There was a moment, a week or two after my Dad died, when numbness gave way to something like rage; I wanted to hurt, to smash, to scream. I have a strong visual memory of the moment. I am in the conservatory next to a side table on which stands some decorative pottery. My mum is standing a foot or two away from me. I am screaming in pain and frustration. “I want to smash all of this,” I am shouting, “I want to break everything.” I see as I say this that the worry in my Mum’s eyes is mingled with something like fear, and she says my name in an anguished tone. I don’t remember her exact words but she murmurs something like, “what’s happening to you?” and she looks scared. She, I can understand now, was expressing her own fear and sense of helplessness at seeing her child in such pain; but at the time as I registered that dismay in her voice I felt suddenly monstrous, as though my rage was too big for either of us, too ugly to be expressed.
This memory came to mind this morning as I witnessed my own son’s anguish and rage.
“My head hurts, my head hurts,” he wailed, as he dug his fists into his eyes.
“Sweets, please don’t press your eyes like that, it’s going to make your head feel worse,” I say gently.
He screams in pain and frustration. “I want to hurt someone,” he says. He says his sister’s name. “I want to hurt her. I hate her.”
“I know you’re feeling really angry,” I say. “You can’t hurt her.”
“I want to run away,” he says. “I want to run away to Dad’s house and never come back here.”
He starts to sob and sob. “I know you’re feeling really really sad and angry,” I said. “Can you tell me why?”
“I don’t want to tell you,” he repeats over and over.
“Please tell me sweetheart,” I say, “please please tell me. I can’t help unless you tell me. You won’t hurt my feelings, you can tell me anything.”
Finally he splutters out through his sobs, “I want you and Dad to get back together and I know that you never will.”
“Oh sweetheart,” I say, and I hold him tight. “I know, I know,” I say. “I’m so sorry sweetheart. I’m so, so sorry.”
“I don’t ever wanna be here,” he says. “Even if you never come back to live at Dad’s house, I don’t wanna ever be here again, I just wanna be at Dad’s house, that’s the only place I feel comfortable.”
I feel my chest grow tighter and tighter and all I can do is call him sweetheart and tell him in a big tumble of words how much I love him, and how sorry I am that he is in so much pain, and that of course he is, how could he not be, and that I am glad he is telling me, and that it hurts his Dad and me too, and that we are all sad, but that it is hardest for him and his sister, we know, and that it’s not fair. It’s not fair. It’s not fair.
“I want you to drive me to Dad’s house now,” he says.
“I’m not going to do that,” I say.
“Why are you so mean?” he yells. “You are so mean. You want me to be sad. I feel like I’m going to die.”
He is almost hysterical now. He is still lying in my arms on the floor. “I want to hurt myself,” he says, “I want to punch myself.” He starts to try to punch himself in the face but I catch his hand firmly and he resists and struggles, “stop holding me!” he spits at me.
“No,” I say, trying to keep the fear and panic out of my voice. “No, I’m not going to let you hurt yourself.”
From the other room comes the younger’s voice, plaintive, insistent, “Mom? You said you said I could brush your hair, can you bring the brush and the hairspray?”
I explain that I can’t right now, that her brother is very sad, that he needs me right now. She continues to call me.
“Shut up!” yells the elder at his sister.“Shut up.”
“Shhh,” I say. “It’s OK. It’s OK.”
I hold him and keep holding him. I rock him like the baby he once was. Slowly, slowly, the sobbing subsides. He lies in my arms limp and exhausted. He is all out of tears.