We can’t be all good or bad

When I was a child, I patterned the world into obvious contrasts, cold winters, hot summers, happy times like holidays and hard sad times like housework or a scraped knee.

There were good people and bad people, my favourite teacher Miss Anderson tall, elegant, her hair in a tight French bun, and bad people like my father. Good people like the saints and angels and bad people like the devil. 

Not that we ever met the devil. We only encountered him in bad deeds, our own and others. Hence the need to get as far away from the devil or our misdeeds by visiting the confessional at least monthly.

My mother fitted into the category of the good person, warm kind and predictable, silent and long suffering. I could rely on her to be there for me, or so I reasoned until one night when we had visitors and she promised to bring me a couple of tea before I fell asleep, but the tea never came. 

I waited and waited in my bed into the darkness. Heard the hub bub of voices from the lounge room where my aunts and uncles, mother and father talked together over cups pf coffee and sweetened liqueurs, but no tea for me. 

She had promised she’d bring one to me, the next time she popped into the kitchen to refresh the biscuits she served as savouries, smoked oysters from a tin on salty crackers, and Russian eggs, which she had prepared earlier in the day. She boiled the eggs hard then sliced in two, took out the yolks mashed them together with mayonnaise, a sprinkle of curry, salt and pepper then returned the yolks in a pile to fill white oval space. 

I had not asked for an egg or food, only a cup of tea but my mother became so engrossed with her guests, so intent on focussing on them, the hours slipped by and with it I slipped into sleep but the memory of this one too-long-wait for my mother marked her copy book.

I kept a copy book of sorts in my head. A place in which I listed the misdeeds of people who let me down.

I did not consider myself in those days a Scorpio, a person born in November under the eighth astrological sign therefore prone to vengeful fantasies, like the scorpion who stings when wounded or afraid. I thought everyone kept a record book of other people’s failings.

My father’s misdeeds were many, my mother’s few. Until the day I bounced my ball up and down the path that ran alongside our house to the side door which we used as our front entrance way. 

Up and down with my ball on the pavement. The trick to keep it in motion as long as possible without it derailing off course or having to catch it. Up and down until it slipped sideways and into a plate of glass someone had leaned against the fence. 

The glass was intended to replace the window in the kitchen that one of my brothers had smashed with another ball. He out of carelessness, me out of misadventure. My mother did not see it that way.

‘The glass broke,’ I told her after she came running at the sound of a crash.

‘How could you,’ she said. ‘Not again.’ Her eyes glowered and her cheeks were flushed. My mother had never been angry with me. My mother had always been kind. This was not my mother. This was someone else who had entered my world and did not understand the ways of a ten-year-old child who could not stop her ball from flipping at a right angle and into a plate of glass after it collided with a stone on the concrete.

My mother in the middle, surrounded by some of her children in a familiar pose.

This was not my mother. This was some other monster mother, and I fled from her down the road to the Canterbury park where I pushed the slide swing up and down to soothe my fury at her cruel misjudgement.

I was a good person. I had to be a good person along with the saints and the angels, along with the nuns. I was a good person. If I was not good, then I became bad and to be bad was the worst fate of all. It put me there among the fallen archangels, among the sinners in purgatory, the devils in hell. It put me there with the people whom no one liked, the people like Hitler who started wars, or like the barbarians and Huns the nuns taught us about in history. It put me into the place of the unmentionables.

This was a dilemma for me. An insoluble problem. We could not both be good anymore, my mother and me. Not after she had raged at me. Not after she had shown such hatred in her eyes. 

We could not both be good. One of us had to be bad. And I feared it might end up being me.

2 thoughts on “We can’t be all good or bad”

  1. When, in my last comment, I talked about the polarised world I grew up in I forgot to mention the good and the bad. My family and all fellow believers were good. The rest, i.e. most of the world over which Satan held dominion, were bad. Even if they didn’t go out of their way to do overtly bad things they were still bad. We, because we were born into sin (damn that Adam!), also, on occasion, slipped but doing bad things and being bad weren’t the same. Eventually I came to a crossroads and chose to be bad. That’s how my mother saw me. She died thinking of me as bad. My brother and sister still think of me as bad. I, on the other hand, although I know I’m bad struggle to see what’s so bad about being bad. I mean I’m not evil. I just adhere to a set of standards, principles, beliefs and opinions that don’t gel with the standards, principles, beliefs and opinions I was brought up with. That was an accident of birth. It’s like being expected to have British values because I was born in Britain when, deep down, I might have French values or Uruguayan. Would it be so bad if I had Uruguayan values? What is bad is when so-called good people make bad people feel bad for being bad. That is bad. Why can’t they leave me be to enjoy being bad? I’m not hurting anyone

  2. It’s a bit of a spilt, isn’t it Jim, this simplistic notion of good and bad into which we all too readily tumble. Why can’t people leave people to be themselves as long as they do no harm to themselves or to others? Thanks, Jim.

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