“Shadow Leaving” turns to gold
I thought this piece was about a minor incident in my life. It turned out to be about how I’ve been keeping a bad dream coming true.
My I-group meets in Fulham on Wednesday nights, fortnightly. On December 8, 2010, I clean forgot we were circling up. I wrote what follows, addressed directly to my I-group, after we’d met again two weeks later.
South of South Wimbledon, past the junction withMerantun Way, past the backside of a Wickes and a Big Yellow Storage, a low, brick-built 1920’s industrial estate sinks away, and I rise up the slope of the railway bridge and I’m home – or nearly home.
The dual carriageway ends at the bridge, the street lighting dims, and as I descend, the dark over Morden Hall Park is a relief, seeming to flood in and clear my mind…… which then fills with the circle we make, with Jim standing opposite me, and now I’m remembering my words, and now with a jolt I see the man I don’t want to be.
Earlier, holding myself accountable, I’d realised that having decided – though not yet communicated – that I’d be leaving our I-group next month, I’d “jumped the gun” by “forgetting it” a fortnight ago, enacting my familiar way of leaving.
Jim had suggested I take a fortnight to consider my enrolment onto a Wednesday night Counselling and Psychotherapy Foundation Course that will take me out of our I-group for a year.
I’d barked back, “This doesn’t come into it! The choice is whether I’m doing the therapy course! If I am, I’m not doing this.”
The jolt I felt wasn’t due to recalling the bluntness of my words so much as how I’d said them, sensing something leaking out of shadow that I didn’t want the other men to see, an arrogance or fear carried in my tone, saying something like, “You’re daft to imagine I’d even think of my decision that way, weighing up our I-group against me studying…You think you count, that this matters?”
I saw my shadow way of leaving, of completing or evolving even the good things in my life: not with heartfelt gratitude, respect, sadness or joy. Oh no. Instead, I’ll not turn up, just disappear with off-handedness or cut you off with a barked defence, negate and diminish whatever we’ve had – then not now, it’s history, mate – leaving feelings devalued, killed off, dead.
My handling of good things in my life: a little cold, inhuman? But is there any gold in this shadow?
I rue keeping notebooks, my record of inertia. A proper little student of science I was, beginning my first, March 29 1986, “To note feelings and emotions, stimuli and responses, […] to replace habits and routines.”
I later scribbled across the page, “Nothing’s changed!” but by then I had at least begun this work, this leaving work specifically. I was a twenty-eight year old valuer at Chesterton’s, surveyors. I’d rearranged a flat and made some bucks. My gorgeous girlfriend was the nicest person and willing to go the distance.
And in September 1986 I arrived home, parked my immaculately restored Hillman Minx, went upstairs and wrote: “Leaving…Leaving Tiger Rocks and Isipingo Beach – I’m four – leaving the sea, leaving Tiger and Tiger our dog and cat, and on the back seat of daddy’s Triumph Herald, sister leans over and whispers, ‘They didn’t run away. They killed them.’
Durban– urban life, aching for the sea. Older brothers scarce. Daddy leaving, daddy ache – weeks, months dimming into years. Papa back, out of the blue one sunny afternoon, my heart singing. Late night arguments, awakening, staring down through banisters at tottering drunkenness and raging mother’s bread-knife threats. “Get out!” Daddy gone.
Sister leading me into the pantry, showing me a divorce announcement in a newspaper. “So?” Eight, nine, ten – real close to my best friend Rob, looking forwards with him and the gang. And taken away, far away to where I hid in shame my love of Springbok green and gold, leaving behind that boy brimful of hope and his dad and warrior men shrouded then in the darkening shadows of alcoholism and apartheid.
Home from a new school and sister telling me “Daddy’s dead,” bitching I didn’t even write the last time, wasn’t in dad’s last letter at all. And onwards to life with good new friends, seventeen, eighteen, good at leaving with clean cuts by then and with not much of a clue of who I am, dropping out of college soon – hanging out, then into work, a workaholic blue-eyed boy, only never quite there and always soon with my all-too-often glassy-eyed stare, off the boil with crap building up, and stuck – never – leaving again, onwards and upwards, year after year after seventh year.
We lost Ma somewhere in the years before, ten, fifteen, twenty back, lost her to keeping a lid on pain while seeing us through, and sis’ and I moved on and Ma tried and tried, and tried again, then gave in, did her leaving thing, twenty three floors up and one step off, and my perceived part in that.
Then I didn’t do leaving no more. Stoned at her cremation, frozen. A passing interest in the munchies.
So, like many before, since, by twenty-eight I’d suffered more loss than I was built to cope with. Shadow took care of it. We did a deal, Shadow and me, that he’d hold all that stuff, keep it in shadow exactly as much as I could avoid attaching to, connecting with anything that’d risk us feeling loss on leaving, that’d risk us, you know, touching it, that shit.
The golden flukes of my job and A’ sweet smiles and divine breasts were flies in Shadow’s ointment: I blew them out and never looked back, partied on.
Nobody’s fault. Certainly not Shadow’s, forever diligently doing his best to keep me safe, defended, with notable agility and skills in fact. Took seventeen more years for Shadow’s way to take me down, enough for me to crawl out of the rat’s-hole of a crack den and surrender, opened up to trying a different way.
Oh Lucky Man! Fellowships had grown up all around me. I was held and carried while I tested out giving up doing it all alone, then gave up my secrets, thawing, thawing.
And in time I found the ManKind Project, our wider community, and most importantly to me in recent years I found you, my I-group brothers, who’ve accepted everything I’ve brought, who’ve welcomed me and kept on welcoming me until one night I heard I am welcome, and began to trust.
So it is – not alone – I’ve grown strong enough to reclaim the share of pain that’s mine. And my right to love again – to see the gold in shadow here.
Simple really. I care. I was just another kid who cared too much about too much stuff before I’d had a shot at growing up.
I’m still scared – I could go on about it – when I say that as a man amongst men, I’m open to loving…though never minding that today. Regarding being here, now, with you, there’s a man I want to be who steps up when it’s time for leaving.
I’ve now signed up and paid for a course on Wednesdays and so won’t be in our next three cycles, for 2011.
A shadow thought did cross my mind, “I’ll join an I-group that’s not on Wednesdays.” Now another sensation, feeling, seeing…No. This is my I-group. This is where I come back to because this is my circle because you, me, we, the work I’ve done, we’ve done, do here, is worth something. I’m really grateful for the journey I’ve made with you. It means a lot to me.
I honour M, S, F, R – growing, giving, facilitating men, part of this circle’s strength before and into my time, and men who’ve visited, passed on through…D, E, M, more.
I honour B, his hand on my chest, pushing me to get present and stand my ground. I honour Br’s mellow presence and the insight he whispered to me that so strengthened my forgiveness of my mother. I honour U and his good heart, mirroring me standing on the edge at times and keeping coming back, stalwart. I honour J’s strength, challenging, supporting, teaching me clean anger and courage and integrity again and again. I honour M for his inclusive strength and wise presence, for his deeply nurturing, generous fellowship. I honour J’s “Cut the crap” clarity, reminding me that action talks the way Jim walks his fathering, heroic path. I honour N flourishing into mission, creating and holding the space for new energy to enter and regenerate our circle: I welcome new men, P, N, I, more – I challenge you to get skilled up, to step into the middle and make your circle thrive.
Knowing I may not get it, I want to stay in touch through 2011, and attend circles or socials between my course term times. I feel sad writing this ending, facing a new beginning. I feel sad – I guess that’s part of what it feels like – for me today – to feel my love for you.
You know where I am. I bless us all.
Your warrior brother.
On January 5 2011 I read that to the men who were present that night. I was concerned about the length. I was given time to read the whole piece and heard in silence. We took a pee break and I thought it had gone OK and that was likely that. “Like history, mate.”
Then I was asked if I’d like feedback. And I heard I’ll be missed. I was welcomed to stay in touch and visit. I saw men moved to tears. I met with gratitude and respect. This wasn’t leaving as I know it – a little cold, inhuman. This was feeling, and meaning, this was a man changing. And men with him.