One of Fred’s favourite songs that I sang to him when he was small was The Little Tin Soldier. Originally by Donavan, it was a song my brother had sung to me when I was similarly small, so I know all the words.
The story, based on the Hans Christian Andersen story,, is about a tin solider in a toy shop who has lost a leg. He loves another toy, a beautiful ballerina in a glass case, who is also standing on one leg, albeit for different reasons. The tin soldier is thrown into the gutter and the ballerina is sold. The soldier travels around the world being passed from child to child until eventually he finds the ballerina again. They end the song jumping into the fire together, although I could never really decide whether that was romantic or foolish. Like a lot of things I suppose.
Fred and I liked it, especially as he was often caught between his Dad who was a little more in favour of keeping toys in glass cases, whilst I was happy for them to receive a little ‘wear and tear’. I’ll leave you to guess which side Fred was on.
C.S. Lewis said “The death of a beloved is an amputation”, and I haven’t found a more accurate way of describing the current state of play. The fact of the matter is, I am now broken and a fundamental part of me can never be replaced. The wound may stop bleeding, and even the pain might subside, but it’s never growing back. It is not meant as self-pitying, it is just a fact, and every day we must find a way to exist, let alone thrive, in this new state.
I’m never entirely sure whether I’m the solider or the ballerina anymore, and I’m not entirely sure anyone else is either. There is an instinct for people to protect me, that I am fragile and delicate and that I’m not to be played with, only looked at in some kind of wonder. I think it comes from kindness but it can be lonely in the glass case. There are the people who I barely know who will assume that they can ask me all sorts of intimate questions like I’m some sort of ‘Project Grief’ badge to be won, and then there are the people who I’ve known for years who look at me with terror, like they have sticky hands. I am now someone who needs to be handled carefully, that people need to think about, and come up with strategies in advance. I’m not very fun anymore (although obviously I’m still hilarious) so I’m sure there are WhatsApp groups that once I would have been in but now aren’t. Fun things went on without me, actually everything moved on without me. That sense of ease has gone. I’m never going to be one of the cool toys, the new shiny ones with lots of snazzy functions. It’s frustrating and annoying and frequently sends me into a rage.
But ultimately I am broken and battered, and I do need handling with care. I can’t do the things I used to, I can’t keep up. I don’t like groups, and can manage short bursts but then really need to have a nap. One person at a time is much easier. Sometimes it’s really difficult, even nearly two years later. It will always ‘sometimes be really difficult’ as the leg is never growing back.
So now I’m carried to ‘children in far off lands’, the ones who don’t mind their toys a bit broken and play with them anyway. The ones who are careful not to trash me completely, but can still come up with a decent game. The ones who take care, but don’t put me on the high shelf. I will be forever grateful to those people, especially the ones carrying their own wounds.
There will be no jumping in fires though., that’s just foolish.