I was not nice.
There were reasons, and I was regularly sent to grandparents to prevent me being torn limb from limb as retribution stalked our four storey, ramshackle Victorian home from attics to cellars. Fortunately, my Nan had a deep, passionate and abiding love for all her lambs. I can only remember her raising her voice once when I was fighting with my sister. That was enough. There was no way I wanted to see that look in her eyes again.
It was a natural progression to spend my first day at school in the corner for fighting at lunchtime however, although that time my opponent became my best friend until High School loomed and separated us permanently. She became a lawyer but before we parted, I remember what happened when her parents divorced. She and her sister moved out of the family home with their mum. I have vague memories of a cramped, damp place with their bedroom scarcely big enough for one child, but we all played there anyhow. Her sister had been interrogated by her mum as to what had happened, so took on her young shoulders responsibility for what had happened. The conversation with mum had led to the arguments and the splitting-up of parents. Had she told her mum a lie, this would not have happened, therefore she had caused it. This is how children perceive things: in the most logical way.
Years later, when I moved back to my home town, by chance, I went to the library when an art exhibition was on and was delighted to discover that the drawings were all by another old comrade from primary school. We had sat next to each other and so had whiled away the hours when we should have been studying for SATs if we were modern day children by honing our drawing skills with cartoons of the teachers (fortunately never discovered as we heard dreadful rumours of 'the slipper' from time to time in its last days of terror in the school room). Then all of a sudden, death came amongst us. His mum, who lived with her family in the next street, developed cancer and died quite soon afterwards. Outwardly, he seemed to just carry on but little things changed, like his habit of bringing in cold toast to school. I guess no one made it for him any more. I didn't know that a silent process of internal disintegration had started within him until I met him so many years later at the art exhibition, post-hospitalisation, post-breakdown, with scuffed nail varnish on his too-long finger nails, as though he was trying to have something of his mum integral to his person. We hugged and I bought an original cartoon that is over where I cook in our kitchen. He was selling them all for no profit but for charity, despite having practically no money.
At secondary school, one my best friends was a survivor of the Vietnam war who had been pulled off a sinking boat by a Japanese navy vessel and taken to a camp there, the reality of which is hitting home every day at the moment when I watch the news. I'm glad to say we are still in touch and are in contact also with another friend, who was also a survivor - army child and refugee from emotional abuse. We all have children of our own now. The youngest amongst them has just survived a major heart operation and my own was in intensive care for the first eight weeks of his life until he reached 5 lb. Then the fun began and those terrible days of beeps and tubes and painful extraction of blood that was all too scarce a commodity ceased.
Children survive all sorts of things, given half a chance, and of those that do, the ones I know have turned out to be the best people in the world. One thing children the world over have in common though is, although they may firmly believe it is not so, they didn't make it happen. Neither did the children in the previous generation - until they grew up. There are no perfect people. We are all at the mercy of our family circumstances. So what did I do when my son wants to play the Junior Monopoly game I bought whilst visiting my Vietnamese friend? When it looked like he was about to go out of the game, I broke the rules, to the chagrin of the person playing with us. I gave him money because he was gutted that the fun looked like it was over and he craves time spent in play with us. Now he does the same for me.
We keep going because the game is the thing and if you can break a pattern of living in each generation, even by the circumstance of being an only child, maybe he will turn out like Nan with a heart so full of love that all wars and disputes are overcome with one single word and walls fall down at a glance. He has already proved he is a survivor, as was his great-grandmother. The combination is very special.