The Trousers of Time (at The Crossroads)
There’s a moment in time during childhood that I can pinpoint as to when my life changed irrevocably. The fork in the road took me out of one placid inevitability into a chaotic future that still has repercussions each time the butterfly flaps its wings.
Obviously, as a child, the choice was made for me. What no one could know was that the reverberating echoes of that choice would get louder the more time passed.
A few months past my eighth birthday I was a fairly happy child with nary a care in the world. A middle class family living on a middle class estate a few miles from genteel Cambridge. That last summer holiday saw all the kids chucked out their front doors around 8 am and not expected to return until at least tea time. Lunch and even tea was to be found at whichever house you or your friends happened to be at at the time. Long days playing football, riding bikes, exploring the fields and woods. A positive idyll, you might say and all taken for granted.
It all changed when my father was required to relocate for work. I was too young to have been affected by the previous move and never gave this one a thought as to what it would mean.
Children are totally self-centred and I was no different.
The unfairness of having my life destroyed that had festered for a couple of weeks broke hard on the morning of the move as I secretly cried my eyes out in the empty bedroom at having everything taken away from me.
As for the move, we went 200 miles north. Initially, we had to spend 6 months in a flat in another town because our new house was behind schedule. And it was here that the nightmare began when I had to attend school in this town.
Back then, moving that sort of distance was unusual. It was like moving to a different country. We couldn’t understand each other. Literally, it was a completely different language being spoken – regional dialect difference was very strong back then. And there’s the key for the next several years. I was “different” and for children that means teasing, prodding, antagonising and bullying the thing that is different.
For the six months in that temporary school I was in a fight every day. The placid life I’d come from had no place for such things, I was rawly vulnerable to every sleight. Never having had it exposed before, it turned out I had a short fuse and was unable to turn a blind eye to the insults and provocations. And, of course, once you react, kids are merciless in scratching away to repeat the reaction.
When we finally moved into our proper house in a different town, the new school was only slightly better. It took me four years to fully control my fuse and to negate being the target. Four years that turned me into a hard emotionless shell.
Eventually I learned that I was able to mix socially and hold my own with any strata in the school environment, but that I would never belong in any of them. I came to call it being a social chameleon. Something I still do to this day.
There have been a few people in my life who have been through a similar childhood experience of being uprooted and thrown in to a sink or swim environment where they have nearly drowned who hear the term ‘social chameleon’ and it elicits a “yesssss !!!”.
When, as a child, you’ve created a shell against emotion that is modelled on Spock from Star Trek you grow up to understand that you’ve missed something. Beyond one chap who I worked with for a short time before he was killed in a car crash, I’ve had no contact with former school colleagues from the moment I left after completing the last exam. Oh – I did go to a 10 year reunion which I smugly and rather pettily enjoyed as I was on a short visit back to the UK from my job in New York.
What would it have been like if I’d continued down that other path ? I think I’d have gone through life doing what I was expected to do and probably being quite content in doing it – I would not have stoked the internal anger to rebel as my real path did. I’d have gone to some mid-level university for a non-entity degree and then joined the millions of commuters into a London office.
I’m very sure that I would have got married and had children. I’d not have recognised being asexual to the extent I do and would have settled into being half of a “George and Mildred” type of suburban sexless marriage of vague companionship. Similarly, I doubt that I’d have ever considered BDSM or exploring transgender thoughts beyond quickly suppressed guilty day dreams. I’d have been mildly content rather than happy because it was my lot in life, my duty, to do what was expected by the norms of polite middle class society.
At the age of eight my future life was mapped out in decades of conformity. The butterfly of chaos intervened and gave me something very different.
I realised in writing this is that my parents never changed their vision or dreams for my future. It never occurred to them that they’d ripped the trousers of time and sent me down the other trouser leg. Much of the angst some ten years later was due to me having conclusively rejected their mapped path for me.
It’s impossible to regret such things because there is no way to go back and change them. The only sour taste is that my parents would continue to tell me that the move was the best thing to happen to me because I loved the new environment. I so long wanted to scream back “I fucking hated it !!”. With only my father left it’s not worth it, he did what was best to provide for the family and the considerations and fears of an eight year old don’t factor in to it, his sepia coloured memories are not worth challenging.
Given what the actual path has given me – sometimes strife, sometimes reward – I have wondered if, back then, I was a young Robert Johnson taken to The Crossroads without my consent.
I went to the crossroad, fell down on my knees
I went to the crossroad, fell down on my knees
Asked the Lord above, “Have mercy, now, save poor Bob if you please”
The Crossroads, Robert Johnson
[SoSS] Sharing is Caring #26 - FlossDoesLife
November 2, 2019 @ 5:01 am
[…] above by May and Kisungura. The round-up post was done by Swirling Fire and she chose posts from Melody Insights, Steeled Snake Charmer and Francesca […]
October 27, 2019 @ 8:45 am
I can very much relate to this. We moved a few times when I was a kid, and it was a struggle for me to find myself in new school environment, to find new friends, to fit in. What I sense in your post is that although you were angry and upset at the time of the move, and a lot of your childhood was about not being yourself, you recognize that it helped to shape you into the person you are today: not the adapted John Smith, but someone who enjoys the alternative things in life. It is sad that parents don’t consider what a movie could do to their children, but as you said, in your family’s case, your father’s main concern was most likely providing for the family.
October 31, 2019 @ 4:47 pm
Thank you DS. I can’t fault my father’s sense of duty, though I can smile when I consider that it sent me down life paths he could never envisage. Certainly, it avoided the path of me becoming a ‘Stepford Husband’ 🤣
October 24, 2019 @ 5:53 am
I don’t know if you’re a fan of Terry Pratchett or just happen to like that particular quote, but I have found myself opening posts of yours on several occasions because of the quotes or lyrics or authors/artists that you reference (the thing about Leonard Cohen and the ‘duh’ moment when someone you were conversing with didn’t like Len but likewise didn’t get it that their all-time favorite song by Jeff Buckley was actually a Len Cohen composition…), and I don’t know that I’ve ever really said anything about that “Ooooh–kindred spirit!” thing sooo…
Nothing to do with the actual content of your post – though I totally get the uprooting and the lack of safety/stability that resulted – but I love Love LOVE Sam Vimes (he and Death vie for position of Favorite Pratchettism in my imagination), and Guards! Guards! is a fantabulous book.
[/end random fandom]
October 24, 2019 @ 7:16 am
I came across Pratchett in Heathrow on my way for a long trip. I needed something quite long. Individually Pratchett’s aren’t long but on these shelves were the first 5 or 6 books, so I bought them all (the entire Discworld catalog at that point).
I did find another picture that would have been more perfect. It showed a scimitar and the words ‘Bingley Bingley Beep’. Far too obscure for anyone who hadn’t read ‘Jingo’ to get the reference to the Disorganiser (TM) in the wrong trousers of time. I avidly bought each new book until for some reason I’ve never wanted to buy or read the last one.
Vimes, Vetinari, Sweeper, Death, Susan all favourite characters.
Sometimes a topic can be a difficult one and the prose would be too dry without dropping in some of these references. And yes, that Cohen/Buckley conversation still cracks me up. No great surprise that the relationship never went far.
What a lovely comment to wake up to. Many thanks. melody 🌹🌹
October 23, 2019 @ 9:36 pm
A wonderful and relatable post, Melody. I was a child of nomadic parents, and although some of the moves were exciting and fun to me, others led to absolutely hellish environments where I was desperately unhappy. So I definitely relate to your social chameleon comments.
October 24, 2019 @ 7:20 am
Thank you JG. The social chameleon aspect is actually a very useful skill in later life. Pity its genesis has to be so disturbing. 🌹
October 23, 2019 @ 4:08 pm
The decisions made for us as children have such a lasting impact. This was an interesting if difficult read. There for grace of god etc.
October 23, 2019 @ 4:30 pm
Thank you, Julie. To quote yourself “je ne regrette rien”, we play the cards we are dealt and don’t have a time machine to go back and re-shuffle the deck. 🌹
October 23, 2019 @ 10:16 am
Fantastic read Melody. And of course your parents vision for you would never change as that had been set in stone from way back when, Not to mention in those days kids did not count really – they had to just get on and cope.
I too was a social chameleon – or rather most of my friendships groups picked me rather than the other way round. So I could breeze between them. For me this happened because of “my strange childhood” rather than having been uprooted x
October 23, 2019 @ 12:25 pm
Nope, children didn’t count. My father booked a business trip to Denmark to avoid my birth and be ‘out of the way’. Sounds totally alien today, but entirely normal then. xx
October 22, 2019 @ 12:55 pm
I think the decisions made for us when we are children are often far more pivotal than the decisions we eventually go on to make for ourselves, I’m not sure I’d even know where to begin with that line of thinking in my own life, but you explored it very well x
October 22, 2019 @ 1:16 pm
Thanks Floss. Of course, there’s bugger all we can do about such decisions made for us and that’s what makes thinking about the alternate ‘trouser of time’ so fascinating.
October 22, 2019 @ 12:41 pm
These crossroads posts provoke so many thoughts. Your’s in particular makes me think of my “uninterrupted” childhood versus like yours, a similar big move I had exposed on my children.
October 22, 2019 @ 1:12 pm
I think a big difference back then is that you’d never take that sort of thing to an adult to solve. Today, parents and especially teachers take well-being and adjustment very seriously. Anti-bullying strategies are in place and taken very seriously. It’s moved on from “if it happens in the playground, we don’t want to know”.
Thanks for reading and commenting.
October 22, 2019 @ 1:15 pm
Very true. x