Very, very rough draft.... notations really...
Approximate time: 2am. The year: 1962/3
There is a childhood memory of lying upstairs in bed. I am around 5-6 years old.
My bedroom is on the top floor above my parents’ children’s clothing shop in St. Kilda.
The shop is situated on the northeast side of a busy intersection – Chapel and Carlisle Streets, where trams cross and clatter in both directions.
There is the noise of the roof creaking. I sit up, awake and alert.
In vigilance I listen for the slow creaking of the stairs.
In particular, I listen for noise on the second stair landing between the bathroom and my parents’ room.
The landing before the top one where my room lies amidst flickering shadows from the street below.
Is someone creeping up the stairs to my room?
I am aware that I suffered from a pervasive anxiety as a child. Scared to sleep in my own bed.
Old building shifting. Wooden stairs creaking.
Noise from trams on the street. The fumes from vehicles, tram brakes and trucks wafting up through the louvered windows of my bedroom. Spooky shadows everywhere.
Life like mannequins in the shop downstairs, staring and gesturing at me when lights from a passing car shine in their eyes.
Things appearing to move. Light and dark flouncing around. A sense of foreboding.
What is real and what is not? Too young to comprehend.
All is black and white. An underworld of shadows taunting me.
I begin practising an early form of walking meditation, which I now name, crawling meditation.
Awaking in fright, I would leave my bed in the middle of the night and crawl floorboard-by-floorboard, touch-by-touch, stair-by-stair.
Determined, despite my anguish, that I seek safety in the elusive security of my parents.
The allure of another human body. The urge to snuggle under the wing of my parent swan, believing that I will be kept warm, safe and protected.
So slow. So slow. Inch by inch with no guarantee of success for my efforts.
In open-eyed awareness, lest I make one sound on the creaky wooden stairs and wake my parents, I move with stealth.
Like a four legged worm with my eiderdown and pillow trailing behind me.
If there were a noise I would pause and listen and wait. Straining my ears.
The sound of my father snoring was a comfort. If he was snoring, he hadn’t heard me.
If he was snoring – even at that young age – I had learnt that his sleep was deep and that he was less likely to stir.
It was he who would do the admonishing. It was he who would be annoyed and voice his chagrin with a booming authoritarian tone. I’m not sure what and whom I was scared of the most.
My father. The dark or, waking up alone.
Was there a difference?
It might take me half an hour or, more to creep down from my bedroom, left onto the landing, down the first flight of ten steps opposite the bathroom, turn right onto the next landing, past the bathroom and toward my parents room at the end of the landing.
The old wooden stairs with their dusty, stale smelling strip of carpet down the middle.
I knew that smell well as my nose was often touching it as I lay half squirming, half crawling on the stairs.
The stairs, which, under normal conditions, would groan and moan loudly throughout the night.
A settling. Shrinking and expanding. Respond to changes in temperature.
That noise wasn’t the waking call. The subtle, smaller shuffling creaks - the shift in energy and awareness as I inched along. This was the real waking call.
The trickiest part was traversing the threshold into my parents’ room.
The floor here had its own resonance. A vibrant personality writhing in a mish mash of repairs to weakened floorboard. The noises emitted were sharper.
Newer. Guaranteed to wake the dead if I placed my weight in the wrong place.
The entrance to their room would either make or break my endeavors.
One squeak at the threshold and Dad would stir and grumble. All would be lost.
‘Get back to bed”, he’d demand. “Don’t make me get out of bed or, you’ll be sorry’.
Dismay would overcome me and I would sob my way back up to my bedroom and rock myself to sleep.
No understanding, warmth or, compassion offered. On the other hand, if I was fortunate enough to make it over the threshold, it was always Dad’s side of the bed nearest the door I would go to. It wasn’t worth the trouble to risk making more noise going around their bed and past the dressing table to Mum’s side.
Maybe I sought his protection. Maybe I was seeking his love. Don’t we often default to our greatest tormentor? Either way, it was futile. If successful, I would lie on my eiderdown and fold it over me. Then I would feel secure and go to sleep, hopefully unnoticed until the morning.
My mother would always rise first and walking past she would notice me there. In silence she would give my eiderdown a tug, or, tap my leg and urge me out of the room so I would not get into trouble when Dad woke up.
Dad was dominant. Mum was submissive. She capitulated to him – every time.
That is why I do not remember Mum being there for me in the night.
It was in this early environment that I learnt to hone my skills: vigilance, attentive awareness, perceiving subtle shifts in energy, the ability to freeze and listen through the dark, and the ability to see in the dark. Alertness and acute perception. Perception often masked by anxiety.
These sensitivities and attributes had the potential to be a double-edged sword and darkness became both a friend and a foe.