I CRIED when I wrote the last part of this post. Good. It proves to me these words aren’t bullshit.
I don’t tell many people I spent three years in a foster home. I used to when I was younger, but those I told were too sympathetic.
They were sympathetic because they didn’t know how to act. I made them uncomfortable, and so I stopped.
I converted to Christianity in my mid-teens and in time my behaviour stabilised. I resented my peers and former teachers who would say “you’ve come so far” when I visited them. It seemed patronising.
I wanted to move on.
And for a while I almost forgot I had a childhood. The phrase “born again” bandied about when I became a Christian probably didn’t help.
If there was one internal struggle I overcame during the year volunteering for the Salvation Army, it was working with the Melbourne Children’s Court. In fact, working with the children there probably played a big part in my healing process.
There was an arrangement with the Salvation Army to send two Order members on court days to entertain the children while their parents and guardians faced court for various reasons.
We were given a tour when the flashbacks happened. They came without warning. It came as a shock to the 19-year-old who thought he had mastered his memories and resolved his past.
It was the smells and the sense of despair in the building. The cigarettes being lighted by lawyers and social workers in the court yard. The swearing and despair of the guardians lined by the courtroom doors. The police and their uniforms. The young children not comprehending the significance of what was happening waiting impatiently in the playroom. I saw these children as miniature versions of myself.
I could see from their eyes. I saw a grown up in a Salvation Army uniform staring down at me. He had pimples. A light moustache. And when I blinked I recognised this man as myself – 10 years after DOCS workers arranged with magistrates what was to be done with my own life. I was a child again, the barrier I created and the years I took to mentally build it vanishing.
As a child I hardly ever attended court. Once I wanted to. But a smartarse DOCS worker lied to me and said it wasn’t like the movies and that I would find it boring. In hindsight, he didn’t want to me go because I was unpredictable and could interfere with the structure. But I wanted control of my life. And I should have been given permission to go.
But the feel of the court building was the same out-of-control feelings I felt as a child. I wanted to save these children. And I knew I couldn’t.
One of my favourite daydreams is how I get to time travel to when I was 10-years-old. I would entertain Past-Chris, talk him out of starving himself, defend against the irritating adults who just wanted to control my behaviour to make their own lives easier.
I first had this daydream when I was fostered. But now Future-Chris doesn’t seem a mysterious and Godlike figure. I am the Future-Chris.
I refused for weeks to visit the children’s court. I made excuses when it was my turn to attend. It made me sick even thinking of doing it. The other Order members would return from the sessions and talk about it, no problem at all. I preferred labouring in the drop-in centre or the kitchen preparing food for 100s of meals.
And at last, my course supervisor made me attend children’s court. I was given no choice. In the months that followed I was made to complete duties I did not want to do, due to psychological problems or because of sickness or exhaustion. I resent most of the times the supervisor made me do these things. But it was the best thing for me to attend children’s court.
Soon I learnt to love it. I loved children and could engage with them easily. We played games like “dead fish” or hide-and-seek or build cars or robots from blocks. I saw myself as an older brother for these children, these little girls and boys, regardless of if I had them for two minutes, or for thirty. And for a moment I could imagine I myself in my lonely years had an older brother just like the young man in the Salvation Army uniform.