« 99 - Snake Bit | Main | No Music »

A Shout From The Attic: The June Years - 2

...Arthur was rejected while he was a baby. Some say that babies don’t know what’s going on, but Arthur did, and he developed a sense of rejection that gnawed into him all through his short life. He had so much to offer and asked so little in return – only to be loved and appreciated. When he was nine, he threw himself into the river at Ipswich Docks to kill himself. He was fished out and put into another foster home...

Continuing his autobiography, Ronnie Bray tells with great compassion of the sad life of a young artist.

Since I was misdirected to buy a book on Psychiatry when I had wanted one on Psychology during a missionary trip to Plymouth in order to find out why I had a hard time getting along with people, I had a fascination with disordered thinking and behaviours. My first foray into the world of psychiatric nursing at Storthes Hall Hospital in 1959 or thereabouts having been curtailed by a failing marriage, I eagerly sought opportunity to resume my studies, and that chance came when June and I lived at Rushmere St Andrew, close by Ipswich.

*

We met when I worked in the psychoneurosis unit of St Clement’s Hospital in Ipswich, Suffolk. Arthur was immediately likeable. His shock of light brown hair framing a broad and likeable face that flowed with expression. He was an artist. His style was close to that of John Bratby’s, full of power, colour, and passion.

Arthur was rejected while he was a baby. Some say that babies don’t know what’s going on, but Arthur did, and he developed a sense of rejection that gnawed into him all through his short life. He had so much to offer and asked so little in return – only to be loved and appreciated. When he was nine, he threw himself into the river at Ipswich Docks to kill himself. He was fished out and put into another foster home.

At one foster home, Arthur strangled the family cat on his first day. He was testing the strength of their love. They failed the test and he was moved on again.

At twenty, his psychiatrist arranged for him to live with a community of nuns, the Little Sisters of Mercy, in the English
Midlands. After three weeks, he returned to the hospital. The nuns could not understand this young man. Arthur, sensing
their discomfort with him, had interpreted their concern as rejection.

We talked for hours in his bedroom-cum-studio at the hospital. He showed me his paintings, and told me about his
aspirations. For a young man who had been denied the most fundamental self-affirming experiences throughout his few short years, his wants were small.

A psychiatric hospital was not the best place for Arthur, except that most of the staff understood him and had sympathy for
him. This interest and understanding he interpreted as the nearest thing to expressions of love, and affirmation of his
worth that he had ever known.

Little Denham is a tiny village hiding a couple of miles off the main A12 road that slews up through Suffolk from London on
its way to Norwich. It was the village of Arthur’s birth. His girl-mother travelled there to stay with an aunt from the
time she began to show until Arthur screamed his way into the world. Born to a farm girl, of an unknown father who could not face the shame of her close-knit community knowing that she had birthed a bastard, he was given him away before she returned home from her covert confinement.

Arthur had first gone into local council care, and then he had been handed on though a succession of foster homes. He was
still quite young when he sensed that he was jetsam drifting through the ocean of life, from place to place, from pillar to
post, and always among people who did not love him. A mounting sense of rejection gnawed away at his soul, destroying his imperfect sense of worth with each bite. He found the world a chilly, unwelcoming place with no room for him.

After a series of unsuitable foster homes, he was admitted into the psychoneurosis unit where I worked. He was given a room, occasional medication, and encouraged to paint while his future was discussed and planned, usually in his absence. One such proposal was to dispatch him to the care of Little Sisters of Mercy near Birmingham, who have a reputation of compassion for the forlorn and abandoned who thread their way through a hostile landscape until death claims them into her merciful and welcoming arms, providing relief that warmer hearts do not. What tragedy that these unfortunates find release in this world only when they are freed from it and away from its people.

Arthur made it seem that he had no cares in the world, speaking little of his misfortunes unless asked directly. Then, he was full and frank in his admission about the circumstances of his life and the tortuous course it had taken up to this point. If he felt safe sharing his pain, he expressed his hurt so pictorially that his auditors felt the teeth of his adversaries as he displayed his wounds. His paintings revealed the strength and profundity of his passion. He was justifiably proud of a powerful and moving self-portrait that expressed on the outside all he felt on the inside.

Yet, underneath his almost constantly smiling face lurked a seething mass of discontent. Every agency that had ever had him in their hands, since his mother handed him over still wet from the pain of birth, had failed him. Had failed to understand his needs, and failed to provide constancy in the face of his emotional challenges that were designed to test the strength of their commitment to his welfare and, above all, the depth of their love for him.

His creative mind finally found a solution. He had tried it before, but then unwelcome interference had thwarted him, saving him only to return him to a life of pain and desperation. This time, he determined to minimise the possibility of interference. His plan was perfect. He had to make a small purchase and then take a short bus ride. He picked his day carefully, significantly. Leaving the pharmacist’s shop, he walked purposefully to the bus stop and waited in the springtime sun.

Two days later, a local worshipper was surprised to find the west door of Little Denham’s ancient church ajar. Peering inside, cautiously, for fear of intruders, she saw Arthur lying on the steps of the altar. His hands clutched a small silver crucifix. By his head was an empty aspirin bottle.

Arthur had gone to the only place he knew he could be sure of a welcome, and where he was certain he would not be rejected. He had taken a short journey home to God. It was his twenty-first birthday.

There are many who, like Arthur, make their journeys through life without knowing the warmth and affection of another human heart, in spite of the powerful call of Jesus to his followers to love one another.

Jesus said, Thou shalt love thy neighbour as thyself. It is impossible to love God unless we first love his children, every
one of them, even when they strangle our cats. That’s love!


Categories

Creative Commons License
This website is licensed under a Creative Commons License.