The genie told me to call for him, whenever I needed some help. Whatever, whenever, wherever. He gave me a rough-hewn paper aeroplane. It had some damage at the tip, presumably from another’s eager use, and a slightly bent wing. I was to throw this to make him appear.
I had a number of chores as a child, always slightly beyond my level of competence. As I developed the ability to fulfil my chore with ease, another chore would be added. At aged 8, one of my chores was to set the table for the family meal. It was called ‘tea’, in my little working class corner of the world, and we ate it at 5pm.
I was setting the table for tea. Knives on the right, forks on the left. No spoons. Pudding was a Sunday treat only. Mugs for everybody for the obligatory cup of tea, which accompanied every meal like a religious ritual. We measured out our lives in cups of tea. Warm the pot. Loose leaf tea, counted out with a proper loose leaf tea spoon: a deep, ridged, silver-plated tea spoon that lived in the tea caddy and had a rough metallic smell. I could count from a very young age. Measuring, metering, controlling my environment. I still loved to count, even though it was now so passé at eight. One, two, three, four, five, six mugs. And a plastic cup for the baby. Even the baby had tea. Cooled with lots of milk, and just the one sugar.
My older sister was cooking. Full of resentment and rage, her presence made my heart pound in my chest and as my heart began to pound, the genie appeared. He was furious with me. I was supposed to call him. Throw my little aeroplane and help would appear. Why was I so proud, that I wouldn’t ask for help? I couldn’t answer, and yet I knew I wasn’t too proud. I was scared. So scared. He looked like God in my Children’s Bible, bearded and smiling yet stern. I was afraid of him. I was afraid of asking for him. I was afraid of asking for help. I was afraid of admitting my weakness, and not getting what I asked for. He disappeared with a warning: ‘ask for help when you need it.’
And so I did throw my aeroplane. Not because I wanted to exercise my dependency, not even on a magical genie, but because I was too scared not to. Too scared to get it wrong again. Oh shit, shit shit because the genie didn’t appear. The aeroplane must be faulty. It must be the slightly damaged tip. Maybe I threw it wrong? Maybe the genie now belongs to someone else? Maybe he doesn’t know I am calling him. Maybe he just doesn’t give a shit. Maybe I fucked up again.
I wake up in a sweat, stiff with fear. It’s ok, it’s just a dream. Just a bad dream. Just the same bad dream again.
I had this recurring nightmare for years and years. I can’t remember when it stopped for good, but I do remembering having it as a young undergraduate at university.
I still find it hard to ask for help. Even harder is to take the help that is offered for free and with love.