Don’t be scared of your hunger

Don’t fear the subterranean sensations that rise from your gut whenever you connect to a memory of other times from childhood. Those times when you did not understand what was happening to you or your body. When you did not understand what the grownups were saying or, worse still, doing. 

Such were the times when I pleaded with my guardian angel to keep safe, when my father sat in his chair in the lounge room and one by one took off his shoes and socks, then shirt and trousers.

When he sat for some time in his white underpants, only to take them off eventually and to roam the house without a stitch on his person. To walk the house as if to say, look at me, at my nakedness and be disturbed. 

To have us disturbed gave him an unspoken thrill. 

‘Put your clothes on,’ my mother might say, but she did not. Or she could use Dutch words like ‘Doe niet zo idioot’ (don’t be an idiot), or some such words, words I could not understand beyond the warom, the why of it all.

In my memory my mother sat in her chair a few feet away and said nothing. The safest way, to behave as though nothing was happening. 

I cannot fathom the creeps of anxiety that crawl in my stomach when I think about this. I am fearful of something; I cannot say what. Of being drawn back into the past perhaps. Of feeling overloaded by a sense of doom, that something is about to go very wrong, and I cannot say what it is, but it will be with me soon.

My father gets up from his chair and strides across the lounge room to the hallway to his bedroom where he will lie down on his bed to sleep for five minutes, or an hour or more, and we cannot know from one day to the next how long he will be out of orbit.

And in these moments when he sleeps, an uneasy ease descends, as if there is a lull in the storm only you know in no time his voice will puncture the silence and he will call out to my mother to come to him. 

My mother or my sister and if no one responds he will call my name. I dread to think what I will do when he calls my name. How I cannot unhear the sound of his voice and the slurring guttural slide across my name Liesbeth with the last syllable pronounced like BAT, as if I am a bat hung upside down in some dark cave somewhere. 

I despise the word bat when attached to my name. It is harsh and unyielding, the way I must be if I am to protect myself from his calls into the late afternoon on a Saturday when we are all at home and waiting for things to intensify as he drinks more and becomes a monster we do not recognise.