After a happy childhood, novelist Julie Myerson's son discovered drugs. It only took a few months for him to lose his way and propel his family into daily chaos. Myerson and her husband locked their eldest son out of the family home when he was just 17.
The day my son hits me, I'm all dressed up to go out. High heels and lipstick and perfume.
In The Lost Child, Myerson weaves the story of two people—her son and artist Mary Yelloly—whose childhoods were cut short. Both are stories of loss, yet both are stories of unrealized potential.
A director friend has a first night in the West End and it's a hot May evening, hot and light, and I've really been looking forward to this. We go out so rarely at the moment and I'm all ready to leave and I don't want to be late. So I'm watching the clock when I see him dragging his amp through the hall to take out on to the lawn.
Where are you going with that?
Outside. We're gonna practise, when you've gone.
Not outside, you can't.
Come on, darling, not with an amp. It will be far too loud.
Oh for f***'s sake. He tries to push past me, but I get there first and lock the door and put the key on the shelf.
It's not fair on other people, I tell him. That amp really is louder than you think. Practise outside without an amp by all means if you want to.
Without an amp? he almost shouts. You really don't have any f***ing idea, do you?
His father comes in, car keys in hand.
What's going on?
She won't let me take the amp outside, for Christ's sake!
Please tell him it's not fair on the neighbours.
It's not fair on the neighbours, says his father. End of story.
Oh come on, you know you can't make such a noise, not at this time of night.
It's not night. It's early f***ing evening.
Still too late. Look, darling, there's the church out there and then all the flats. It's just not neighbourly to inflict that on people.
But I'm not f***ing inflicting—!
You are. You are if they have no choice.
I look at my watch.
Come on, I say, we've said no, and now we really have to go.
The key of the door is on the shelf where I put it. Our son walks over and grabs it.
Put that back right now, I tell him. He holds it high above his head. He is over six foot tall.
How're you going to stop me? I stare at him. I'm so tired of this.
You absolutely cannot practise outside tonight. We are forbidding you.
How exactly are you going to stop me, Mother dear?
Come on, darling, says his father, who is closing the door of the dishwasher so the dog can't lick the plates and putting down a fresh bowl of water for her. Give her the key. Why do you always have to be so aggressive about everything?
You call me aggressive?
Ilook at the clock. We are now cutting it fine. This isn't fair.
You're being extremely selfish, his father adds.
Give me the key! I shout and I take a quick step towards him. And I really am quite cross now. Give me back that key right now!
If we don't leave right now, this second, that's it, we can't go, we're late.
Go. I'm not stopping you.
Please just give me the key!
As usual he is intimidating me with his size. As usual I feel small and sad and staccato, powerless in my green satin high heels, a strand of hair sticking to my lipstick. I feel a surge of anger and I lunge at him and—
And what? What exactly is it that I do next?
In the muddled dark of my memory, it's this: I jump up and grab his sleeve with one hand, try to wrestle the keys out of his closed fist with the other. And yes, I am definitely shouting and almost certainly swearing, but do I hit him? No, I do not hit him. This is important because later he will insist that I did.
But did I hit him? Might I have hit him? Sometimes, later, late at night, months and months after this moment, I will still be wondering if I did.
If you keep on doing that, he says, I am going to have to hit you.
Keep on doing what?
His face and voice are very steady, very calm. And—why?—those words don't stop me in my tracks as maybe they should.
Don't you dare threaten your mother like that, says his father (who will reassure me later that I absolutely did not hit him). He is standing very still now. He is still and I am the one shouting.
If you keep on doing that.
His face is pale.
I said stop it, Mum. I am going to have to hit you if you don't stop.
Outside it is hot and light. The birds are singing. Somewhere in another world, people are arriving at the theatre, queuing for the cloakroom, ordering interval drinks.
I am going to have to—
I don't remember the next moment as a single moment, more a series of neat segments. One segment is that I am definitely somehow on the floor, a crackling-fizzing sound in my ear. Another segment may be shock. Another may be pain.
No one has ever struck me before. Never in my life, I've never been struck. My bottom smacked, yes, when I was four or five, quite hard as I remember it, even once with the back of a hairbrush. But never struck, not knocked to the ground. There is even a touch of exhilaration in the newness of it.
I don't know what I say but I hear my own voice coming from somewhere inside me. Muffled. I put my finger to my ear, half expecting to see blood, but there's nothing. Just a fizzing silence. The boy's father is picking me up. I look at the clock.
Great, I say, that's it. We've missed it now.
And my legs give way again.
I sit on the orange plastic chairs in A & E, still dressed up and feeling stupid. The pain has almost gone and I'm calm. I look at my face in my compact — eyeliner all smudged, lipstick gone, cheeks drained of colour. I think I look OK.
Do you think there's a chance we could get there for the second half? I ask the boy's father.
He looks at me strangely.
No, he says.
The consultant asks what happened and, when we tell him, he says nothing, but concern flicks across his face.
OK, let's have a look, he says.
He shines his light in and tells me my eardrum is perforated.
Not both ears? I say, confused, because I seemed to feel the blow in both.
No, the other one's fine. When you receive a trauma in one ear, you can sometimes feel it in both. There's a little blood. No treatment required, but it will take about three months to heal completely and you must get it checked. And it's absolutely vital that you don't let it get wet during that time. No swimming. What about washing my hair? I say, more worried about that.
Put a cotton-wool plug in it — cotton wool and Vaseline — and be very careful. If you get water in it, you could get an infection and it won't heal.
We thank him.
Watching us as we get up to go, he hesitates.
You do know that this is assault? he says. You do know that? It's quite serious. You've been assaulted. Even though it was your son — what I mean is, you need to think about that.
We say something like yes, OK, we do. Something apologetic. I feel exactly as I did that early morning at home when the police came round. And we say goodbye.
It isn't until we get back out into the main waiting area, among the drunks and the people complaining and frowning and drinking water out of white plastic cups, that my whole body starts to shake.
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Printed from Oprah.com on Friday, March 7, 2014
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