"I don't think that being a strong person is about ignoring your emotions and fighting your feelings. Putting on a brave face doesn't mean you're a brave person. That's why everybody in my life knows everything that I'm going through. I can't hide anything from them. People need to realise that being open isn't the same as being weak."

- Taylor Swift

Tuesday, November 06, 2012

Baby Me

Now Playing: Never Grow Up by Taylor Swift (I won't let nobody hurt you, won't let no one break your heart)

I'm halfway through writing a letter to my four year old self (as you do) when I realize that, weirdly, I don't remember it as vividly as I remember being three. So I was flipping through a few family albums trying to find some photos to jog my memory and I didn't find any at four, per se...maybe cameras were banned in 1999...

What I did find was a few pictures of me, as a baby, but it looked...odd. You know when you look at yourself as a baby and you're like 'oh, cute!' but not 'oh, me!'? I get that in a big way. I think it's also part of being a teenager...you know, when high school and boys and puberty are such a huge part of your life you can't really remember more innocent times when you bawled the house down over a poopy diaper and not an asshole problem of a different kind. And, of course, the mandatory claim that I must make every day to adults that 'no, of course I do not want a baby yet' so that I don't get accused of being a slut/a feminist/pregnant (I'm starting to think that 'wanting a baby' and 'normal teenage sexual desire' kind of go hand in hand and it's ridiculous to deny the goo goo eyes you get every time you get to cuddle a child). But for me, that squirmy smiley baby is not me, and for a long time I couldn't figure out why.

I've figured out why.

My sister was born in 1994. We have a bajillion pictures of my sister being spoilt rotten by my first time over the moon parents over two glorious years - 1994 and 1995. Actually, on that topic, my sister was actually the joker when we were little - she was the one who had a million different hilarious facial expressions and she was the funny, silly baby - looking at my baby photos I wasn't nearly so entertaining. But anyway, once I entered the scene in 1996 there are very few pictures of my sister alone - she's always with me, cuddling me, an arm wrapped around me...in more than one photo screaming loudly at me...and then there are a whole slew of pictures of my parents, alone, with my sister in Melbourne.

Where was I? Oh, I was in hospital.

I know that my condition is not that serious in the grand scheme of things. But it was serious enough to be shipped off to Melbourne so that specialists could deal with my fucked up heart. And to everyone who has ever bullied me for crying, for having to haul myself up flights of stairs, for inching my way down things, for being slow and tired...I wish I could show them this.

It's June 1996, in Melbourne. I am three months old and sedated. My cot in the ICU looks exactly like a cage - gunmetal bars, the whole thing. My hand is strapped to a pillow that's pinned to the edge of the cot so that I can't wriggle out of my IV drip. There's a tube taped across my face into my nose, and a blue pipe snaking around me. There's a clear plastic box around my head, with a hole for my neck, and my tiny baby head looks disembodied in a very sickening way. Everything looks weird and foreign and medical and even though looking at it I know this is a snapshot of people saving my life but it does look like some sick twisted medical experiment. I don't like to think of it as me.

Immediately after this there is a picture that should make me feel better but doesn't. I look much bigger than the small, frail, sickly baby in hospital and I have a big toothless grin from ear to ear. I'm in my own cot surrounded by my own toys. I'm wearing the biggest nappy in the history of the earth but my jacket is unbuttoned and I can see it, that ugly scar that I've gotten used to on my own imperfect sixteen year old body but so out of place on a baby.

I see this scar every day. I've seen it on my roly poly three year old body, I remember it on my scrawny little seven year old body, and it was there every day as my body changed into what it is now. I can't imagine what my body would look like without it - I forget sometimes that other people don't have one, too. Now it's relatively unintimidating - just a white, thin, clean line that doesn't hurt at all - it's actually quite numb - and a small white dimple. When I was younger I had no problem pulling my shirt up to show people, and now I don't mind pulling at the neckline of my shirt a little to show an inch or two.

So I don't know why these baby pictures are disturbing me so much. It's the cognitive dissonance between the purity and innocence of being a baby and the humiliation, disorientation and pain of hospital and scars. I'm just so uncomfortable with the idea of a baby feeling this pain, with having these scars. I remember at five, even at fourteen, being lost and confused and humiliated by the hospital, even though I go there a hell of a lot more than most other people. Because I consider my younger self to be such a radically different person to who I am now - hence the reason why I can write totally third person letters to myself - I can't see it as me going through it. I see it as a baby going through it.

On the last day of school we did the old school tradition of climbing up to the top of the hundred year old building and ringing a bell on the roof, which involved going to places normally kept under lock and key and tramping up and down staircases not designed for daily use. On the way down from ringing the bell I had to bend in a way that made my pacemaker dig in uncomfortably, and so I was taking it slowly - compounded my intense dislike of stairs as a result of a childhood accident. I wasn't going momunetally slowly and the other people weren't going much faster, but a girl waiting at the foot of the stairs suddenly started hauling abuse at me as I awkwardly tripped down the stairs in an effort to speed up. As a result of that, I had a moment of the most intense pain before I was pushed away by other people who also thought it would be a good idea to bully me for taking a microsecond too long on the stair case.

It wasn't a very nice way to end high school, but it was a very typical way to end high school - constantly bullied for things out of my control. I don't like being slow and I don't like being in pain and I don't like being yelled at by my own classmates. But looking at my scarred baby self I just want to remember, somehow, to tell myself that it's not my fault. It's not my fault I had to go through that, it's not my fault that I'm slow or in pain, and it's not my fault if I get yelled at.

Dear child of the future, I love you already. Throw as many tantrums as you want. Drive me up the wall. I don't care. Just please, please, please don't put me through what I put my mother through. Be safe, be healthy. Please.

1 comment:

Adelaide Dupont said...

Those stairs were trippable, all right. If it weren't you, it might have been someone else.

(I do like the idea of the bell tradition though).

The cognitive dissonance. "That squirmy smiley baby is not me" - and nor is the one in Melbourne?

Wriggling out of your IV drip.