I Can't Find My Safe Place
When Steve was in his hospice bed once, he became very restless and agitated and I took his face in my hands. "I can't find my safe place," he said with his eyes closed. "I want to go home now." "This is your safe place," I said, "this is your safe place. And you can't go home."
I don't remember if it made him stop bunching up his sheets and trying to find a way to be comfortable, I think he was calmer and I think I sat for ages watching him and wondering about safe places. I don't really remember. It was as if the safe place he was looking for was in one of the corners of his bed, it was a physical space that was mislaid. At hand, nearby and temporarily out of reach. He thought perhaps, that someone would say, "Ah. Here it is, this little square of sheet here at the top left of the bed, remember? This and this alone is your safe place. This is where you must try and fit yourself because here, you cannot be unsafe. Let me help you get back to it." He wanted to go home too, and I don't blame him. But home was no longer a safe place, it was once where he was able to rest and relax but now those days were gone forever. He needed a new safe place while dying, and this safe place had to be found within his bed.
I never consider my safe place until I feel unsafe. Until then, I continue making plans and writing lists. I think that I will contact this venue and ask if I can exhibit, and I will send an email to that person to say that I am an artist and that they may love my work. While I am doing that, I think, I will do the washing and go to Tescos. I say Yes to a new commission and I say Of Course to a party invitation; I make a press release and I say to Eileen, "Let's ask Clarissa if we can have another fund raising event in her big Wimbledon house" and I know what I am doing. Antonia gets tired but she is well able to cope. How do you do it? is music to her ears. Shucks, she says looking bashful, you know. I just, do. And then something I don't expect shakes the ground under me, and I didn't see it coming, I didn't plan for it and I didn't practice to deal with it. All my coping strategies aren't about coping with this. I feel I am only eight years old and have been asked to cope with a mighty grown up problem. At times like these, I can no longer find time to sit and read. No time ever to have a relaxing bath, no time to go to bed, and no point in sleeping. No time for anything that used to make me feel comfortable and peaceful, no safe places.
Last week Furiously Independent Son went missing. He really went missing and I called the police. While he was unfound, I discovered things about his life and lifestyle that made me afraid that I would never see him again. I contacted people last with him at night clubs from his Facebook page, but no one had seen him at all. Gone. Other people started to ask where he was, and one or two even emailed me to ask. Furiously Independent Son keeps his home life and his outside life separate from each other. He is pathologically secretive about every step he takes once out of this front door, I don't know the names of any of his friends nor do I know where any of them live. While on the quest to find him, I discovered he had told everyone that I was a Traveller, a Catholic one, living in a caravan. Irish. An Irish Catholic Traveller in a caravan. And that his grandparents owned Rolls Royce. Ah. That is why we are kept so far apart, his friends and me. I wouldn't stand up to scrutiny. I am not Irish, I have quite a posh accent, I have a house in Bognor Regis, a bike and a VW car. No caravans. No horses and no big gypsy weddings. Though my name is Rolls, my parents don't own Rolls Royce, though because my lovely old Dad has had a few strokes and doesn't always remember clearly, he would probably agree that he did, after all, own Rolls Royce.
I could not sleep. I could not find him. I didn't like what his friends told me and I wanted the police to find him. Trawl the hospitals, I told them. I know something has happened to him. I saw him in my imagination, unconscious and vulnerable, forgotten and dying in the boot of someone's car and his phone lying just out reach ringing, ringing, ringing. I saw him in my nightmares cold, confused and crying silently and I feared that I would never find my way through this.
And then I got a call from a train guard in Orpington. Your son, he says, has been found avoiding paying his fare by locking himself and his friend in the toilet. Oh I said. Ask the name of the friend. My first instinct was to put a name to someone that my son knew and because the guard asked, he would have to say. Why, I asked the guard, is he in Orpington? As if the guard could say Well Madam, it's like this, see. Here is a run down of your son's actions since last week, bear with me, it is going to be a long one. In fact the guard said he didn't know and who was going to pay for the ticket. So I put the guard onto the police that were looking for son and said They will deal with this.
And, I said to the guard, will you tell him to come home?
And then I thought, with a ticket.
Furiously Independent Son did eventually come home, the next day. Incandescent with rage that I had spoilt his life. Full of scorn for my worry, full of the dreadful arrogance of someone who has never had to feel much for anyone else. He filled the house with a subversive fury and I thought, is this me? Do I take the credit for making this 17 Year Old Son so very unrecognizable? At what point, I began to think, did I begin to get it so wrong that this is the result? What is this thing called Love that mothers feel for their children, and is it this Love that is preventing me from smacking him on the bum with a breadboard and cutting holes in his best tee shirts? Much talking was done. Not much listening, but that is what youngsters do. Not listen. They don't like it, it threatens their sense of self. If they do listen, they may hear things that contradict their conviction that they are immune to harm, able to control drugs, dead cool and the law doesn't apply to them. So there was not much progress there, and I felt that this never ending ocean of parental love we hear so much about may have been a little exaggerated.
So now, there has been a resolution of sorts. He is still up to no good doing whatever it was that made him go missing last week, no lessons learnt and no interest in anyone else. However, he did become quite calm and had the grace to look a little nervous about going back to London. I have had gentle words with him and we are going to change the rules a bit from next week. He will be 18 and I will no longer support him. He can get a job and I will no longer fund his lifestyle. And it turns out that I was right to be worried last week. He did experience something that could have been very dangerous, and it was on the very day that I called the police and tried to find him. He got away with it this time, but if it happens again he may well be glad that I go all out to find him and bring him home. Safe.
I am full of sorrow today. I have no place to rest, I have no space in my body to find comfort. I can't find consolation in the things that console me when I am otherwise so busy, so full of plans and ideas. I have no safe place to go. I have no place where the worry and the shock of the last few days can't magnify in my brain and make me long for sleep to forget it all. And Furiously Independent Son? He is back seeking what he thinks of as his safe places. They are very unsafe places though, they will not give him happiness and strength. They are dangerous and shallow and he will have to find it out for himself. He will have to find out that he is not invincible, that he is no different from all the other young men who think they can do what they want without consequence nor harm. He will find out that just because he denies responsibility, doesn't mean that it will go away.
I am lying on my bed. The house is quiet and the FIS is safe in that he is alive. I wonder what was the point of all that determination to find him last week. I did as any good mother would do, and I guess he did as any foul clubbing raving 17 year old son would do. My safe place, like Steves, has dwindled to a space in my bed where I am going to curl up and sleep.