Panic boy

The hands of a man playing the piano
Image by https://unsplash.com/@jamillejqueiroz

Piano boy

When I was eleven years old, I became obsessed with the piano. At the time, my best friend was taking lessons and I was captivated by his ability to play. Eager to learn myself, I asked my mother to enroll me with my friend’s tutor. To my surprise and delight, she agreed! However, there was one complication. I was living with my friend’s family, that year. Whilst he was allowed to practice on his grandmother’s beautiful old upright, I wasn’t. So, it was arranged that I would practice at a neighbour’s, which I did with enthusiasm! That poor household. Twice a week, I played the same little repertoire over and over: the mundane beginner pieces, the endless repetitive scales… How relieved they must have been when I finally got my own piano!

Progress boy

When the time came for the Royal Schools of Music examination, my tutor was confident that I would do well. Being a perfectionist, I was determined not to disappoint her. Thinking back on this, I never told my parents about my progress, chiefly because they never asked—and yet my tutor at the time was one of my mother’s oldest friends! Perhaps she didn’t ask because she learnt from my tutor, but I always assumed she wasn’t all that interested. As far as I was aware, her only involvement was buying my piano and paying for lessons. As for my alcoholic stepfather, he saw my talent as a source of entertainment for him and his drinking friends. Be that as it may, concerning my first examination, I had every reason to be confident in my ability to do well and it makes what follows all the more puzzling!

Panic boy

On the morning of the examination, I was overcome with misgivings. I experienced what I now think was a panic attack. It was without a doubt the most nervous I have ever been in my entire life. I was shaking, pacing about the house, dreading what was to come. When my mother told me to calm down, I burst into tears! In an effort to bring me to my senses, she instructed my stepfather to take me around the house and “surprise” me with an unexpected slap in the face! Unbeknownst to them, I overheard this exchange. My young mind was horrified! I was too immature to realise what was happening inside me, but subconsciously I must have wondered why my parents didn’t take the time to find out why I was stressed, why they were so dismissive of my feelings, why they made me feel like there was something wrong with me. By the time my stepfather walked me to the back of the house, I had collected myself, firm in my resolution never to lose it again. There was no need for a “surprise”.

Powerless boy

I passed the examination. But, that morning stayed with me. At my most defenseless, my mother had neither the instinct nor the capacity to reassure or comfort me. Her cruel and unsympathetic response left me feeling helpless, unprotected and worthless. Incidents like that litter the landscape of my childhood. My stepfather, an alcoholic for most of my life (now recovered), used to make me play the piano when he brought his drunk friends home. I cannot express how humiliating that was to me. My regard for him already hanging by a thread, these situations compounded my anger and resentment towards him. I came to despise him. Had he slapped me in the face that morning, he would not have violated me more than he did by all the insidious ways in which he (and my mother) damaged me psychologically.

Pearl boy

There has always been a distance between my parents and I. So much bitterness has built up in me towards them. It’s taken a long time to come to a place of forgiveness. Now that I am older, I am able to talk to them about how I experienced my childhood. I can allow myself to feel the anger and pain I suppressed, back then. It’s not easy to realise that there’s nothing wrong with you when you’re that young and in the thick of a dysfunctional family. But understanding and coming to grips with what happened to you, goes a long way towards healing the pain of a broken upbringing. It requires a lot of introspection and it’s exhausting, but at some point, it dawns on you: the people who treated you badly were the unworthy ones, not you. You were the pearl, they were the swine.

FORGOTTEN FIELDS

Remember the fields…

A colourful field of wildflowers with pools of water and drifting clouds
A scene from Howl’s Moving Castle (2004) by Hayao Miyazaki

Isolation

I prefer to be alone. Growing up, I felt as if there was no one to defend, protect, value and recognise me. Early on, I learnt the benefits of separation as a way of coping with this reality. But, the emotional stuntedness, detachment and isolation I began to experience as a result, left me feeling disconnected from others, especially the people who were “supposed” to love me. I don’t pretend to speak for all people with dysfunctional backgrounds, but we tend to feel numb and consequently unable to form healthy relationships. Because we feel like aliens, the best we can do is to imitate behaviours that help us pass off as human. Even when we are besotted with someone, we struggle to connect on anything more than a superficial level because we are afraid of exposure.

The wasteland within

To me, love is an unattainable ideal, an experience I must be denied. Somewhere, in the recesses of my soul, a siren sweetly sings of how hateful, shameful and worthless I am. My relationships fail because I subconsciously engineer them to do so. My inner landscape is so devastated that I am incapable of inviting anyone in. In fact, I dread visiting there, myself! If they saw what a wasteland it is, they would run for the hills! I don’t invest much of myself in a relationship—I dare not! Too many forbidden forests would have to be visited and too many treacherous tombs excavated in order for me to open up in any meaningful way. And so, I play along until the relationship comes to its inevitable end. With the self-sabotage complete, I can retreat again to the familiar places.

Beautiful barrenness

One gets used to the wastelands. So much so that the barrenness becomes beautiful. Any green is regarded with suspicion. How can there be green when there is no rain? When the storms bring only darkness and howling winds, blowing up disorientating clouds of dust? Surely, there are only thorns and weeds to choke the ruins of what could have been? Aren’t all the landmarks hills of anger, pain and sadness, the constants we learn to love over time? They seem inextricable from the landscape, how can one ever abandon them for happiness? Is happiness not just an unexpected flower that wilts and withers the moment it is seen? (And what a relief when it does, no longer there to remind us of our loss!)

Finding the fields

And yet, there is hope! Occasionally, I come across fields of wildflowers, miraculous and wonderful. I discover them in the wastelands when music, like an irresistible siren song, draws me to where they are. Once there, I can destroy myself on the rocks of beauty to be reborn for a moment into something free, hopeful, vulnerable, honest, unspoilt and untamed! I wish I could remain there, but as I wander the wasteland, traversing vast stretches of everyday life, the fields are soon forgotten. I even forget that music is who I am, it is what I should do. Distracted, I stumble aimlessly along. And that is why I created Forgotten Fields. It is like a map and compass, reminding me that the fields exist, that I must not forget them, that music is the way to find them. Dear reader, what is your music? What is your map and compass? May you find it, soon!

FORGOTTEN FIELDS

There are some things you can only learn in a storm

Clouds photographed by Kien Do
Image in the public domain by Kien Do

Flying the storm

The title of this post is a paraphrase of a quote by author Willa Carter: “There are some things you learn best in calm, and some in storm.” I read a popular version of this quote on Minds and it resonated with me. When I looked it up, I discovered it was by Carter and it got me thinking about my own storm and its influence on my life and music. I see Forgotten Fields as a way of learning how to navigate that storm. I cast my journey through the tempest in music. I make music to help me exorcise childhood demons, to restore my soul as it heads for the mooring mast of forgiveness and healing.

My music has a melancholy feel. After listening to my most recent mixes, someone described it as “atmospheric and ominous”. It’s true. The music relives my dysfunctional upbringing, a period when there was literally an atmosphere of the ominous. For a child, feeling unloved is a frightening reality. Today, as all my coping mechanisms fail, I’m discovering that making sense of what happened to me, as a child, and expressing the emotions connected with it, help me work through the devastation, the longing, the loneliness, the darkness and the fear.

The value of the storm

Forgiveness and healing is a journey some are ready to take, sooner than others. We don’t always see the value of the storm when we’re in it. For a long time, I know I didn’t. All I wanted was deliverance, but tragically, merely wanting deliverance is not enough motivation to pursue it. You have to hurt so badly for so long—the pain must devour you—before you finally face the music.

The Willa Carter quote reminded me of a post on the subject of forgiveness by Dr. Andrea Brandt, on Psychology Today. In the post, titled “How Do You Forgive Even When It Feels Impossible? (Part 1)”, she offers four steps to help us forgive others. The post is practical and sincere, but one of her readers scorned her advice.

An anonymous commenter, going by Unnecessary, finding himself in the depths of the storm, poured out his anger in an intense response to her suggestions. (I think of the commenter as male because I see much of my own struggle in what he wrote). Dr. Brandt, cognisant of the fact that her post was not intended to deal with severe trauma, made a sensible reply, but sadly, Unnecessary never responded. Here are his comments, as he wrote them; he responds directly to Dr. Brandt’s four steps, in the post:

NO!

Submitted by Unnecessary on February 9, 2016 – 5:01pm

Think about the incident that angered you. The problem is I CAN’T just accept it, if I could I would, but their crimes were too terrible. I know what happened to me and I’m angry, and justly so.

Acknowledge the growth you experienced as a result of what happened. I’ll tell you what it made me, it shattered my self esteem and any chance of leading a balanced life. They destroyed me both physically and mentally. What good does knowing my boundaries now??? They went on to lead their lives completely oblivious to the suffering they caused.

Now think about the other person. He or she is flawed because all human beings are flawed. Yes but some are waaay more flawed than others, I don’t care why they did it, I don’t care if they were abused as kids themselves, you think that makes it ok to do it to someone else??? They knew EXACTLY what they were doing and they enjoyed it. I don’t care what their needs are, wtf??? Why should I?

Finally, decide whether or not you want to tell the other person that you have forgiven him or her. I would rather die via the most painful death imaginable than ever forgive them. Forgiveness is the weakness of humans that allow evil to thrive, if you don’t seek justice or revenge, then you have just allowed criminals to walk free and do it again and again.

The ghosts in the storm

Unnecessary’s agony, anger and bitterness are palpable. For him, forgiveness is a byword for those who condone evil. It’s going to be immeasurably difficult for him to confront the fear of vanquishing his ghosts. It may sound strange, but when ghosts haunt you long enough, no matter how terrifying they are, they become your friends—and it’s hard to let old friends go. For some, it may even be impossible. My own ghosts are still unvanquished. Like the billowing tempest, they have an unsettling ability to bewilder and enchant. They continue to call from the darkness and I answer, almost instinctively. Will I ever turn a deaf ear?

It’s easy for someone to judge Unnecessary (and indeed myself) as immature and self-indulgent (and they’re not wrong), but it’s important to be patient. The pain is crippling. It erodes the soul. It is cyclical and cruel. It infects even our finest moments. We have so much anger towards our abusers, years after the fact that, at times, the very thought of them destroys us. We have this sense of people who crashed into our childhood and happily leaves us to pick up the pieces. We have decades of repressed anger, hurt and frustration. And no matter how much we dissect and make sense of our experiences, an irrational, emotional part of us revolts, calling out for justice!

I cannot begin to imagine the severity of the abuse Unnecessary and others like him must have suffered, and I have no doubt that my own experiences would pale in comparison. But, this does nothing to lessen the pain. The abuse a child suffers in a dysfunctional family is subtle and insidious, it is difficult to decipher its effects, to explain why one’s seemingly normal childhood leaves one feeling so devastated.

I hope we find some way of starting the journey towards recovery. Making music is my way of edging closer to the point of departure. I hope we all find our music.

FORGOTTEN FIELDS