THE EMPTY HOUSE

The house is different this morning; quiet, empty feeling. The boy is not here. It’s just me and the dog. He is having a ‘sleepover’ at a friend’s house after spending yesterday evening at his friend’s Halloween birthday party entertainment at a farm turned theme park.

It’s unnaturally peaceful; there is a promise of being able to start bringing order to the chaos a hyperactive small boy produces as he goes through each day in a whirlwind of constant picking things up, dismantling them, re-arranging them, removing them from their allotted homes, losing them, breaking them and generally producing a state of screaming disorder.

I can do anything I want without the manic dread of being constantly interrupted by the boy’s insatiable demands and constant need to talk non stop at breathless speed without pausing for breath or having the patience to allow me to say anything.

But then, when I go to turn on the radio, there is a tiny little doll’s house size skittle shaped just like a small bottle balanced precariously right on top of the on- switch.

It is impossible to turn the radio on without removing it, or, as actually happened, jumping out of your skin as my finger automatically groped it’s way onto the switch in sleep sodden autopilot, without looking, only to stumble into this unseen foreign object which then clattered noisily onto the floor.

Aaaargh ! He’s is still here by proxy. I am forcibly reminded by this very deliberate act of his to think about him, and remember he is not far away, and that he still needs me to be thinking about him at all times to make sure he is safe and looked after by the only person he has ever been able to depend upon in his life.

What will happen next ? What other carefully placed objects will I find perched somewhere where they are deliberately designed to get in my way as I do the ordinary, mundane things of everyday life.

I know the appearance of this little skittle object in such a peculiar place as the on switch of the radio is no co-incidence. It is quite deliberate; done to remind me the boy is still really present in the house by proxy as it were. He wants to remind me of his presence in my life, even though I am temporarily alone and apart from him. He wants me to know he is still there.

Or perhaps he is being considerate and wants to remind me not to feel lonely without him being there. To gently remind me not to worry, that he is not too far away and we will be back together soon, as we always have been. Just the boy and me.

If you think I am being fanciful and imagining this, I might ordinarily agree with you. But, I have long years of experience bringing up my son alone and instantly recognise the oddness of what I know is a deliberate act to remind me he is still there, connected to me, relying on me.

I first noticed this peculiar habit of his when he was only about five years old . It started when his mother commenced her long, drawn out abandonment of him and me, eventually leaving just the two of us to fend for ourselves alone.

After we had eaten supper together every evening I would put him to bed and dutifully kiss him goodnight with the ritual of ‘Mwaa Mwaa, love you, make sure the bed bugs don’t bite’ and “love you’ yet again as I turned off the light and shut the bedroom door, to hear him respond faintly through the closed door with the ritual ‘love you too’ as I went down the stairs.

Slightly exhausted with the relentless pressure of looking after him and ending each day in a frantic rush of cooking a decent, proper meal for both of us and trying to get him to bed at a sensible time (which I never, ever manage to achieve), all I want to do, and all I am capable of doing by this stage, is to flop down in front of the telly and switch my brain off.

But, every evening I began to notice the boy had deliberately left little reminders of his continuing presence that simply could not be ignored. Usually, they were little lego models he had constructed – he’s a big fan of lego and has huge amounts of it – which I would find artfully placed in my way on the chair he knew I would sit in.

Or they would be placed just where he knew I put my feet up on a table while watching the TV. Or he would balance one of his remote control helicopters with it’s delicate, fragile rotor blades where it would be sat on or get in the way in some other way somewhere.

All sorts of little contrivances used to appear; things like the fridge door being tied shut with string hanging between fridge magnets or something quite creative of a similar nature. We once went through a long period of all sorts of things being tied together around the lounge with some wool he had filched from me. You couldn’t move without tripping up over the strands of wool everywhere.

It was quite extra-ordinary how these things would appear all over the place where they would get in the way in a way that gradually became obvious would never usually happen during the day. You could see they had been deliberately placed so they would be specially noticed by me in his absence.

‘I am still thinking about you dad, and I know you will have to think about me and why I put these things so oddly placed, even though I am not there’, they seemed to be saying.

It took me a long time to cotton onto this, but the ritual became so persistent that the message was eventually drummed home to me that this was being deliberately done to remind me he was still there and still entirely dependent on me, and wanted me to still be thinking of him even when he was temporarily absent from my presence.

If you think carefully about it, this says something powerful about family life and the invisible bonds of vital support that family members rely on from each other and that we all need.

My boy had been badly let down by his mother abandoning him, as well as him being deprived of all his siblings, four of them which he never saw or had anything to do with anymore. Also all the various aunts and uncles and cousins he had been deprived off as his mother’s mental illness gradually isolated the boy and me from everyone else. Mental illness does that to people.

So, it was just the boy and me, both now entirely dependent on the other. That was why he wanted me to know he was still really there with me at all times, and his little prompts made sure I would also always be reminded of him and be thinking of him in his temporary absences.

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