Returning home was never going to be easy.
I left the day before I turned eighteen. This grieved my parents, especially my mother, who wanted to lavish me with gifts, too many gifts, to express how much she loved me. It was never enough just to utter those words, there had to be something to show. That was it you see, it was all for show, so others could see that Mr and Mrs Brooke adored their only son.
They knew I’d planned to ‘take time out’ before uni. And how proud they were when I’d secured a place at Oxford. So I set off on my travels to ‘find myself’ and when I’d done that I would bring ‘me’ back and commence my studies in biochemistry. Well I didn’t ‘find myself’ and I didn’t return. I took myself to America where I’d actually secured my place of study.
Of course my parents weren’t pleased. Poor Mother was beside herself and I did feel a little sorry for Father, having to console her endless days of woe. I really did have to get away from them both before they smothered me to death with their love. Mother, Dearest, was turning me into a Little Lord Fauntleroy and Father just played along to please her. Never was a child more spoilt than theirs, Peter Brooke, or as mother called me, Petey. I wasn’t ungrateful; I relished the attention. But as I got older I started to loath them for it. To my parents, gifts = love; to me gifts = loathing = parents. I honestly didn’t want to feel like this but I did, and I went away, thinking the time apart would restore equilibrium.
I stayed away longer than I’d planned. I told Mother in a letter where I was. She wrote a War and Peace length one in reply, stating that she and Father loved me and that when I felt the time was right, I should return and all would be forgotten and forgiven. She unbelievably accepted the situation and carried on with their lives as if nothing had happened. Months were spent on my part feeling guilty and then it soon faded and I did as Mother wanted. I got on with my life.
We never corresponded after that last letter from Mother, not until I wrote them with the news they’d been longing to hear. Peter was coming home. Well, just for a month, as business was bringing me back to England.
Thankfully they didn’t want a reunion at the airport. I could just imagine the scene and it wasn’t a pretty one. Maybe they’d mellowed with age. Twenty-four years was a long time I guess. They knew what time to expect me and as the taxi pulled up outside the house, I just kept expecting something to happen, but all was quiet, thank goodness. It was silly but I felt a bit nervous as I pressed the door bell. Within seconds the door was gently pulled back by Father with Mother under his protective arm. She reached out and grabbed my face looking deep into my eyes and then embraced me; a long twenty-four year embrace. Then Father was given his turn. He guided me over the threshold, took my cases in as Mother gave a quick sweep of the drive, as if looking for someone, then shut the door, locking it behind us.
Three of us together again in my old home and it felt like a good place. The deco had changed as would be expected and Mother and Father had aged of course, maybe shrunk an inch but gained it in width. There was definitely a happy vibe about the place.
We exchanged stories about my studies and work and their retirement. My parents were now attending classes in carpentry and art, something I’d never envisioned them doing. They’d always mentioned moving to Spain when I was younger. I tried not to think about my pre-departure days.
Mother had prepared a wonderful feast, and in return Father and I cleared up and washed the pots. I tried my best not to yawn but the jetlag was gnawing at me like an agitated dog. Mother smiled and told me to go to bed. Father smiled as he came down the stairs; he said my cases were in my bedroom.
My bedroom. I remembered the feeling I got when I’d been away at scout camp or holiday and I’d rush straight to my room to see if it had changed, knowing that it wouldn’t have. To me, it always seemed different somehow as if some of the energy had been lost without my presence in it. I opened the door and was transported back in time. The room hadn’t changed; it was how I’d left it. Despite the initial excitement and the pull to explore my old room, fatigue was eating away at my body. The dog was at the bone. I collapsed on the bed, instantly asleep.
I remember waking up several times in the night. The first time I wandered zombie-like to the bathroom to use the toilet. The second time I was getting too warm and fighting with the bedding. I was still fully clothed. I stripped off in the dark, with my eyes half closed, half in dreamland. I felt at the end of the bed for the nightwear Mother used to leave me. Sure enough, I felt the cold satin weight of the pyjamas. The third time I felt a strange sensation on my face. It was like there was a thick, wet film on it and the slight air movement that passed over me was causing my skin to tighten. I tried to touch my face but I couldn’t move my arms. In fact I couldn’t move my legs or anything. I had jetlag and probably sleep paralysis from waking up too abruptly. I fell deeply asleep.
When I finally woke it was morning and I was totally in the land of the confused. Bleary eyed, I tried to peer through a fog but it was all a bright white mystery. My limbs felt heavy and bound to the bed. I was energyless. My face felt awkward like I had a mask on. Funny how jetlag affects the mind. I tried looking about and glimpsed dark and light shades of my pj’s. This bed had sides all the way round. I seemed to be walled in and couldn’t see out. Nothing was clear yet. It didn’t feel like the bedcovers were on me either. Thinking was not easy. I strained my mind to concentrate, focus but it wandered aimlessly enquiring as to the smells entering my olfactory nerve. Something fresh and clean, paint or nail varnish intermingled with fried food. There’s was a sawing noise earlier I was sure, or Mother filing her nails. Now that would be daft because she’d have to be right up against my ear. Jetlag. Brrr!
I had to get up because I was feeling really thirsty and nauseas. When I licked my lips I tasted something sweet and sickly. What the hell? Was that lipstick or something? Why couldn’t I move? Even my chest felt heavy and bound. I shouted out for my parents in a dry croaky voice. They both ran into the room and looked down at me, their big, crinkly heads looming above me like fairground balloons. I thought I must be really ill, nothing was making any sense. Mother removed the foggy veil from my view and threw it on the floor.
‘Look at my darling Petey. He’s got sick on his face.’ She took a handkerchief that was folded in her bra strap, daubed a gob of spit on it and rubbed my face roughly. ‘Let me sort that face out.’ She took out a tube that looked like Pritt Stick glue, and circled white stuff on my skin.
I tried to speak but Mother put a finger on my lips and told me to hush. It left a black imprint on her finger. God I hoped this was just a dream.
‘Look Papa Brooke, Petey put his suit on, all by himself,’ said Mother.
‘You are clever, Son. You do look very smart. They’ll all be jealous of you now.’
I wanted to know who ‘they’ were but I gave up. Something terrible must have happened to me. I think maybe I’d had a stroke. A transatlantic flight could do this, give you a blood clot, and stop the flow of oxygen to the brain. The effects could range from paralysis to loss of cognition, sensory defects. I think I had some of those. The visual thing was really disturbing me though. Why was everything so big?
‘Papa Brooke, have you finished with the column? I’m dying to show our Petey off. It’s nearly time. You’ll have lots of new friends to keep you company in here, my Sweet.’
‘Come here Petey.’ Father’s hand loomed over me like a mechanical crane and loosened me from my bed.
He held me aloft at arm’s length and they both cooed like pigeons. I tried to look at my surrounding but it was all a blur with them spinning me about. When I was finally able to focus Father helped me stand in a metal frame with props that went under my arms. I hung there, limp limbed and full of dread.
The bell kick-started my reality check.
I was in a shop and people were coming in with happy faces. Mothers and fathers with their young children, and grandparents all cooed. It was madness. I was slumped in this frame on a pedestal feeling woozy still from my distorted vision, a Lilliputian amongst giants. I sensed others like myself beside me. They stared ahead as if in a trance; Harlequin to my left and Columbine to my right. The children cooed the loudest and longest, pointing and squeaking with joy. A hand smaller than the crane, reached up to touch me, but was haltered by Father lowering a glass dome over the three of us. There was writing running along the bottom edge: ELAS ROF TON. The girl sighed and looked up at her mother.
‘I like that one, Mummy. Oh look, he’s called Parrot. That’s funny because he doesn’t look like one.’ I tried to focus at my reflection on the glass.
‘That’s not Parrot, dear, it says Pierrot,’ said Father.
‘Pierrot comes from the name Peter,’ added Mother.’ He’s not for sale, I’m afraid.
He’s our treasure. There are other clowns to choose from.’
‘I do like Pierrot, Mummy. Oh look, Mummy. Look at that shiny tear. He’s so sad.’
I was their gift; their love. They put me in a glass box, to sit on a shelf to be adored. I looked back and abhorred them.