During my childhood, nothing was bigger than my Dad’s footsteps. Everything seemed to shrink compared to it. His feet, often clad in the same woolie-socks all year around (even during summer, encased inside his enormous sandals), were no match for the other Moms and Dads at the soccer-practice or at parent meetings. You could always see which pair of shoes stuck out. They looked like something the gargantuan cats Hogne and Tovner, known for carrying the Norse goddess Freya, had dragged in. And I mean, his feet were a considerable, European size 46, but in my mind it was bigger than lorry-wheels, logs or barn-doors. My dad’s footsteps metaphorically dwarfed the moon and the sun.
I was twelve, it was winter, mid-winter even, and what I gazed upon in the setting semi-darkness was my Dad’s enormous foot-steps in the snow. Magnified by the snow-shoes he insisted on wearing (in some concocted contraption he even wore them ON TOP OF his ski-boots, still strapped to his long-distance skiis), the strange footsteps bathed in fluorescent magenta-blue twilight like puddles of spat-out-Slushie and sort of kind of formed my destiny. He had already entered the silent-treatment-mode, which he usually reserved for really drawn-out days (he could literally go days without speaking) when I had been “giving him lip” for long. But this day, I had done nothing I could think of to deserve his gawking, wounded silence. He stared back at me, daggers from hell, and just nodded in the direction of the forest clearing ahead of us. You come, now, boy, and may Odin have mercy on you and the Fenris wolf devour you if you don’t keep up.
My Dad sat off into the woods. I was alone in the cold and the dark, and we were miles from our cabin. No help came from the Gods. I had to keep up. I made myself steel, and started to push, push and push with my ski poles deep into the several decimeter deep snowy ground around me. I had to go fast to keep up. Could I go fast enough? Or would he just speed ahead? Join us in the next episode of Arvidas anxious-ambivalent-attachment-childhood.
He wasn’t always like that, my Dad. My Old Man. My Beloved Father. I had a hard time saying any of those epitets out loud in those days. To me, he was just an impersonal Peter. Peter, his Christian name given to him by one Göran and one Anna Johnson. Nothing special about Peter Johnson, except the outdated job-description of “lumberjack” and his hurt, sullen way. He did not find the song “I’m a lumberjack and I’m ok” funny. His idea of making an effort kitchen-wise was to heat up Heinz Baked Beans, boil a few potatoes AND to heat up some Bullen’s Pilsnerkorv. Whenever Eurovision appeared on TV, he’d change the channel. Just a gang of fucking faggots. Whenever Allsång på Skansen or some Saturday night-show would appear on TV, he’d change the channel. False fucking Stockholm-Liberaces, the bunch of them. The things he would call “gay” as in bad, never ceased. Too long line at ICA, gay. Traffic jam, gay. His boss giving him a hard time, fucking faggot. Made you think he’d closeted so much and so long that he saw everything in a hate-rainbow-filter. He called all music made past 1890 “noice” and had to turn off even the classical music channel when something too jolly came on the radio because it “hurt his ears”. No, he was not into what you would call “Arts”. Or crafts. Except anything wooden or metal, thing he could shape and mold with his bare hands. He rarely used gloves, that “was for pussies” and even in winter, even when doing the dishes, even when carving wood with sharp tools, his hands would swell up, go blue and cold and/or obtain a patchwork of blisters and bruises, all in vain because all strapping a pair of gloves on top of his weathered hands would do was to protect them. But that’s a metaphor for Peter Holger Sture Johnson. He would go around and get all kind of hurt, but never admit it, hiding it so hard his fists would go white, thinking that it wouldn’t show. Guess what, it showed! Fucking showed all the time. I would have divorced him if I’d been in a consensual relationship with him. But I was twelve, raised a boy (and once a boy, always a boy as he would life-sentence me), and well, depended on him. And as the cliché goes, since Mum passed, he was all I had. And I was all he had. At least he didn’t drink
Still no Gods reaching down from the darkening skies (Norse, Christian or other) as I started out that December afternoon. No sign of my Old Man (he was like some character out of a Nordic fairy-tale this day, The Watcher of The Woods, The Keeper of The Trees, the Olden One on this haunted day), he had scurried like a frantic moose into the forest, beyond the clearing and into the sweltering army of blackened pines and firs that stood its ground. I, like a marbled statue chiseled out of thin winter-air, clad in my armor consisting of my Fjällräven-jacket, cheap gloves, duct tape-infested coveralls, my skis and my ski shoes, just stood there. For a couple of minutes. I guess I was stupefied by the pure danger of the situation.
He had been a drama-queen before. Several times. When it was just us, when we were with folks from our extended family, even with teachers. He had stormed off in social gatherings when he, quote “couldn’t take it no more!” (i.e., when someone disagreed with him and wouldn’t change their mind despite numerous attempts by him to persuade the counterpart) and left someone (usually a woman) to clean up the social mess he’d made. He had made threats to leave, my, our home, places we were at, and sometimes done it, but up until now, he had always come back. Never apologizing, but silently returning in itself being the ghost of a shadow of an apologizing gesture. But this time, he wouldn’t return. I could just feel it. Also: this time, our destination was a lonesome cabin which we’d just arrived to the same morning several kilometers away, this time the quicksilver in the thermometer showed 15 minus Celsius at noon and were steadily declining from there, this time a creeping darkness laid siege to the landscape. This time, it was for real. And I knew, that the reason he had ran away (because that is what had happened, a twelve-year old had frightened a 37-year-old person away), was the last thing that I shouted in our argument. It was one of those arguments who meanders into a swamp of everything, where the combatants by way of scorched-earth-tactics make sure that every stone that might hurt gets turned over, exposing every little crevice, minor fault and feeble little wood-louse crawling underneath said rock. I had shouted the one thing I know he could not argue against, because I was right, he was wrong and deep down, he knew. My shout had been:
I’m not your little BOY! I’m a GIRL, I TOLD YOU so many times and you KNOW it!
To know Peter Johnson, you’d have to go back in time, to when his father many times a month beat him with a carpet whip. Sometimes for “being a sissy”, other times it was him “making a mischief” or taking too long (or too short!) doing something. If you did it too fast, no matter how thoroughly, you didn’t “do it properly”, you see. So more times often than not, Old Peter, which was then Young Peter, would see his father with a dead object in his hand, ready for action. His father was a stay-at-home-dad, but not in a good way. This was back in the sixties, (man!), but no progressive winds had blown through the mexi-tile house of the Johnsons. When Peter pleaded to reason, i.e. screamed that it was illegal to hit children, his father would just shrug it off, like he shrugged most things off. Or rather, turned them off. The feelings, that is, except raw anger which had helped him fight his way through his rough childhood. So the equation goes, Peter mad because his father talked to him through a braided tool used to beat on woolen furniture, Holger mad because he’d grown up in abject poverty with eight siblings with six that lived past the age of eleven, and his dad Sture mad because he grew up one of the last “statare”-generation, being sold a child slave in some Småland market in the early 1900’s. And well, earlier on, even more things to be mad about, I guess, in the booze-oozing backtracking of our drunken family tree with farmers, farmers and more farmers, all the way back to when Gustav Vasa, celebrated on the 6th of June with waving flags and balloons, used to kill, torture and maim people in their neck of the woods for hosting rebels, being Catholics or some other mischief. So: a lot of anger coursing through our veins. But anger was my fiercest companion that day in the forest.
When I knew in my heart he wasn’t coming back, and also when my whole body started to massively shiver, I started off, pushing myself forward with my ski-poles. I went off the beaten track, leaving my Daddy’s footsteps and taking another route through the thick walls of firs and pines, determined to make my own way through the mass of trees. In the moment, I couldn’t decide whether it was a) a deliberate and subsconcious way of taking a short-cut, trying to beat him to the cabin b) a tweenie little rebellious move just taking whatever track he was NOT taking or c) an actual death-wish (screw you BUP! screw you social services and special-teachers!). It could, even, be a little from every one of those columns. But I mostly remember rage. A flaming rage, with a tint of fear of the unknown, is what I remember from those dark hours. And I remember, I don’t know if it was a pure hallucination, some reflection from the dying winter sun or my imagination conjuring up images to keep me going, but I thought I saw the rainbow above the pine-trees and the fir-rows. All of its colours bleeding out into the darkening heaven, knowing all, including all, seing all. When you think of it like that, it was kind of a religious experience. But without salvation, God, apparitions, Damascus lighting or epiphanies. Just little old med jotting through a soon-to-be-pitchblack forest. But boy, how that little trans-girl could ski. I jolted, bolted, crashed and burned through that forest like I was setting a record for Swedish long-distance skiing. I never took the time, but I bet I could have at least reached a top five, competing with my own age and my district. Oh my, is this how stories your uncle keeps going on about the potential and the star quality of his youth? About how he could have been champion of the world, European champion or at least win SM in some sport you could never even picture him in? Well, add me to the pantheon of old folks dwelling on their youth, then. But I swear, if someone had taken time, and considering the terrain, my previous experience (not that much at all, really) and my shitty equipment, well you’d say, that boy is gonna go far. Except that I wasn’t a boy, and that I never got that far in life. In skiing anyway.
All this digressing is perhaps my way of saying: I don’t remember much about that March for Freedom, that Long March that got me into a shivering state of coldness, got me a couple of bruises and burns but also laid a founding stone in my personality, symbolized my life and journey as an independent person and marked a step away from the moody tyrant that was my Old Man at the time. It took me off the beaten track, created my own set of unique footprints in the snow, and guess what? I beat my dad to the cabin.
That was almost the most surprising thing about the whole ordeal. My little enterprise of stepping sideways had paid off. I had beaten my invincible Lord and Master. He’d never let me win anything, let you let children win. To this date I had zero wins in the honorable games such as Backgammon, chess, Fia-with-a-push, ping-pong, Stiga-hockey etcetera. I won none of all types of running contests, swimming competitions and tennis games between us. He just couldn’t take a L, as you say. But the thing is, when I saw him coming (round’ the mountain, actually) towards the cabin, puffing and panting, screaming and swearing, crying and cussing, he was defeated. Haunted as a hound, tail between its legs, ears drooping to the ground. Defeated. And at that moment it struck me: that’s a part of him that always showed. A defeatist attitude against the injustices in life which he used as an armour and shield, and which, to me in my new enlightenment, was all too easy to see through. He should have looked at a scared little boy when he saw me. But instead, it was I who looked unto a scared little boy, all the way into his soul.
Beyond this, it goes into the private. We have the right to a private life according to the Swedish basic law. I won’t share exactly what was spoken those minutes, whose tears fell when a certain line was uttered, whose frozen beard made a pillow for me to rest my weary head upon, who felt like a three year old watching some children play with more colorful toys, wishing he could play with those as well, a five year old watching the teacher moving her mouth yelling that apparently, that type of bathroom wasn’t meant for him and it was very naughty of him to try it out anyway, a seven year old wrestling his angry way out of the mock-police uniform he’d gotten as a birthday present, “ruining the party” because he wouldn’t try it on… I won’t bore you with that. But I will say, that when my Dad for the first time spoke the words “I love you” and at the same time called my by my right name, it was a internal ice release that is still happening, still murmuring it’s clarion call among the murky, icy waters in there and that I’m still figuring out. What a difference an offpist-range in the forest, a pair of skis and a willpower, a rainbow… and a name, makes.