Imagine a boy, a very young boy, he’s just less than two years old but he has no idea what that means. Numbers are an abstract concept and he doesn’t really get it yet.
He likes his wooden train and he loves playing with it on the rug in the front room. The pattern on the rug looks a bit like train tracks and the red engine pushed along by his small hands are hooked together with the yellow, green and blue trucks. They aren’t like Daddy’s trains that run on metal rails in the attic and are powered by a grey transformer that hums when it’s working.
He’s a bright young boy who is interested in everything and when he speaks it appears thoughtful but you never can tell at that age, it’s easy to read too much intelligence in to childlike replies to questions.
He loves helping his Mum but can’t be given too many tasks yet because his childish hands don’t have the dexterity to perform complex tasks and his mind wanders just like a butterfly.
He recognises the difference between the colours of the trucks but he has no real appreciation of what the colours are called. He likes the engine and he associates red with the controlling part. At this age yellow is his favourite colour even though he doesn’t know what it’s called yet.
At teatime he eats his food separately from Mummy and Daddy. It’s what always happens so it’s normal for him and he sits in the high chair and feeds himself from the food that Mummy makes for him. His favourite is pudding of course. Even at this age the appreciation of sugar is more than just a carbohydrate overload, it’s a nice taste that means love, caring, home, Mummy and Daddy all rolled in to each spoonful of sweet happiness.
At bedtime he gets a story, read by his Daddy. That’s when he’s home from work in time. That means most nights but overtime, like money, is a scarce commodity that has to be grabbed when offered.
There are stories about trains and about animals and about people. The boy has his favourite book though and when asked what he wants to listen to he invariably goes for the one special, well thumbed book. Sometimes Daddy chooses and that’s OK because Daddy is a good reader and reading brings them closer just by the sharing of the story. And it feels warm and comfy.
After the story he snuggles down with Teddy and is tucked in by Daddy and Mummy and given lots of hugs and kisses. There is love here, love and caring and a wish to do the best that anyone can.
The light is turned out and Mummy stays until he closes his eyes and he goes to sleep. The shadows formed by the streetlight through the net curtains make patterns on the walls. Nothing scary just patterns. The light is not enough to annoy but it’s enough to see by in the darkness of the night when Mummy leaves the room.
On this particular night the boy wakes up. There was no noise that woke him, there was no bad dream, he just woke up. He’s done it before and instinctively he wants his Mummy and he puts his thumb in his mouth. Lots of times when this happens he just sucks the thumb, snuggles up to Teddy and goes back to sleep. But tonight he really wants his Mummy.
He calls out, usually this gets Mummy’s attention and she comes walking in, her night dress flowing in her wake and then she puts her arms around him, gives him a kiss and a hug and beds him down next to Teddy again and he goes to sleep. Tonight he closes his eyes and she goes away and he then opens his eyes and calls out again.
This time she doesn’t come. He waits and calls and starts to get upset. He cries and calls out again and gets himself out of bed. This is not unusual and he toddles across the room, through the door and pushes at Mummy and Daddy’s door. Usually the door opens with a slight creak and he crawls in between Mummy and Daddy and spends the rest of the night with them, safe and sound and warm and loved and happy.
Tonight though, the door doesn’t open.
If he knew what it was he might have heard the brief exchange of words and the short cry from Mummy. But he’s only young and the noise doesn’t mean anything to him. He pushes the door again and again and starts to cry again. And if he were older he might have recognised sobbing from Mummy and a hardening of resolve from Daddy that sounds like a formal stern silence that can only be created by a force of will.
He gives up and walks along the landing and sits on the top step by the nappy drier. After a few moments sobbing, the tears clear and he goes down stairs in search of parental comfort. All the lights are off and the curtains are open in the living room admitting the light from the street and the more animal like shadows are cast around the floor, walls and furniture.
Nobody there! That’s an alien concept to one so young. He’s never been alone for more than a brief wait after calling out before. He’s confused and doesn’t know what’s happening. The two year old mind hasn’t been truly alone before.
Being alone is something new and it’s not just being on your own in a room, it’s being on your own in the world and not having access to Mummy or Daddy or anyone who could possibly provide some solace for a feeling of sadness that’s building deep inside. It’s a new feeling and it’s not a nice one.
He returns to the stairs and sits near at the top leaning against the nappy drier. During the day it’s often warm and it’s a comforting feeling against your face and your body. But this time of night it’s cold metal shell is not comforting or welcoming and the new feeling that has no real name builds bigger and bigger.
Alone, he cries and cries and feels that new feeling that is like a hole in his world. He has no way to know what this feeling is but he’s filling it with tears and grief and hurt and aloneness and sadness and frustration.
Alone in its many guises will always bring back the hole in the world and the hurt.
It’s a feeling that will haunt him for the rest of his life.