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