The Little Things

The memories that persist are sometimes not the memories you would expect to. They are not necessarily the life changing moments that dwell in the back of your mind, sometimes they are the little things, things that seem small when examined, inconsequential, but they weigh enough to break the strongest back.

One moment I find myself drawn back to again and again is one such memory, a little thing that should have been easily forgotten, but persists and haunts even to the point where genuine misdemeanours could be forgotten behind its shadow.

I was born on a winter’s day in 1970 to a mother who was little more than a child herself. When she should have been contemplating her life, a child was growing inside of her that would eventually dictate it. As – I suppose – all children must to their parents.

Assuming, of course, that their parents are good ones.

When the child was born, she became an embarrassment, as I suppose the child did as well. They were expelled from the family and the little girl, now a mother, was forced to grow up faster than she should have been.

I suppose that it’s right that someone must pay for their mistakes, but when that mistake is loving a child enough to bring them into the world in spite of all the negativity surrounding the act, it’s a mistake I’m very willing to forgive.

Of course, I’m biased.

Extremely so.

So, this little girl worked to raise the money to give her boy a life. Taking work wherever she could, working two or three jobs, or more if she were able. Cleaning houses of a morning, shopwork of an afternoon, only to retire back to her tiny apartment where she worked her fingers raw with needle and thread.

Eventually the family relented and after many trials the little girl was once again back in the fold. I don’t think this made the little girls’ life an idyllic one, as I think a family bond can be as much a burden as a release, but family – as we all know – is family.

The baby grew during this time of course. By all accounts, the little boy was a strange child, introspective and sometimes much older than his years. Sometime later his mother told him a tale that illustrates this.

When returning home from work the mother purchased a bag of penny sweets, a mixture, and when she placed them in the boys hands on returning home the little boy threw a tantrum, as they were not to his liking, and the young mother – little more than a child herself remember – had a moment of justifiable anger.

She took the bag of sweets from the child and threw them on the back of the fire.

Then something interesting happened.

The child’s tantrum ceased, and she watched the boy’s eyes moved from the burning bag to her face and then back again. Then the child nodded, once, as if acknowledging something, and after that day he never threw another tantrum.

An understanding had been forged, one without words. Actions have consequences, sometimes immediate and unchangeable ones. The child learned, and the mother was pleased and more than a little surprised.

But this is not the “little thing” of which the title to this piece refers.

Unfortunately, the “little thing” that weighs on my mind happened much later, when I was still young but old enough to know better, which – I suppose – is why my actions still sting. This tale, in conjunction with the previous one, illustrates something that the boy would not learn for a few more years still. Even though as a child he was already a living example of it, and he grows more of an example with every passing year.
To put it plainly, sometimes youth is not foolhardy, and there’s often little wisdom with age.

It was 16th November 1984, and it was a Friday. Back in the early 80’s Tuesday was new release day, when new movies would see the shelves of rental stores, so the movie that my mother had rented had only be out three days.

I can picture it clearly, even though I was oblivious to it all at the time. She must have heard about the release, possibly from someone at work, and had made an infrequent visit to our local video store without my knowing. She had brought the movie home and had waited until I was distracted long enough to slip it into the player and hit the chunky rectangle of plastic marked “play”.

I can imagine her grinning inside with anticipation, knowing – just knowing – how happy I would be when I saw the name of the movie across the top of the screen as the copyright notice scrolled below, as was the style on videos from CBS/Fox. She would sit back and watch my utter joy at seeing this movie for the first time, a movie I had not seen on the cinema a few years earlier, even though I had been desperate to.

Of course, this is how it all happened; right?

Not quite.

This is the “little thing”.

I had been watching something on TV at the time, well, not really watching it, but it had been on. It couldn’t have been anything important because what it was is the one detail I have never been able to remember. So, when I realised the TV had changed channel I reached forward and hit the button to put it back. Even as I saw the title of the movie fade in and a part of me knew – knew with utter certainty – that I was making a huge mistake, I still hit that button.

And when my mother said to me, “But its Empire Strikes Back”, I turned to her and spat out the words, “I don’t care.”




Perhaps you think this is a silly tale, perhaps you don’t see the point of it. Perhaps you think there are such evils in the world that the silly insensitivity of a thirteen-year-old boy isn’t anything to get concerned about. Perhaps you think this is just what you’d expect from a little boy.

Perhaps you’d be right.

But not when that little boy was me, and not when the person I was so insensitive to had once been the little girl who put her very life on hold when she knew I was growing inside her. Not when the first thing she did when she knew she was pregnant was buy a large piggy bank, one made of China and glazed a deep black, so she could save money with which to treat me. Not when her faith and love had never wavered.

In this case, those words were a weapon.
My regret was instant, though I’m certain I did not show it, and this regret remained.

I honestly don’t think it ever went away, and if it ever did it didn’t travel far. It has been a constant companion, a strange little shard of self-imposed childhood trauma. Nothing a therapist would see much of a point in treating, nothing most could see any toxic value in at all. But it’s my personal poison, concocted specifically for my DNA.

I sometimes think I should speak to my mother about it, apologise to her, but I knew what she would say. “It’s nothing Alan,” she would smile – perhaps even laugh – and continue, “it doesn’t matter.”

She would not do this to dismiss my feelings, she would do it because she wouldn’t understand the depth of them. She knows she doesn’t understand me as she would wish to, and to her great credit she has never pretended to. She would say this because, to her, it would be nothing, it was one small cruelty in a lifetime of small, and not so small, cruelties.

But it does matter, it may be a little thing, no larger than the needles she used so skilfully all those years. Little, like those needles that would litter the floor of her workshop at home, tiny shards of metal that may draw blood, but could do no lasting damage. But to me, the memory is like a needle in my blood, just waiting to stab me in the heart.

posted by Alan Preece
on April, 27

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