Christmas time is rich in reflective material, for me the week before Christmas day was one of visiting old friends and so was especially rich meaningful for me. I saw Katherine Jenkins in Concert on the Friday before just to give the week an extra special feel.
However, what seems relevant, at this moment, is not those good times, not the thoughtful gifts received or the joy I have in giving. Perhaps another day, it is not how emotional I have felt, it is not the tears of sadness and joy that mixed when I read my Christmas card from my eldest son who lives his mum. It is not how much I miss all my boys, or how grateful I am for the second chance I have been gifted.
Instead, it is the cookies that I received. I have three boys who live with their mum, an eldest and the twins who are seven. My eldest used his own money, initiative and time to make me a card by hand and buy me thoughtful and deeply humorous presents. From any thirteen year old they all would be thoughtful and heartfelt, his card so honest and emotional beyond his years too that they made me really proud of the young man my boy is becoming. From a young man with autism they are measure of his character and the hard work he puts into his life. He does the work.
They are great things to reflect on. Instead of buying presents, every year my youngest twins make them, they have an art inclined mother and so this makes sense economically and practically. This year they made cookies, they are beautifully decorated too.
Thing is, I have coeliac disease, and sadly everything has to be gluten free. The cookies arrived in time for Christmas. And on Christmas day we Skyped and I saw them open my presents and they could have watched me open mine, my eldest did, they had toys which are more interesting than Daddy. I thank my eldest for arranging the opening, and his commitment to it saying he would wait as long as was necessary for me to be able to see him open his. So I emailed, silly question, are the cookies gluten free. After all, my ex-wife was there when I got the diagnosis, she knows how ill I can get, and what happens when I eat something contaminated. The answer came, they are not. (I can see a positive in this).
Those around me are shocked, the cookies came with no note, no indication they were regular cookies from someone who knew how ill they would make me if I ate one. They came as a present to me and they thought my asking was a 1% just in case, bib and braces make sure sort of question. I was confirming what I suspected.
This has shocked them, they are wrestling with the thought that she allowed, even deliberately, let me be sent something that would cause me pain and make me sick. Years after throwing me out, years after the last open piece of warfare, indeed, in a time of distinct détente and a definitely less frosty reception, after the collaboration and successful team-work of co-ordinating Christmas presents. Would she really do this, a disbelief, that without melodrama, she did actually try to poison me.
I am struggling with their disbelief. I expected nothing else. Through this I realise that even though people have stood beside me, counselled me, and been part of this process, the fullest impact may never be apparent to anyone but me. And that this must be the case in any abusive or traumatic experience. I have had the chance and privilege of talking to survivors and we have really connected, our common experience gave us a bond and understanding. I knew I was getting an edit, I do the same, we share what is salient, what is important to us at the time, and we summarise, we connect on horrors of experience neither of us needs to relive to understand have happened. We know enough from our own life, bruises, hurts and scars to stand with those like ourselves. I never realised how much depth was left beyond that, even in my fullest disclosures something was not apparent, something did not make it across. Perhaps it is a failing of language when faced with conveying emotion, perhaps it’s the assumption that certain phrases, words and concepts have an almost universal meaning. Part of it is perhaps that unless you have lived through something, then it remains an intellectual concept. You understand that having someone trying to drive you to suicide is horrific, and intellectually you can grasp the idea of someone creating the situation where you feel trapped with no end or escape, but ultimately, you have never experienced either suicidal thoughts or had someone drive that hard to create that situation and so experience lacks immediate reality.
For anyone who has had that trauma, then they have their own reality on which to draw an understanding, but the uniqueness of individual experience leaves part of what happened to you inaccessible. And so it is with the cookies, the people around me now would cannot grasp the mind and intention it would take to make someone ill deliberately in that way, in the same way they know that she did try and drive me to suicide but the type of thinking and personality required to do that are completely beyond their ability to access. I, in contrast, having experienced that mind, that intelligence first hand, while not being that person am keenly aware of how that mind plays out if not how it is driven or works internally. The external reality of it is all too real. The careless intentionality of simply allowing harm to occur is not alien, it was instead, how life was for the majority of my life.
The cookies are symbolic both of how things have been and of how they are. From the harm of my past to the caring of my present. This has already passed into the story of my life, a story to tell as an illustration of where I come from. I guess, it is a small piece of evidence that flies in the face of the official version of my life and who I am. An official version whose presence is felt particularly at Christmas, adding a dimension of significance to any event involving my past. A reminder that I have to be wary and aware of those access points to my life that are vulnerable because of my boys and that my love of them is seen as a weakness to be exploited.
Ultimately, the cookies say nothing about my twin boys, who have taken a lot of time and trouble to make lovely cookies for their Dad, who have been genuinely excited to open their presents, even letting me know I had unwittingly duplicated something they already had in one of their little extra’s, and they speak clearly about who she is.