One of the prompts from Cricket’s Slice Of Life this week is a cup of restraint.
In my case it wasn’t a cup that held my restraint, it was an old desk drawer.
Restraint has a bit of brittle ambivalence to it. On the one hand it is good to hold back, to not conduct yourself with total candour or abandon in every situation you find yourself in; but on the other hand, restraint can impose limits which can be unhelpful.
It is important to be prudent, my mother always said. Constraint, self-control, judiciousness, everything in moderation. They were her catch phrases.
Trouble is, too much restraint can lead to inaction, and often – harm.
I used to keep a drawer full of curses and hexes. Written on little slips of paper, crushed into balls, then lodged between black candles, various amulets and dried sage. They were all directed at one person. My sister’s first husband. Philip the Insolent.
It has been over five years since I have seen Philip but just writing his name makes me want to punch something, makes me wish some of my curses had taken hold.
It was a marriage that should never have happened. She was 21. He was 42. She still lived at home. He lived in a shared house with four other guys who were middle-aged potheads. She was completing a Master’s degree in Music. He was gigging as a drummer with pub bands people no longer cared about. She was an enthusiastic idealist. He was a cynical, obnoxious know-it-all who had less appeal than a hobo chugging back cheap wine at a bus stop.
But then Millie, my sister, has always been reckless. Impetuous. Feckless. It’s all about the idea of romance for her. On the day of her wedding she dressed like a heroine in a chivalric romance and recited a twenty minute poem entitled Illumination that she had written herself. We all agreed after her 20 minute treatise on true love being her epiphany, that she should have called her poem Delusional.
After ten years of marriage to Philip there was almost nothing left of that idealistic girl who had found Illumination. Philip had plucked her soul straight out of her body, tied it to the back of his car and dragged it along the hot, unforgiving Sydney streets.
Have you ever seen someone who you thought might have been hollow inside? Who was physically solid, corporeal, but in an emotional sense almost no longer a part of this world?
In the right light I felt I could see right through my sister. Like her insides had been carved out.
I remember in Art class making casts out of parts of the body from plaster of Paris. We would cover hands, arms, chests, even faces, holding our breath as we pulled the casts off, praying they would stay in one piece, secretly glad to see the familiar colour of our skin once more. After ten years of marriage to Philip my sister was like one of those casts, only when you pulled it off there was nothing underneath.
‘She loves him,’ my Mum would say. ‘Don’t say anything. Don’t interfere. It’s her life.’
Thus began years of restraint. Neil Young sang about seeing the needle and the damage done. I saw the same damage done with a room full of self-restraint.
If only. That’s what springs to mind when I think of those ten years. If only we had thrown our restraint to the winds and HAD SAID SOMETHING. Had done something. If only I hadn’t spent my time writing out my anger on so many little slips of paper the desk drawer became jammed. If only I had directed that anger at Philip and told him to hit the road. Or else.
But in the end our restraint forced my sister’s hand. She knew we were leaving her to live her life. It made her have the real epiphany she’d thought she’d had ten years before. She kicked Philip the Insolent out.
And nobody’s seen him since.