When I was small, my father worked overnights,
And would nap on the couch before work.
Once my mother woke him
I would crawl into the nest of blanket and pillow,
Caressing myself with his heat, making his smell
A part of my breath.
I felt safer there.
Safe from notice and rages.
Safe from ridicule while I
Sucked my finger and twisted my hair
My parent-hated self-soothing technique.
But was it enough?
I try to remember a time
When either of my parents snuggled me -
Not a hug or a kiss, but a lingering cuddle
Circled and surrounded by their warm acceptance
Their love, their bigness and strength.
I can remember a time
On their bed, on Valentine’s Day
My mother opening the silky heart box
exclaiming at the chocolates.
I remember how there were other hearts
Gifts from my father, in years I don’t remember
Hanging on the wardrobe doors.
We moved from that house when I was four
But I remember no arms around me.
My parents’ bigness was often unsafe.
Large furious faces screaming into mine
Hot coffee spoon on the back of my small soft hand
Hard big hands clenched into fists
Empty, or around the belt, a dowel, a stick –
And, once, a hammer.
Strong arms to wiled the weapon of
Revenge for childish misdeeds
To deliver the blows
A backhand slap across the face
When I was deemed disrespectful
To knock down, or drag me by hair…
Maybe I didn’t trust snuggles from those arms and hands
Those so-much-bigger-than me people
With the deep poisoned wounds
I could not see, but so often felt.
Or maybe I did see.
Maybe there were cuddles aplenty
Washed from my memory
By tears of betrayal and pain
As my own wounds grew deeper
Pus-festered into a monster
Greedy to inflict what it had suffered.
My security became something
The warm nest left behind,
The books where I escaped
Long solitary walks
Playing with clay
On our yard cats.
But it was not enough.
Not enough to keep me
Able to feel safe and protected.
To be certain, sure, and strong
Of and within myself.
Now, snuggles are a part of
Time to breathe each other in,
Soak each other up.
Laugh and cry
And as I cuddle these children
Grown tall and strong and tender
Who know all people make mistakes
And are forgetting punishment and shame.
Who linger, resting within my safe love
At ages when children often pull away,
The child I was sighs and knows
That, finally, at last -
It is enough.