If I make tea the way C does, I settle down inside. There is an immediate sense of “all is well.” It happened sort of by accident a few days ago. I put too much creamer in the tea, I didn’t use enough tea leaves—I don’t really like tea that way. But it reminds me of being in her old house and of being with her, and I calm down.

This is the only thing from the present that is actually soothing. Everything else that calms me down is from the past. I think this is significant, because we have this assumption that the problem is the past intrudes on the present. There is some kind of unwritten, unspoken assumption: present, good; past, bad. That is not it though. Calming down is good. Whatever does that for you is good.

For me, the now is mostly neutral. It doesn’t do anything in particular for me. Frequently, it is upsetting: I am alone in it. In the past, I was not alone with the horrors.

That’s a meander though. The main idea here is the tea. It makes me feel safe. C makes me feel safe.

Why?

It’s nothing to do with C keeping me safe. It can’t be. She has these adult-like moments, where it feels like she is taking care of me instead of I her. She takes an orange and puts it in my hand and instructs me firmly to eat. “It’s dirty here,” she told me once. “Go sit inside.” And kept instructing me to go until it was clear I wasn’t going to go. Then she sighed, went in the house, and brought out a rug. That’s not why though. It’s not because she takes care of me.

It’s the “us.”

When I miss her, I am not just missing her as an individual. I am missing a sense of an “us,” of being one person’s particular person. I don’t know how this feeling happens. I don’t think it has to do with anything complex, like being appreciated or accepted as a human being. I think it’s more basic than that, something chemical and biological. You perceive, “I am with my person now,” and your body does something. It calms down. It relaxes. Why you might perceive, “This is my person. I am with my person now.” Well, about that, I have no idea. But I think I knew I was feeling this way quite a long time ago and had no way to understand it. I kept trying to understand and didn’t.

I learned something about C the last few days though. VP Ma’am tells me that C didn’t attend our school for kindergarten. She came only in Class 1. Her family was here, but C wasn’t. She was living with her grandparents then. That got me to thinking. So I looked again at her marksheets. I remembered she has actually gone to three different schools, but I assumed her family had moved around. It sounds as though they haven’t. C has moved, but the family has always lived in the very same house, just up the hill from VP Ma’am.

After Class 2, C transferred schools. She came back only in Class 6. I don’t know who she lived with for Class 3 and 4. I know where the school is and I know approximately where her village is, and it’s possible they are not that far apart. It’s possible she lived with her grandparents for those two years and walked quite a long distance to school, but she may also have been a boarder at the school, or she may have lived with a different relative. In Class 5, C went to the village school. She must have lived with her grandparents then. She came back in Class 6 and has lived with her parents for the last 3 years.

What I know is when she was very small, her mom left her with an aunt in Big Border City for a month and this aunt really loves her. C has told me this. When she was 5, she lived with her grandparents. When she was 6 and 7 years old, she lived again with her parents. Then she lived somewhere for 2 years I don’t really know about, and she was again with her grandparents when she was 10. C has not been consistently cared for by the same person. She has had many caretakers.

It’s not completely unusual here for a child to live with various relatives, especially when the mother has remarried, but it’s not especially usual either. No wonder C feels that she can never really be wanted. No wonder she has no deep sense of belonging to anyone, especially if the other children in the family have a sense of belonging to their father and C does not feel that from him.

I think I felt that when I began getting close to C: this is an orphan. This is a child sort of bouncing through the world, who never or rarely feels the complete sense of safety you get from being with your people or with your person. What I struggled to understand for a long time is that she has a whole network of relatives that she is a part of. They do care about her and it seems they do take care of her. But that doesn’t automatically translate into a sense of safety or a sense of belonging. “Us” is a sensory experience. It’s something that happens in your body. It half happens, for her, but not entirely, and it might mean she is always looking for that experience. It might mean she looked for it with me.

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