The first time I left Daniel with Chris and Tracy overnight, I felt I was betraying Daniel by leaving him with them.
I sat and spoke with Tracy and Chris for a few polite minutes, but when I picked up my bag to leave, Daniel hastened to come with me. I squatted down to be eye level with him, and say face to face that I would be back the next day, but that evening he would be hanging out with Chris and Tracy.
“Mama”, Daniel said, gesturing to come with me.
“Let him be”, Chris said brusquely. “You walk away, he get used to.”
“Come on Daniel”, Tracy said kindly, “Let’s go see what Phong’s doing.”
Tracy’s son Phong had made no effort to be polite during my visit, only presenting when Chris demanded him to, to say hello. He then returned to his room to do I did not know what. Daniel looked up at me – should he go with Tracy to Phong? His whole being was at the mercy of me, an adult: my adult decisions, soul’s leaning, capability of parenting.
Yet I did not feel like an adult. Adult women say “NO” to men (and men abide their will); grown women say, “No, I paid for a fresh pie, not a stale one you’ve been keeping aside to score a few dollars off a sucker like me”; women progressed are not afraid to embrace their whole, beautiful, intelligent selves – wouldn’t dream of dousing their spirits in alcohol to slur their rhyme and wit, render it untimed and ill-placed; or dream of eating litres of ice cream, chocolate, biscuits, chips so as to hide behind soft rolls of fat and not even attract an opportunity to say “NO” to men. I felt not adult at all.
In fact, having never been to counseling – through Mum’s suicide, the orphanage, my torturous years with dad, when Deana splintered schizophrenic and I spent days in the mental hospital in company with her, when I left my marriage or when I discovered pregnancy…really, I felt a ruin of my childhood.
I looked at my sweet boy who was fine going to child care and the pool crèche, and always received me back, smiling, and wondered why I felt so much anxiety about leaving him with Chris. First years of life, so preciously important, shape the life, I had heard.
I suddenly recalled the first lines of prose I’d once coughed up some rainy day:
Somebody kicked the jigsaw when I was 6 years old. Mum died then and the pieces went flying around my psyche.
I stared, stunned as my father the raving adult expressed through wretched red eyes, contorted wet skinny face, white froth foaming from his mouth, and spittle raining on my parade, my joy.
I didn’t pick up the scattered pieces of my psyche, just sat odd-legged and staring at the wall, my father’s voice a punctured wolve’s howl in the background.
Suddenly, near dusk, relative adults flooded into the room, praying, picking up errant bits of the scattered jigsaw-was-me, and stuffing them back into my head. The caring adults shoved the pieces where they thought they should go – back in my gut, through my ears to equilibrium, down my throat for we “don’t want to talk about that”. And they shoved those pieces sorrow through my eyes so hard that they forced the tears back into my heart.
“Yeah, yeah go with Tracy”, Chris said. Daniel looked at his father.
“Phong might play with you”, I spoke to Daniel’s uncertainty. “Do you think?” I looked up at Tracy.
“Phong!” she called.
He begrudgingly appeared.
I really wondered the story of Phong, and wondered if Chris had taken him on like a son or like an irritation. I wondered how many times Phong had seen his mother beaten by his father before their escape, and wondered how he felt inside. I didn’t want to impose Daniel upon him. In one way I thought Daniel could be delightful distraction to Phong, and in another way I feared Phong might view Daniel with jealousy – for now not only did Chris take his mother’s time and love – but would Daniel too?
“It’s okay”, I said to Chris, and then looked at Tracy. “Hi Phong!” I smiled. “You don’t have to play with Daniel!” My words deflected off his solemn mien, spun into tiny Chinese daggers and flew right back in my face. I blinked, stood up. “It’s fine, Chris, Tracy – really it is.”
“You go!” Chris barked at me. “You make it too hard. I told you, you bring him up a mother’s boy!”
I’m sure Daniel didn’t comprehend Chris’ words, but Chris’ manner caused him to flinch and edge closer to the safety of me. “Chris”, I said, “It’s just that I don’t want you to make Phong play with Daniel if he doesn’t want to.” Chris strode past me and opened Tracy’s front door.
“It all right”, he said. “He do what I say. Go. You go now.”
I didn’t want to end things so uncomfortably and bent down to Daniel again.
“It’s fine, sweet heart. I will see you tomorrow, when I pick you up. You’ll be doing things with Chris and Tracy tonight!” I gave Daniel an enormous kiss and hug, which clearly irritated Chris for the time it took, and left Tracy non-plussed with a look on her face as if I was over-indulging my son. Phong turned and returned to his room.
“He fine, he fine”, Chris said. “You soft, soft.” As I passed Tracey’s threshold and Chris closed the door behind me, I gulped back an emotion, with a stammering reply chaser.
As I got into my Holden Torana, I wondered why I felt so much uncertainty, emotion and anxiety. Surely it was normal, wasn’t it, that two parents have time with their child? Chris wanted time with Daniel – that was a good sign from a father, wasn’t it? I turned over the engine. I looked up at Tracy’s house. No faces were peering out any windows. I was forgotten. I put my car into gear, and drove off.
It was somewhere between the entrance to the freeway and my approach of the University of Western Australia that it became clearly obvious to me why I was uncomfortable leaving Chris with Daniel: because I did not know Chris. And I did not know Tracy. And I did not know Phong. Yet, as Chris is a father interested in overnight stays with his son, I am meant to trust that, in like tune, he is interested in his son’s wellbeing (?).
I had to trust. Though I had been so betrayed in childhood, I had to learn trust.
Yet, I did not know Chris other than “both my parents are dead” and, as to why he had each a Buddha, Jesus Christ and Princess Diana on his altar? – that crazy conversation we’d had where I came out still not knowing him deeply. In our three months of togetherness, he seemed to deflect my reaches to touch him. Yet he fucked me bluntly – “Imagine how we’ll fuck when I’m rich and famous”.
Chris clearly preferred neither to hold nor to grasp a woman, but to let them many slip through his fingers like a string of pearls shimmer after shimmy, after droplet of beauty. Would he ever stop at one with love, I wondered, or let them flow through his fingers like prayer beads counting to his dying day?
Copyright, Noeleen&Daniel 50/50