Chapter 1 - Little girl blue

  Picture me then at eight years old. Red shorts, a white button-through blouse with little puff sleeves, and a pair of blue and white striped canvas gym shoes. Two kirby grips to hold back my unruly shoulder length dark hair, one on each side of a ragged middle parting. Rosy cheeks from a summer spent in the local park. A little breathless from pushing that swing higher and higher then running right underneath it and out of reach, before it swung stright back down again.
  Then come with me to a cheap hotel in Glasgow. We're all there for the weekend for a treat while Dad's at a Local Government conference. It's about 10pm. Norma and Campbell are fast asleep, I'm reading 'Five on Kirrin Island Again' with a torch under the bedcovers. Mum's crying softly into the pillow and I can sense a problem. Dad is 'in a mood'.
  Feel my fear.
  He comes back into our room, slams the door and launches into a fierce interrogation - 'Why didn't you come to meet me after the dinner? What did you get up to? Why is she still awake? Why did you pick this lousy guest house anyway?'
  And know that you'll need to comfort the younger two when they wake up, put a consoling arm round Mum's shoulders and hold back your own wobbly tears. Everything must stay calm.
  And still feel that fear - almost forty years on. Only now, for the very first time, recognise what it is and where it all started. And - what's worse - the effect it has had every day of your life from that day on.
  What the world saw was Diane, eldest child of Ken and Isobel Steven. Lively, tall for her age, a fast runner when she wasn't falling over her own oversized feet, happy out of doors, head in a book otherwise. A bright child who does well as she moves into Forfar Academy, developing real talent as an artist, and with a strong sense of right and wrong, manifesting itself in support for all underdogs.
  But indoors, I was someone different. I was 'the watcher'. Six pm and no sign of Dad - better listen out for his key. Back door pushed open roughly - maybe he's angry. Mum fidgety and fragile - is she expecting trouble?
 Dad's voice roughening up - will he go for Mum or will it be one of us? Not that he ever raised a hand - his look, tone, accusations and overpowering body language had the ability to reduce us all to quivering wrecks.
  I watched for us all. And when they came, these black days, I stayed strong for the others and minimised any possible triggers. It became what I did; it became who I was; the knot in my stomach a permanent feature. I could breathe really quietly if I had to and never caused any trouble at home. If necessary, I could distract the other two and move them out of range. And I became Mum's best friend. Just so that everything could be calm.
  No-one else knew. Not even Bruce.
Dad struggled from time to time with his moods but we never talked about that. Mum was either queen of the walk or little girl lost depending on how Dad was. Oh we had some good times - holidays at Dunoon, trips to the Lammas Fair in St. Andrews, an odd Saturday night out at the Palace Theatre in Dundee to see Francie and Josie. The reality of it was that despite his depressive episodes, Dad was often in good humour, Mum could be apprently carefree and the other two were just silly kids having fun. But I always had to watch. 
  My honed observation skills served me well in then old folks' home that year between leaving school and leaving home. Not a stray chin hair escaped my notice. Every tearful sigh at the end of visiting hour was consoled with a kind word or a stroking of the wizened old arm. That carer, coper, rescuer side of me given every opportunity to grown long and clinging tendrils, squeezing the life out of other aspects of my personality.
  Perhaps the weight of it all only struck me for the first time when at 18 years of age I arrived in Edinburgh for Freshers' Week with an oversized suitcase and a bag of books for pre-course reading which frightened the life out of me with their intellectual titles. What on earth was 'Structure, Culture and Function?'
  Leaving home doesn't mean leaving it all behind however. Even Dad's death twenty four years later didn't put an end to it.
  Francka took me back through those long years when safe, warm, relaxed and comfortable in her cream leather recliner, I began to unravel the cord.
  The routine had become quite familiar. A warm greeting from the small white-haired German lady, after the brisk walk uphill to her Victorian villa with the view over Perth. A cup of tea in her cosy sitting room with its curious juxtaposition of Christian and Buddhist artefacts. Then the magic words delivered in her heavily accented voice:
   'Ten, nine, eight - more and more relaxed.
  'Seven, six, five - deeper and deeper you go.
  'Four, three, two, one - now you are totally relaxed and comfortable.'
  By session six, she had learned much of my story, and took me a stage further towards some kind of resolution.
  'Diane, look for the child coming down the road towards you. you know how old she is and what life has been lilke for her. Now welcome her, give her a hug and ask her to sit with you for a while. Tell her you love her and that you know how hard it has been for her to be a good and kind daughter and sister. Tell her you will always remember and value what she did and that she should be proud of herself.
  'Sit for a while with her, and then let her know the time is now right for her to go and play and put the sadness and worry away for ever. You will be there for her if she ever needs you. When you are ready, give her a final goodbye cuddle and kiss and wave her off back down the road.'
  I've had to bring back the young child that was me several times over the years, sit her on my knee and deal with some difficult memories from the past. No more burying them. No more pretending to be Miss Perfect, Miss Super Coper.
  Remember in detail, feel the feelings again, comfort, protect, release the child from all responsibility - and then let go. Cut the cord. That was the idea. That was the theory anyway.