I’ll start again, where I left off, with the half-doubted memory, my mother’s well-worn anecdote. 1988 (I’m sure now this was the year) and I’m sat, not even 8 years of age, watching that awful scene unfold – the starving, diseased dying of Ethiopia and Red Nose Day asking you to do something. Sat with my mother and my sister in the front room.
I turn to my mum, tears down my cheeks, distraught though surely not fully able to comprehend what’s on screen. Just knowing that it’s wrong, it’s awful, it’s heartbreaking. My mum, tears on her cheeks, looks back. And my sister, two years younger than me, is looking at both of us. “What are you crying for?” she asks my mum. “They’re not your children.”
I think at its deepest I remember this story – or do I remember the memory? – because it highlights what my mother and I share, but also how sadly I don’t think she could quite understand me, or what to do for me. Then, of course, there’s my sister’s perfect acerbic reply. But mostly there’s me, tears on my face, looking for answers, and my mother not being able to give them to me.
Talking about your childhood inevitably involves talking about your parents, and so you talk about how they raised you. It goes without saying that my parents put everything they had, emotionally, financially, physically, intellectually, into me. But it’s also unavoidable that I’m my own person, and more than a little intense and thoughtful.
I think I remember the story because I’m sure I remember my mum thinking, “Oh, God, we’re going to have a problem with him…”. And I don’t mean that to insult, accuse or offend. It’s what I remember. It sticks. And there’s always a reason why these things stick. She didn’t mean ‘problem’ in any way other than a human way – she knew I would ask questions, big questions, and she didn’t know if she could answer them.
One memory I don’t doubt is again in this vein. I was crying in bed, hysterical, and when my parents took me into the next room to comfort me, to ask what was wrong, I asked them: “How do I know if my memories are real? Would I know if they weren’t? How would I know if someone had just given me these memories?”. Blade Runner had been released in ’82, I’d surely watched it on TV. I have no idea how old I was. Perhaps 12.
Again, I don’t know if what I remember is true – especially because at the time I was in floods of tears – but what sticks is my parents exchanging a look between them which was uncertain, worried. These aren’t accusations, merely misty recollections. But again, if it sticks there must be a reason, regardless of whether it’s a perception or a reality. I remember a look, a look of not knowing the answers to my questions.
Why go back, why attempt to find that 1990s boy? I feel that at the age of 9 I was already asking questions which the adults around me couldn’t answer. Big, philosophical questions. And I think that because I couldn’t find the answers in the world – being so young as to only be able to ask for answers, not discover them myself – I turned my questions inwards, turned myself inwards. I want to find the threshold, the point at which the wide-eyed boy closed his wide eyes.
Exploring my 1990s is about opening my memories. I have so many, so detailed, so anchored by emotions and thoughts, but many are buried, consciously or unconsciously. In counselling I’ve unearthed a good deal of these memories, but like the ones here they never dissolve, they just become less charged, less troubling. But I know that with each one I bring out, I’ll find another just below. And some part of me wonders if there’s things down there I’ve tried to forget.
Exploring the 1990s me is about getting closer to how I am here. The transition from a confused boy attempting to take the whole world in at a glance, to hold the world in his understanding, thinking about for instance if there’s an edge to the universe while staring out of a classroom window, this boy becoming a similarly questioning and confused but cripplingly insecure and self-loathing young man, this is what I want to look for.