My wonderful crazy friend Jennie is a painter, world famous in Ngahinapouri. Her paintings of mad fluro cows, dead fish and the stunning scenery around here are becoming very popular. See here for yourself: Jennie's blog and Jennie's website. (btw she takes commissions J)
She painted this, called ‘Middle Distance Stare’, the kind of look you get in your eyes when someone asks you a really tricky question. This is what she imagined she needed to see.
Think of the painting as you read it!
‘So why did your daughter run away, do you think, Mrs Johnson?’ The officer’s voice was soft, but the uniform and the stark surroundings made the question harsh and accusing.
She stared out past the concrete walls, the bare desk and empty chair, through the tiny window, into the middle distance, as if the clouded sky could provide an answer where she could not.
Why did anyone do anything? Why would a child run away from a warm, loving home, to live on the streets with the waifs and strays? She didn’t even know this child any more. How could she know what she was thinking?
‘I really don’t know,’ she murmured.
“How about the pills? Where might she have got those from?’
A sickening feeling lurched in her stomach. Her child - her baby- using drugs. She knew it was commonplace amongst teenagers these days, but that didn’t make it all right for her child. The fears of her own teenagehood and the warnings instilled in her about pot and dreaded heroin came flooding back. It had all seemed so distant, so American, to ‘use’, that the warnings just seemed superfluous, back then. But the whole new world of party drugs, of pill-popping, was so much more accessible, so much more acceptable today, no wonder her daughter just had to try it for herself. That’s what teens did, after all, experiment. But not her child. Not ever. Until now.
‘I really don’t know,’ she repeated.
Her mind remained as clouded as the sky, as she tried to focus on the issue before her. She thought of the baby in her arms, the toddler running around in just a T shirt and nappy, the child with bouncing curls and a curiosity about the world. She had always felt like she had a strong, loving relationship with her gorgeous child. Come the teenage years she had struggled with the usual problems, see-sawing on the parenting scale between being too demanding, too disciplined, too harsh, and then the next day too lenient, too forgiving, too helpful when the child needed rescuing. It was all such a struggle, such a learning curve. Children came with no instruction manual, and even if they did, it would need to be constantly updated as the child grew and changed. She had hoped that she could, in the end, just rely on the relationship, the unconditional love, to see them through all the hassles- the untidiness; the rudeness; the manner of dress – or undress, as it might be; the disagreement about choice of friends; the lack of focus on schoolwork; the reliance on technology for communication with friends…. The list went on. But this, this was something beyond imagination, this was scary. This was real life, at the wrong end of the scale.
The coldness of the building was not offset by the heat blasting from the heatpump. She followed the officer down the corridor to a further desk, this one loaded with paper in front of a harassed looking policewoman.
‘Officer Roberts will help you fill out the paperwork before you take your daughter home. You’ll get the court notice in the mail some time in the next week.’
A lump in her stomach sat like cold porridge at the sound of the unfamiliar terms. She skimmed the papers put in front of her and signed where she was told to. She wrapped her coat tighter around herself, and followed the officer to a lobby to wait until her daughter was brought to her.
The vignette from her imagination of her child running to her, throwing herself in her arms and sobbing ‘Mum, mum, I’m so sorry’ was quickly replaced by the reality of a surly teen, barely looking up through her mascara-smeared panda eyes, who sulkily followed her out the swing doors into the evening air.
They drove the fifteen minutes home in silence. What was there to say, to ask, that could help make sense of this predicament?
As they came to the last stretch of road before reaching the place they called home, the girl finally looked up.
‘Thanks for picking me up, Mum,’ she said, barely audibly.
Taking one hand from the steering wheel, she reached over and touched her daughter’s arm gently, but warmly.
Their eyes locked for hardly a second, just enough to make her heart skip a beat. She caught her breath before returning her stare to the road, into the middle distance beyond. Was that, there in the grey clouded sky, way out to the right, just the tiniest speck of blue daring to show itself, on the horizon?