scruples

I never told her
sorry — for the way I judged
and condemned — would she
appreciate that gesture
now, forty-five years too late?

It’s an exquisite torture when scruples pull in precisely opposite directions both at once. I would like to apologise to my stepmother for something that happened in 1972, but it may be the wrong thing to do after so much time. I woke this morning with only the vaguest recollection that I had dreamed of her. Sadly, she was not a reassuring presence in the dream — that was all I could remember. Although I get on with her fantastically well these days compared with in the past, still, even just to think of her, is, in a way, to invoke an area of pain and darkness. In the absence of any further dream content available to memory, I fell to wondering what poisoned our relationship. I first met her in 1970 when I was nearly fourteen. She was my father’s ‘mistress’ and he took me to meet her in a cafe — a deliberate effort on his part (and a laudable one perhaps) not to sweep things under the carpet. Unsurprisingly, she was ill at ease and so was I, and we did not exactly hit it off swimmingly. The second time I met her was in 1973. My parents had separated, I had moved out with my mother, and on this occasion I was using the original family home (where my father was still living) simply as somewhere to stay  — when I chanced to enter the kitchen and discovered his mistress (later my stepmother) stirring some soup on the stove. I exploded in anger. I still remember my exact words: I hope you realise my mother will want a divorce after this! Like a Victorian melodrama. My anger was fraudulent: I was aping the high moral tone which I had heard my gay lover adopt so often. Inside I was utterly at a loss for any authentic reaction at all. I have always known this. But only this morning have I wondered about the impact of my condemnation on my stepmother herself. Perhaps it had none. But I owe her still. I did wrong — and it’s scarcely any wonder, viewed in those terms, if now after forty-five years I can’t dream of her without feeling that she represents a problem. It’s all too easy to dismiss my own behaviour in 1972 for being intrinsically meaningless and a sham, and as being the ravings of a disturbed teenager. But I would prefer to take responsibility for it, and in that case I owe her sorry.

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