being totally misunderstood but at the loss of a tangible connection to my Mother with each bite of food that I was made to consume in front of them. It felt like cannibalism.

*For all the posts in this series, please click here:



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