I suppose I should tell you my earliest memory. But that might prove difficult, as a believer in reincarnation, if I tried really hard, I might be able to recall my life as a hippy with flowers in my hair, or a farmer in the 1800's (yes, those are the kinds of people I imagine I was.)
Of this life, well, I have glimpses of memory when I was about two involving a monkey cake. My second birthday involved the purchase of a cake, one shaped like a monkey who I took a shining to. Sadly, my aunt had other ideas. Instead of letting me and this sponge monkey live the rest of our lives together, she decided to slice him up. Worse still, she made me hold the knife. Oh, only my cousin Joanne saw that I wanted to keep him (child psychologist, go figure), and once the deed was done, once that monkey's banana had been firmly cut in half - out came the tears.
Scarred for life.
Okay, all joking aside, if I told you all of my young memories of my uncle chasing me with a hose-pipe, or my dad riding the merry-go-round with me, there will always be something in common. Something there, or to be more precise, something not there.
No, she isn't a drug abuser who my dad and social services stole away, and she never gave me to an orphanage because she couldn't support me, but loved me very much, giving me a heart shaped locket and promising to return. (Nope, I'm not Annie, or ginger, and my dad is not Mr Warbucks.) My mum isn't searching for me desperately, and she's not a phone call away.
I don't remember her, all I see are snapshots in pictures, ironically, my dad started video-taping my life after she died, so I don't know her voice, I don't know how she moved. I don't know how she laughed, how she sounded when she was angry. All I know about her is that she is the reason I'm here, she gave me all of her love for the first ten months of my life.
And then she was gone.
It's probably strange to tell you that I never asked my aunt, her sister, about her until I was seven years old. Maybe I'd thought that she was alive, but it was better that I didn't know her. It had happened before, my dad had run away from his abusive home when he was two, and subsequently I'm forbidden to go looking for the paternal side of my family. So perhaps I thought that she was a good-for-nothing, and the reason that nobody ever talked about her, was because they wanted to spare me the grief of knowing how awful she was, and sub-consciously becoming her.
Even then, I suppose I lived in a dramatic fantasy world to believe that. But soon I started to realise that the grave we went to visit every first Sunday of the month should mean something to me. That the reason that my dad and nan were always silent when they arranged flowers, wasn't because they'd forgotten what they were about to say, but because they didn't want to say anything in those moments. At least not out loud, and at least not to anybody on this earth. And looking back, the reason that my dad always insisted he fill up the watering can on the other side of the memorial garden, wasn't because he was being courteous to not make my elderly nan walk that far, or to make sure I didn't get lost. It was to make sure that alone, that was his time.
Maybe even their time.
So when I was seven, I asked my aunt how, accepting that, dead or absent, I just didn't have a mother. The answer she gave me, she didn't know. It wasn't because she was misinformed, the doctors didn't know either. She'd been a victim of SDS or sudden death syndrome. They liken it to cot death for babies. There's no catalyst for it, no reason.
The heart just stops.
Hers stopped in the shower. Everybody had put together a timeline of events. She'd risen early as she always did, gone into my nursery and, again, as she always did, but my sleeping little self in bed with my sleeping dad. Then, she'd gone for her morning shower, getting ready to go out swimming, where she'd train to once again attempt to qualify for the Olympics. Then, my dad heard a loud noise. He called her name, dazed, "Karen?"
And then they'd found her.
The hospital, me being rushed to my babysitter in the early hours of the morning, and then waiting. Me, a baby, completely unaware of what was going on, of why everybody was crying. Why they weren't watching me in my new talent of crawling, learning to say myP's. And when the news came, more crying. That seemed like the adult thing to do, so I cried too, no idea why.
They'd described it so systematically that I felt like they were describing the last moments of somebody's life before they were murdered. And slowly, I began to believe she had been murdered. Murdered by somebody that, for the next three years of my life, I despised.
By somebody who everybody loved.