Tightly, so tightly, I grip onto her hand
As we approach the school gates
Maybe some of her strength will pass into me
If I grip tightly enough.
“I have to go to work,” she whispers, her breath hot in my ear,
“So you have to go to school.”
Tears scar tracks through the dirt on my face
And splash hot onto my shiny black shoes.
A knot of terror sits tight in my gut.
I cannot put a cause to it, this sensation
Only to wonder what if, when the school day ends
She has disappeared, like he did?
Day after day after day they try to make me
Pass through the gates and go into the classroom
But I am rock. Frozen. Resolute.
The medical room becomes my sanctuary.
Eventually, I stop. I shut down.
I am a machine that will not operate any more
I have run out of the fuel that used to drive me
No one knows how to make me work again.
I crawl inside myself.
I lay on the couch as a silence wraps itself around me
“If only she would talk about it,” they say
But the words are buried under shame
It is hard to dredge them up.
Eventually, inexorably, days pass, as they always do
And the clouds begin to lift.
Slowly, slowly, the sun peeps out from behind
The solemn grey matter of my existence.
I remember how to smile.
Perhaps this is growing up
This endless learning of how to be strong
When you are sure that you are not
And the world seems vast and cold.
With people who give you joy
Pushing your hands into the soil
And making your life grow.
I look back through the passing of forty years
Strength built up in layers like silt
Rearranging the course of the river’s flow
At the small, scared child who once was me.
And then if my strength falters
Or if I ever feel alone or afraid
I grip on tightly to her hand and I remember
I am not in the playground now.