Coming Home for Christmas

Posted on December 19, 2013 by The Quest

I am from a sea-side town in Sicily. Christmas is one of the few times of the year when I get to come back and spend time with my family. There’s lots of noise, lots of bickering, lots of talking of who’s eating what and who’s driving who to the shops, lots of talk about nothing. My parents show affection by filling the fridge. Today for lunch it was savoury pastries, fries, aubergine lasagne, lentils pasta, chicken escalope and a slice of panettone. I have to remember to go back to the gym when I come back to London.

There is still so much I haven’t said to them, yet so much that I have allowed them to see of who I am. I love my parents, they provided for me, made sure my belly was always full and bought me toys and clothes and gave me pretty much everything I ever asked. We weren’t very good at talking about feelings, we brushed things under the carpet. When I was 8 years old I walked inside the bathroom to find my sister unconscious; she had tried to commit suicide. We never talked about it since. If we didn’t talk about it, it didn’t exist, it never happened.

I had my own ghosts, a screaming spiral in my head that petrified me and made it hard to breathe. I am 31 now, and through the years I have learnt how to be seen and to be heard. My head is a much nicer place to live in. I am also a recovering addict and I have been clean for just over a year. It’s really peculiar how much I have changed in this time. I have a beautiful nephew, and for the first few years of his life I really couldn’t care less about him. I was mostly in another country and high all the time and when I was back, I was so grumpy and on a comedown that I had no interest or patience for him. He is 4 years old now and he is a cheeky little boy. He recognises me even though we haven’t spent a lot of time together, I can have proper conversations with him. It feels good to be able to be an uncle and be able to be patient and loving towards him and my sisters.

It’s a bit bitter sweet. He reminds me of myself when I was 4, or maybe 5. He reminds me of when I was sexually abused. Not that I called it that then, I called it playing, and besides I kind of enjoyed the attention and I blamed myself for it. I also never talked about this, not with my family, hardly with anyone. To see myself in my nephew, to see his innocence, and then to think of what hidden monsters were going on in the back of my mind at his age opens up a sea of sadness that is too difficult to put into words. I cannot change the past. If I could go back in time I would meet myself when I was a toddler like him, running around, and I would give myself a hug and whisper to myself that everything will be OK. That what had happened wasn’t my fault and that my parents would love me anyway, that I was special and loved, regardless of what I had done. I would tell myself that it’s OK to say no and it’s OK to talk and open up to people.

Salvo 3Just being in my home town brings it all back. The streets that are always the same, the decrepit old buildings, the orange-yellow street lights. There is a sticky melancholic quality to the air. It’s suffocating. The years that I have spent without a friend, hidden in my room, building houses and star ships with Lego bricks, playing with my Masters of the Universe action figures and with computer games later on. The world was a stuffy hostile place where I wasn’t welcome and no one could ever accept me for who I was, I thought. I was dirty, unlovable. It was frightening. I was a timid shadow sliding across the pavements burnt by the sun, crossing the street quickly hoping that no one would spot me and see through me, being at home on my own, crouching over my desk doing my homework, waiting for my dad endlessly in his car while he ran yet another errand, playing Indiana Jones and the Fate of Atlantis on a PC for eight hours straight till my head hurt. I remember the 40 degrees summer days, wanting to walk to end of the sea from the beach, desperately trying to be perfect and be loved by my the teachers at school, going to church on Sundays and not being able to confess to the priest the unspeakable sin I thought I had committed. I remember reading Never Ending Story and The Lord of the Rings, creating a magical world of books and fantasy in my head to escape the one of the teasing and shouting of the playground in real life. The voices of the other kids towered over me and left me naked, the sickening vortex of my secrets grew in silence until I had no voice. I was invisible.

It’s the cumulative memory of all those years, those days, those hours, those seconds of keeping it all in, tying myself up in knots in my own head and wishing that I’d disappear for ever, that builds up in my throat and makes it difficult sometimes to express myself, to know how to be when I am back here. That sadness bubbles up to the surface. Tiny bubbles, small enough for me to be able to feel them and release them. That sadness is part of who I am and has made me who I am today, able to connect with other people’s pain, able to enjoy the little things in life like playing hide and seek with my nephew or receiving a text message from a friend.

I remember the moment when that silent rage started to find its way out, the first crush on a boy in high school, coming out, the anger of my teenager years spilling over the world that was unfair, thinking I was invincible and had no feelings. I had no problems. I was doing fine. That anger I had bottled up found its way back to me, eventually.

It’s been a treacherous journey, from that little boy in this very room I am writing from to the edge of the galaxy and then to hell and back to the little boy in me that I was running from. I have run and run, changed jobs, countries, friends, boyfriends, languages, university degrees, drank every drop of booze and used every drug on the planet to get me out of myself. Today I am tired of running and I am embracing myself with all my fears and vulnerabilities. I wish there had been a way for me to learn how to love myself without doing so much damage to my body and my soul, ravaging my flesh and my veins with chemicals for a second of release, selling myself to people that I despised, letting other people touch me until there was nothing left of my humanity, losing bits of myself until there was nothing left. And then finding myself again. I wish there had been another way but there wasn’t, that was my journey and was what needed to happen for me to ask for help, to grow and change. It’s been worth every second and I feel happy I am still alive and that I have something to contribute to the world.

Salvo 1I am collecting all the forgotten pieces of the puzzle that I left around the world. I am sure there’s a spare few pieces that I can find somewhere in the back of a drawer even here at my parents’, on the seventh floor of a block of flats, where I have spent many days and nights when I was a boy. Even here in this sleepy old sea-side town on the other side of the sea that I had left behind all those years ago.

Writing this feels like going full circle. It feels like coming home. I am following the trail of bread crumbs in the forest, not sure where it will lead but it sure has been one heck of an adventure.

(previous participant on The Quest Weekend Workshop)

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