Step 4: We made a searching and fearless inventory of ourselves.
And then, true to the old saying ‘April Showers’ it did just that – and then some. Now, I don’t want to come over all Michael Fish and Weather forecaster like, but to say it rained could be an understatement.
To my recollection, I don’t think there was one solitary dry non-rainy day in April. When I thought back to how April used to be – normally all Easter eggs and bright days, then this was just one more thing I blamed on The Lostings.
Over the time I had been here I had gradually moved away from ‘It’s my family’s fault I’m here’ to ‘It’s The Lostings fault’ instead.
Maybe it’s just me, but there is something very comforting about placing the blame of your entire life on a place, a set of buildings, some staff and endless group meetings.
It was easier, I guess, than blaming my own blood – to my thinking it was easier than having to look at the cold, stark facts – which were my family couldn’t be bothered with me – that my lifestyle – the things I liked doing were so abhorrent to them that they had reached a point where the only choice they felt they had was to dump me on someone else’s doorstep, let someone else have the worry, the anxiety, the never-knowing, the sleepless nights.
And, as shocking as it was – that was exactly what they had done – dumped me and run. Now, if we’re gonna continue getting up close and personal at this point – we might as well go the whole hog and the natural progression to that realization.
And the next step was just as simple, just as depressing – not only had my so-called ‘loving family’ given up on me and elected to pay someone else to do the worrying, but my friends, as well, had done the dirty on me – turned their backs on me – colluded with my Mum, my big sister, my people.
Now, I’ve never really been religious – it’s hard to be when the amount of nutters out there doing nutty things – all for their belief – their Gods seems to get more and more as the days go by – honestly, you only have to watch the News or read the paper to see what religion can do to people.
I’m not saying it’s wrong for everyone – that it makes everyone ‘mad as a box of frogs’ – it’s just there are some people out there, preaching their God is a gentle God, a kind and forgiving God for everyone to hear and then going and blowing people up.
What with that and ever mounting cases of priests doing what they shouldn’t with kids and then reckoning it’s alright – should be understood and forgiven – just because they confessed.
Sorry, if that’s religion, then you can stuff it, with all its PR and hype.
So, enough of my ranting, and back to what I was saying.
I’ve never been religious (and now you know why) but I could understand how that Jesus bloke felt – turned on by his so-called mates, denied, stitched up and sold out.
Okay, okay, it’s not like they are going to hang me up on a cross and finish me off – but you get the gist of it.
So, April came in rainy and went out wet and to me, who had started counting the most insignificant things as highlights, the only things that really stuck in my head were the Easter meeting and the Easter Egg hunt.
On Good Friday there were a few relatives and friends milling about, come to do their duty visit – early, I guess, so they could spend Easter Sunday sprawled out on their settees, watching the big film (whatever family rated dross they had decided to re-show from the previous Christmas) and eating their own body weight in over-priced over-packaged and over calorific chocolate – I mean, nothing wrong with a lot of chocolate, the odd Twix, the sneaky Crunchie, but I’ve never really got the whole concept of eat-as-much-chocolate-as-you-can-until-you-are-flirting-with-a-coronary-to-celebrate-the-death-of-our-Lord Jesus Christ.
What is it all about?
Buggered if I know.
So, that was Good Friday –less staff than usual in but I guess they were honing down to skeleton staff starting for the long weekend.
The next day, Saturday, was even wetter and more dismal than Good Friday, so I made an executive decision to stay in my room and sleep the day away.
It made a nice change because normally when the staffing contingent is fully bodied, the buggers won’t leave you alone, let alone let you lie in your bed and just do nothing.
Evidently the first few weeks and months are the most crucial – and during that time you should be up and about, doing group, walking the grounds, contemplating why you are here (easy – my family hate me and don’t want me to have any fun in life!) and seeing your visitors when they turn up.
So to get a day off from this enforced ‘in your face’ therapy was a treat – not as much of a treat than a lovely big secret stash of wine gums, a bottle of JD and the papers – but – hey! Beggars can’t be choosers.
And then Easter Sunday came – and guess what?
It was raining – again – just for a change.
In the morning I think the staff must have put on an Easter Egg hunt for the sick kids over the other wing of The Lostings and for the kids of the visitors who had to make the wet, muddy visit to say inane things they didn’t mean, to people they had stopped wanting home, for a designated period of time – normally long enough to voice the normal vaguely heart-felt things, admire or tut-tut over the state of the individual’s room, bring a little gift and then make noises about staying longer next time.
Since I’ve been here – I’d heard the odd child’s cry or voice, but it always came from over the other side of the grounds – from the children’s’ wing.
I couldn’t believe kids could be here for the same reasons I was, or Bez was, or Petey was, or even Emily for that matter or for any of the reasons all the others who sat in on group were. But over a period of time I figured that whilst this part of the hospital dealt with those that liked some things just a little too much, that there were also other wings to The Lostings that dealt with sick children, badly damaged Service men and women and those that simply couldn’t deal with the real world and therefore felt safer between the ivy coated railings of this grey soul destroying place.
And, not wanting to sound soft – but it was nice to hear the laughs and sounds of the children as they ran from room-to-room, bench-to-bench – back and forth – all hunting the elusive little treats the staff must have hidden for them.
And, even though it was still sporadically raining, even though the sky was still overcast, dark and steely grey and you could hear the drips falling from every tree, every bush in the vicinity – the sound and sight of the little ones – who were so happy and excited, sick playing with well, patients and visitors all together, brightened the day – well, it did for me – and I think, looking at the smiles and hearing the happy chattering of the other patients – it did for them as well.
That night was the monthly meeting and to be honest I’d had such a fun time chasing after the kids all afternoon – a bit sad that my lovely little Lulu hadn’t come up to see me today – but happier than I could remember being since being here – that I forget about being the first there and so, prepared for my usual tussle with the most uncomfortable chair in the world, I was quite pleasantly surprised when I sat down in the meeting room that they had repaired the chair – because although it was still cold, still hard – it no longer attempted to nip my buttocks off but did just as a chair should and just sat there and let me sit on it.
And so I sat and waited – not completely enthralled of the thought of yet another tale of woe and lack of control, but not as appalled as I had been in the first few weeks of being here and having to listen to people witter on about themselves, when all I wanted to do was talk about me.
So, whilst not particularly fired up or bouncing around with expectation – I sat and was vaguely interested in what the latest tale of woe was likely to be.
And then my Easter tale of woe got up from her chair, cleared her throat and kicked off the Easter festivities.
“My name is Myriam and I have been told I have a few little problems.”
Don’t we all, love, but it’s not normally us that calls them problems, it’s normally the people who put us here that sees them like that.
And so to Myriam: a middle-aged woman, of that age past 40 but not yet knocking at Retirement’s door.
A thin, stick of a woman, thin arms, thin legs, thin lips, hair a non-descript brown that looked thin and wispy – if you could imagine tired candy floss that’s what her hair resembled – just not so sweet.
She reminded me of someone I had known but for a few minutes I wracked my brains trying to recall who it was and then it came to me – Scampi, the Jack Russell I had as a little girl – a tiny bundle of white with the biggest teeth and palest eyes I had ever seen – if you can imagine one step darker than albino then you can picture Myriam (and Scampi’s eyes).
The only difference was that Scampi had the longest, tartiest eye lashes ever – it was like the God of Dogs had given her false eye lashes and then mascared them up to the hilt and Myriam didn’t appear to have eye lashes – or it could’ve been that her hair was so wispy it might have been that her lashes were so wispy – so insubstantial – that they had blown away on the wind. Myriam’s eyes were red rimmed and watery – like she had a bad cold or conjunctivitis – the weepy stage – not the pus filled stage.
I try not to judge a book by it’s cover, but from the first sight of Myriam I didn’t like her. I normally try to get to know a person before I hate their guts, but Myriam had that special something about her that triggered my hate organ – and that’s saying something because I normally reserve that for really despicable individuals.
As I waited for her to continue, I noticed the room gradually beginning to smell of cigarettes and cheap Avon body spray.
To be honest, I wasn’t sure if it was coming from the room, from outside, but wherever it came from it was really cloying and quite choking and I felt myself pucker up my nose and try to breathe through mouth, which was’nt the greatest idea as I could then not just smell it but taste it also – yuck!
I heard someone clear their throat noisily and rather purposefully – I turned from looking round the room trying to source the smell that lingered in my nasal passages and taste buds and fixed my attention of the not so lovely Myriam.
“I have had a few little problems.”
Yes, yes, woman, on with your donation to the night’s proceedings.
“It’s not my fault, you know, these problems – people have given me these problems – I am not like the rest of you – I am not weak. I am not an addict. People have given me these problems. I shouldn’t be here, by rights.”
My ears pricked up.
“I shouldn’t be here.”
A woman after my own heart – just because I didn’t like her, didn’t mean I couldn’t feel an allegiance to her, did it?
“I don’t really know why I am here – I’ve never done anything wrong, I’ve never hurt anyone – people have hurt me – people have done me wrong. So, I don’t really know why I am here. I was just minding my own business, not bothering anyone, just sitting and watching my programme on the telly, having a cup of tea, a nice ciggy, my lovely pussies all around me – keeping their old Mum company – better children than my own sons had ever been to me.
And then my boys came in and brought me here.
And here I am.”
The group sat still, completely silent, waiting for the story to continue.
Until one of the group, a large, bushy bearded bear of man prompted her “Go on, woman, there’s more to that – and you know it.”
You really could have heard a pin drop while we all waited for Myriam to get to the full story.
Myriam stood and glared at the rest of us, especially bushy man – her pale eyes furious – and for a while – it seemed like there would be a stand-off between the group and the evidently wronged Myriam.
And we waited.
And she stared.
And we still waited.
And she still stared.
And just as we were giving up on hearing the tale of the wronged Myriam, she broke the staring competition and with an annoyed sniff, continued.
“As I was saying, before I was so rudely interrupted.”
“If you all will stop interrupting me – I’ll carry on.
“My sons brought me here – Edward, my eldest, a useless lump of a boy if ever there was, said it was for the best and his stupid younger brother, Kenneth, backed him up.
It was always like that with them – always siding against me – always ganging up on me – always trying to make me look stupid. I’ve done my best for them – no-one could have been a better Mother – I did everything for them – washed them, fed them, clothed them, brought them up – their Father was there, but he was worse than useless. Stupid man – never lifted a finger to help – just sat there, always there – being stupid, being useless. The three of them were always picking on me – trying to make me look a fool, always whispering about me behind my back.
I should have listened to my Mother, God rest her soul, she said Stanley was not the boy for me – said he’d come to absolutely no good and she was right – but did I listen to her? Do children ever listen to their parents? I should’ve – but as my Mother said God rest her soul, by then I’d made my bed so I best lie in it.”
And so, Myriam went on – barely pausing to take breath – the litany of all the people who had wronged her – her Mother for not putting her foot down when it came to poor, beleagued Stanley, her Father who had been injured in the war and was sent home to just sit by the fire humming and rocking himself – forward and back – the rocking never quite smooth because of his lost leg and the fact that he just used to sit here – doing nothing – just to annoy Myriam – no-one else, just poor Myriam.
And then she moved onto her best friend Rose, who’d had her eye on Stanley – was always making a show of herself – always putting herself forward, her with her big blue eyes and butter-wouldn’t-melt-in-her mouth face, her airs and graces and the fact that Myriam decided that Rose was only flirting with Stanley to upset Myriam – to bring her down – the fact that Rose had been engaged to Stanley since before Myriam decided to make Rose her best friend, but Myriam knew Rose wasn’t right for Stanley and that everyone knew that Myriam was the best catch that Stanley would ever make – they hadn’t said as much to her face, but they knew it, deep down – they knew it.
And as Myriam exhausted that conversation she pulled her floral housecoat even tighter round her stick thin frame, sniffed and verbally ran on and on and most definitely on. And as the minutes passed, not marked by the ticking of a clock, the ever slow movement of the hands as they gradually crept round but the embittered inventory of the wrongs of others – I wondered – Does she realize she’s in a Rehab. Unit? Does she know that she’s sitting a twelve step programme group and to my sketchy reasoning of the stops – she’s meant to be at the bit where she’s made a ‘searching and fearless’ moral list of herself. Does she know that or is this just another arena to vent her spleen, her hatred of this world, these people, that had always been at fault?
As I sat, the room grew colder, my chair became gradually more and more uncomfortable and Myriam went on.
“And, of course, the girls my boys met were all the same, all after what they could get, nasty money grabbing creatures – always sniffing around the tea service my Grandmother left me, always dropping hints about my lovely collectable china cats, my crystal figures, my Kenneth had started giving me for Christmas and birthdays when he got his first paper-round and all the time I knew what they were up to – I knew what they were up to – even when my boys got married – two of the biggest tramps you ever met – all chest and hair and legs and showing their what-nots to all and sundry – nasty, dirty girls they were – not clean and proper like me. Oh, they made up to me when my boys were around, but the moment they went off down the pub – filthy habit they got off their Father – useless man, stupid man, I knew what the girls were up to – pretending they cared about me – made noises about helping me with the washing up – but they didn’t really want to help me – they just wanted to get their dirty little hands – their whore painted fingers in my tea caddy where I kept my housekeeping.
Couldn’t keep their thieving hands off anything those two – not happy with stealing my boys, taking my boys away from me, tempting them with their tiny clothes and flesh everywhere, they were chatting up my Stanley – and like the stupid fool he was – he thought they meant it – like they’d be interested in him. He’d smile at them and laugh and talk to them and offer to make them a cup of tea or fetch them a bit of my special home made cake from the pantry and they’d giggle and simper and wiggle and make a right show of themselves – no better than they ought to be those two.
Glad when my boys saw sense and got rid of them – luckily, they listened to their Mother and saw sense and divorced those nasty trollops – and good riddance I say.
But boys will be boys and it wasn’t long before they brought back more dirty girls into my nice clean house. Those boys will be the death of me – the next couple of girls were worse than the one’s they married, they were rude to me, actually answered me back – one of them called me ‘an interfering old bitch’ and refused to visit me any more – I ask you, the bare faced cheek of it all. I told the boys they should’ve made more effort when they married, those girls they wed were lovely, good, clean girls – couldn’t fault them – but do my boys ever listen to me? Do they ever?
It was about this time my Stanley decided to be really hurtful and annoying and went and died. He did it on purpose, y’know – he knew it would upset me – make things harder for me – so he spitefully went out into his shed and had a heart attack and died – stupid man. My boys took heart and not because they loved me but because they felt guilty for being so mean and unkind to me, they moved back home to take care of me.
“Take care of me – that’s a laugh – the ingrates spent all their time avoiding me, making excuses that they needed to go to work, to go to the super market to get the groceries for me, to go to the doctor to pick up my medicine for my nerves – brought on by my stupid husband and his behaviour. Dropping me off and picking me up from Bingo to see my friends when they knew I hated my friends and Bingo. Oh yes, they did everything they could possibly do to avoid me and annoy me.
And then, one night, when they complained about me giving their fish and chip suppers to my lovely pussies because they were out working – so they said – they said they’d had enough and left. They might have thought that they were doing the leaving, but it was me that told them to go – horrible boys always making trouble for me, doing their washing just to undermine me, making me breakfast in bed on Sundays just so I didn’t have to sit downstairs with them, picking up my medicine and reminding me to take it every night and morning just because they hoped it would finish me off.
Oh yes, I knew all about them, eyeing up my Grandmother’s tea service, looking in my tea caddy, going through my things and counting what I was worth. And then they were gone – And I had my house to myself – just me and my lovely pussies and there I was, minding my own business, having my tea, watching my programme with that lovely Dale Winton – now I bet he’s lovely to his Mother – having a ciggy, which I never enjoyed when Stanley was there or the boys for that matter – they always said cigarettes would be the death of me – stupid, all of them – I’m here in this place – not dead – and then I’m not sure if I fell asleep or what but the next thing I could hear was the boys talking about me and then I was brought here – they kept saying it was for the best – that I couldn’t stay in my own home any more – that I needed to be with people like me – with my problems.
And, as I said before – these are not my problems – it’s all what people have done to me, just like they always do.
I shouldn’t be here – there’s nothing wrong with me – I’m not like you PEOPLE – this is my Sons’ fault – they put me here because they don’t want me any more.”
And just like that, the annoyed and hard done by Myriam seemed to run out of steam and deflate before our eyes and she was done.
Normally, the group stay behind after the tale and ask questions, give constructive support or just chat and drink the ghastly impersonation they serve as coffee and tea in this place. But on this occasion, almost as if one, they all got up, nodded at Myriam and then me and left the meeting room.
And then, there was just Myriam and me and to be honest, that wasn’t a situation I wanted to be in. Just before I made my excuses to leave – she came forward to me and looked me up and down and sniffed as if I wasn’t really worth her nicotine scented scrutiny.
But, to my surprise, it was me who spoke “That’s all very interesting Myriam, but aren’t you meant to have made your personal inventory of yourself – your wrongs – not everybody else’s?”
“Quite the little miss-know-it-all, aren’t we dear?”
“No, I just thought that’s what this meeting was about.”
“Did you now? – but as you’ve heard – nothing was my fault – it’s always been like that – it’s always other people who make problems for me.”
I looked into Myriam’s Jack Russell eyes and knew that as far as Myriam thought she was completely in the right – always had been, always would be and I’d be better off saving my breath. As I’d reached this conclusion – I must have glanced away, because when I looked back – she was gone – only the smoky floral cloying scent hanging on the air to say she’d ever been there.
I left the meeting room and went back to my room, mulling over what I’d heard that night.
Thinking about Myriam, thinking how could she have got it so wrong – I didn’t understand how she could be blind to her faults when it was so obvious to the rest of the world and then I started thinking about me, my life – before I came here – had I been like Myriam, blaming the world and his wife for my downfall, when maybe just a little part of the bad things that had happened to me had actually been of my doing?
Was it my fault that they had put me here?
Was it my fault that Dave had turned his back on me?
Was it my fault that Janie didn’t want me looking after Lulu any more?
Was it my fault that somewhere down the line my pleasure had taken precedence over my family’s wants and needs?
I wanted to shout to the night sky – black, shiny with sparkly white stars and shadowed by scudding clouds that dripped drizzle, that ‘No, none of it was my fault’ – but to my shame – I couldn’t honestly say that and that troubled me.
Because if I wasn’t careful, I would end up believing that it was my fault that my life had become a nonsense, so uncaring about anyone else and that I was ready to take on board that my moral inventory was full to the brim and over flowing.
Was it my fault?
Go on – you answer that – I’m tired of thinking and wondering.
I need to go back and get some rest.