When I was little, but big enough to know that owning a pony of my own was out of the question, I was promised a pet when we got a bigger place. The house was on the market, in the hope it would be sold before I started school. Ten years later, having moved house, our family got a puppy. A golden retriever puppy, because temperament. And he went to puppy training and came near top of his class, and was socialised properly, and generally domesticated.
Apart from, my mother’s world outside the new house was becoming scary. So, taking the puppy in the car was a faff, and having people to the house was suddenly difficult, because the dog might attack them. As her world got smaller, so did the puppy’s. And he became territorial and aggressive around other dogs on the walks he did go on, and my parents couldn’t possibly leave him in the house for more than a few hours, nor could they take him out far. I came to detest that dog, for narrowing my parents’ world, as mine was narrowed in turn. When he died, prematurely, of an illness, I was working abroad, and felt nothing around his loss. My parents and brother did. I was alien.
I did not seem to.emotionally connect to animals – or people. My jobs have each lasted a couple of years at a time – the longest for five years – and in them, I have gotten along as best I can with colleagues, and attributed any benevolence on their part to collegiality and the duty of the job, and felt deserving of the malevolence and doormatting I otherwise experienced, because I am not a likeable person, and people liked my work, not me, anyway.
By the same token, I understood intellectually, at some level, that God loved me. But at the same time, I convinced myself, God hated me for what I was, and was angry with me for feeling as I did, let alone my behaviour towards others. I could not tolerate sitting with the knowledge – feeling the knowledge that God loved me. It was too painful to comprehend.
Amidst some more nasty malevolence, a group of friends at one university supported me, and accompanied me to Taizé for the first time, and ran to meet me when I returned their way months later. Years later, all those remaining there, plus some I didn’t know were still there came out to meet me for a drink whilst I was on a flying trip, with less than 24 hours’ notice. My belief that I am unlikeable has been challenged by them, time and again.
It is scary to believe that others might like me, and genuinely want me around, rather than simply be tolerating my presence for the sake of what I can do for them. As I continue in the therapeutic community, I am coming to feel the loss of other members more, as they move on. I am now the most senior member there. I don’t want to leave not just because the future is uncertain and frightening, but because I don’t want to lose the support of people I have come to know and trust deeply these last months. I am aware of my connections to others, no longer numb to the warmth I feel towards them.
I am feeling that particularly acutely this week. My cat is ill. The cat that holds bad memories of time with my ex-partner, whom I am left looking after thanks to his behaviour, until he is out of prison, is unwell. Previously, these defences, reasons I shouldn’t care emotionally for the cat would have kept me distanced from her. I take her to the vet, and she has to have tests, and she might be seriously unwell. And I am moved and sad and I want to hug her tight. She has spent months snuggled into the crook of my arm, or kneading my lap whilst I wept and wept. I don’t want her (or any animal) to suffer. But more than that, I don’t want to lose her. Loving others is deep joy. And deep pain.