Waking the tiger (who came to tea)

I’ve been reading ‘Waking the Tiger’ by Peter Levine. It’s a fascinating book about trauma and healing, there’s so much wisdom in there. Also, I think I have a strong affinity with literary tigers, since being obsessed with ‘The tiger who came to tea’ when I was tiny.

It’s odd that this book came up. I remember reading something about its sinister undertone. If you don’t know it, it is basically about a tiger inviting himself into a family’s home and eating everything they have. I’ve read that some critics think the book reflects Judith Kerr’s (she’s the author and illustrator) history as a Jew on the run from Nazi persecution.

I’d only ever read it as a simple children’s story before. But when you think about it, I bet a lot of families have had a visit from some metaphorical ‘tiger’. I know mine has.

Thinking about this book makes me feel desperately sad. It was also a favourite of my brother when he was a toddler. It hurts so much to see him as that tiny, innocent child, and me too.

I’ve been looking at old photos of us when we were small; playing together, blowing out candles on birthday cakes and decorating Christmas trees. I couldn’t figure out what I felt about them until just now. I thought that sadness was grief. I thought I was grieving for my lost childhood.

But that’s not it. It isn’t loss I feel, not in that sense. What I see in those cute smiles and ridiculous 80s hand-me-down clothes is disappointment. I see those children, who were so loved by their parents, being such an awful let down to them. I imagine all the hopes and dreams our parents had for us and how they have been destroyed.

Who could have known that those playful siblings would end up involved in something so horrible. In what possible future could they see their shy teenage son getting his kicks from molesting their 10 year old girl?

I feel a huge wave of sadness and shame when I think about this. When I picture my parents celebrating my birth and being so excited to have this precious baby I feel terrible. I hate myself. I feel like I took all of that pride and love and joy away from them. And I know it isn’t my fault; but I can’t change the way it feels. It’s sits heavily on my chest and gets a stranglehold on my throat. It makes me want to harm myself or worse.

It is odd that this book was his favourite. Because if our family had a tiger who came and took everything, I reckon it would be him.

Photo credit: Ross Elliott, Creative Commons


One Comment Add yours

  1. I love the metaphor of the tiger!!! I totally see that. It’s perfect!! Inviting himself in and destroying everything within. I also thought that I was suffering grief, for the little girl I lost, when I first had my breakdown. I thought I was grieving her death. Even though I was molested for years before he raped me, that night I was raped is the night everything changed. That was ….. i can’t even think of how to describe it…..
    I mourn the loss of that child, what could have been. I think I mourn more about what I could have been if that didn’t happen to me. I remember feeling happiness. I look at pictures and I see I was happy sometimes.
    Looking at pictures of me as a child also helped me accept that it was really fiucked up- what happened to me. I see that little six year girl for what she is. A tiny, innocent child. I see that 11 year old for what she was too. A beautiful girl who smiles but in her eyes, her soul is dead. Those girls should have never had that happen to them.
    No one should have.


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