My sister wrote through the week about her impulse to pull people away from the edge if she thought they were getting too close.
I too have an impulse, but of a different kind.
I live in an area that is awash with picket fences. Each of those picket fences has a gate.
Now, I happen to know that gates are supposed to be shut, so you can imagine my reaction when I see a gate that’s been left open.
I can feel my arm being pulled out of my jacket pocket, my hand reaching over, my fingers touching the top of the gate; a quick flick, and it’s shut.
I never do it of course, but the impulse is strong.
Each time I control that impulse the middle finger of my left hand aches, deep within it.
I am transported back to when I was six years old (maybe five). We were dropped off at Mrs Miller’s house every morning before school, and while my memory is hazy, I have a few, very clear recollections.
One involves the gate. I would stand at the gate watching the big kids go past on their way to school. I wouldn’t just stand on the gate though; I’d swing on it. I have a funny feeling that I wasn’t supposed to do that. I’d watch the big kids and wonder what it’d be like to be so grown up that you could walk to school independent of your mum or Mrs Miller. I used to wonder about something else too, in the way little kids do when they’re trying to make sense of their world.
You see, we lived in Miller St at the time, and my sister, brother and I were looked after by Mrs Miller. It went round and round in my head like the boiled lollies my Nan used to keep in a tin in the car would roll around my mouth, sucking all the meaning out of it. What a delightful bit of synchronicity for a young girl to dwell on. How about that, I’d say to the big kids (in my head of course), I live in Miller St and Mrs Miller looks after me before and after school. Don’t you think that’s interesting, I’d ask them (in my head, of course).
One day, swinging surreptitiously on the gate, making sense of my world, something really quite dreadful happened. Somehow my hand slipped into the workings of the gate and my finger was crushed. Had a big kid walked past and pulled the gate shut, not fighting his impulse as all big people should? Or was it my own fault, for swinging when I shouldn’t have been?
I will never know, but what I do know is that I ended up at the doctor’s.
[Note: It’s hard to type with my fingers and toes clenched against the horror of what happened there.]
My fingernail was damaged to such an extent that the doctor ripped it off.
Just like that.
A quick pull, and off it came.
Screams burst forth from me.
I don’t know if I screamed then, but I’m screaming now. Oh, the very thought of it is horrendous.
And so, while I resist the impulse to pull gates shut these days, I do so with a heavy heart: a shut gate causes no damage to five-year-old fingers.
I learnt that the hard way!