Do you remember that time when we were walking down that grey-stone street in Huntingdon one afternoon in May, some seventeen years ago now? You’d let me choose my outfit that day. I was wearing my glittery pink trainers, fuzzy lavender bodywarmer, and tulle skirt over striped tights.
We were walking fast because of the rain, and you were tugging on my arm because my small legs couldn’t keep up…
It’s hard to remember a time when I was shorter than you. It hasn’t been that way in at least ten years now.
Raindrops kept landing on my scalp, and I think I complained once or twice because it tickled. I wanted to go into Next again. There was a dress I liked that I wanted you to buy for me and I really wanted to get out of the cold. The breeze was harsh, and my nose was beginning to run.
But you were adamant that we had to get back to the car. I didn’t understand why. We didn’t visit Huntingdon often and I was excited by the prospect of something new. I didn’t want to go back to the car.
Yet, you were soon dragging me down white corridors that wove amongst sterile rooms and my feet hurt from all the walking. I ended up sitting on the ground, scooting along on my backside whilst sitting on your feet as we waited in line at reception.
I admit I was overly grumpy and tired. You kept pointing at the little table in the corner that was obviously made for children. It had the same old pack of cards (that was half missing a deck) and the same wooden bead maze that seemed to exist in every waiting room back then. But I didn’t want to move away from you, so I stayed on the ground and tried to ignore all the other adults who looked at me and tittered.
I remember feeling so relieved when we were finally told to sit down, but then stubbornly looked at my feet for what felt like hours because you chose to sit beside the toys and I wanted to prove something by not touching them. I’m not entirely sure what it was I wanted to prove, though.
When the nurse finally came out and called your name, I said I wanted to stay in the waiting area. “Five is still too young to be alone,” you told me. “Perhaps when you’re older.”
And, so, I followed you into the hospital room and stared at the posters on the wall as they brought out the needles.
Honestly? I’m still afraid of them now.
And this is where I make my first confession: that’s the first-ever time I remember resenting you.
That’s terrible. I’m sorry.
The next day, when the kids at school asked why I went home early the day before, I lied and told them we were shopping. Then, one girl went on and on about how that was bad of you, and that she was going to tell–and then I panicked and came clean–said we were at the hospital–but then she asked why–and I said I didn’t really know–and she asked if you were dying, and I said no–but then I worried that you were and–
I think I just hated feeling so abnormal.
Of course, it wasn’t like we were at the hospital all the time. Truthfully, I rarely joined you there at all.
But then other things began to irk me.
Like the way you slept all the time. Or how your medication made you forget things (like food, for one). And every year, you became more and more reclusive as pain began to take hold.
It was hard for me to understand you, then. I understand more now, though…it’s hereditary after all.
The older I got, the less I resented your illness. I became more understanding. I didn’t mind having more responsibilites than other kids because I got more independence than others my age. Far more independence, actually.
Which leads to my second confession: I once didn’t come home for two nights in a row. I was ‘running away’, you see.
I packed some clothes, stole the packet of stale crackers from the cupboard, and took the £10 note from your purse when I was thirteen years old.
I went to Erin’s house, and she asked her parents if I could stay over for the night. The next day, Saturday, she asked again.
By Sunday, however, she told me that she didn’t want to ask again and told me I should probably head home as you’d be worried. I knew she was right (I’d switched my phone off and hadn’t checked it in days), so her dad gave me a lift home.
When I opened the door you were asleep on the sofa. I woke you up, and you asked what day it was.
Turns out, morphine is stronger than either of us had anticipated. You slept the entire weekend away before you grew used to the new drugs.
So, life went back to normal. You lived off of coffee and cigarettes and I off plain pasta (or that god-awful concoction of condiments I crafted into pasta sauce).
Now here we are.
My final confession: I don’t hate you as you believe I do. In fact, I forgave you years ago.
Somewhere along the way, you became bitter, mean, and recluse. Your friends stopped speaking with you and you turned into one of those old ladies who only ever has something nasty to say, even to me.
It was likely my fault I was bullied, I was pretty, but it was probably something to do with my quietness that I didn’t have a boyfriend, I had no boobs just like you, “you’re a bitch, just like your mother,” you’d say…
I was always in the way, lazy, no help at all, and rude.
No, I don’t hate you.
I miss you.
I miss the version of you I never got to meet. I miss the mother that tucked me in at night and cooked me dinner in the evening. Who played the beach boys on full blast in the dining room. The one who policed bedtimes and bathtimes and clipped my nails so I didn’t learn to scrape them on brick walls.
Do you remember when, one month ago, I told you I needed to speak with you and you just asked, “should I take you off the council tax?”
I know it doesn’t quite work that way…
And I’m so sorry I hurt you by moving out.
But I met someone who takes care of me. Who tells me not to flinch at sudden movements.
They’re teaching me that to properly take care of myself, I might have to stop taking care of you.
But I’m not far, and I’ll always be here if you need me.