Wednesday, August 6, 2008

Helplessly Fascinated

I am helplessly fascinated by what I see and hear in this place that was once the only home I knew. Curiously, I find myself occasionally still calling it home even though I feel so much more like an onlooker rather than one who belongs!

There is, without doubt, a sense of my past, my ‘roots’, as it were. This is, after all, where I, the youngest of ten siblings, was born and where I lived for the first eighteeen years of my life and this is where I return time and again to be with my mother and my six brothers and two sisters, some resident, others visiting. So, this is home insofar as it is where we gather as family and where we recall memories, distant and recent.

This is also home because we plan for things that involve the entire family such as my sister, Michelle’s, recent birthday. Or at least, this is where such plans originate and are conveyed, where necessary, to family members no longer living here. And this is home because it is here where we meet, once again, friends from childhood and friends more recently acquired.

And all of this, against the backdrop of the brief and intense togetherness of family, punctuated by the much longer and more mundane cycles of separation, appears to create gaping holes of awareness from which fascination taunts me mercilessly!

For instance, as I am driven along local streets, now different to how I remember them, I hold in my mind, images of old, dilapidated shacks that were the dwelling places of families, some of which comprised at least three generations.

There is a bitter-sweetness about such images which I cannot explain nor adequately describe. I close my eyes and I hear sounds of evening chatter. For some reason, it is intense and not relaxed as one might expect at this time of the day. I hear the sound of a metal spatula striking the wok as the evening meal is prepared in a dim, yellow light and the distinctive smell of fish paste hits me as it used to so many years ago. In the dusk, I can still make out the shapes of stray dogs sniffing in vain for food.

I feel I am losing myself as my senses heighten and I wonder why I feel like I am teetering on the edge of pain, as if my next breath would cause me to free-fall into an interminable abyss? And yet, do I not also sense a tenderness waiting for me there - a tenderness I am finding so very hard to resist?

Or, for instance, I watch and listen as a family friend talks. His soft voice and local accent feel melodious and are achingly familiar. I am far less interested in what he is saying than in how he says it. It keeps me suspended in a place I feel I have been but never explored, so that there hangs over me the question, why?

Footfalls echo in the memory
Down the passage which we did not take
Towards the door we never opened

By T.S. Eliot taken from

As I reflect on it now, I think I know the answer. I was in a hurry to leave this place of family and familiarity for, as my discriminating mind would have me believe, my most significant experiences growing up here were painful ones. Even now, I cannot seem to shift the heavy curtains they have drawn across my past. Perhaps if I could open them just a little, I might catch a glimpse of one or two joyous events that must have surely claimed at least some of my childhood. But just now, such optimism escapes me.

So this is the aching from my fascination. I want to go back in there and remember the past, the familiar, without the pain. I want to explore those places I so hurriedly withdrew from or was never allowed to enter without the fear of being imprisoned forever in them. Pain and fear that were intensely real to me all those years ago. Pain and fear that a part of me still fears. And yet, it calls me, like a lost spirit longing to return home. I realize now that I am its home!


  1. Truly we are mansions with many rooms - some get the afternoon sun - some there are with no windows - many doors we have yet to open for the very first time.

    When I visit the rooms of my childhood, my adolescence - they seem strangely small - and yet the ghosts of bewilderment still hover there, but speak in a tongue I can no longer understand.
    I also used to see things in the dark - a coat on a chair pretending to be a grotesque - once the light was switched on in answer to my screams - I realised, with amusement, just how much I seemed to enjoy frightening myself.

    Thank you for the guided tour Lucy.

  2. And thank you for your brief yet vivid tour Tim! What a lot gets stored in the mansions of our mind...:-)