I was nearly 4 years old.
The same age as my youngest son is now.
I can recall what happened so sharply, it's like it lives in a special part of my memory which hasn't been clouded by time or pushed away by other, more important things. It lives in it's own wee space in my brain, just for me; to replay whenever I want.
You are walking down the path.
It's a moment that tainted the rest of our relationship, and a moment, I am sure, to your adult mind that didn't really matter.
As an adult, you are less aware - and I know from experience now - of the impact you make on a child's life.
Of the long-lasting damage you can inflict with the tiniest, seemingly throwaway acts.
|This is me|
It's so easy to dismiss the young. To believe that they won't remember what happened. To trust the future and that you have time to change it for the better. To figure that you'll be able to erase the bad and replace it with good.
I know that it wasn't all about me, as you pointed out when I was older. I'm so lucky to have never been through divorce or separation in my own adult life, but I know enough to know that the child in that situation should not have been ignored. Should not have been discounted, given the circumstances.
Where you going Daddy? You come play with me?
Should not have been left out of your wedding plans to your new wife. Should not have had to choose between you and the new wife when things went awry. Should not have been used as a pawn in the games between you two. Should not have had to watch you post my birthday card through my letterbox and disappear into the night without you even knocking the door to say hello. Should not have had to explain my anger over a fraught telephone conversation at sweet sixteen years old in which you shouted me down for being 'too flippant'. Should not have been watched at my school gates on exam day. Should not have had to reconsider a relationship with my own two brothers to avoid my own children being involved in some toxic relationships the way my sister and I were when we were only teenagers.
You coming home, Dad? I got pictures for you! I been playing outside, Dad! Where you going? What's in the bag?
It's been a great night out as we all chill in my brother-in-law's house. We've had a lot to drink - everyone is laughing, spirits are high. We get onto the topic of someone we know who has maybe fathered a child. The guy's quite sure it's his. Someone quips that the child in question won't care; the child in question will be happy with monetary recompense. No dad - just money. There's laughter.
And all of a sudden I'm shouting. I'm shouting about how that's not true. How the guy should get a grip. That the child won't care about money, or gifts, or how much guilt-laden presents it has to unwrap on Xmas day or masses of oodles of cash in a birthday card hastily shoved through the door, or a ton of chocolate eggs at Easter. The child needs her father. Her daddy. And if she doesn't have him - the questions! The pain! The guilt! The longing! The constant wondering of why she was never good enough! That's what she'll go through! Can't you see?
The room stills to a stunned and embarrassed silence. Because it's embarrassing for them. My oldest friend squeezes my hand secretly under the table - only he and my husband know what I've been through; they are the only two in this room that know me well enough to know my pain. My eyes brim with tears and my husband holds my shoulder protectively.
I swallow hard, gulping back the threatening tears and take a drink as chatter resumes. Awkward re-commencement of previous piss-taking.
The others are irked and put out by the little nearly four year old, the confused seven year old, the awkward eleven year old and the angry teen who has just walked into the room. They are annoyed at the realism suddenly intruding on their joke. The girl with 'Daddy Issues' just spoiled the party.
I thought I was done with this kind of feeling.
I excuse myself and go to the toilet.
Daddy, where you going? Can I come too? You going shops? I like the shops!
I don't know how you walked away from your daughter that day. The wee lassie with the messy ponytail, big green eyes and full of fun. The same eyes my wee boys give me when they cheekily ask for chocolate, or want extra time to play or are sorry for spilling milk on the carpet. How you managed to ignore the wee girl who was so pleased to see you as you entered the close door and went up the stairs.
How you met her enthusiasm and expectedness with mere indifference as you told her to 'wait there', pushing past her to get out of that door without explanation.
Your black and white, striped, shoes walking up those cold stone stairs, back down again and out of the self-locking close door, completely ignoring your daughter, your little girl, as she put her small hands on the fractured safety glass and watched as your 6ft 4inch frame grew smaller and smaller, until it disappeared into the sihouette of her outstretched palm.
She cried. A lot. Confused, frightened tears.
Dad! Where you go? Dad?
I don't know how you did that.
Whether it was misjudgement, pure desperation, cruelty, disrespect, emotion...I don't know.
I look at my youngest son now and I just know how much it would destroy his whole life if I did the same now. Or if his daddy did the same now. I can't imagine it.
I'm at a playpark with the kids. I'm helping the eldest climb the climbing frame - it's tough going, but we are getting there. He's clumsy, with feet too big for his body. He's going to be tall. He's always been big for his age.
I feel like I'm being watched - someone's eyes are making me uncomfortable. A tall man with black and white striped shoes disappears into the distance.
This is how we communicate now. Through sometimes-you, sometimes-strangers -who-look-like-you-in-the-distance. You are a figure in the showreel of my mind.
Always walking away.
Always disappearing into the distance.
Flashes in the crowd.
I guess I'll always be the girl with 'Daddy Issues'.
I'm getting there though
|Family as it should be!|